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What is an Embedded System?

Published On: November 24, 2022


Embedded systems are prefabricated computer setups programmed to perform a specific task. An embedded system could perform a function within another system. System functioning may be modifiable or predetermined. Embedded systems can be found in a wide variety of places, including but not limited to industrial machinery, consumer devices, automobiles, agricultural and processing industry devices, medical equipment, camera systems, digital watches, domestic appliances, aircraft, vending machines, dolls, and mobile devices.

While all embedded systems are computers, the level of user interaction with these systems varies widely, from the complete lack of a UI (as in devices built for a specific task) to highly complex GUIs (as in mobile devices). Buttons, LEDs (light-emitting diodes), and touchscreen sensing are all examples of user interface elements. Remote user interfaces are used in other systems as well. Join the Embedded system in Chennai to explore the recent technology.

The embedded market is expected to be valued at $116.2 billion by 2025, according to a forecast by MarketsandMarkets, a B2B research firm. Apple, IBM, Intel, and Texas Instruments are a few well-known tech firms producing chips for embedded systems. The need for AI, mobile technology, and high-performance computing chips will likely play a role in the industry’s projected expansion.

The definition of an embedded system

A microprocessor-based computer hardware and software system known as an embedded system is created to carry out a specific task, either independently or as a component of a larger system. An integrated circuit built to perform computing for real-time processes is at the heart of the system.

From a single microcontroller to a group of connected processors with networks and peripherals, complexity can range from having no user interface to having intricate graphical user interfaces. Depending on the task for which it is created, an embedded system’s complexity varies greatly.

Applications for embedded systems include hybrid cars, avionics, digital watches, microwaves, and more. Embedded systems consume up to 98 percent of all produced microprocessors. Enroll in Embedded training in Chennai to shine in today’s world.

The Embedded System Characteristics

Single-functioned – An embedded system typically carries out a specific task and repeatedly repeats it. An example might be: A pager always works as a pager.

Tightly constrained – Limitations on design metrics are present in all computer systems; however, the constraints that an embedded system must adhere to might be very stringent. Design metrics are a way to gauge an implementation’s cost, size, power, and other characteristics. It needs to be small enough to fit on a single chip, fast enough to process data in real-time, and power-efficient enough to prolong battery life.

Reactive and real-time –  Many embedded systems have to constantly respond to changes in their environment and calculate specific results instantly. Take a cruise control system in a car as an example; it continuously analyzes and responds to speed and braking sensors. It must repeatedly calculate accelerations and decelerations within a set amount of time; if the computation is delayed, the automobile may not be controlled.

Microprocessor – It must be microprocessor-based, either through a microprocessor or a microcontroller.

Memory – Since its software is typically embedded in ROM, it must have memory. The PC doesn’t require any extra memory.

Linked – It must have peripherals that are connected in order to link input and output devices.

Hardware & Software Systems –  Software is utilized in HW-SW systems to add more functionality and flexibility. Performance and security are enhanced by hardware.

A Brief Overview of the Development of Embedded Operating Systems

In the 1960s, embedded systems first appeared. In order to lower the size and weight of the Apollo Guidance Computer, the digital system deployed on the Apollo Command Module and Lunar Module, Charles Stark Draper created an integrated circuit in 1961. It assisted astronauts in gathering real-time flight data as the first computer to employ ICs.

The D-17B computer, which is currently a part of Boeing, was created by Autonetics in 1965 for use in the Minuteman I missile guidance system. It is largely acknowledged as the first embedded system that was mass-produced. The D-17B missile guidance system was substituted by the NS-17 missile guidance system, notable for its extensive use of integrated circuits when the Minuteman II entered into production in 1966. The Volkswagen 1600 employed a microprocessor to manage its electronic fuel injection system when it was initially produced in 1968, making it the first vehicle to use embedded technology.

The cost of integrated circuits fell and their use increased by the late 1960s and the beginning of the 1970s. Texas Instruments created the first microcontroller in 1971. The TMS1000 series, which went on sale in 1974, featured a 4-bit CPU, read-only memory (ROM), and random-access memory (RAM), and it was priced at about $2 per unit when purchased in bulk.

The 4004, often regarded as the first commercially available CPU, was also produced by Intel in 1971. The 4-bit microprocessor was intended for use in calculators and other compact electronics, but it also needed support chips and perpetual memory. The 16 KB, 8-bit Intel 8008 was released in 1972, and the 64 KB, 8-bit Intel 8080 was released in 1974. The x86 series, which replaced the 8080 in 1978, is still mainly in use today.

Real-time VxWorks, the first embedded operating system, was published by Wind River in 1987. In 1996, Microsoft introduced Windows Embedded CE. The first embedded Linux products started to appear around the late 1990s. Today, practically all embedded devices run Linux.

How does an embedded system function?

The term “embedded” refers to the fact that embedded systems always operate as a component of an entire device. Small computers that are embedded in other mechanical or electrical systems are low-cost and power-efficient. They typically include a processor, a power source, memory, and communication interfaces. Embedded systems employ communication ports to send data via a communication protocol between the processor and peripheral devices, which are frequently other embedded systems. This data is interpreted by the processor with the aid of simple memory-stored software. Typically, the software is very specialized for the purpose the embedded system serves.

A microprocessor or microcontroller could be the processor. Microcontrollers are merely microprocessors with built-in memory and external ports. Memory and peripherals are not built into microprocessors’ chips; instead, they are used in separate integrated circuits. Both can be employed, however, because microprocessors are less integrated than microcontrollers, they often need more support circuitry. System on a chip (SoC) is a common phrase. On a single chip, SoCs house numerous processors and interfaces. For embedded systems with great volume, they are frequently employed. Application-specific integrated circuits (ASIC) and field-programmable gate arrays are a couple of examples of SoC kinds (FPGAs). Learn an embedded course in Chennai and upgrade your skills.

Embedded systems frequently operate in real-time situations and interact with the hardware using an RTOS (real-time operating system). Designers have increasingly decided that near-real-time techniques are appropriate at greater levels of chip capacity and that the tasks are tolerant of minor fluctuations in reaction time. In these situations, reduced-feature Linux operating systems are frequently used, however other operating systems, such as Embedded Java and Windows IoT, have also been reduced for use on embedded devices (formerly Windows Embedded).

Illustrations of embedded systems

Many different technologies in a variety of industries use embedded systems. Several instances include


In most modern cars, there are numerous computers—up to 100, sometimes—or embedded systems that are used to carry out various functions. Some of these systems carry out fundamental utility tasks, while others offer entertainment or user-facing features. Cruise control, backup sensors, suspension control, navigation systems, and airbag systems are a few embedded technologies found in consumer vehicles.

Mobile devices

These are made up of a variety of embedded systems, such as operating systems (OSes), GUI software and hardware, cameras, microphones, and USB I/O (input/output) modules.

Industrial equipment

They may both be embedded systems themselves as well as contain embedded systems like sensors. Embedded automation systems that carry out particular monitoring and control tasks are frequently found in industrial machinery.

Medical supplies

These might have embedded systems, such as sensors and control systems. Medical devices, like commercial machines, must also be very user-friendly to avoid machine errors that may have been avoided. This implies that they frequently have a more complicated OS and GUI created for a suitable UI.

Embedded system architecture

Although embedded systems’ complexity varies, they typically have three key components:


Microprocessors and microcontrollers are the foundation of embedded systems’ hardware. Identical to microcontrollers, a microprocessor is a central processing unit (CPU) that is combined with other fundamental computing elements including memory chips and digital signal processors (DSPs). All of the parts are housed on a single chip in microcontrollers.

Firmware, and software

The complexity of software for embedded systems might vary. However, embedded IoT systems and industrial-grade microcontrollers typically run relatively straightforward software that uses little memory. To understand the structure of embedded training in Chennai, enroll in the Embedded course in Chennai.

The operating system in real-time

Particularly for smaller-scale systems, these are not usually present in embedded systems. By controlling the software and establishing guidelines for program execution, RTOSes specify how the system functions.

A fundamental embedded system would have the following hardware components:

  • Data from physical senses is converted into an electrical signal through sensors.
  • An analog electrical signal is converted into a digital signal using an analog-to-digital (A-D) converter.
  • Digital signals are processed by processors and stored in memory.
  • The digital data from the processor is converted into analog data by digital-to-analog (D-A) converters.
  • Actuators select the appropriate output by comparing it to memory-stored output.
  • The processor converts the information from the processor’s readable input, which the sensor reads from external sources, into meaningful output for the embedded system.

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Various Embedded System Types

The performance of microcontrollers as well as the performance standards for performance and functionality are used to categorize embedded systems. There are categories and subcategories that can be added to these classifications.

Embedded systems are categorized into four groups according to their performance and functional requirements:

  • Real-time embedded systems
  • Standalone embedded systems
  • Network, or networked, embedded systems
  • Mobile embedded systems

Let’s go into detail about each one. Learn everything about embedded systems by joining the embedded training in Chennai at SLA.

Real-time embedded systems

It is necessary for real-time embedded systems to rapidly offer results or outputs. Since real-time embedded systems are frequently employed in mission-critical industries, such as defense and aerospace, which require significant data as quickly as possible, priority is given to the speed at which they provide output.

The following are some examples of real-time embedded systems:

  • Controls for the aircraft
  • Autonomous and semi-autonomous vehicle controls
  • computers in land vehicles and aircraft that process and relay data from sensors
  • Missile defense system controls

In order to take into account the significance of the rate at which output is generated, real-time embedded systems can be further subdivided into soft real-time embedded systems and hard real-time embedded systems.

How do soft and hard real-time embedded systems differ from one another?

The output durations and deadlines of soft real-time embedded systems are more flexible than those of traditional real-time systems. There is a possibility that a performance drop will occur if outputs are not delivered within the allotted amount of time; however, the repercussions of such a drop are unlikely to be considerable, do not constitute a failure of the system or application, and are not expected to have an adverse effect. In spite of the fact that they are late, the outputs of the system are still considered to have value.

A computer that is running an application whose single function is to evaluate in real-time relatively harmless, non-mission-critical, sensor-acquired data, such as the temperature and humidity readings of a specific locality, is an illustration of an example of a soft real-time embedded system. The program’s sole objective is to analyze in real-time a relatively innocuous, non-mission-critical, sensor-acquired data.

Despite the fact that temperature and humidity data gathering and analysis, the outputs of which are important to have on hand, aren’t generally deemed mission-critical activities producing mission-critical data, therefore the system’s outputs, despite being late, would still be seen as valuable, and its latency, albeit an indicator that quality of service has decreased, would not be considered a deal breaker. Join the Embedded course in Chennai to utilize the widely available job opportunities in the embedded systems.

The opposite of soft real-time embedded systems are hard real-time embedded systems. [Case in point:] [Case in point:] Failure to do so is considered a failure of the system or application, which, in many instances, could have catastrophic outcomes due to the typical deployment of hard real-time embedded systems in mission-critical programs and applications. These systems are required to meet their assigned output deadlines on a consistent basis. If they do not, this is regarded as a malfunction of the system or application.

For instance, missile defense systems make use of hard real-time embedded systems. This is because detecting, monitoring, obstructing, and destructing incoming missiles are all activities that need to be carried out within stringently imposed deadlines. Otherwise, the risk of endangering human lives, buildings, equipment, vehicles, and other assets would be significantly increased.

Moving on, let’s discuss the embedded systems that are capable of operating independently, or without the need for a host.

Standalone embedded systems

The use of a host computer is not necessary for the operation of stand-alone embedded systems. They are capable of producing outputs on their own.

The following are some examples of standalone embedded systems:

  • Digital cameras
  • wristwatches with digital displays.
  • CD and MP3 players
  • Home electronics and appliances, including but not limited to refrigerators, washing machines, and microwave ovens
  • Temperature measurement systems
  • Calculators

It is essential to emphasize the point that the autonomous functionality of freestanding embedded systems is not shared by all embedded systems. A great number of embedded systems are only capable of performing their intended functions and serving their intended purposes when integrated into larger mechanical, electrical, or electronic systems.

For instance, if you were to remove the adaptive cruise control (ACC) system from a vehicle, the system would no longer be able to perform its intended functions. As a result, the ACC system cannot be considered a standalone embedded system because it is dependent on a more extensive system, namely the vehicle, in order to carry out its duties and, if the vehicle were to be removed, the embedded system would essentially lose its purpose. Enroll in the embedded training in Chennai to shine in your career.

However, a calculator, for instance, is capable of producing an output, also known as a computation, on its own, albeit with some input from the user, of course. As opposed to the ACC system, it does not need to be embedded into another, more comprehensive system, hence it can be considered an independent embedded system.

Network embedded systems

For output creation, network embedded systems, also known as networked embedded systems, depend on wired or wireless networks as well as communication with web servers.

Examples of network-embedded systems that are frequently cited include the following:

  • Security systems for the home and the office
  • Teller devices that are automated (ATMs)
  • Point-of-sale (POS) registers

Security systems for homes and businesses consist of a network of sensors, cameras, alarms, and other embedded devices. These devices gather information about the interior and exterior of a building and then use that information to alert users to unusual and potentially dangerous disturbances in the immediate area.

To approve and permit withdrawals, balance queries, deposit requests, and other account requests, an automated teller machine (ATM) relies on network connections to a host computer and a computer owned by the bank.

Point-of-sale (POS) systems are networks that consist of many workstations and a server. The server is responsible for keeping track of customer transactions, sales income, and other information linked to customers.

In general, embedded systems are considered network or networked embedded systems if they are either a part of networks of other devices or depend on other networks for their functionality.

Mobile embedded systems

The term “mobile embedded systems” refers, in particular, to small embedded devices that may be carried around with the user, such as mobile phones, laptops, and calculators.

It is important to note that the characteristics that define a mobile embedded system and those that characterize a freestanding embedded system share some similarities.

All mobile embedded systems are standalone embedded systems, however, not all standalone embedded systems are mobile embedded systems.

For instance, although it is possible to relocate a washing machine, microwave oven, or dishwasher, you probably do not consider any of these to be as compact or portable as a mobile embedded system such as a cellphone, laptop computer, or calculator.

What exactly are the differences between medium-scale, large-scale, and small-scale embedded systems?

When depending on the performance of the microcontrollers, embedded systems are split into the following three categories:

  • Small-scale embedded systems8
  • Medium-scale embedded systems
  • Sophisticated embedded systems

We’ll keep the distinctions between small-scale, medium-scale, and sophisticated embedded systems simple for the sake of simplicity and because the hardware and software intricacies of this classification might take up valuable space in a whitepaper:

  • Microcontrollers with 8 or 16 bits of memory are typically seen in smaller-scale embedded devices.
  • Microcontrollers with 16 bits or 32 bits of memory are typical of medium-scale embedded systems.
  • Multiple microcontrollers with 32 bits or 62 bits of memory are used in sophisticated embedded systems.

In a nutshell, the processing speed increases in proportion to the number of microcontroller bits that are used. Join the embedded training in Chennai to excel in your profession.

Benefits and drawbacks come with employing embedded systems

Instant benefits of embedded systems include:

  • Reduced power use
  • Decreased failure rate and less noise.
  • improved durability against particle contamination
  • Fewer repairs and replacements
  • A smaller size, less weight, and cheaper price.
  • minimal to no human interaction
  • Dedicated effort toward a goal
  • Continuous functioning
  • capability to absorb failure with minimal impact

Embedded systems have a number of drawbacks, especially in comparison to conventional desktop computers and server racks.

  • Fewer available computing resources
  • Effortless organization of projects

Join the Embedded course in Chennai to prevail successfully in your career.

There are a few different embedded system software architectures that are often used. These architectures are required when embedded systems expand and become more complicated in scale. These are the following:

  • Simple control loops transfer control to subroutines, which are responsible for managing a particular aspect of the embedded programming or hardware.
  • Both the primary and the secondary feedback loops are present in interrupt-controlled computer systems. Tasks are triggered if the loops are interrupted.
  • In its most basic form, cooperative multitasking can be described as a control loop that is housed within an application programming interface (API).
  • Synchronization and task-switching techniques are both components of preemptive multitasking or multithreading, which is frequently used in conjunction with real-time operating systems (RTOS).

Very-large-scale integration, sometimes known as VLSI for short, is a word that is used to refer to the level of complexity that is present in an integrated circuit (IC). While LSI (large-scale integration) microchips contain thousands of transistors, MSI (medium-scale integration) microchips contain hundreds of transistors, and SSI (small-scale integration) microchips contain tens of transistors, very large-scale integration (VLSI) is the process of embedding hundreds of thousands of transistors into a chip. VLSI stands for very large scale integration. The process of placing millions of transistors on a single chip is referred to as ultra-large-scale integration, or ULSI.

Embedded systems frequently make use of very large scale integration, or VLSI, circuits. The acronym “VLSI” is no longer widely used despite the fact that very large scale integrated circuits (ICs) are frequently used in embedded systems.

Debugging embedded systems

When it comes to debugging, embedded systems are distinct from the operating systems and development environments of other, larger-scale computers in a number of ways. One of these differences is in how they handle memory. Embedded system programmers, on the other hand, typically do not have access to systems that are capable of running both the code that is being created and distinct debugger tools that can monitor the embedded system.

A close-up macro photograph of the motherboard of a small embedded system, complete with the cables attached.

There are several programming languages that can operate on microcontrollers with an efficiency high enough that even basic interactive debugging can be performed directly on the chip. In addition, most processors come equipped with CPU debuggers that, when accessed by a JTAG or an analogous debugging connection, can be controlled and, consequently, can control the execution of a program.

However, programmers will frequently require tools that enable them to connect a standalone debugging system to the system they are working on by way of a serial or other port. In this particular instance, the programmer is able to view the source code on the screen of a general-purpose computer, just as they would be able to do so while debugging software on a desktop computer. Running software on a personal computer that simulates a physical chip in software is an alternative method that is commonly utilized. Because of this, it is now possible to debug the performance of the software as if it were operating on a real physical chip.

In general, embedded systems have received more attention to testing and debugging because a great number of devices using embedded controls are designed for use, particularly in settings where safety and reliability are top priorities. This has resulted in embedded systems receiving more attention to testing and debugging. Join the Embedded training in Chennai to land a high-paying job.

Embedded system trends

Although some embedded systems may be relatively straightforward, on the whole, these systems are getting more complicated, and an increasing number of them are now in a position to either completely replace human decision-making or provide capabilities that are in excess of what a person could provide. For instance, certain aviation systems, such as those used in drones, are able to integrate sensor data and act upon that information more quickly than a human could, which enables new sorts of operating features to be implemented.

It is anticipated that the embedded system would keep expanding rapidly, with a significant contribution coming from the internet of things. It is anticipated that the expansion of the Internet of Things applications, such as wearables, smart homes, 3D printers,  drones, smart buildings, video surveillance, and smart transportation, would propel the rise of embedded systems. Sign up for Embedded training in Chennai at SLA.

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