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What is the essence of embedded software, and why is it so important in the modern world? Read the article to learn more on the topic.
Almost all modern devices are somehow connected with electronics. At the same time, standards for devices are constantly growing, and they are supposed to become even faster and perform even more diverse tasks.
To make electronics work as intended, you need embedded or built-in software. What is embedded software? This is a program that allows users to set certain tasks for hardware devices and machines and get the desired result. The development of built-in microprograms is a complex procedure that requires an integrated approach, competent preparation of technical specifications, experienced specialists, high-quality implementation and control at each stage.
How embedded software differs from application software
Most consumers are familiar with application software that provides functionality on PCs and laptops. Unlike application software, built-in programs are developed according to strict device characteristics. They may be less visible, but no less complicated.
Embedded software depends to a great extent on the processor and microchips it needs to run on. Software engineers should have at least basic knowledge of reading schematics and component datasheets. It’s also important to know the converting between decimal, hexadecimal and binary systems. Device drivers are also included into embedded software. File systems with folders are usually missing, the same as SQL databases.
Embedded sw development implies the use of a cross-compiler that runs on the computer but produces executable code for the target device. Debugging requires the use of an in-circuit emulator, JTAG or SWD.
The size of the storage device and RAM can vary considerably. Some systems operate with 16KB of flash memory and 4KB of RAM with a processor running at 8 MHz, other systems can compete with modern computers.
Due to these requirements, most work is being done in the C or embedded C++ languages, instead of C++. Interpreted languages such as BASIC and Java are not commonly used.
However, Java ME Embedded is available for some microcontrollers used in Raspberry Pi and Intel Galileo Gen.2. In addition, MicroPython – an implementation of the Python interpreted language – is available specifically for microcontroller use, such as 32-bit ARM-site and 16-bit PIC microcontrollers. The Ada language is used in some military and aviation projects.
Embedded operating systems
Unlike standard computers, which typically use operating systems such as Windows, embedded software can work without an operating system. This usually concerns primitive built-in systems with a limited number of operations.
If we talk about complicated built-in solutions, an OS is needed. Traditionally, you can choose from a variety of options, e.g., Linux or Windows CE. More often, developers choose real-time operating systems (RTOS), such as LynxOS, Fusion RTOS, ThreadX, etc.
How to create embedded software: engineering plus programming
The creation of an embedded system consist of developing software scripts and thinking through the hardware architecture. Hence, embedded software programming is not limited to the knowledge of the programming language itself. You also need an understanding of electronics, computer science, process automation, robotics, and more.
Embedded development combines the ability to create software and basic knowledge and skills in engineering. Embedded specialists understand the physical processes of various electrical components, including sensors, actuators, SoC and SoM logic, etc. In addition, such specialists must be versed in the processes of converting one type of energy into another, know how various types of electric motors and relays work, because they make up the majority of control devices.
Moreover, it is necessary to understand the various models of data transfer between devices. Not only using protocols such as I2C, OneWire, CAN, but also an understanding of the physical mechanisms of information exchange, since all data lines have their own unique characteristics.
You also need to understand the digital security sphere to ensure the secure data transmission within one system or between devices and data centers.
Concerning the programming part, you should start by learning the C programming language. Proficiency in this language is considered mandatory for embedded software engineers. C is one of the universal languages that will come in handy even if you don't work with embedded systems. The vast majority of built-in and Linux systems are written in C.
Embedded software scripts may be of various complexity, depending on the application for which they are being developed. Many progressive fields, such as medicine, aviation, weapons, space, robots, etc., have their own libraries and tools for developing their built-in systems. Therefore, an embedded programmer in these areas is a very narrowly focused specialist with the deep knowledge of tools for one specific area.
Embedded system explained
Embedded system is a special system of selected hardware and software components, which is built on the basis of microprocessors. It is responsible for some specific device functions and may be part of larger application systems, rather than an independent part.
You can find the usage example of such systems in any modern multimedia equipment. The ability to select the music you want to listen to or the photo you want to view is the work of an embedded system. And you can perform these actions to the use of microprocessors that control the corresponding functions.
Each built-in system can only perform a limited number of operations for which it is programmed. Depending on its purpose, an embedded system can mean just a firmware for some device, or the entire operating system with firmware, middleware and user application for some other device.
An embedded developer is a specialist who creates, tests, and maintains these systems.
Where are embedded systems used?
Embedded systems are used in many areas of human life. Since the IT field is constantly evolving, the use of embedded systems is also expanding its scope. At the moment, built-in software can be found in:
- measuring equipment
- on-board transport computers
- telecommunication products
- medical equipment
- manufacturing machines
- various robots
- household appliances
- air conditioners
- navigation systems
- security and alarm systems
The list of where embedded software is applied is not finite. The variety of devices means that the complexity of these systems will also be different. The one thing is when software is responsible for the music in your smartphone, and another thing when embedded software is responsible for fire safety in a large office building. That’s why, before using embedded systems in practice, they are very carefully tested and checked so that no errors occur during their operation.
Embedded programming will remain in high demand for a long time, because the volume of embedded systems, according to all forecasts, will only grow. Such a growth is expected due to the advancements in technologies such as artificial intelligence, augmented and virtual reality, AI and machine learning, and robotics.
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