An embedded system is a computer system—a combination of a computer processor, computer memory, and input/output peripheral devices—that has a dedicated function within a larger mechanical or electrical system. It is embedded as part of a complete device often including electrical or electronic hardware and mechanical parts. Because an embedded system typically controls physical operations of the machine that it is embedded within, it often has real-time computing constraints. Embedded systems control many devices in common use today. Ninety-eight percent of all microprocessors manufactured are used in embedded systems.
Modern embedded systems are often based on microcontrollers (i.e. microprocessors with integrated memory and peripheral interfaces), but ordinary microprocessors (using external chips for memory and peripheral interface circuits) are also common, especially in more complex systems. In either case, the processor(s) used may be types ranging from general purpose to those specialized in certain class of computations, or even custom designed for the application at hand. A common standard class of dedicated processors is the digital signal processor (DSP). Since the embedded system is dedicated to specific tasks, design engineers can optimize it to reduce the size and cost of the product and increase the reliability and performance. Some embedded systems are mass-produced, benefiting from economies of scale.
Embedded systems range from portable devices such as digital watches and MP3 players, to large stationary installations like traffic light controllers, programmable logic controllers, and large complex systems like hybrid vehicles, medical imaging systems, and avionics. Complexity varies from low, with a single microcontroller chip, to very high with multiple units, peripherals and networks mounted inside a large equipment rack.
The origins of the microprocessor and the microcontroller can be traced back to the MOS integrated circuit, which is an integrated circuit chip fabricated from MOSFETs (metal-oxide-semiconductor field-effect transistors) and was developed in the early 1960s. By 1964, MOS chips had reached higher transistor density and lower manufacturing costs than bipolar chips. MOS chips further increased in complexity at a rate predicted by Moore's law, leading to large-scale integration (LSI) with hundreds of transistors on a single MOS chip by the late 1960s. The application of MOS LSI chips to computing was the basis for the first microprocessors, as engineers began recognizing that a complete computer processor system could be contained on several MOS LSI chips.
The first multi-chip microprocessors, the Four-Phase Systems AL1 in 1969 and the Garrett AiResearch MP944 in 1970, were developed with multiple MOS LSI chips. The first single-chip microprocessor was the Intel 4004, released in 1971. It was developed by Federico Faggin, using his silicon-gate MOS technology, along with Intel engineers Marcian Hoff and Stan Mazor, and Busicom engineer Masatoshi Shima.
One of the very first recognizably modern embedded systems was the Apollo Guidance Computer,[ citation needed ] developed ca. 1965 by Charles Stark Draper at the MIT Instrumentation Laboratory. At the project's inception, the Apollo guidance computer was considered the riskiest item in the Apollo project as it employed the then newly developed monolithic integrated circuits to reduce the size and weight. An early mass-produced embedded system was the Autonetics D-17 guidance computer for the Minuteman missile, released in 1961. When the Minuteman II went into production in 1966, the D-17 was replaced with a new computer that was the first high-volume use of integrated circuits.
Since these early applications in the 1960s, embedded systems have come down in price and there has been a dramatic rise in processing power and functionality. An early microprocessor for example, the Intel 4004 (released in 1971), was designed for calculators and other small systems but still required external memory and support chips. In 1978 National Engineering Manufacturers Association released a "standard" for programmable microcontrollers, including almost any computer-based controllers, such as single board computers, numerical, and event-based controllers.
As the cost of microprocessors and microcontrollers fell it became feasible to replace expensive knob-based analog components such as potentiometers and variable capacitors with up/down buttons or knobs read out by a microprocessor even in consumer products. By the early 1980s, memory, input and output system components had been integrated into the same chip as the processor forming a microcontroller. Microcontrollers find applications where a general-purpose computer would be too costly.
A comparatively low-cost microcontroller may be programmed to fulfill the same role as a large number of separate components. Although in this context an embedded system is usually more complex than a traditional solution, most of the complexity is contained within the microcontroller itself. Very few additional components may be needed and most of the design effort is in the software. Software prototype and test can be quicker compared with the design and construction of a new circuit not using an embedded processor.
Embedded systems are commonly found in consumer, industrial, automotive, home appliances, medical, commercial and military applications.
Telecommunications systems employ numerous embedded systems from telephone switches for the network to cell phones at the end user. Computer networking uses dedicated routers and network bridges to route data.
Consumer electronics include MP3 players, mobile phones, video game consoles, digital cameras, GPS receivers, and printers. Household appliances, such as microwave ovens, washing machines and dishwashers, include embedded systems to provide flexibility, efficiency and features. Advanced HVAC systems use networked thermostats to more accurately and efficiently control temperature that can change by time of day and season. Home automation uses wired- and wireless-networking that can be used to control lights, climate, security, audio/visual, surveillance, etc., all of which use embedded devices for sensing and controlling.
Transportation systems from flight to automobiles increasingly use embedded systems. New airplanes contain advanced avionics such as inertial guidance systems and GPS receivers that also have considerable safety requirements. Various electric motors — brushless DC motors, induction motors and DC motors — use electric/electronic motor controllers. Automobiles, electric vehicles, and hybrid vehicles increasingly use embedded systems to maximize efficiency and reduce pollution. Other automotive safety systems include anti-lock braking system (ABS), Electronic Stability Control (ESC/ESP), traction control (TCS) and automatic four-wheel drive.
Medical equipment uses embedded systems for vital signs monitoring, electronic stethoscopes for amplifying sounds, and various medical imaging (PET, SPECT, CT, and MRI) for non-invasive internal inspections. Embedded systems within medical equipment are often powered by industrial computers.
Embedded systems are used in transportation, fire safety, safety and security, medical applications and life critical systems, as these systems can be isolated from hacking and thus, be more reliable, unless connected to wired or wireless networks via on-chip 3G cellular or other methods for IoT monitoring and control purposes.[ citation needed ] For fire safety, the systems can be designed to have greater ability to handle higher temperatures and continue to operate. In dealing with security, the embedded systems can be self-sufficient and be able to deal with cut electrical and communication systems.
A new class of miniature wireless devices called motes are networked wireless sensors. Wireless sensor networking, WSN, makes use of miniaturization made possible by advanced IC design to couple full wireless subsystems to sophisticated sensors, enabling people and companies to measure a myriad of things in the physical world and act on this information through IT monitoring and control systems. These motes are completely self-contained, and will typically run off a battery source for years before the batteries need to be changed or charged.
Embedded Wi-Fi modules provide a simple means of wirelessly enabling any device that communicates via a serial port.
Embedded systems are designed to do some specific task, rather than be a general-purpose computer for multiple tasks. Some also have real-time performance constraints that must be met, for reasons such as safety and usability; others may have low or no performance requirements, allowing the system hardware to be simplified to reduce costs.
Embedded systems are not always standalone devices. Many embedded systems consist of small parts within a larger device that serves a more general purpose. For example, the Gibson Robot Guitar features an embedded system for tuning the strings, but the overall purpose of the Robot Guitar is, of course, to play music.Similarly, an embedded system in an automobile provides a specific function as a subsystem of the car itself.
The program instructions written for embedded systems are referred to as firmware, and are stored in read-only memory or flash memory chips. They run with limited computer hardware resources: little memory, small or non-existent keyboard or screen.
Embedded systems range from no user interface at all, in systems dedicated only to one task, to complex graphical user interfaces that resemble modern computer desktop operating systems. Simple embedded devices use buttons, LEDs, graphic or character LCDs (HD44780 LCD for example) with a simple menu system.
More sophisticated devices that use a graphical screen with touch sensing or screen-edge buttons provide flexibility while minimizing space used: the meaning of the buttons can change with the screen, and selection involves the natural behavior of pointing at what is desired. Handheld systems often have a screen with a "joystick button" for a pointing device.
Some systems provide user interface remotely with the help of a serial (e.g. RS-232, USB, I²C, etc.) or network (e.g. Ethernet) connection. This approach gives several advantages: extends the capabilities of embedded system, avoids the cost of a display, simplifies BSP and allows one to build a rich user interface on the PC. A good example of this is the combination of an embedded web server running on an embedded device (such as an IP camera) or a network router. The user interface is displayed in a web browser on a PC connected to the device, therefore needing no software to be installed.
Examples of properties of typical embedded computers when compared with general-purpose counterparts are low power consumption, small size, rugged operating ranges, and low per-unit cost. This comes at the price of limited processing resources, which make them significantly more difficult to program and to interact with. However, by building intelligence mechanisms on top of the hardware, taking advantage of possible existing sensors and the existence of a network of embedded units, one can both optimally manage available resources at the unit and network levels as well as provide augmented functions, well beyond those available.For example, intelligent techniques can be designed to manage power consumption of embedded systems.
Embedded processors can be broken into two broad categories. Ordinary microprocessors (μP) use separate integrated circuits for memory and peripherals. Microcontrollers (μC) have on-chip peripherals, thus reducing power consumption, size and cost. In contrast to the personal computer market, many different basic CPU architectures are used since software is custom-developed for an application and is not a commodity product installed by the end user. Both Von Neumann as well as various degrees of Harvard architectures are used. RISC as well as non-RISC processors are found. Word lengths vary from 4-bit to 64-bits and beyond, although the most typical remain 8/16-bit. Most architectures come in a large number of different variants and shapes, many of which are also manufactured by several different companies.
Numerous microcontrollers have been developed for embedded systems use. General-purpose microprocessors are also used in embedded systems, but generally, require more support circuitry than microcontrollers.
PC/104 and PC/104+ are examples of standards for ready-made computer boards intended for small, low-volume embedded and ruggedized systems, mostly x86-based. These are often physically small compared to a standard PC, although still quite large compared to most simple (8/16-bit) embedded systems. They often use DOS, Linux, NetBSD, or an embedded real-time operating system such as MicroC/OS-II, QNX or VxWorks. Sometimes these boards use non-x86 processors.
In certain applications, where small size or power efficiency are not primary concerns, the components used may be compatible with those used in general purpose x86 personal computers. Boards such as the VIA EPIA range help to bridge the gap by being PC-compatible but highly integrated, physically smaller or have other attributes making them attractive to embedded engineers. The advantage of this approach is that low-cost commodity components may be used along with the same software development tools used for general software development. Systems built in this way are still regarded as embedded since they are integrated into larger devices and fulfill a single role. Examples of devices that may adopt this approach are ATMs and arcade machines, which contain code specific to the application.
However, most ready-made embedded systems boards are not PC-centered and do not use the ISA or PCI buses. When a system-on-a-chip processor is involved, there may be little benefit to having a standardized bus connecting discrete components, and the environment for both hardware and software tools may be very different.
One common design style uses a small system module, perhaps the size of a business card, holding high density BGA chips such as an ARM-based system-on-a-chip processor and peripherals, external flash memory for storage, and DRAM for runtime memory. The module vendor will usually provide boot software and make sure there is a selection of operating systems, usually including Linux and some real time choices. These modules can be manufactured in high volume, by organizations familiar with their specialized testing issues, and combined with much lower volume custom mainboards with application-specific external peripherals.
Implementation of embedded systems has advanced so that they can easily be implemented with already-made boards that are based on worldwide accepted platforms. These platforms include, but are not limited to, Arduino and Raspberry Pi.
A common array for very-high-volume embedded systems is the system on a chip (SoC) that contains a complete system consisting of multiple processors, multipliers, caches and interfaces on a single chip. SoCs can be implemented as an application-specific integrated circuit (ASIC) or using a field-programmable gate array (FPGA).
Embedded systems talk with the outside world via peripherals, such as:
As with other software, embedded system designers use compilers, assemblers, and debuggers to develop embedded system software. However, they may also use some more specific tools:
Software tools can come from several sources:
As the complexity of embedded systems grows, higher level tools and operating systems are migrating into machinery where it makes sense. For example, cellphones, personal digital assistants and other consumer computers often need significant software that is purchased or provided by a person other than the manufacturer of the electronics. In these systems, an open programming environment such as Linux, NetBSD, OSGi or Embedded Java is required so that the third-party software provider can sell to a large market.
Embedded systems are commonly found in consumer, cooking, industrial, automotive, and medical applications. Some examples of embedded systems are MP3 players, mobile phones, video game consoles, digital cameras, DVD players, and GPS. Household appliances, such as microwave ovens, washing machines and dishwashers, include embedded systems to provide flexibility and efficiency.
Embedded debugging may be performed at different levels, depending on the facilities available. The different metrics that characterize the different forms of embedded debugging are: does it slow down the main application, how close is the debugged system or application to the actual system or application, how expressive are the triggers that can be set for debugging (e.g., inspecting the memory when a particular program counter value is reached), and what can be inspected in the debugging process (such as, only memory, or memory and registers, etc.).
From simplest to most sophisticated they can be roughly grouped into the following areas:
Unless restricted to external debugging, the programmer can typically load and run software through the tools, view the code running in the processor, and start or stop its operation. The view of the code may be as HLL source-code, assembly code or mixture of both.
Because an embedded system is often composed of a wide variety of elements, the debugging strategy may vary. For instance, debugging a software- (and microprocessor-) centric embedded system is different from debugging an embedded system where most of the processing is performed by peripherals (DSP, FPGA, and co-processor). An increasing number of embedded systems today use more than one single processor core. A common problem with multi-core development is the proper synchronization of software execution. In this case, the embedded system design may wish to check the data traffic on the buses between the processor cores, which requires very low-level debugging, at signal/bus level, with a logic analyzer, for instance.
Real-time operating systems (RTOS) often supports tracing of operating system events. A graphical view is presented by a host PC tool, based on a recording of the system behavior. The trace recording can be performed in software, by the RTOS, or by special tracing hardware. RTOS tracing allows developers to understand timing and performance issues of the software system and gives a good understanding of the high-level system behaviors.
Embedded systems often reside in machines that are expected to run continuously for years without errors, and in some cases recover by themselves if an error occurs. Therefore, the software is usually developed and tested more carefully than that for personal computers, and unreliable mechanical moving parts such as disk drives, switches or buttons are avoided.
Specific reliability issues may include:
A variety of techniques are used, sometimes in combination, to recover from errors—both software bugs such as memory leaks, and also soft errors in the hardware:
For high volume systems such as portable music players or mobile phones, minimizing cost is usually the primary design consideration. Engineers typically select hardware that is just “good enough” to implement the necessary functions.
For low-volume or prototype embedded systems, general purpose computers may be adapted by limiting the programs or by replacing the operating system with a real-time operating system.
There are several different types of software architecture in common use.
In this design, the software simply has a loop. The loop calls subroutines, each of which manages a part of the hardware or software. Hence it is called a simple control loop or control loop.
Some embedded systems are predominantly controlled by interrupts. This means that tasks performed by the system are triggered by different kinds of events; an interrupt could be generated, for example, by a timer in a predefined frequency, or by a serial port controller receiving a byte.
These kinds of systems are used if event handlers need low latency, and the event handlers are short and simple. Usually, these kinds of systems run a simple task in a main loop also, but this task is not very sensitive to unexpected delays.
Sometimes the interrupt handler will add longer tasks to a queue structure. Later, after the interrupt handler has finished, these tasks are executed by the main loop. This method brings the system close to a multitasking kernel with discrete processes.
A nonpreemptive multitasking system is very similar to the simple control loop scheme, except that the loop is hidden in an API.The programmer defines a series of tasks, and each task gets its own environment to “run” in. When a task is idle, it calls an idle routine, usually called “pause”, “wait”, “yield”, “nop” (stands for no operation), etc.
The advantages and disadvantages are similar to that of the control loop, except that adding new software is easier, by simply writing a new task, or adding to the queue.
In this type of system, a low-level piece of code switches between tasks or threads based on a timer (connected to an interrupt). This is the level at which the system is generally considered to have an "operating system" kernel. Depending on how much functionality is required, it introduces more or less of the complexities of managing multiple tasks running conceptually in parallel.
As any code can potentially damage the data of another task (except in larger systems using an MMU) programs must be carefully designed and tested, and access to shared data must be controlled by some synchronization strategy, such as message queues, semaphores or a non-blocking synchronization scheme.
Because of these complexities, it is common for organizations to use a real-time operating system (RTOS), allowing the application programmers to concentrate on device functionality rather than operating system services, at least for large systems; smaller systems often cannot afford the overhead associated with a generic real-time system, due to limitations regarding memory size, performance, or battery life. The choice that an RTOS is required brings in its own issues, however, as the selection must be done prior to starting to the application development process. This timing forces developers to choose the embedded operating system for their device based upon current requirements and so restricts future options to a large extent.The restriction of future options becomes more of an issue as product life decreases. Additionally the level of complexity is continuously growing as devices are required to manage variables such as serial, USB, TCP/IP, Bluetooth, Wireless LAN, trunk radio, multiple channels, data and voice, enhanced graphics, multiple states, multiple threads, numerous wait states and so on. These trends are leading to the uptake of embedded middleware in addition to a real-time operating system.
A microkernel is a logical step up from a real-time OS. The usual arrangement is that the operating system kernel allocates memory and switches the CPU to different threads of execution. User mode processes implement major functions such as file systems, network interfaces, etc.
In general, microkernels succeed when the task switching and intertask communication is fast and fail when they are slow.
Exokernels communicate efficiently by normal subroutine calls. The hardware and all the software in the system are available to and extensible by application programmers.
In this case, a relatively large kernel with sophisticated capabilities is adapted to suit an embedded environment. This gives programmers an environment similar to a desktop operating system like Linux or Microsoft Windows, and is therefore very productive for development; on the downside, it requires considerably more hardware resources, is often more expensive, and, because of the complexity of these kernels, can be less predictable and reliable.
Common examples of embedded monolithic kernels are embedded Linux, VXWorks and Windows CE.
Despite the increased cost in hardware, this type of embedded system is increasing in popularity, especially on the more powerful embedded devices such as wireless routers and GPS navigation systems. Here are some of the reasons:
In addition to the core operating system, many embedded systems have additional upper-layer software components. These components consist of networking protocol stacks like CAN, TCP/IP, FTP, HTTP, and HTTPS, and also included storage capabilities like FAT and flash memory management systems. If the embedded device has audio and video capabilities, then the appropriate drivers and codecs will be present in the system. In the case of the monolithic kernels, many of these software layers are included. In the RTOS category, the availability of the additional software components depends upon the commercial offering.
In the automotive sector, AUTOSAR is a standard architecture for embedded software.
Processor design is the design engineering task of creating a processor, a key component of computer hardware. It is a subfield of computer engineering and electronics engineering (fabrication). The design process involves choosing an instruction set and a certain execution paradigm and results in a microarchitecture, which might be described in e.g. VHDL or Verilog. For microprocessor design, this description is then manufactured employing some of the various semiconductor device fabrication processes, resulting in a die which is bonded onto a chip carrier. This chip carrier is then soldered onto, or inserted into a socket on, a printed circuit board (PCB).
A microcontroller is a small computer on a single metal-oxide-semiconductor (MOS) integrated circuit chip. In modern terminology, it is similar to, but less sophisticated than, a system on a chip (SoC); a SoC may include a microcontroller as one of its components. A microcontroller contains one or more CPUs along with memory and programmable input/output peripherals. Program memory in the form of ferroelectric RAM, NOR flash or OTP ROM is also often included on chip, as well as a small amount of RAM. Microcontrollers are designed for embedded applications, in contrast to the microprocessors used in personal computers or other general purpose applications consisting of various discrete chips.
AVR is a family of microcontrollers developed since 1996 by Atmel, acquired by Microchip Technology in 2016. These are modified Harvard architecture 8-bit RISC single-chip microcontrollers. AVR was one of the first microcontroller families to use on-chip flash memory for program storage, as opposed to one-time programmable ROM, EPROM, or EEPROM used by other microcontrollers at the time.
A system on chip is an integrated circuit that integrates all components of a computer or other electronic system. These components typically include a central processing unit (CPU), memory, input/output ports and secondary storage – all on a single substrate or microchip, the size of a coin. It may contain digital, analog, mixed-signal, and often radio frequency signal processing functions, depending on the application. As they are integrated on a single substrate, SoCs consume much less power and take up much less area than multi-chip designs with equivalent functionality. Because of this, SoCs are very common in the mobile computing and edge computing markets. Systems-on-chip are typically fabricated using metal–oxide–semiconductor (MOS) technology, and are commonly used in embedded systems and the Internet of Things.
PIC is a family of microcontrollers made by Microchip Technology, derived from the PIC1650 originally developed by General Instrument's Microelectronics Division. The name PIC initially referred to Peripheral Interface Controller, and is currently expanded as Programmable Intelligent Computer. The first parts of the family were available in 1976; by 2013 the company had shipped more than twelve billion individual parts, used in a wide variety of embedded systems.
In-circuit emulation (ICE) is the use of a hardware device or in-circuit emulator used to debug the software of an embedded system. It operates by using a processor with the additional ability to support debugging operations, as well as to carry out the main function of the system. Particularly for older systems, with limited processors, this usually involved replacing the processor temporarily with a hardware emulator: a more powerful although more expensive version. It was historically in the form of bond-out processor which has many internal signals brought out for the purpose of debugging. These signals provide information about the state of the processor.
JTAG is an industry standard for verifying designs and testing printed circuit boards after manufacture.
Embedded software is computer software, written to control machines or devices that are not typically thought of as computers, commonly known as embedded systems. It is typically specialized for the particular hardware that it runs on and has time and memory constraints. This term is sometimes used interchangeably with firmware.
The Blackfin is a family of 16-/32-bit microprocessors developed, manufactured and marketed by Analog Devices. The processors have built-in, fixed-point digital signal processor (DSP) functionality supplied by 16-bit multiply–accumulates (MACs), accompanied on-chip by a microcontroller. It was designed for a unified low-power processor architecture that can run operating systems while simultaneously handling complex numeric tasks such as real-time H.264 video encoding.
Nios II is a 32-bit embedded-processor architecture designed specifically for the Altera family of field-programmable gate array (FPGA) integrated circuits. Nios II incorporates many enhancements over the original Nios architecture, making it more suitable for a wider range of embedded computing applications, from digital signal processing (DSP) to system-control.
The MicroBlaze is a soft microprocessor core designed for Xilinx field-programmable gate arrays (FPGA). As a soft-core processor, MicroBlaze is implemented entirely in the general-purpose memory and logic fabric of Xilinx FPGAs.
A computer architecture simulator is a program that simulates the execution of computer architecture.
AT91CAP is a family of Atmel microcontrollers based on the 32-bit RISC microprocessors from ARM. They include a block of metal-programmable logic gates that can be personalized by the application developer. The MP Block can contain one or more additional processor cores, additional peripherals or interfaces, or application-specific logic such as a GPS correlator.
SEGGER Microcontroller is a private multinational company dealing in middleware for embedded devices as well as development and programming tools. The company was founded in 1992 and is headquartered in Monheim am Rhein, Germany with US offices in Gardner, Massachusetts and Milpitas, California.
EFM32 Gecko MCUs are a family of energy-friendly, mixed-signal 32-bit microcontroller integrated circuits from Energy Micro based on ARM Cortex-M CPUs, including the Cortex-M0+, Cortex-M3 and Cortex-M4.
Ember was an American company based in Boston, Massachusetts, USA, which is now owned by Silicon Labs. Ember had a radio development centre in Cambridge, England, and distributors worldwide. It developed ZigBee wireless networking technology that enabled companies involved in energy technologies to help make buildings and homes smarter, consume less energy, and operate more efficiently. The low-power wireless technology can be embedded into a wide variety of devices to be part of a self-organizing mesh network. All Ember products conform to IEEE 802.15.4-2003 standards.
A single-board microcontroller is a microcontroller built onto a single printed circuit board. This board provides all of the circuitry necessary for a useful control task: a microprocessor, I/O circuits, a clock generator, RAM, stored program memory and any necessary support ICs. The intention is that the board is immediately useful to an application developer, without requiring them to spend time and effort to develop controller hardware.
Mbed is a platform and operating system for internet-connected devices based on 32-bit ARM Cortex-M microcontrollers. Such devices are also known as Internet of Things devices. The project is collaboratively developed by Arm and its technology partners.
XMC is a family of microcontroller ICs by Infineon. The XMC microcontrollers use the 32-bit RISC ARM processor cores from ARM Holdings, such as Cortex-M4F and Cortex-M0. XMC stands for "cross-market microcontrollers", meaning that this family can cover due to compatibility and configuration options, a wide range in industrial applications. The family supports three essential trends in the industry: It increases the energy efficiency of the systems, supports a variety of communication standards and reduces software complexity in the development of the application's software environment with the parallel released eclipse-based software tool DAVE.
C8051 is a microcontroller (MCU) core produced by Silicon Laboratories, Inc. It is based on a patented implementation of the 8051 instruction set architecture.
An embedded system is a microprocessor based system that is built to control a function or a range of functions.
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