Say the word computer and visions of a desktop or laptop dance around in the head. That is no longer the only truth. Those devices are merely a small portion of all that is computerized now. Computers have become components. In this post we take a look at what embedded computer systems are with some examples and top characteristics.
What are Embedded Computer Systems
Embedded computer systems come as any device that has a programmable component, but is not intended as a general purpose computer. Examples of embedded computer systems are a digital clock, a smart phone or the computer system in your car. Microprocessors have become powerful and may contain tens of millions of transistors with over ten thousand lines of language code to make it function. Designs that allow efficiency with as little power consumption as possible have become premium.
Characteristics of Embedded Systems
Embedded computer systems work on complex algorithms. Microprocessors that control vehicle engines have filtering functions which balance all the parameters in an engine for maximum performance. Add to that the environmental law requirements for producing as little pollution as possible plus keeping fuel or energy usage as low as possible then one has as complex a system as can come.
User interfaces have become the norm with consumers. Multiple menus with many options that display friendly colorful backgrounds catch consumer eyes and let them make intuitive decisions. Think of the global positioning system navigation found on luxury cars, and a person sees graphics alone take much coordination and cooperation in real time to display the upcoming roadway. All of it is managed by an embedded system.
Embedded systems installed in machinery and automobiles have to perform perfectly in real time or the system breaks down. The level of complexity results in endangerment of lives if the system malfunctions. If one owns a business, then an embedded system failure can cost millions of dollars.
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Many embedded systems have multirate behavior where some activities occur at a quick pace while others become held at a slower rate. Multimedia applications have multirate behavior. Audio and video on any portion of a multimedia stream are always at a different rate but at the same time have to synchronization so as to work.
Balancing all the needs in a single embedded system design internally is an accomplishment in itself. External constraints make designing a system even more difficult. Hardware decisions become difficult since deadlines, performance standards, and cost constraints present their own problems. Too little computer hardware and the system will slow to a snail’s pace, and too much hardware makes the system cost prohibitive.
Minimizing power consumption becomes important in battery operated devices such as smart phones. Making a digital system consume less power means slowing the system down which can make the embedded system not desirable. Instead, a careful design which slows down noncritical portions of the system while maximizing power availability to critical needs areas works best.
Many embedded stems come made for the long term so the ability to trade out microprocessors, or other parts are a must. Hardware platforms normally become used over several product generations. Having interchangeable parts and features which allow adding software programs in, increase the life of an embedded system.
Where ever an embedded system is in most cases a person will not notice when it is working since excellent engineering makes it seamless and integrated into daily life. It is grand to have a few devices a person does not have to input any commands into, it just simply works.
Steve Wright writes about panel PCs and other industrial computing topics for Steatite Embedded.