A Guide to Embedded Systems

You might have heard of the term embedded systems floating around the engineering sphere, but have you ever wondered what they are and why you should use them?

If so, you’re in luck. To find out everything you need to know about embedded systems, read on.

What are embedded systems?

As well as ‘normal’ computers, there are plenty of other less typical computer systems. An example of this is an embedded system.

To put it simply, an embedded system is a small computer that is part of a much bigger system, device, or machine. Unlike general-purpose computers that are good all-rounders, embedded systems normally have one or two tasks they can perform.

Although it might sound complex, embedded systems are more common than you’d think. For example, they’re normally used in everything from central heating systems to domestic appliances, fitness trackers, and GPS systems.

What are the different types of embedded systems?

As embedded systems normally have a couple of functions, it should come as no surprise that there are different types. Here are some of them:

  1. Stand-alone embedded systems

A stand-alone embedded system is exactly what it says on the tin. These types of embedded systems don’t require a host system (i.e., a computer or processor) to work.

  1. Real-time embedded systems

These embedded systems are used if the output is required at a certain time. For example, if a task must be completed at a certain time, a real-time embedded system comes up trumps.

  1. Network embedded systems

If a program is running inside another device, you have what’s known as a ‘network’. A network-embedded system is where a microprocessor or controller is controlling the running program.

These types of embedded systems are the fastest growing, with many security systems now using this technology.

  1. Mobile embedded systems

All portable devices are mobile embedded systems. And if you’re one of the 55.5 million people in the UK with a smartphone, you own one of these!

What are the uses of embedded systems?

Embedded systems are far more common than you’d think! For example, they can be used in everything from smartwatches to fitness trackers and even medical equipment.

You’ll even have devices that use embedded systems in your own home, as many home appliances use embedded systems. And if you have a home security system? Chances are, that’s an embedded system too.

What are the disadvantages of embedded systems?

Although embedded systems are brilliant in many ways, there are some disadvantages. For example, they can be hard to maintain, which means they are often used in ‘use and throw’ devices – which isn’t ideal from a sustainability perspective.

They also have less power supply durability if the systems are battery-operated, and they are notoriously hard to back up.

But despite their disadvantages, they are highly reliable, inexpensive devices that can easily be mass-produced.

So, next time you use your mobile phone, why not take a moment to reflect on the embedded system contained within?

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