Embedded systems; a storming revolution

Published: 15th March 2011
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An embedded system can be defined as a system comprising of a combination of hardware and software, assembled with the motive of completing a set, predefined task. The name embedded system does justice to itself as the system is encapsulated within the main working frame of the device which it controls. These systems have come into such widespread use today that there has been a revolution in the way we perceive our world today. We carry embedded systems in a variety of electronic gadgets and electrical items, for example, digital watches, mobile phones and other complex products.

The most unique feature of embedded systems is that they are dedicated to unique tasks which otherwise might require very powerful processors. The embedded systems are controlled by typical microcontroller systems or digital signal processors. The reason for their widespread usage is that, since they are dedicated to specific tasks, they can be engineered into compact sizes and optimised costs. Also they are more reliable in terms of long term performance. Their cost is less than that of independent main frame non embedded systems because most of the embedded systems undergo mass production and thus leading to lower cost levels.

Practical applications of these systems are widespread and diverse. From watches to MP3 players on a smaller size scale to traffic light controllers, nuclear power plant controllers on larger levels, embedded systems have captured an expansive market.

The design of embedded systems is made by keeping in mind that their main usage is to perform simple tasks, repeated over and over again, without being dependant on the input by the user. Their design is such that an integrated circuit is made, that is a one stop technology wherein every bit of technology required to run an application is present on board. Microcontrollers make the task easier and possible as they combine several features onto the size of a chip. The chip is almost like a mini computer because it contains all the components that are a part of the latter. It contains an onboard central processing unit, input output interfaces, flash memory for program storage, RAM for data storage, peripherals such as timers and a clock generator. Since all such features are integrated onto a singe board, the amount of wiring that was required earlier is eliminated. Also the cost and complexity of the controlling device is dramatically reduced.

As for the scope of this technology, it is an expansive ocean waiting to be explored. There are a variety of ambitious projects on the platter which are undergoing a great deal of research. One such project is that of an automobile with a fully functional personal computer installed within the car itself to control all the features presently being controlled by microcontrollers. The parameters to be controlled could be ranging from brake balance control to ignition system to air conditioning. The challenge is thus a massive one. There is indeed a lot to be studied in this relatively new field of technology.

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