An embedded system is a computer solution dedicated to providing specific functionality as part of a larger functioning system. Embedded refers to the tendency for the technology to be an internal component to the overall system. Embedded systems are everywhere and installations are expanding exponentially.
Since the early 1960s when embedded systems were first defined and used in the space program, the complexities and applications of these computers have changed greatly. Embedded systems are now integral to the cars we drive, consumer electronics, medical equipment, transportation systems, telecommunications, industrial controls, aerospace, and military applications. The applications are endless as technology and innovation uncover new opportunities and demands for programmable and self regulating/reporting solutions. While many of these applications use multiple embedded processors working in unison, each is considered an embedded system that works independently to provide a specific function in the total solution.
The operating environments for embedded systems generally extend well beyond the operating conditions of personal computers. Driven by the industrial equipment where they reside, embedded systems often require rugged, fanless computer hardware designed to withstand extreme conditions. Whether the system operates outdoors, is subjected to routine shock, or requires 10 plus years of product life, fanless embedded systems are often a requirement for increasing reliability.
Now known as the Internet of Things (IoT), a large movement began in 2005 to connect embedded systems directly to the internet, expanding the ability to collect and analyze data in a way never before possible. The concept allows information to be communicated through Ethernet, wireless, cellular technologies and other schemes so it can be analyzed on cloud-based systems allowing proactive predictive analysis.
The fundamental concept remains and many off-the-shelf solutions are available to simplify the development and integration of embedded systems. The system hardware selection is driven by the scope of the system interfaces (I/O) including sensors, controls, connectivity and operator interface. Many embedded systems have no operator interface and rely on simple push buttons, LEDs or a communication channel for device interaction. Once the basic system requirements are defined, a microprocessor or microcontroller can be selected to provide the necessary performance for the task.
Though many embedded systems require custom designed solutions, many industry standard form factors are also available. Single board computers based on industry standards such as PC/104, EBX, EPIC, Nano-ITX and 3.5-inch, and STD Bus are popular choices for industrial environments.
In parallel with the hardware selection, it is also necessary to consider the software side of the embedded system. Many different solutions are available for operating systems and application software tools. Proper selection may have a dramatic impact on the embedded system development cycle.
Considered by our clients to be The Embedded Systems Authority, WINSYSTEMS has focused on embedded technology and single board computers for over 30 years. The company provides a consultative approach to embedded computing design with a combination of standard and customized solutions.