Introduction to Embedded Software

17/06/2019, hardwarebee

The use of embedded software has been on a rise in the last 30 years. This is highlighted by the fact that we are living in a technology-enriched era where our day to day lives are being surrounded by microprocessors-based machines such as: mobile phones, cars, pacemakers, home appliances, satellites, etc. Today, there is hardly any domain that doesn’t make extensive use of microprocessor-based technology.


What is Embedded Software?


Microprocessors or small chips have dedicated software installed onto them which is commonly known as embedded software. You can think of embedded software as a code that is written for the purpose of controlling and operating these microprocessors. Embedded software is dedicated for a single function that is particular for the device onto which it is being installed.


A software that is running inside any electronic product (which is not a PC/laptop) is most likely to be called Embedded Software.


As a rule of thumb, an electronic product that makes use of chips likely to be using embedded software for the purpose of controlling and operating the device. Embedded software is used in mobile phones, cars, electronic gadgets, toys, television sets, home appliances, security systems, etc. A wide range of the advanced features that modern gadgets are capable of handling are because of the embedded software. Such programs are likely to be fairly simple and yet the functionalities they can offer are highly sophisticated such as those used in military weaponry, process control systems, or even in the airplanes.


Embedded Software History


Perhaps because of the required funding, almost all the technological innovation found their first applications in the military. Embedded software was no different at all. Starting from the end of the 40s, all the way to the mid-60s, the use of embedded software was confined to missile guidance, space exploration, and more. With the start of the 70s, the applications of embedded software started to expand in hopes of reaching a larger customer base.


It was Intel with its 8008 microcontroller chip that gave embedded software its first boost in the 1970s. With the use of a flexible coded program, it was capable of reading the data from the real-world and generating the relevant outputs after processing the provided data. As such, the chip was nothing short of a tiny computer. Intel’s 8008 enabled loading of a single written program into the microcontroller which could then produce the output once the program was executed with the right set of input. Such microcontrollers were later made an essential component of almost all of the consumer electronic by the start of the 1990s.


While the start of microprocessors (with embedded software) were not as cost-effective, with the progress of technology — the production cost has now been reduced to pennies compared to where it started from. This is perhaps the very reason why every other device and gadget in this time and age makes extensive use of microprocessors or microcontrollers which are being controlled and operated by dedicated embedded software or a set of such programs.


A fair amount of embedded software is used in devices which are critical for safety and life preservation, for example, a pacemaker. This is why the standards for making microprocessors and the dedicated embedded software are unmatched in terms of engineering, quality, and management processes. With the advancements in terms of complexity of such programs and likely their size as well, high levels of expertise and professionalism are required to engineer such systems while keeping them within the bounds of budget.


The entire concept of “Internet of Things IoT” is based on the use of embedded software which makes it convenient and efficient for different devices and gadgets to interact and be interconnected with each other. This is what highlights the importance of industry grade security for embedded software-powered devices. It is essential to protect such devices against malware and attempts of hacking as well.


Final Note


Embedded software are an essential component of modern devices for versatile functionality, improved configurability, and better flexibility. With the concept of artificial intelligence on a rise, we are likely to find embedded software in literally everything in the years to come. Be it your autonomous car, your smart home, a medical instrument, or communication infrastructure, embedded software will be powering each of such gadgets. Extensive utilization of embedded software in energy-related technologies further has the potential to meet the energy or even climate-related demands.


In the future, it will no longer be the hardware that will give definition to the embedded software. The future programs will be capable of serving multiples functionalities and accomplish variable objectives with the use of any number of logic devices including a signal processor, microcontroller, biological assembly, or microprocessor. Simply put, for a better quality of life, we must ensure higher standards of living for which safety and security is a requirement. All of it can only be accomplished with extensive use of embedded software.

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