Are you looking to source hardware for your embedded system? When faced with questions about software compatibility or required certifications, do you know exactly the needs of your application? In this article we will help you differentiate among embedded systems and how to make sure you are sourcing the appropriate hardware.
What is an embedded System?
We have two possible answers. The short version is that an embedded system is an applied computer system.
The long story is more complex. Thanks to several factors, especially Industry 4.0 and Internet of Things trends, technology has been in constant evolution at a fast speed for the past 20 years. This means that a decrease in costs allows companies to implement hardware and software components within their products faster and easier. In addition, the convergence of telecom and computing capabilities changed the original definitions we had to categorize embedded systems. These are common descriptions of an embedded system:
Regularly we relate embedded systems to limited capabilities. There is this common misconception that embedded systems offer limited hardware and/or software functionality compared to a regular personal computer. This can be true in certain applications in which we must limit one of the resources (power, space, processing capabilities). You can read more in our blog about this topic. However, this might not be the case in pattern recognition or Artificial Intelligence applications, for example.
It is also possible to find embedded systems designed to perform one function. This means the system is dedicated to a single activity. However, nowadays this is increasingly rare because devices have evolved to “hybrid” functions. For example, smartphones are now personal assistants, streaming devices, cameras, phones, calendars, alarm clocks, among many others. In addition, Smart TV’s can surf the internet, and record shows. Therefore, the convergence in technology makes it difficult to build dedicated embedded systems nowadays.
Some applications require higher quality and reliability from embedded systems. This is important for mission critical or life-threatening applications. This can also be applied for tough environments with high temperature, dust, or humidity. For example, the embedded system quality and reliability for a flight controller in an airplane will be higher than for a gaming console. In the first, if the plane crashes mid-flight due to an embedded system malfunction, it will be a catastrophic event compared to the negative experience or inconvenience of the user while gaming, which is not life-threatening. In these cases, hardware, particularly, will require to undergo several certifications and offer a certain level of protection against rough environments.
Is a smartphone an embedded system? You can find people using it as such. Nevertheless, the smartphone cannot be considered an embedded system (it is not embedded anywhere). This holds true for several “embedded systems” that originally were considered as such but are no longer or the other way around. The problem with the fast technological evolution is that the boundary to differentiate a personal computer and an embedded system is now blur.
What do they all have in common?
As you can see the application needs and requirements, determines if you need an embedded system or a computer. Capability, functionality, environment considerations, or intended user have been used to determine what is an embedded system. However, the common denominator is that no single definition can reflect all embedded systems today.
Therefore, when you are sourcing hardware for an embedded system, you need to have clear requirements. That is how you make sure your application will run smoothly and that you will be providing the most cost-effective solution to your company.