Embedded Systems

Embedded Systems

Brian Dall, Matthew Dry, and Max Erdwien


    The determination of when and what is called an embedded system could be debated. Generally it is said that an embedded system is any electronic system that has only a sole purpose and is not easily reprogrammed by a consumer or user. This is a pretty broad definition of an embedded system, so where did this all start? The first notable use of an electronic computing device was the ENIAC. The ENIAC was conceived during WWII for the Army to calculate artillery firing tables. It weighed more than 30 tons and took up 1800 square feet. This was where most books date the start of the information era and the birth of the study of informatics. This still is not where we begin with embedded systems. Some may argue that the ENIAC did have a sole purpose, but then again it was reprogrammable to perform various operations. Also, it is the system and I tend to agree with the side that states embedded systems are systems in which a computer chip ties into, not a system the is a computer chip. Then basically I just wasted your time telling you that when what we really want to know is where embedded systems reigned from.
    Another great feat for mankind came about a decade after the war, the moon landing. The moon landing was made possible by the use of internal computing hardware that controlled various aspects of the shuttle. This is the first huge impact of embedded systems on everyday citizens. The knowledge of this powerful computing hardware, that could get a man into space, is what made people finally realize where our world was heading.
    In the 1970’s most large businesses had some form of a computer and households had miniature calculators that could make the same number of processes as the ENIAC. The next step in the evolution of embedded systems came from the discovering of silicon based chips. Entire programs could be saved on a small chip that would fit on your fingertip. The 4004 chip created by Intel allowed for the world of embedded systems as we know it. It was cheap and had more power than the ENIAC did only 15 or so years before. The size, the power, and the price of this chip made it possible for companies to put chips into everything and everything they have. From cars, planes, toys, phones, appliances, hospital equipment, even some shoes all of these embedded systems run only by the help of those 0’s and 1’s.

How an Embedded System Works

    Embedded systems have become almost crucial to our everyday lives. There may not be a need for every individual to use embedded systems for survival, but they must be used in todays densely populated regions. For an item that we are so reliant on, embedded systems can often be taken for granted.
    Embedded Systems are processors that are dedicated to certain tasks. When many people think of an electronic chip, they immediately associate it with a laptop or desktop. Computers and laptops are not considered an embedded system because they are used for many different types of tasks. www.embedded-systems-portal.com states that only 5% of the worlds computer
chips are actually used in laptops or desktops though. The rest are in embedded systems. According to www.wikipedia.com, there are mainly two types of embedded systems. There are microcontrollers and digital signal processor. Microcontrollers are single integrated circuits that control a device. They can make items physically move, control user interfaces, change lights, keep time, play music, and much more.
    Signal processors are embedded systems that either receive and process information for computing devices or process and send out data in a readable format for another device to pick up. This type of embedded system is used in a wired and wireless device. The physical makeup of embedded systems or computer chips is of a group of specifically connected transistors. These transistors are made up of semiconducting materials such as silicon so that the chip can control the flow of electrons through it. Computing is done by sending a specified pattern of electrons and receiving a different set back due the the flow through the silicon chip. According to www.makeuseof.com, Intel’s i7 processor is made up with 731 million transistors.
    Another important feature to embedded systems is the ability to multiple processors and/ or multithreading. multithreading allows for a single processor to quickly go back and forth between different calculation so it gives an effect similar to doing multiple computations at once and using multiple processors in an embedded system allows for a devices to break up intensive calculations to quicken processing time.
    The information and computing language used on these devices vary depending depending on the use for the chip. The most common type of language for processing is C. Java, C#, C++, BASIC and any other computing language can also be used for processing too.The need for understating these logic based languages creates a large limitation for users being able to create or alter embedded systems that they use.
    The need for this specialized skill for programing chips is rapidly growing. The computations can be simple and fairly reliable for some less important devices such as a remote control car or more intensive and highly depended on in items like a planes or medical equipment. The number applications for for embedded systems are endless. You may be surprised if you stop and think about what your day would look like without a computer chip inside so many everyday items.

The Modern Embedded System Industry

    Embedded systems have many applications, and many industries are reliant on at least one embedded system in their product. Sometimes companies will have in-house embedded system designers and coders, but often they will use a third party firm that specializes in all things embedded.
    The applications of embedded systems are too numerous to list here, so I will instead try to give a few representative samples.
    The most familiar of embedded systems reside in consumer goods. Calculators, mp3 players, and cameras are things that we interact with every day. These kinds of embedded systems are much different from ones designed for industry. They have a much higher volume of production, and there’s more market competition. As such, those designing them don’t necessarily invent new things. Their focus is more on minimization of cost by increasing efficiency.
    Some systems that are less apparent to our everyday lives share these mass market characteristics, however. We don’t really think about the embedded systems in our cars or dishwashers, but they are just as ubiquitous as calculators.
    The other major categorization of embedded systems is specialized industry applications. Automation saves money, and companies know it. The focus here, though, is usually not on cost minimization (though it is, of course, a factor). Instead, engineers need to create robust systems that will endure heat, cold, electronic failure, vibration, hackers, low power, years of constant use, or any combination thereof. It must do all of this while maintaining responsivity to real-time situations. This is vital because, depending on the application, a failure of the system could result in millions of dollars in lost revenue, or worse, people’s safety being compromised.
    These attributes are boiled down into five measure of an embedded system’s Dependability.
1.Reliability: the chance that a system will complete a task given it without error.
2.Availability: the uptime of the system. Note that making a more robust system will increase availability, but so will making it easy to diagnose and fix.
3.Safety: ability to avoid unacceptable dangers during operation.
4.Survivability: redundancy in the system to maintain vital operations even in adverse conditions.
5.Security: protection of data from unauthorized access, without compromising availability of the data to authorized individuals.


Burnside, Ken. eHow Tech. n.d. Text. 10 December 2012.<http://ee.cleversoul.com/news/the-history-of-embedded-systems.html.


Everyone. ENIAC on Wikipedia. 10 December 2012. Text. 10 December 2012.

<http://www.ehow.com/info_12030725_history-embedded-systems.html>Lynn, Brian. The EE Compendium. 29 April 2010. Video. 10 December 2012.


Sifakis, Joseph. CTB Embedded Systems. n.d. Text. 10 December 2012.


The Computer Language Company Inc. PC Mag. 2012. Pictures. 10 December 2012.

How it works

    McDowell, Guy. "MakeUseOf." MakeUseOf. Google, 19 Sept. 2009. Web. 01 Nov. 2012.<http://www.makeuseof.com/tag/technology-explained-what-are-computer-chips-made-out-ofnb/%20>.

    Sifakis, Joseph. "A Short History of Embedded SystemsEmbedded Systems Guide." A ShortHistory of Embedded Systems. N.p., n.d. Web. 01 Nov. 2012. <http://www.embedded-systemsportal.com/CTB/History%2C-8.html>.

    "Embedded system" Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia Foundation, Inc. 22 July2004. Web. 1 November. 2012. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Embedded_system>.


    OpenSystems Media. Industrial Embedded Systems. 2012. Text. 10 December 2012.


    Zurawski, Richard. iestcfa.org. 2007. Powerpoint. 10 December 2012.