What are embedded systems?

Have you wondered how to make your business faster and more efficient? In the technological world today there are so many updates aimed to make jobs faster and more efficient. One of these technologies is the embedded system. Read this guide to the end to know more about embedded systems.

What are embedded systems?

Embedded systems, sometimes called embedded computers, are small-form-factor computers that power specific tasks. They may function as devices that can stand,  or be part of larger systems. Hence the term “embedded,” is often used in applications with size, weight, power, and cost (SWaP-C) constraints.

They may function as separate devices or as part of larger systems, hence the term “embedded,” and are often used in applications with size, weight, power, and cost (SWaP-C) constraints.

Like most computers, embedded systems are a combination of hardware and software, usually:

  • Microprocessors or microcontrollers
  • Graphics processing units (GPUs)
  • Volatile and non-volatile memory
  • Input/output communication interfaces and ports
  • System and application code
  • Power supplies

Furthermore, An embedded system has three components −

  • It has hardware.
  • It has application software.
  • It has a Real-Time Operating system (RTOS) that supervises the application software and provides a mechanism to let the processor run a process as per schedule by following a plan to control the latencies. RTOS defines the way the system works. It sets the rules during the execution of the application program. A small-scale embedded system may not have RTOS.

So in more simplified terms, we can define an embedded system as a Microcontroller based, software-driven, reliable, real-time control system.

How an Embedded System Works

To understand better what embedded systems are, we need to understand how Embedded systems are managed by microcontrollers or digital signal processors (DSP), application-specific integrated circuits (ASIC), and field-programmable gate arrays (FPGA), GPU technology, and gate arrays. These processing systems are integrated with components dedicated to handling electric and/or mechanical interfacing.

Embedded systems programming instructions, referred to as firmware, are stored in read-only memory or flash memory chips, running with limited computer hardware resources. Embedded systems connect with the outside world through peripherals, linking input and output devices.

The expected growth is partially due to the continued investment in artificial intelligence (AI), mobile computing, and the need for chips designed for high-level processing.

Examples of Places Embedded Systems Are Used In

Embedded systems are used in a wide range of technologies across an array of industries. Some examples include:


Current cars normally consist of many computers (sometimes as many as 100), or embedded systems, designed to perform various tasks within the automobile. Some of these systems perform basic utility functions and while providing entertainment or user-facing functions. Some embedded systems in consumer vehicles include cruise control, backup sensors, suspension control, navigation systems, and airbag systems.

Mobile phones.

These consist of many embedded systems, including GUI software and hardware, operating systems (OSes), cameras, microphones, and USB (Universal Serial Bus) I/O (input/output) modules.

Industrial machines.

They can contain embedded systems, like sensors, and can be embedded systems themselves. Industrial machines often have embedded automation systems that perform specific monitoring and control functions.

Medical equipment.

These may contain embedded systems like sensors and control mechanisms. Medical equipment, such as industrial machines, also must be very user-friendly so that human health isn’t.

Structure of embedded systems

Although Embedded systems vary in complexity, they generally consist of three main elements:

  • The hardware of embedded systems is based on microprocessors and microcontrollers. Microprocessors are very similar to microcontrollers and, typically, refer to a CPU (central processing unit) that is integrated with other basic computing components such as memory chips and digital signal processors (DSPs). Microcontrollers have those components built into one chip.
  • Software and firmware. Software for embedded systems can vary in complexity. However, industrial-grade microcontrollers and embedded IoT systems usually run very simple software that requires little memory.
  • Real-time operating system. These are not always included in embedded systems, especially smaller-scale systems. RTOSes define how the system works by supervising the software and setting rules during program execution.

In terms of hardware, a basic embedded system would consist of the following elements:

  • Sensors convert physical sense data into electrical signals.
  • Analog-to-digital (A-D) converters change an analog electrical signal into a digital one.
  • Processors process digital signals and store them in memory.
  • Digital-to-analog (D-A) converters change the digital data from the processor into analog data.
  • Actuators compare actual output to memory-stored output and choose the correct one.

The sensor reads external inputs, the converters make that input readable to the processor, and the processor turns that information into useful output for the embedded system.

What are the different types of embedded systems?

Embedded systems are categorized mainly on performance and functional requirements, as well as the performance of microcontrollers. These classifications can be further divided into categories and subcategories.

When classifying embedded systems based on performance and functional requirements, embedded systems are divided into four categories:

  • Real-time embedded systems
  • Standalone embedded systems
  • Network, or networked, embedded systems
  • Mobile embedded systems

Real-time embedded systems

Real-time embedded systems offer the necessary output in a defined time interval. Most of the time, they use in medical, industrial, and military sectors because they are responsible for time-critical tasks. A traffic control system is an example of this.

In addition, Real-time embedded systems are divided into soft real-time embedded systems and hard real-time embedded systems to account for the importance of output generation speed.

Standalone embedded systems

Standalone embedded systems are not reliant on a host system. Like any embedded system, they perform a specified task. Although, they do not necessarily belong to a host system, unlike other embedded systems. A calculator or MP3 player is an example of this.

Sometimes, the embedded system might depend on the computer’s processing and memory resources. It is important that one notes that a slight delay in real-time output delivery may occur; however, temperature and humidity data acquisition and analysis.

The outputs which are helpful to have on hand, aren’t typically considered mission-critical activities producing mission-critical data, so the system’s outputs, albeit late, would still be regarded as valuable, and its latency, although an indication that quality of service has declined, would cause no particularly harmful outcomes.

Network, or networked, embedded systems

Networked embedded systems are connected to a network to provide output to other systems. Examples include home security systems and point of sale (POS) systems.

Mobile embedded systems

Mobile embedded systems are small-sized systems that are designed to be portable. Digital cameras are an example of this.

Important to stress is that the independent functionality of standalone embedded systems does not apply to all embedded systems. Many embedded systems are functional and purposeful only as integrated parts of larger mechanical, electrical, or electronic systems.

Characteristics of an Embedded System


An embedded system usually performs a specialized operation and does the same repeatedly. For example, A monitor will always function as a monitor.

Tightly constrained

All computing systems have restraints on design metrics, but those on an embedded system can be especially tight. Design metrics are a measure of an implementation’s features such as its cost, size, power, and performance. It must be of a size to fit on a single chip, must perform fast enough to process data in real-time, and consume minimum power to extend battery life.

Reactive and Real-time

Many embedded systems must continually react to changes in the system’s environment and must compute certain results in real-time without any delay. Consider an example of a car cruise controller; it continually monitors and reacts to speed and brake sensors. It must compute acceleration or de-accelerations repeatedly within a limited time; a delayed computation can result in failure to control of the car.

Microprocessors based

It must be microprocessor or microcontroller-based. In other words, it must be a combination of a computer processor, computer memory, and input/output peripheral devices—that has a dedicated function within a larger mechanical or electronic system


It must have a memory, as its software usually embeds in ROM. It does not need any secondary memories in the computer.


It must have connected peripherals to connect input and output devices.

HW-SW systems

Software is used for more features and flexibility. Hardware is used for performance and security.

What are the advantages and disadvantages of using embedded systems?

The immediate advantages of embedded systems include:

  • Lower power consumption
  • Less noise and lower failure rate
  • More resistant to dust, debris, and other particulates
  • Less maintenance overall
  • Smaller size
  • Lower weight
  • Lower cost
  • Little to no human involvement
  • Dedicated task completion
  • Uninterrupted operation
  • A high degree of fault tolerance

The disadvantages of embedded systems, at least when compared to most full-sized rack-mount servers and workstations, include:

  • Limited processing resources
  • The simplicity of task management


Finally, as the world gets better in technology, an embedded system is expected to continue growing rapidly, driven in large part by the internet of things. Expanding IoT applications, such as wearables, drones, smart homes, smart buildings, video surveillance, 3D printers, and smart transportation, are expected to fuel embedded system growth.

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