With the rising need of automation and advent of faster and smaller processing technologies, embedded systems are
being universally used across the industries. Because of their specialized application, embedded systems need to
be designed with careful considerations. In a series of posts, we will discuss about the various techniques that
goes in to the embedded system design starting with its general architecture.
An embedded system is a computer system designated to perform a dedicated function. They are generally a part of
a bigger system or sometimes they themselves form the entire system. There are many categories of embedded
systems depending on their functionality, reliability etc.
Embedded systems constantly evolve with advances in technology and dramatic decreases in the cost of implementing
various hardware and software components. Some embedded devices requires higher quality and reliability than
other types of computer systems, for example a critical medical device malfunctioning at the time of surgery
will result in a very serious problem but there are also embedded devices such as TV’s, games, and cell phones
in which a malfunction is an inconvenience but not usually a life threatening situation.
Some examples of embedded system includes Ignition system, Engine control in Automotive, Set top boxes, PDA’s,
Microwave Ovens in Consumer Electronics, Robotics, Assembly Control System in Industrial, Gateways, Mobiles etc
Essentially an embedded system is a miniaturized computer. The following block diagram depicts a typical embedded
Modules in an embedded system
As with any computing device, it has the following components:
Processor is the brain controls the entire system. It holds the logic circuitry that responds to and processes
the basic instructions that drives the system. It manipulates the control and data path to achieve the expected
functionality. There are many application-specific and general-purpose microprocessors available. We will
discuss in detail about the microprocessors in next post.
Memories are the components that support the processor to hold data temporarily or permanently for immediate use
and or later use. Memories are of two types: non-volatile – capable of withholding data after power cycle and
volatile – not capable for persistent data storage. Memories come in various technologies and sizes that can be
chosen based on the specific needs of the system.
An embedded system responds to events from the external world and results in certain action be taken. This is
accomplished with the IOs – inputs and outputs. While a real external world event is in form of a continuous
analog signal (temperature reading of a furnace) or a discrete digital signal (on/off state of a switch), the
input presented to the embedded system is generally digitized. This digitization is achieved using ADC’s for the
analog signal or comparator circuits for a digital signal or it might be presented digitally using channels like
an external message to the system. Similarly the outputs in the digital form are converted to suit the real
world using many available techniques to be discussed later.
While the IO’s typically refers to interaction between the embedded system and the controlled system, the user
interface represents the interaction between the user and system. Various technologies are available to
implement the User interface including LCD’s, touch panels, key pads, buttons etc. An intuitive design enables
easier and enhanced control of the system and this is becoming more of a mandatory requirement rather than an
Another most important consideration of the design is the power supply. The system may be powered directly from
the power line or using a battery depending up on the nature of the use. Its design requires deep analysis and
careful incorporation according to the system requirement. Improper designing of power supply may not only
affect the system performance but may end up damaging the system also. Further nowadays with emphasis on a
greener world, it is more important to design a power-efficient system.
The mechanicals include cabinet and connectors. Cabinet protects the system from various external factors and
provides ambience to the internals. The connectors support the connection of the external signals into the
system. Various factors determine the selection of the cabinet and connectors which are discussed in detail in
the upcoming post.
As with any design, the design of an embedded system is determined by various requirements including functional
requirements, processing Capabilities, Power supply requirements, Environmental considerations and reliability
There are various models being practiced for embedded system design. Some of them are
Since choosing any of these models in highly implementation and implementer specific, we will not dwell in to
these topics. Rather we will discuss about various considerations to be factored in selecting each and every
component of the embedded system, starting with the processor in the next
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