by July 1, 2005 0 comments

It’s all around us, crawling out of the woodwork, and under the most unsuspected of devices. Embedded systems are in vogue, and affecting our lives irrespective of whether we’re at home, in the office, or on the move. While cellphones and PDAs are the most visible applications of embedded systems, they’re just the tip of the iceberg. There’s so much happening, across all major industries, be it telecom or datacom, automobiles, information and industrial automation, buildings and homes automation, military and defense, aerospace, and even the humble enterprises. There are several key trends responsible for this proliferation. 

One of the factors for this growing popularity is the growing use of computer OS players in embedded systems. Computer-based OSs like Windows and Linux have entered the embedded space in a big way. So today, you’ll find lots of embedded devices such as PDAs, cellphones, etc that are based on these two OSs. This helps standardize the platform onto which programs can be written for embedded systems devices. Earlier, the embedded space was largely dominated by proprietary kernels, which made it extremely difficult to upgrade them to new technologies, and was also a costly proposition, as you had to pay huge license fees and royalties to the vendor. Now, standard OSs have alleviated these problems and even helped improve interoperability issues amongst different embedded systems. 

The other trend is software reusability. Embedded systems are becoming more dominated by the software development on the hardware. This is in sharp contrast to the older embedded systems wherein the hardware was the base and software was customized for it in a very small memory footprint. Today, the software is designed so that it can be reused. Therefore, much more complex development tools are available for embedded systems. Moreover, the memory footprint available for embedded systems has also increased, with so many different types of flash memory devices available.

Lastly, the Internet made it possible for computers all over the world to communicate with each other. This was further made possible because TCP/IP was accepted as the standard communication protocol by most networks. The trend now is to use the same protocol on embedded systems as well so that even different kinds of devices can communicate with each other. This is helping to create a completely different and more powerful ecosystem, which consists of lots of, always on, computing devices that are interconnected. That’s in essence what pervasive computing is all about, and the devices are nothing but embedded systems. This kind of a trend can affect just about every wake of life, limited only by the creativity and imagination of the solutions provider. In the pages to follow, we analyze different aspects of the world of embedded systems. We look at how embedded systems are technically different today than a few years ago. We also look at the relevance of microcontrollers and DSPs, the two key elements of embedded systems. Software is a critical element as well, so we explain how programming for embedded systems is different from regular programming, as well as a detailed look at the embedded OSs
of today. 

By Anil Chopra, Kunal Dua, Neha Shamshery, Rinku Tyagi, Shekhar Govindarajan, Sujay V Sarma

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