Embedded Systems

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What are real-time embedded systems?

Real-time embedded systems combine features from both real-time systems and embedded systems, quickly delivering highly reliable responses to some external input. 

The most cutting-edge real-time embedded systems are a key part of the future of semiconductors. As technology evolves beyond complementary metal-oxide semiconductors (CMOS), real-time embedded systems will become more powerful.

This is because as engineers develop digital logic technologies that go beyond CMOS scaling limits, chips will be able to provide greater computational power to digital devices. And more computational power means better real-time embedded systems.

What is a real-time system?

Real-time systems are computer systems that are designed to respond to an event or request from an external environment within a strictly defined time also known as a deadline. An important defining characteristic of these systems is that they are predictable and deterministic. This is essential for systems that need to respond in real time. 

For some real-time applications, such as in medical devices sustaining human life, missing a deadline would be absolutely unacceptable. These systems are known as hard real-time systems. For other real-time applications, however, missing a deadline would be undesirable but not absolutely unacceptable. These are known as soft real-time systems.

What is an embedded system?

Embedded systems combine hardware and embedded software for a specific function or functions within a larger system. A very simple and convenient definition of an embedded system is any computer system contained within a product that is not described as a computer.

While all embedded systems, or embedded applications, are computing systems, they have widely varying user interfaces. Some embedded systems are designed to perform a single task and do not require a user interface. Other embedded systems have complex graphical user interfaces.

Why are real-time embedded systems important?

Real-time embedded systems are important because they provide the means to achieve predictable responses to deadlines. This means that they can exert tight control over certain outcomes. They can produce results in real time, without a significant delay.

There are numerous examples of real-time systems in some of the most important places in contemporary commercial, governmental, military, medical, educational, and cultural infrastructures.

Examples include but aren’t limited to the following:

  • Traffic control systems for highways, airspace, railway tracks, and shipping lanes
  • Process control systems for power plants and chemical plants
  • Medical systems for radiation therapy, patient monitoring, and defibrillation
  • Military weapon systems 

These examples demonstrate the concept of a system capable of responding predictably in real time. All of these systems have to do their jobs without significant time lags.

How a real-time embedded system works

A real-time embedded system works by combining real-time environmental interaction with embedded software processing, creating predictable, deterministic real-time computing systems that are capable of executing “mission critical” applications. Real-time embedded systems use input from the environment and generate real-time responses that affect outcomes.

Real-time embedded systems with embedded software differ from embedded Linux applications by being much more limited: embedded systems comprise static link libraries providing only task scheduling, interprocess communication, synchronization timing and interrupt services, and little else besides. This is in many ways an advantage compared to Linux, since their limited capabilities are geared toward fulfilling their functions.

How does an embedded system work?

An embedded system incorporates a rugged motherboard into an industrial enclosure, with an associated input and output (I/O) and software to fulfill the process that is the function of the system. The hardware component of an embedded system is broadly similar to that of other electronic systems. The hardware is based around a microprocessor or microcontroller, along with the elements of memory and I/O.

This hardware component is the central component of the system, responsible for carrying out computational tasks. To that end, embedded systems contain software known as firmware written for one particular application. The creators of these systems typically write the firmware in high-level formats and compile them to provide code that can be stored within a nonvolatile memory within the hardware.

How do reactive embedded systems work?

Many embedded systems are reactive embedded systems, meaning they must react continuously to any input from their environment by generating an output. Such systems are built around one crucial concern—safety. They embody real-time computing.

The basic structure of a reactive embedded system starts with a sensor, which continuously measures a physical quantity or input and converts it to an electrical signal. The system stores the signal in its memory and reads it with an external observer or analog-to-digital converter.

The processors acquire the digital signal, process it, and measure the output. They can then store the results to memory. A digital-to-analog converter converts the digital data back to analog data, and an actuator can compare the output with the actual expected output and store the approved output.

What are the hardware foundations of a real-time embedded system?

The hardware foundations of a real-time embedded system generally consist of either a microcontroller or a microprocessor. A microcontroller is basically a central processing unit (CPU), or a processor with integrated memory or peripheral devices.

A microprocessor, on the other hand, contains a CPU but makes use of external chips for memory and peripheral interfaces.  

Pros and cons of using real-time embedded systems

The upsides and downsides to using real-time embedded systems largely stem from the same set of features. These systems are designed to perform a limited number of tasks quickly, reliably, and without error. As a result, they are prone to trade-offs such as limited function and being difficult to edit and program.

Pros

Embedded systems are small, relatively cheap, and specific to one particular task. Because of these features, they are highly reliable, load quickly, use system resources in a highly optimized and efficient manner, and consume low power.

This means that embedded systems are ideal for heterogeneous integration with other components. Thanks to sound embedded systems programming, an embedded system can reliably perform its single allotted task in a manner that enhances the functionality of the rest of the system.

Cons

Embedded systems are difficult to upgrade, and if one of them has a problem, it is necessary to reset the settings. Their hardware is very limited, troubleshooting them is difficult, and they do not make it easy to transfer data to other systems. 

What are the advantages of using RTOS software architecture for an embedded system?

The advantages of using real-time operating system (RTOS) software architecture for the development of an embedded system include speed, efficiency, and reliability.

RTOS software architecture allows for priority-based scheduling, or real-time scheduling. Using an algorithm, a real-time operating system can act as a scheduler, deciding which tasks to execute at any point in time and which ones to suspend. For that matter, tasks can also suspend themselves. 

These systems are fast and deterministic, making them ideal for integration with embedded systems in many ways. Their claims on memory usage are predictable, since each task is allocated defined stack space.

Code reuse is another benefit of RTOS architecture. Similar applications on similar platforms can use some of the same code, allowing developers to create and use a library of standard tasks. Real-time operating systems are also extremely reliable and have the capacity to deliver desired outcomes without error.

What are the disadvantages of using RTOS software architecture for an embedded system?

The disadvantages of using RTOS software architecture for an embedded system have a great deal to do with the same features that make these systems so capable.

For one thing, these systems possess limited task ability. They are designed to provide a fast, resource-efficient, highly reliable means of completing certain tasks. But part of the necessary trade-off is that they can run only a few tasks at the same time. This is necessary to avoid errors.

Another problem is editability. Real-time operating systems rely on complex algorithms, and the very complexity of these algorithms makes it difficult to edit them. A real-time operating system software architecture is not easy to program or edit. 

These systems also need specific device drivers and interrupt signals to respond quickly to interrupts. They are not good at switching tasks.

Overall, these systems deliver speed and reliability in the handling of a few tasks at the expense of versatility and editability.

How to implement real-time embedded systems

From a software engineering perspective, how to implement real-time embedded systems is largely a question of choosing a design and installing the real-time operating system onto an embedded device.

What projects can take advantage of a real-time embedded system?

Any application that needs to respond to an external stimulus predictably, quickly, and without error can take advantage of a real-time embedded system. Examples include the following:

  • Automobile airbag systems
  • Traffic control systems
  • Pacemaker systems
  • Military weapons, tracking, and command-control systems

What is the best way to implement a real-time embedded system?

The best way to implement a real-time embedded system is to start with clear requirements so that you can be sure the design meets those requirements. Once you have a design, you can proceed to programming.

Object-oriented programming with message-passing ability offers some of the best ways to implement a real-time embedded system. The IEEE Xplore digital library includes numerous resources that offer guidance on implementing a wide range of real-time operating systems in the context of embedded devices.

How can you ensure a smooth implementation of a real-time embedded system?

Smoothly implementing a real-time embedded system starts with addressing the necessary elements of these systems. Their creators have to program them to meet given timing constraints; this is part of the software engineering design and the definition of a real-time system. These constraints include event response—that is, what the system is supposed to do when it encounters the stimulus it is designed to respond to—and task scheduling.

Task scheduling covers the ability of real-time embedded systems to respond to different inputs with different tasks, a task being a response in the form of a set of instructions. Common design patterns include round-robin scheduling, in which each system component takes a turn using shared resources, and queueing design, in which items take their turns.

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Conferences related to Embedded Systems

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2021 26th IEEE International Conference on Emerging Technologies and Factory Automation (ETFA )

ETFA focus is on the latest developments and new technologies in the field of industrial and factory automation. The conference aims to exchange ideas with both industry leaders and a variety of experienced researchers, developers, and practitioners from several industries, research institutes, and academia


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The joint meeting is intended to provide an international forum for the exchange of information on state of the art research in the area of antennas and propagation, electromagnetic engineering and radio science


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The world's premier EDA and semiconductor design conference and exhibition. DAC features over 60 sessions on design methodologies and EDA tool developments, keynotes, panels, plus the NEW User Track presentations. A diverse worldwide community representing more than 1,000 organizations attends each year, from system designers and architects, logic and circuit designers, validation engineers, CAD managers, senior managers and executives to researchers and academicians from leading universities.

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    The world's premier EDA and semiconductor design conference and exhibition. DAC features over 60 sessions on design methodologies and EDA tool developments, keynotes, panels, plus the NEW User Track presentations. A diverse worldwide community representing more than 1,000 organizations attends each year, from system designers and architects, logic and circuit designers, validation engineers, CAD managers, senior managers and executives to researchers and academicians from leading universities.

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    The world's premier EDA and semiconductor design conference and exhibition. DAC features over 60 sessions on design methodologies and EDA tool developments, keynotes, panels, plus the NEW User Track presentations. A diverse worldwide community representing more than 1,000 organizations attends each year, from system designers and architects, logic and circuit designers, validation engineers, CAD managers, senior managers and executives to researchers and academicians from leading universities.

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  • 2017 54th ACM/EDAC/IEEE Design Automation Conference (DAC)

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  • 2014 51st ACM/EDAC/IEEE Design Automation Conference (DAC)

    DAC Description for TMRF The world's premier EDA and semiconductor design conference and exhibition. DAC features over 60 sessions on design methodologies and EDA tool developments, keynotes, panels, plus the NEW User Track presentations. A diverse worldwide community representing more than 1,000 organizations attends each year, from system designers and architects, logic and circuit designers, validation engineers, CAD managers, senior managers and executives to researchers and academicians from leading

  • 2013 50th ACM/EDAC/IEEE Design Automation Conference (DAC)

    The world's premier EDA and semiconductor design conference and exhibition. DAC features over 60 session on design methodologies and EDA tool developments, keynotes, panels, plus User Track presentations. A diverse worldwide community representing more than 1,000 organization attends each year, from system designers and architects, logic and circuit designers, validation engineers, CAD managers, senior managers and executives to researchers and academicians from leading universities.

  • 2012 49th ACM/EDAC/IEEE Design Automation Conference (DAC)

    The Design Automation Conference (DAC) is the premier event for the design of electronic circuits and systems, and for EDA and silicon solutions. DAC features a wide array of technical presentations plus over 200 of the leading electronics design suppliers

  • 2011 48th ACM/EDAC/IEEE Design Automation Conference (DAC)

    The Design Automation Conference is the world s leading technical conference and tradeshow on electronic design and design automation. DAC is where the IC Design and EDA ecosystem learns, networks, and does business.

  • 2010 47th ACM/EDAC/IEEE Design Automation Conference (DAC)

    The Design Automation Conference (DAC) is the premier event for the design of electronic circuits and systems, and for EDA and silicon solutions. DAC features a wide array of technical presentations plus over 200 of the leading electronics design suppliers.

  • 2009 46th ACM/EDAC/IEEE Design Automation Conference (DAC)

    DAC is the premier event for the electronic design community. DAC offers the industry s most prestigious technical conference in combination with the biggest exhibition, bringing together design, design automation and manufacturing market influencers.

  • 2008 45th ACM/EDAC/IEEE Design Automation Conference (DAC)

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  • 2007 44th ACM/IEEE Design Automation Conference (DAC)

    The Design Automation Conference (DAC) is the premier Electronic Design Automation (EDA) and silicon solution event. DAC features over 50 technical sessions covering the latest in design methodologies and EDA tool developments and an Exhibition and Demo Suite area with over 250 of the leading EDA, silicon and IP Providers.

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Periodicals related to Embedded Systems

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Automatic Control, IEEE Transactions on

The theory, design and application of Control Systems. It shall encompass components, and the integration of these components, as are necessary for the construction of such systems. The word `systems' as used herein shall be interpreted to include physical, biological, organizational and other entities and combinations thereof, which can be represented through a mathematical symbolism. The Field of Interest: shall ...


Biomedical Circuits and Systems, IEEE Transactions on

The Transactions on Biomedical Circuits and Systems addresses areas at the crossroads of Circuits and Systems and Life Sciences. The main emphasis is on microelectronic issues in a wide range of applications found in life sciences, physical sciences and engineering. The primary goal of the journal is to bridge the unique scientific and technical activities of the Circuits and Systems ...


Circuits and Systems I: Regular Papers, IEEE Transactions on

Part I will now contain regular papers focusing on all matters related to fundamental theory, applications, analog and digital signal processing. Part II will report on the latest significant results across all of these topic areas.


Communications Magazine, IEEE

IEEE Communications Magazine was the number three most-cited journal in telecommunications and the number eighteen cited journal in electrical and electronics engineering in 2004, according to the annual Journal Citation Report (2004 edition) published by the Institute for Scientific Information. Read more at http://www.ieee.org/products/citations.html. This magazine covers all areas of communications such as lightwave telecommunications, high-speed data communications, personal communications ...


Computational Biology and Bioinformatics, IEEE/ACM Transactions on

Specific topics of interest include, but are not limited to, sequence analysis, comparison and alignment methods; motif, gene and signal recognition; molecular evolution; phylogenetics and phylogenomics; determination or prediction of the structure of RNA and Protein in two and three dimensions; DNA twisting and folding; gene expression and gene regulatory networks; deduction of metabolic pathways; micro-array design and analysis; proteomics; ...


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Most published Xplore authors for Embedded Systems

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Xplore Articles related to Embedded Systems

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Reducing the entrance hurdle in embedded systems engineering courses

2011 IEEE EUROCON - International Conference on Computer as a Tool, 2011

The common approach teaching Embedded Systems Engineering is "Bottom-up", which introduces the "Embedded World" to the students at bit level abstraction. The analysis of students-feedback showed that this approach has demotivating effects as there is a quite big entrance hurdle. The alternative approach is to start at Operating System level and gradually migrate to direct hardware access. The students are ...


Partitioning Real-Time Tasks With Replications on Multiprocessor Embedded Systems

IEEE Embedded Systems Letters, 2016

Executing computing tasks with replications is an essential choice to achieve fault-tolerance in designing real-time, embedded systems. A problem of maximizing the number of real-time tasks with replications running on a multiprocessor embedded system is discussed in this letter. The partitioning problem can be modeled as a variant of the bin-packing problem. In the original problem, it is known that ...


Model-Based Test Case Generation by Reusing Models From Runtime Monitoring of Deeply Embedded Systems

IEEE Embedded Systems Letters, 2013

This letter introduces a novel application of model-based runtime monitoring of deeply embedded systems. The proposed framework comprises of a minimally intrusive, generic, software-based, runtime monitoring methodology for visualizing the behavior of deeply embedded systems in real-time. The model- based runtime monitoring results are then reused for generating model-based test cases. A prototype implementation of the proposed framework is discussed ...


Dependable embedded systems: The German research foundation DFG priority program SPP 1500

2012 17th IEEE European Test Symposium (ETS), 2012

When migrating to future technology nodes, dependability becomes a major design problem as variability, aging and susceptibility to soft errors increase. The purpose of this program is to research cross-layer solutions that address the physical problems at system-level i.e. at hardware-level, operating system level, application level etc. The goals and an overview of the DFG SPP 1500 research program are ...


New approaches for a distance learning course about embedded systems

2011 IEEE Global Engineering Education Conference (EDUCON), 2011

Embedded systems courses and labs teaching hardware and software design are a necessity in many technical university programs. The attendees of these courses train their skills and expertise on hardware platforms available for the students only during the phase of attendance. To gain practical skills in building such systems, lab courses are required and appropriate parts have to be supplied. ...


More Xplore Articles

Educational Resources on Embedded Systems

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IEEE.tv Videos

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IEEE-USA E-Books

  • Reducing the entrance hurdle in embedded systems engineering courses

    The common approach teaching Embedded Systems Engineering is "Bottom-up", which introduces the "Embedded World" to the students at bit level abstraction. The analysis of students-feedback showed that this approach has demotivating effects as there is a quite big entrance hurdle. The alternative approach is to start at Operating System level and gradually migrate to direct hardware access. The students are already familiar with Operating Systems, since they use them every day and the curriculum prematurely provides them with knowledge about it. This means starting to teach Embedded Systems Engineering at Operating System level picks up the students at an already existing base of knowledge and guides them to the basics of Embedded Systems Engineering.

  • Partitioning Real-Time Tasks With Replications on Multiprocessor Embedded Systems

    Executing computing tasks with replications is an essential choice to achieve fault-tolerance in designing real-time, embedded systems. A problem of maximizing the number of real-time tasks with replications running on a multiprocessor embedded system is discussed in this letter. The partitioning problem can be modeled as a variant of the bin-packing problem. In the original problem, it is known that the first-fit (FF) method has a good worst- case performance bound of 4/3. Whether or not the same bound is achievable in the variant problem remains an open question. This letter closes the question by proving that the worst-case performance bound of using the FF method approaches to 2 but it never reaches it. Then, a tight bound of asymptotic worst-case performance is shown.

  • Model-Based Test Case Generation by Reusing Models From Runtime Monitoring of Deeply Embedded Systems

    This letter introduces a novel application of model-based runtime monitoring of deeply embedded systems. The proposed framework comprises of a minimally intrusive, generic, software-based, runtime monitoring methodology for visualizing the behavior of deeply embedded systems in real-time. The model- based runtime monitoring results are then reused for generating model-based test cases. A prototype implementation of the proposed framework is discussed along with examples.

  • Dependable embedded systems: The German research foundation DFG priority program SPP 1500

    When migrating to future technology nodes, dependability becomes a major design problem as variability, aging and susceptibility to soft errors increase. The purpose of this program is to research cross-layer solutions that address the physical problems at system-level i.e. at hardware-level, operating system level, application level etc. The goals and an overview of the DFG SPP 1500 research program are presented.

  • New approaches for a distance learning course about embedded systems

    Embedded systems courses and labs teaching hardware and software design are a necessity in many technical university programs. The attendees of these courses train their skills and expertise on hardware platforms available for the students only during the phase of attendance. To gain practical skills in building such systems, lab courses are required and appropriate parts have to be supplied. To train the same skills and expertise in distance learning courses, a new approach is necessary, as everything has to be supplied to the students "at home". Apart from detailed hands on tutorials and teaching materials, a hardware platform for every student is mandatory. To keep the motivation for the subject high, a start at Operating System level (nowadays well known to all the students) and gradual decent to bit-level and the attachment of external hardware to a microcontroller, is the introduced approach. This is standing in opposition to common concepts that start at pin- level and progress up to Operating System level. To train practical skills in assembling an embedded system a HW/SW co simulation tool comes in handy. The students can prepare and test a self designed electronic completely in the simulation environment and hands-on skills with real components can be gained quickly in a very short attendance phase. The concepts and recommended tools for such a distance learning course are described in this paper.

  • A Tool Integration Framework for Sustainable Embedded Systems Development

    Tool integration in the context of embedded systems development and maintenance is challenging due to such systems' lengthy life cycles and adaptability to process specifications. The iFEST framework provides flexibility in development processes and extends support for long product life cycles.

  • Notice of Retraction<br>The Practice and exploration on the education mode for embedded systems major

    This article introduces status and prospects of current embedded systems industry as well as its professional personnel education status and existing problems in universities and colleges in China, presents embedded systems professionals demand and ability and quality constitutions from enterprises' points of view, introduces the course systems and practice arrangements for embedded systems-majored professional personnel education from Harbin Normal University, and lastly forecasts the future of embedded systems major and proposes the way this industry goes as well.

  • Generation of correct-by-construction code from design models for embedded systems

    In a model-driven engineering development process that focuses on guaranteeing that extra-functional concerns modeled at design level are preserved at platform execution level, the task of automated code generation must produce artifacts that enable back-annotation activities. In fact when the target platform code has been generated, quality attributes of the system are evaluated by appropriate code execution monitoring/analysis tools and their results back-annotated to the source models to be extensively evaluated. Only at this point the preservation of analysed extra-functional aspects can be either asserted or achieved by re-applying the code generation chain to the source models properly optimized according to the evaluation results. In this work we provide a solution for the problem of automatically generating target platform code from source models focusing on producing code artifacts that facilitate analysis and enable back-annotation activities. Arisen challenges and solutions are described together with completed and planned implementation of the proposed approach.

  • Using Embedded Systems Projects to Revisit Theoretical Subjects

    Teaching and learning can be accomplished in different ways. In this paper, we report on how theoretical concepts can be revisited and mastered through student projects in Embedded systems course. Over the past 10 years we have been developing a course in Embedded Systems Engineering at the University of Iceland. This course has evolved over the years and many student projects are outstanding in quality, some have even spun off as hi-tech start-up companies. The recipe for successful project driven senior/masters level course on Embedded Systems Engineering seems to have three main ingredients; student ownership, challenge and mentorship. In this paper, we discuss the Importance of mentorship, student ownership, and challenging projects to enforce theoretical subjects. Course and curriculum development in project based Embedded Systems Engineering course is also discussed.

  • Work in progress — The organization of a symposium that supports faculty development in the embedded-systems field

    With the aim of stimulating an interest in embedded systems among engineering students and young professionals, spreading the latest advances in embedded systems, and encouraging collaboration between industry and academia, the second edition of the Simposio Argentino de Sistemas Embebidos, SASE, (i.e. Argentinean Symposium of Embedded Systems) was organized in Buenos Aires, Argentina. SASE is one of the biggest South American meetings on embedded systems, having about four hundred attendees, the sponsorship of fifty universities, fifteen institutions and thirty companies, and offering 120 ninety-minute tutorials, 17 three-hour hands-on workshops, a scientific meeting with paper and poster presentations, six plenary sessions, a student- projects contest, an entrepreneurship contest, a university-equipment donation program, and a travel and accommodation grant program; all under the scope of a low fee event. In this paper we present a brief summary on how SASE was conceived, how professors from different universities and people from industry worked together to organize this event, and the obtained results.



Standards related to Embedded Systems

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No standards are currently tagged "Embedded Systems"