In our modern world, we are surrounded by technology and more and more every day objects now include built-in some computer system. Such objects are called embedded systems and we can define an embedded system as follows:
As opposed to generic purpose computers such as desktop computers and laptops, embedded systems tend to be more specialised and have a reduced set of functionalities specific to the device they are controlling. This also means that the computer hardware used in an embedded device is more basic and cheaper to produce than the hardware you would find within a computer desktop or laptop. It’s also often smaller and can hence be embedded within tiny devices such as wireless earpods.
The digital/smart revolution
Have you noticed how over the last few decades, a lot of our every day objects have been upgraded to become digital or smart? A digital or smart object such as a digital camera, a smart watch or a smart speaker is an embedded device: it can process digital (binary) data and is operated via a built-in computer system inside it.
Check the following slide show for some examples of every day objects which have become digital / smart embedded systems:
As any computer system, embedded systems consist of both hardware and software: They have to include computer programs that are used to operate them. They manipulate binary data using the Input > Process > Output model.
So most embedded devices will include at least one input device (microphone, keypad, photo lens, sensors) a processing unit and at least one output device (speaker, screen, LEDs, actuators to control motors, etc.).
A connected world and the Internet of things
An embedded system can be a standalone system, but recently you will find that a lot more embedded systems are also connected to other devices and /or to the Internet.
For an embedded device to connect to another device it may rely on a wired or a wireless connection such as a USB cable (wired connection) or Bluetooth (wireless connection). For instance wireless earphones, smart speakers, activity trackers all use Bluetooth to connect to your smartphone or computer.
More and more of these devices are also directly connected to the Internet (via WiFi or 3G/4G/5G). Smart watched, smart speakers, smart TVs can all connect to the Internet to retrieve and log information on a central server. We call this proliferation of smaller connected objects/embedded devices the “Internet of Things”. The Internet of things is no longer a network of generic purpose computers like it used to be in the mid 90’s. Nowadays it connects a wide range of computers and embedded devices which all have their unique IP address and transfer data across the Internet using the TCP/IP protocols.
This huge increase in the number of connected devices means that the current format used to allocate a unique IP address to a device (IPv4) is no longer adapted: There are not enough unique unique IPv4 addresses for all the connected devices worldwide, hence the need to upgrade to a new format, IPv6, which contains far more unique IP addresses. In fact, with IPv6, we have probably have more unique IP addresses than we will ever need.
Embedded devices in today’s world
So, as mentioned at the start of this blog post, we are nowadays surrounded by technology / embedded devices. So let’s investigate where can we find most of these devices:
Our homes include more and more embedded devices. Our entertainment systems are all becoming smart connected devices: Tablets, Smart Phones, Smart speakers, Smart TV’s are all examples of embedded devices.
More and more embedded devices are also used at monitor and control different aspects of our home. This is called home automation and includes the use of:
- smart readers to control your energy use,
- smart central heating systems,
- smart lighting systems,
- smart burglar alarm systems,
- video doorbell systems,
Wearable technologies regroups all the technologies and embedded systems that we wear on us:
- smart phones,
- smart watches,
- activity/fitness trackers,
- GPS trackers (often included in a smart watch, activity tracker or smart phone),
- Medical Monitoring Devices such as Heart Rate monitoring devices,
- MP3 Player,
- Noise cancelling earphones,
Automotive technologies regroup all the technologies and embedded devices when we use a motorised mean of transport such as a car.
Modern cars includes a wide range of embedded devices including:
- GPS SatNav Systems
- Automated Braking Systems (e.g. Anti-lock Braking System: ABS)
- Cruise Control
- Climate Control / Air-Conditioning Control System
- Automatic Parking System
- Airbag Control Unit
- Tyre Pressure Monitoring System
Embedded Systems on the High Street
Embedded systems are also used on the high street for security purposes, to collect statistical data, to regulate traffic, etc. A few examples include:
- CCTV Security/Monitoring Systems
- Speed Cameras
- Automated Traffic Lights Systems
- Car Park Monitoring Systems
- Air Pollution Monitoring Systems
- Noise Pollution Monitoring Systems
- Connected weather stations