Welcome to the wonderful world of new age electronics; the embedded systems world. As you might be aware that the world of electronics has substantially changed today from what it used to be. Now electronic devices and circuits are not designed as electronic connections, but as software that run within the embedded processor(s).
Electronic devices today are the blend of hardware and software. Embedded systems are now an integral part of our daily life. These small devices have revolutionized the world of electronics. Today embedded processors are everywhere; think of any device and you will find an embedded processor somewhere in it. Let it be your DVD player, smartcard, remote control, air conditioner, router, microwave oven, television or cell phone all have an embedded processor(s) sitting inside. These small devices can do so much, that only imagination is the limit. They have been touching and changing our lives daily.
An embedded system is a combination of computer hardware, software, and additional mechanical or other technical components, designed to perform a dedicated function. Major components of an embedded system are; Microcontrollers / Digital signal processors (DSP), Integrated chips, Real time operating system (RTOS), Industry-specific protocols and interfaces
In the past, the implementation of the control functions made available by embedded processor would have involved the use of sizeable computers, but the continued trend towards minimization of size and low cost has meant that embedded system have achieved very low unit costs and low implementation costs. As such the embedded processor is a very flexible electronic ‘tool’ to be applied in a very wide range of product and process applications.
The new trend in embedded world
8-bit controllers were prevalent for quite a long time and are still driving majority of embedded applications, for example, in home appliances, smartcards and automotive body electronics 8-bit microcontrollers are used. To accommodate for the need for higher performance, these controllers advanced towards16-bit and to 32-bit, as used in PDAs, routers, cell phones and media players. New applications in the areas of image processing, rendering, compression, and multimedia demand higher processing power, quicker response times and more efficient algorithms. Sequels to these needs, semiconductor companies have introduced a single chip comprising multiple cores. Many of the gaming consoles and network processors use multicore embedded processors. Embedded system engineers now need to update their design, programming, debugging and testing skills to draw the best out of these systems.
With the advent of wireless connectivity, the development has changed. Today, our phones can connect to other smart devices easily without any serious configuration. The recent trends in wireless connectivity for embedded systems are in the areas of system-on-chip (SoC) architecture. Both, short-range wireless protocols like Bluetooth, Zigbee, RFID and long-range protocols such as, wireless local area network (WLAN), WiMAX, are bound to witness more widespread applications in the near future. In SoC architectures, few external components are required to design a platform and its programming is easier to execute.
Open source technology is entering greatly into our embedded world. An increasing number of manufacturers are providing their source code free of charge to engineers or other manufacturers. Google has made its Android software for phones and Tablets available for free of charge to handset and tablet manufactures and carriers can then adapt it to suit their own devices. Eclipse, the open source development platforms providing an environment that crosses over RTOS boundaries.
Any new device being introduced in the consumer electronics or infotainment segment is a potential candidate for device convergence. Now our phones are not just phone but as a camera, navigators, media player, mobile TV and a projector all in one device.
With a new product being announced almost every day, technological changes are sweeping the embedded world and product managers, architects, engineering teams need to understand the implications of this growth especially in developing countries like Nigeria to identify the entry points so as to tap into the unlimited opportunities in the world of embedded systems.