Embedded Computer Systems: What, Why, How and When

Embedded systemBack in the day, computers were huge. Entire rooms were devoted to single machines.

In the latter half of the twentieth century; however, the sizes of computers began to shrink. At the same time, computers have become more powerful.

Embedded computer systems have developed along with the computer itself. And just as computers have come down in size, embedded computing systems have become smaller as well, in some instances embedded computing systems comprise no more than an embedded board  that can be installed inside an existing computer. A brief look at what embedded computer systems are, what they can accomplish can provide insights into projected future developments and innovations.

Definition of Embedded Computer Systems

Embedded computer systems provide ameans of transmitting and processing data between a primary network function and a secondary computing component. The secondary component is often designed to perform a function desired to correspond with the primary network or equipment. For instance, a transportation network could include an embedded computing system designed to control traffic patterns.

Embedded computing systems combine the functions of device servers and industrial PCs (IPCs) along with the best features of each. Like IPCs, embedded computers allow for both data transmission and processing. On the other hand, embedded computing systems are compact in size, much like device servers which makes them ideal for small spaces and tight fits where IPCs simply are not a viable option.

Historical Progression of Embedded Computer Systems

Embedded systems first came into use during the 1960s. Like the first computers, embedded computer systems were large, bulky and breathtakingly expensive.  They were built using transistor logic and used hard disc drives for memory. Much like the price and size of computers has tumbled over the past several decades, the price and size of embedded computing systems has also been reduced dramatically. Present day embedded computing systems incorporate micro computing technology, including programmable microcontrollers. As a result, embedded computing systems are more versatile than ever.

Uses for Embedded Computer Systems

Embedded computing systems have a number of uses in the enterprise. For instance, many modern medical treatments were simply not possible before the development of embedded computer systems. Telecommunications systems also use embedded computer systems, primarily in the processing of data between mobile phone network providers and individual handsets engaged in voice chat, texting, email or other functions.

Embedded computing systems have also made their way into consumer appliances. For instance, DVD players, digital cameras, game components, mp3 players and videogame consoles all use embedded computing systems. Embedded computing systems also make household chores less taxing. Washing machines, dishwashers and microwave ovens also use embedded computing technology. If you have a “smart” heating system, your network thermometer also likely includes an embedded computing system.

Embedded Computer Systems in the Future

There is no reason not to believe that embedded computing systems will become more prevalent in future years. As computer technology continues to advance, and demands for computer functioning become more complex, embedded computing systems will provide the necessary functionality. One challenge that embedded computing systems face is delivering reliable, accurate performance. Meeting this challenge will require solving real-time calculation requirements, which are presently among the most compelling limitations faced by embedded computing systems.

Lewis Brooks researches computer science applications. He often blogs about innovations and trends for business use.

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