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Just What Is an Embedded System?

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Great_White_North
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Re: embedded system definition
Great_White_North   6/9/2014 6:29:02 PM
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You dont need a processor MCU/MPC to have an embedded system.


A nice reliable old school analog computer meets the definition.  There is also a large amount of old-school military equipment which preferres to use huge numbers of desrete logic just to avoid having any firmware/software in the machine.


Give me a bunch of op-amps, flip flops and glue logic and I can make an embedded system without any code at all.


More likely I would just use a very small CPLD and with a basic state machine, no MCU/MPU needed.

I have seen a guy who mounted an entire tower into the bottom of a cabinet running Windows, with the printer port used as GPIO to control the lighting effects for a stage.  I believe that also counts as an embedded system.

 

My definition:  Any electronics which perform as an integral part of a larger system.

 

I purposly disqualified mechanical computers/control systems as they do not fit in the generally accepted description of what we mean by the term embedded system.

Susan Rambo
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Susan Rambo   6/9/2014 6:13:26 PM
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I wish I had a dollar for everytime someone asked the question: What is an embedded system? Embedded.com is riddled with debates like this, and that publication coined the term (supposed from some Intel engineers in the 1980s).

betajet
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Re: Programming Closer to the Hardware
betajet   6/9/2014 5:59:36 PM
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Wnderer wonders: do you think there is a difference between...

2.  Application-level programming is indeed very different.  You get to use a high-level programming model and you get seatbelts and airbags.  If you write inefficient code hardware manufacturers wil love you because everybody then has to upgrade their hardware.

1.  Writing device-level code for a complex SoC is very nasty these days.  A complex SoC is not a "PC on a chip".  It's a mainframe on a chip.  You'll need to write (or adapt) hundreds of pages of initialization code before the processor begins to do anything that resembles useful work.  To write this code you'll need to grok multi-thousand-page technical reference manuals, assuming the SoC manufacturer doesn't hide them behind NDAs.  Have fun!

["This is obviously some strange use of the word fun that I wasn't previously aware of."]

3.  This can be very clean and simple indeed.  Unless, of course, you believe the adverts that say you have to build your dirt-simple application on top of a mainframe operating system, in which case see (1) and (2) above :-)

JMO/YMMV

betajet
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Re: Definition and history
betajet   6/9/2014 5:46:15 PM
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The Wikipedia page credits the Apollo Guidance Computer and Minuteman guidance computer as early embedded systems from the 1960s.  However, it doesn't indicate whether they were called "embedded computers" back then.  I guess in either case, if the rocket crashes -- deliberately or otherwise -- the computer is embedded pretty deeply before it vaporizes along with the rest of the system.

 

Max The Magnificent
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Re: Definition and history
Max The Magnificent   6/9/2014 4:56:23 PM
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@Elizaberth: The first sentence from the Embedded System Wikipedia page is a good summary...

That's not bad at all

Max The Magnificent
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Re: Programming Closer to the Hardware
Max The Magnificent   6/9/2014 4:55:07 PM
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@Wnderer: ...I think the term comes from embedded programming and I think the term embedded programming was meant to...

That makes a lot of sense...

elizabethsimon
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Definition and history
elizabethsimon   6/9/2014 4:36:59 PM
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The first sentence from the Embedded System Wikipedia page is a good summary.

An embedded system is a computer system with a dedicated function within a larger mechanical or electrical system, often with real-time computing constraints.

I'm trying to remember when I first heard the term. I think it was around 1990 or so. I remember thinking that it was nice to have a short name for what I'd been doing for years instead of having to explain that I designed things with microprocessors - but I didn't design computers.

I gave up on trying to explain to mom what it is that I do....

 

 

Wnderer
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Programming Closer to the Hardware
Wnderer   6/9/2014 4:30:18 PM
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I don't know what an embedded system is these days. I think the term comes from embedded programming and I think the term embedded programming was meant to distinguish programming a microprocessor/microcontroller (Do you remember the difference there?) from programming a computer. An embedded programmer had to deal with the hardware, while a computer programmer dealt with the an operating system which managed the hardware for you. Of course the line has really blurred, but do you think there is a difference between these:

1. Someone who writes the operating system for a pc or smart phone.

2. Someone who writes a program for a PC or an app for a cellphone.

3. Someone writes the code that controls a garage door opener.


The embedded programmer has to read the datasheet for the microcontroller. Of course today we have embedded PCs and all the lines are blurred.

 

Duane Benson
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Re: embedded system definition
Duane Benson   6/9/2014 4:29:42 PM
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Phones are definitely general purpose computers first. They happen to have a bit of phone hardware added on, and can run a "phone" application, but they're totally general purpose computing platforms.

Based on computing power, there really isn't any reason why we can't have a wireless docking station at our desks to connect up to the phone in our pocket.

I'm not sure what level of intel/AMD CPU would be equivalent to what's in my phone, but I don't think you'd need to go back too many years to see that same level of compute power that we were perfectly happy with as a desktop.

antedeluvian
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Re: Humpty Dumpty
antedeluvian   6/9/2014 4:09:14 PM
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Max

What about the history part -- when did people start using the term "embedded" -- I know you were there at the time LOL

Since I was in South Africa at the time, trends travelled slowy (As the pilots used to say: "Ladies and Gentlemen- we are about to land at Johannesburg Airport, please set you watches back ten years...")

I was trying to think of when I first heard the expression. Could it be the first "Embedded Systems Conference"? Was it ever used in Byte magazine? I am afraid my memory is very hazy on this.

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