I heard this one from the great Irish comic Dave Allen (paraphrased from memory):
One evening, a junior member of a club was listening to the club's oldest member tell of his great adventures hunting lions in Africa.
Oldest member (with gestures): I saw the lion ahead in the tall grass, up wind. I crawled through the grass on my hands and knees to get closer to get a better shot. Suddenly the lion was right in front of me! He stood up on his hind legs and went ROAAAAARRRRR!!!! [Oldest member waves hands wildly in air while roaring.]
Junior member (astonished): Good God, sir! What happened?
Oldest Member (suddenly pensive): I fouled me britches.
Junior member: I'm not surprised, sir.
Oldest member: I don't mean then -- I mean just now when I went ROAAAAARRRRR!!!!
This debate topic reminds me of the story I heard about a reporter who was interviewing Louis Armstrong and asked him "What is Jazz?" His immortal reply: "Lady, if you don't know by now you'd better not mess with it."
@Betajet: "Lady, if you don't know by now you'd better not mess with it."
Someone told me that the way he thought about embedded systems was the same way United States Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart thought about pornography, which boils down to: "I can't define it but I know it when I see it"
Indeed it is difficult to define embedded system. Just like it is not easy to differentiate between CPU and MCU. Has 8051 ever considered as CPU? It has CPU core for sure. What about ARM? It is an embedded system. Oh! Really? I thought it is a CPU.
Too bad I will be busy friday during the time of the broadcast. (If it were an hour earlier like the normal friday chats then Max would get another Coconut.)
Regarding what is a "computer." When my niece was learning to talk and count at about 3 or 4 years of age, she came into my room and counted the monitors on the desk. She called out one two three for five 'puters." and asked me why I had so many. I said the boxes which contained AVRs, NxP and ST Arm processors also had computers in them, that there were actually over 100 computers in my room.
Personally I have never made a distinction between CPU chips and computers. Most of it is in the usage of the device. An example. The Atmel Tiny85 is similar to my first computer which was a S100 running the Sol Cuter Tape drive OS and Basic interpreter. I think the Tiny25 has more SRAM at 2K. Early Apple products were comparable. These machines could support 64K, few in the Homebrew computer club could afford much more than 4K, which was the main cost of early computing.
Dynamic refreshed memory changed this. With the trade off that Dynamic refresh was notoriously unreliable, so one spend time writing memory test code and rotating bit tests.
To the point here. If a mega328 (Arduino) has the same capability as say an Apple II. Could an Apple II be considered an embedded controller. I argue that yes it can. My first job was with an early Apple dealer. While I did sell Apple /// and Lisa computers, the bread and butter was the Apple II.
Our clients and customers would connect Apple IIs to a plotter, or a typesetting machine like a Ludlow, or even to a loom that wove cloth. Apple IIs were used as PLCs in the local industry replacing Relay logic. You could connect them to the security systems Radio Shack sold that used the house current to monitor the alarms. Woz Himself was the proponent of an early version of ioT, through his home automation proposals. Another Steve (Ciarcia the third Steve) started a magazine about the subject.
I say that if the device has GPIO or WPIO (Wireless Protocol Input Output -- I just made it up.) then it can be considered an embedded system.
Conversely what is not an 'Embedded' System? My own personal delineater is does it function like a glass teletype in front of an SQL database on big iron. Big iron is something like the old IBM machines like the 1130 or the 360/370 and the other 'Accounting and Tabulating machines.' Things that run offline and batch process data, with tabulated or printed results. Not embedded.
Put another way that hopefully will make sense to other EETs is that if it collects data it is probably an embedded cpu. If it does statistical or mathematical simulation then it is probably not embedded. If the device is used to do accounting it is either a calculator, or some sort of 'Bill and advertisement' spamming device and is anything but embedded.
Another touchstone is. If it has firmware, then it is probably embedded. If it has microcode and a user definable abstract instruction set, it is not embedded.
@Sheepdoll... "Too bad I will be busy friday during the time of the broadcast. (If it were an hour earlier like the normal friday chats then Max would get another Coconut.)".
If you offered him some Bacon he'd probably change it for you :-)
Ref the definitions. Mine (which a lot of people seem to subscribe to) is that if it is in a device whose primary function is not computing, that's embedded. So technically a PC running an X-ray machine (which you see quite often) qualifies as embedded. An Apple II used as a computer would not be, but if you got it to run an industrial plant it would be. But really we're talking MCU chips here. So in the survey, I said everything was an embedded system except a blade server and tablet computer. They are computers used as computers - everything else is running something else.
Lines up fairly closely with your definitions....but go ahead...shoot me down.... :-)
@David Ashton: "if it is in a device whose primary function is not computing, that's embedded."
Here are my 2 cents. I've always thought that an embedded (electronic) system is the intelligent "block" that is included into an existing product in order to give it an extra added value and functionality. From this point of view, an electronic system cannot be considered "embedded" when isolated, being a product by its own.
Beyond the discrimination algorithm, the outcomes for our two approaches matches so well ;-)
Yes, we have had the old one and the newest version. I grow up with Brenda & Brandon, and I felt in love with the blonde girl --not the daughter of the producer, the gourgeous one--. And we still make jokes today about a "teenarger" such as Dylan, that looked more like a alternative professor that a rebel alumni.
@Garcia: ...I felt in love with the blonde girl -- not the daughter of the producer, the gourgeous one...
The daughter of the producer has another show about her endless trials and tribulations with her pain-in-the-bottom husband.
There was also a mini-series about the mother selling the family home -- an unbelievably huge monstrosity decorated dreadfully and exhibiting excess t omake your eyes water -- such as having THREE special rooms whose sole purposes was to wrap gifts for things like Christmas... I'm still reeling with the shock
This looks like a sequel of the SAW movie saga. Max roped to an uncomfortable chair in front of a huge 4K TV. Then a marathon of different series starred by Tory Spelling starts and slowly, a rusty oldering iron appears in front of the chair... What would you do?
Do you prefer a permanent brain mutilation... or just to take your eyes out (hint: you can use the soldering iron in your ears too) jajaja
Disclaimer: of course, this is my only a tip of the Spanish humour and it's not endorsed by the powers that be here at EE Times... LOL
I voted precisely the same way. I find it much easier to define what an embedded system is NOT: if it runs 3rd-party commercially-available self-contained SW applications, then it's NOT an embedded system. Just about anything else is (because it includes tightly-integrated HW/SW/FW???). Could be anything from an electronic thermometer to a giant particle accelerator! Another way to look at it is general-purpose vs. dedicated purpose. There are devices that blur the boundaries (like smartphones) but like the majority of voters, I drew the line between smartphones and tablets. The former are 'pure" embedded, the latter not. That's true for me because even though some tablets are "appliances" in terms of including a specific set of applications, they still are pretty much general-purpose to the user.
@mhrackin...like the majority of voters, I drew the line between smartphones and tablets.
But a smartphone can run apps like a tablet, play music like a tablet, take pics and videos like a tabler, display pics and videos like a tablet ... plus you can use it to makr phone calls -- so in what way is this embedded? (He asked, mischievously)
Because 95% of what you talked about here "comes with the package." Most so-called "apps" are mostly glorified HMIs for the functions "embedded" in the smartphone. I've got 20+ on my iPhone and NONE of them would do anything if it were not for the subsystems (cell network interface, GPS, graphics, etc.) of the smartphone as it comes out of the box.
Let's ask the OTHER 83 people who voted the way I did.... I don't consider the iPad a "real" computer either (if only because it only runs apps, not applications); however, it is less "embedded" than the general concept of the smartphone IMO.
"Apple IIs were used as PLCs in the local industry replacing Relay logic. You could connect them to the security systems Radio Shack sold that used the house current to monitor the alarms."
I helped install an Apple II that was essentially used as an environmental monitor and control panel. The system was called "Tomorrow House." We installed it in one of the local hospitals.
The first computer I owned was a single board powered by an RCA CDP1802.The Galileo spacecraft was powered by several 1802's. I would think that a space probe would be considered an embedded application.
This debate is surely going to be interesting. Having spent about 32 years working on embedded systems, I think the whole wolrd is full of kind of embedded systems.
Apart from the systems based upon electronics or a combination of elelctronics and some kind of computing machine ( micro controller, micro processor , SOC , FPGA, and what not) there are many Systems which can be called as embedded, though they do not contain any kind of electronics.
Just take our body - the outer function is see, hear, eat, speak and so on but to do this so many systems are internally working in our body and are being controlled by a very complex nervous system and the central controller - the brain.
So a Human body can be termed as an Embedded system isn't it?
This reminds me of a funny incidence that happened with me many years ago. I had accompanied one of my friends for his interview in company named Wipro. It was a walkin interview, of course the HR team was sensed and they start shortlisting candidates who can be allowed for tech interview. My friend who was experienced in Setbox design (linux and VxWorks), the HR guy told him " you are not experience in embedded systems so we cannot allow you to go for tech interview". After hearing this I immidiately took a verbal discussion with HR and explained him how embeddes system work and how set top box is a good example of embedded system. HR being HR showed his ego and didnt allow my friend to even go in for interview. Companies should not allow HR to decide what an embedded system is. My friend got selected in one of the top product companies later.
Three pages of bacon since I went to bed last night? Where are the bagels and donughts.
I supose we will never ever define this. Sill I say it comes down to usage as I noted in my blog comment.
Blade Servers and other distributed virtual cores can do embedded things like sequecence or stream video. This to me is an embedded activity. The inverse of the setop box.
I am seriously thinking of using Smart phones/Tablets to replace the LCD display and play record stop buttons on the pipe organ player. Currently my 'LCD display" is actually a VFD controlled by an Atmel Mega over I2C. What different then is the tablet reciving over Blue tooth LE, the same protocol. Like the topological definition where the coffee cup is equal to the bagel or donught. In this case the Tablet is the same as the LCD (with dedicated Hitachi controller) Or the VFD with the AVR running the same Shift register protocol.
@Sheepdoll....in some ways I think it is a bit of a meaningless debate because there are so many grey areas like this. But as long as it keeps us talking about things like beer and bacon and Hawaiian shirts and San Fermin, I guess it is all good :-)
One way to throw cold water on your fiery debate (don't spill the beer) is to agree that "embedded" versus "non-embedded" is an analog function, not a binary logic function (engineer's way of saying shades of gray). Some systems are obviously embedded, and some obviously not embedded. I subscribe to the "intended use by the manufacturer" distinction. If the device is produced for defined uses, and not intended for uses other than those intended by the manufacturer, it is an embedded system. Originally, cell (mobile) phones were embedded systems, smartphones are not. When smart phone folks were sitting at the pub, and decided to add a camera, I doubt that someone immediately said "and with the camera, customers can take a photo of a product bar code, and search online stores for competitive prices". Just don't see it. My iPod Touch is an evolution of a music player, but I have a units converter, hex calculator, audio oscilloscope and spectrum analyzer (OK, more of a curiosity than useful), audio signal generator, ham radio APRS display, a "clear sky" predictor for astronomy, etc. While the iPod Touch has a primary purpose as a media player, it is also intended to be a general-purpose computing platform. I wouldn't want to use it for CAD, or edit a high-def video produciton, but it is not an embedded system. The Windows-based DSO in your poll leads credence to the determination that "embedded" is an "analog function". Although it is in dedicated hardware, the manufacturer encourages installation of third-party software to enhance its function, so I see that as more of a shade of gray than a smartphone. I am happy to see that nobody has mentioned response time as a measure. That gets into the "real time" debate (coming up after the CPU/MCU debate), which is a separate classification. A data logger that measures temperature every six hours is hardly real-time by most standards, but I expect that most would agree that it is embedded. Not much else you can do with it, without modification.
NASA's Orion Flight Software Production Systems Manager Darrel G. Raines joins Planet Analog Editor Steve Taranovich and Embedded.com Editor Max Maxfield to talk about embedded flight software used in Orion Spacecraft, part of NASA's Mars mission. Live radio show and live chat. Get your questions ready.
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