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Embedded software applications are specialized programming within non-PC devices – either as part of a microchip or as part of another application that sits on top of the chip – to control specific functions of the device. Unlike PC applications, which can be installed on a variety of computer systems and modified to provide different levels of functionality, embedded software has fixed hardware requirements and capabilities. It is created exclusively for the particular device that it runs on, with processing and memory restrictions tied directly to that device’s specifications. In the context of this discussion, embedded software includes applications, firmware, middleware, and operating systems that execute on a single microprocessor or cluster of microprocessors “embedded” within additional logic.
The hardware components within a device that are running embedded software are referred to as an "embedded system." Some examples of hardware components used in embedded systems are power supply circuits, central processing units, flash memory devices, timers, and serial communication ports. During a device's early design phases, the hardware that will make up the embedded system – and its configuration within the device – is decided. Then, embedded software is developed from scratch to run exclusively on that hardware in that precise configuration. This makes embedded software design a very specialized field that requires deep knowledge of hardware capabilities and computer programming.
Almost every device made with circuit boards and computer chips has these components arranged into a system that runs embedded software. As a result, embedded software systems are ubiquitous in everyday life and are found throughout consumer, industrial, automotive, aerospace, medical, commercial, telecom, and military technology.
Common examples of embedded software-based features include:
When based on performance and functional requirements, there are five main classes of embedded systems:
Embedded system requirements and components will differ according to the demands of the target market. Some examples include:
Even though there are many types of embedded systems, they all share the same beneficial features and design characteristics.
In automotive electronics, complex real-time interactions occur across multiple embedded systems that each control functions such as braking, steering, suspension, powertrain, etc. The physical housing that contains each embedded system is referred to as an electronic control unit (ECU). Each ECU and its embedded software is part of a complex electrical architecture known as a distributed system.
By communicating with each other, the ECUs that make up a vehicle’s distributed system can execute a variety of functions like automatic emergency braking, adaptive cruise control, stability control, adaptive headlights, and much more. A single function might need interactions across 20 or more embedded software applications spread across numerous ECUs connected by multiple networking protocols. Complex control algorithms deployed with the embedded software ensure the proper timing of functions, needed inputs and outputs, and data security.
Common examples of automotive software application-based features include:
The Electronic Control Unit or ECU is comprised of a main computing unit with chip-level hardware and a stack of embedded software. However, there is an increasing trend among automotive manufacturers of designing ECUs with complex integrated circuits that contain multiple computing cores on a single chip – what is referred to as a System on a Chip (SoC). These SoC can host a multitude of ECU abstractions in order to consolidate hardware. The software stack for an ECU typically includes a range of solutions, from low-level firmware to high-level embedded software applications.
|Embedded software application||Control algorithms, processing, services|
|Application framework||Security & safety frameworks|
|Operating environment||AUTOSAR classic, AUTOSAR Adaptive, Inputs/Output channels|
|Embedded virtualizations||Real-time OS, ECU abstractions|
|Firmware||Boot-loaders, secure-storage, secure-threading|
|Hardware||Silicon based devices, micro-controllers, single or multiple layered boards|
In 2017, Siemens acquired the Mentor Graphics company and the full portfolio of embedded software, which includes:
In 2021, the Mentor brand name was discontinued. However, all of the tools are still offered and supported by Siemens with all of the same functionality that enables developers to create robust and feature-rich embedded systems.
Siemens delivers embedded software solutions that enable device manufacturers to quickly design and build high-quality connected devices, including those with rich user interfaces, cloud-based remote management, or requiring safety certification. Base technologies include Linux, the Nucleus real-time operating system, advanced multicore runtime, and IoT enablement and development tools.