5 Embedded System Terms IoT Administrators Need to Know

When engineers design an IoT device, they must work to find the right combination of hardware and software to help collect data, streamline user experience, and perform all necessary functions. Thanks to advances in technology, embedded systems make it easier for devices to process software commands, supply power, and perform use-case-specific workflows.

Learn about what embedded systems can do, their components, and the different types by reviewing some of the key technology terms.

Embedded systems

Embedded systems combine hardware and software to perform a specific function, such as temperature sensing, data routing, data monitoring, or powering an electric motor. They are either programmable or have fixed functionality. Examples include cars, smartphones, industrial machinery and medical equipment. IoT-specific use cases are wearables, drones, and smart home devices.

Embedded systems often operate as part of a larger device, but they are computer systems. They can have a wide range of user interface configurations: no user interface, complex GUI, interface buttons, LEDs, touch screens or remote interface.

These systems also include a processor, power supply, memory, and communication ports. The communication ports transmit data to the processor and any peripherals via a specific protocol.

Embedded system software is often extremely specialized to perform a single desired function. In most cases, engineers use a simplified Linux distribution, but can also use Windows IoT or Embedded Java to run on the system.

Examples of embedded systems include mobile, networked, stand-alone, and real-time systems:

  • Mobile embedded systems are made to be portable. Use cases include smartphones or digital cameras.
  • Networked embedded systems connect to a network and provide output to other systems. These can be home security systems or point of sale.
  • Autonomous embedded systems do not rely on a host system. They perform a specialized task and are not part of a larger computer system. These are often digital wristwatches, calculators or household appliances.
  • Real-time embedded systems provide required output at predetermined time intervals. An example is a traffic control system, but these types of embedded systems are often applied to critical use cases.

Administrators can also use performance requirements or architectures to categorize technology.

system on chip

A system-on-chip (SoC) is a microchip that includes all the electronic circuitry of a system on an individual integrated circuit. The technology is found in small, complex consumer electronics devices, such as smartphones, wearables, and IoT sensors.

A sound detection device can include an analog-to-digital converter, memory, I/O logic control, and a microprocessor, all on a single chip that designers can integrate into a device. Other SoC configurations may include an accelerometer and a gyroscope sensor for motion tracking.

Application specific integrated circuit

An application-specific integrated circuit (ASIC) is a microchip fabricated for a particular use case. Unlike microprocessors or RAM chips, ASICs typically run a specific transmission protocol or process; ASICs are also an example of SoCs.

More and more organizations have adopted ASICs for IoT devices because, compared to general-purpose computer chips, ASICs have a smaller form factor, lower power consumption, and lower cost. Vendors can also produce ASICs on a large scale.

Real-time operating system

A real-time operating system (RTOS) is a system developed to ensure real-time capabilities within a specified time; it often supports critical systems and devices that are specific to synchronization. RTOSs measure time in milliseconds to ensure that all deadlines are met.

These operating systems have functions similar to general-purpose operating systems, but include a scheduler so that the system meets task deadlines. Key features of an RTOS include small footprint, high performance, determinism, security protocols, priority-based scheduling, and timing information. With such features, an RTOS offers multitasking, process thread prioritization, and interrupt level functionality.

RTOSs simultaneously manage multiple processes, respond to events in a timely manner, and monitor task priority. These characteristics make them suitable for embedded systems that require real-time operations or data collection.

Use cases for RTOS include anti-lock brakes, medical systems, PCs, cameras, and air traffic control systems.

Digital signal processing

Digital signal processing is a set of techniques that help improve the accuracy and reliability of digital communications. These techniques make it possible to clarify the levels or states of a digital signal. The circuits that perform the digital signal processing are designed to differentiate between human-made signals and general noise.

Noise, which is unwanted electrical or electromagnetic energy, is a problem for wireless systems more than wired systems. Unwanted noise can affect text, image, or audio files and communication; it also degrades signal and data quality.

Two traditional methods for reducing the signal-to-noise ratio are to increase the power of the transmitted signal and the sensitivity of the receiver. With adjustments, sound engineers can improve the sensitivity of the receiving unit – and the quality of the received signal.

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