What are the basics of embedded systems?

embedded systems

With the advancement in technology today, there are many different types of computer systems. Some of the most common types include;

  • General purpose computers
  • Embedded systems

There are various leading corporations in the manufacture of different types of computer systems. For instance, Witekio is one of the leading companies today in embedded system engineering. Continue reading to find more information about embedded systems.

What are Embedded Systems?

In the most basic dictionary definition, an embedded system is a computer system primarily designed to access, manipulate, control, and store data in various electronic-based devices. You will find these types of computer systems in electronic devices such as calculators, TV remote control, microwaves, among other devices.

Like any other computer, embedded systems are made up of hardware and software. The software in these types of computer systems is known as firmware and is embedded into the hardware. The primary purpose of embedded systems is to give control over the device, allowing the user to interact with it. They tend to have a limited number of tasks, making their job more precise and convenient. For that reason, you can find embedded systems in a device that perform both simple and complex tasks.

Characteristics of Embedded Systems

As we already established, embedded systems are task-specific. However, they have other characteristics:


Like any other computer system, embedded systems have a hardware platform, which enables them to perform specific tasks. The hardware part of embedded systems is made up of components such as;

  • Microprocessors
  • Input/output interfaces
  • Memory
  • User interface
  • Power supply

The microprocessors/microcontrollers act as the central processing unit for embedded systems. Generally, they are integrated with various basic computing components such as digital signal processors and memory chips. A basic user interface allows a user to interact with other systems components, such as the memory.


The software of embedded systems is commonly referred to as firmware. Like any computer software, embedded system’s software varies in complexity, depending on the function of the system and the type of microprocessor/microcontroller used. For instance, some industrial-grade microcontrollers require less memory as they run simple software.

In embedded system engineering, developers write the software in a high-level language and then compile it into a simple code that is then embedded into the hardware’s non-volatile memory. Regardless of the complexity, developers must ensure they consider constraints such as system memory & processor’s speed convenience when developing embedded system’s software.

Real Time Operating System

Although they are common in embedded systems, real-time operating systems (RTSOs) are not always included. Therefore, you shouldn’t be surprised to find a smaller-scale system without such as operating system. The primary role of an RTSO is to supervise the system’s software and defining how the system performs its operation by overseeing program execution.

Embedded systems incorporate RTSOs as such operating systems are designed to run with exact timing and maintain a high level of consistency.

Types of Embedded Systems

There are several different classes of embedded systems. The classification is based primarily on the performance of microcontrollers/microprocessors and the system’s functional requirements. However, there are several other categories and subcategories.

There are 4 main categories of embedded systems:

Real-Time Embedded Systems

As the name suggests, real-time embedded systems are designed to deliver outputs as quickly as possible. When developing these real-time embedded systems, the primary focus is the speed of output generation. That’s the reason why they are frequently used in mission-critical industries, including defense controls and aerospace.

Mobile Embedded Systems

Mobile embedded systems are another common type of embedded systems. These embedded services are commonly used in portable devices such as digital cameras, mobile phones and MP3 players. One primary characteristic of mobile embedded systems is memory limitation.

Standalone Embedded Systems

As the name suggests, standalone embedded systems work by themselves and do not require a secondary host such as a computer. Basically, it takes input data, processes it, converts and outputs information in different ways, including driving and displaying through a display device. You will find standalone embedded systems in devices such as microwave ovens and video game consoles.

Network Embedded Systems

Network embedded systems access resources through a network and generate outputs. Such embedded systems rely on either wireless or wired networks to connect to a web server. The most common example of network embedded systems is a home/office security system.