Designing and Developing Embedded Systems

Designing and Developing Embedded Systems

Designing and Developing Embedded Systems

Designing and developing embedded systems requires meticulous attention due to their inherent embedded nature and specific functionalities. This article will outline detailed processes to guide you in developing efficient and effective embedded systems. We will also discuss the challenges embedded system engineers commonly encounter while developing these systems.
What is Embedded Systems Design?
Embedded systems design involves creating small and compact computer systems that will be integrated into larger devices to perform specific functions. These systems typically consist of hardware and software components, such as microprocessors, microcontrollers, memory, system and application code, and power supplies. The design process involves selecting and configuring these components to meet the requirements of the intended application.
Key Components of Embedded Systems
Component Description/Role
Microprocessors Core processors ranging from 4 to 64 bits. Responsible for executing instructions and processing data.

Microcontrollers Microcontrollers such as time counters and ADC/DAC converters. Manages input/output tasks and performs control functions.
Specialized electronic circuits Electronic circuits such as graphics processing units (GPUs). Handles graphical computations and image processing.
Field-programmable gate arrays (FPGA) Configurable electronic devices used to build digital circuits. It is customizable for specific tasks.
Memory Volatile/non-volatile memory (RAM, ROM). Stores data and program instructions for the system.
I/O communication interfaces Serial ports, USB, and Ethernet. Facilitates communication with external devices and networks.

Power supply Batteries or other power sources. Provides electrical energy to the embedded system components.

System and application code Software written in low-level programming languages (C/C++). Controls the hardware and implements the desired functionality of the embedded system.

Development Workflow and Best Practices
Embedded systems come in different types, each with unique features and functions. As a result, the development processes will differ for each product. However, we will give general processes typically involved in their development.
i) Requirements Gathering
This is the first step in embedded systems design and development. You should clearly identify the stakeholders and actively involve them in defining use cases, needs, and priorities. You should also document functional requirements (hardware and software), performance constraints, cost limitations, and environmental considerations.
ii) Determine Hardware Specifications
This is where you define the embedded system hardware configuration. You should make a schematic diagram or PCB layout of the architecture and configuration of the system’s physical components. Depending on the type of embedded system being developed, it is essential to plan how all communication and data processing will occur by considering various factors such as processor options, memory types, peripherals and ports, operating voltages, power sources, and specific requirements for the microcontroller. This comprehensive documentation will serve as a roadmap for the development process.
iii) Printed Circuit Boards (PCBs) Design
After making a schematic diagram that showcases the needed electronic parts and how they fit together on the PCB, you can build a virtual model of the embedded system. This model will allow you to test your electronic schematics without needing real electronics. Once the PCB design is confirmed safe and effective, you can pick from various modern technologies, such as 3D printing, to make an actual PCB with all its electronic parts.
Prototyping means creating a preliminary version of the embedded system to evaluate and validate its design and functionality. It can be a simplified version of the final product. However, it should demonstrate the core functionality of the product. Thorough prototype testing is usually conducted to assess its performance, identify potential issues, and gather user feedback. This step will help refine the design and ensure the final product meets the intended application.
v) Firmware & Software Development.
This is where you write a set of instructions that will interact with the hardware component of the embedded system to achieve its intended functionalities. Embedded systems typically consist of hardware, firmware, and embedded software components working together.
Firmware, the intermediary layer, serves as the bridge between hardware and embedded software. It is a low-level set of instructions and routines responsible for hardware control and management. This includes tasks like initializing components, handling interrupts, and facilitating real-time operations. Firmware is typically written in C or assembly language to ensure precise control over hardware resources and efficient execution.
Embedded software, on the other hand, operates at a higher level, implementing application logic, user interfaces, and networking capabilities. It interacts with firmware to utilize hardware resources. Depending on system complexity, this software can run directly on the microcontroller or on separate processing units. Common languages for embedded software development include C, C++, Python, and Java.
In summary:
  •  Firmware provides the essential instructions to drive embedded system functionality.
  • Embedded Software collaborates with these instructions to enhance and extend the capabilities of the embedded system.
The following flowchart illustrates the interaction between hardware, firmware, and embedded software
vi) Testing and Debugging
The embedded system should undergo thorough testing and debugging to fix any issues in the design before deployment. Various types of embedded system testing include:
  •  Hardware Testing: Ensures that the embedded system’s electronic components and physical elements, such as sensors and circuit boards, function properly.
  • Software Unit Testing: Assesses each software module to verify its functionality and identify and fix defects.
  • System Unit Testing: Validates the functionality of the entire embedded system, examining its performance as a unified entity.
  • System Integration Testing: Verifies the interaction between hardware and software components within the embedded system.
  • System Validation Testing: Confirms that the entire embedded system meets specified requirements and performs effectively in its intended environment before deployment.
vii) Deployment and Maintenance
At this stage, the embedded system is fit for mass production and deployment. The product performance should be actively monitored, and user feedback should be documented for proper maintenance, patching, and upgrade.

Challenges in Embedded Systems Development

While embedded systems offer fascinating opportunities and applications across various industries, their development has some challenges. Here are some hurdles embedded system engineers face when developing embedded systems:
Stability and Reliability Challenges
Stability and reliability are paramount in embedded systems, especially in critical applications like medical devices or industrial control systems. Any instability or unexpected behavior can have severe consequences. Achieving and maintaining stability requires rigorous testing, validation, and, often, the use of redundant or fault-tolerant design techniques. Balancing stability with performance and flexibility adds another layer of complexity to the design process.
Complexity in Updates and Maintenance
Embedded systems are often deployed in environments where updates and maintenance are challenging. For instance, in remote or harsh environments with limited access to Internet connectivity or power sources, such as in offshore oil rigs or deep space probes, updating software or firmware in such scenarios can be complex and require careful planning to ensure uninterrupted operation. Additionally, compatibility issues between different embedded system components can arise during embedded systems updates, further complicating the process.
Project Costs
Developing embedded systems can be costly due to various factors. Custom hardware and software development, along with rigorous testing and certification processes, contribute to elevated project costs. Additionally, specialized skills and expertise are often required, leading to higher labor costs. Furthermore, the need for long-term support, including software updates and maintenance, adds to the overall project expenses. Balancing cost considerations with performance, reliability, and time-to-market pressures is a constant challenge for embedded system engineers.
Limitations of Small and Compact Forms
Many embedded systems, such as wearable devices, IoT sensors, or automotive control units, are designed to fit within tight size constraints. Working within these limitations presents numerous challenges, including thermal management, power efficiency, and component integration. Furthermore, embedded system engineers often face the challenges of compressing large amounts of code on a small chip. They carefully select components and optimize designs to meet performance requirements while staying within the specified form.


If you’ve read up to this point, hopefully you’ve acquired pertinent information to guide you toward developing efficient and effective embedded systems. To the leaders guiding their team in developing embedded devices, it’s best to continue empowering your team with more resources like this and also provide the support they need to excel in the embedded domain.
embedUR is ready to support your organization’s journey toward smarter embedded product development. With our wealth of experience and expertise in IoT, connectivity, and cloud management, we can handle the complexities of the intelligent edge alongside you. Reach out to us today to learn how we can collaborate on realizing your vision and driving innovation forward.

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