The purpose of embedded systems

"An embedded system is the use of a computer system built into a machine of some sort, usually to provide a means of control" (BCS Glossary of Computing and ICT). Embedded systems are everywhere in our lives, from the TV remote control to the microwave, to control the central heating to the digital alarm clock next to our bed. They are in cars, washing machines, cameras, drones and toys. 

An embedded system has a microprocessor in it which is essentially a complete computer system with limited, specific functionality. As far as a user goes, they can usually interact with it through a limited interface. This typically will allow the user to input settings and make selections and also to receive output using text, video or audio  signals, for example.


Characterisitcs of embedded systems
There are a number of common characteristics we can identify in embedded systems.

    •  They are usually small, sometimes tiny and very light so they can be fitted into many products.
    • The computer system in an embedded system is usually a single microprocessor.
    • The microprocessor has been designed to do a limited number of very specific tasks in a product very quickly and efficiently.
    • The microprocessor can be mass-produced very cheaply.
    • They require a very tiny amount of power compared to a traditional computer.
    • They are very reliable because there are no moving parts.
    • Because the computer system is usually printed onto one board, if it does break down, you just swap the board; it is very easy to maintain.

Potential problems
There are always potential problems when computers are involved!

    • If the microprocessor inside the embedded system breaks down, the whole system or product is likely to stop working. You'll then have to either send it away to get it replaced by a specialist or throw it away and buy a new one.
    • Embedded systems can deliberately be made expensive to replace in products by manufacturers, forcing consumers to buy completely new products. This leads to unnecessary waste.
    • Microprocessor design is a specialist area so experts are needed to design them and to maintain or replace them.