What is Embedded Software?
Embedded software is quickly becoming increasingly important due to the advent of IoT technology, but it has
its origins in the 1950s. What is embedded software, and why is it so important?
A History in Space
The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency was created in 1958 as a way for the American government to funnel
money into top-secret research projects to allow them to best the Russian Sputnik initiative.
Since then, it has led to a remarkable number of technologies, including the basic tech behind the internet and GUI.
In fact, DARPA is responsible for almost all the tech found in the iPhone – Apple even bought Siri from a Department-of-Defense-funded institute.
When they were trying to get rockets into space, the Americans realized it would be a lot easier if their hardware was programmed to respond to events in specific ways.
As a result, they embedded hardwired systems into space guidance technologies and the idea behind modern embedded software was born.
It wasn’t until the late 70’s when embedded software became useful for normal people when microcontroller chips took off.
Many technologies have become commodities in the modern-day, and microcontrollers are no different.
The cost of producing them has dropped to cents, which means they are in nearly all electronic devices.
Every single microcontroller has software embedded into it, including microcontrollers in toasters.
These microcontrollers act like small computers, taking in data, processing data and outputting data.
Embedded software facilitates all that, which means that even your toaster had a software development team behind it.
How Does It Work?
Embedded software operates similarly to almost any computer application.
There are software program files that get selected, loaded into random access memory and then executed by the microprocessor.
This is different from firmware, which is more likely to be stored in flash memory, a memory that isn’t embedded but is much easier to erase and reprogram.
Embedded software also differs from firmware as it can be written in high-level languages, including Python and JS, allowing
for a highly sophisticated program that can take care of high-level device functions.
Do You Need Embedded Software?
If you are making an appliance, you likely need embedded software of some kind to automate functions at a higher level
without having to rely on clunky hardware or potentially erasable code. Embedded software is crucial for user interfaces
and, nowadays, it is possible to have updatable embedded software.
Say you were designing an HDTV. It would need a microprocessor to convert the incoming signal into pixel values on its display.
Firmware could do this if your TV didn’t have many functions, but a modern TV needs some form of user interaction ability.
Smart TVs rely on embedded software to offer various features to their users, as well as record their data.
These are its operating systems, typically Android or Roku, which the user is not able to change and which give them more options
than changing the channel and turning the volume up and down.
In short, if you are building hardware that offers several features or has different purposes, the software that packages them together should be embedded.