An embedded system is a special-purpose computer system designed to perform one or a few dedicated functions, often with real-time computing constraints. It is usually embedded as part of a complete device including hardware and mechanical parts. In contrast, a general-purpose computer, such as a personal computer, can do many different tasks depending on programming. Embedded systems control many of the common devices in use today.
Since the embedded system is dedicated to specific tasks, design engineers can optimize it, reducing the size and cost of the product, or increasing the reliability and performance. Some embedded systems are mass-produced, benefiting from economies of scale.
Physically, embedded systems range from portable devices such as digital watches and MP4 players, to large stationary installations like traffic lights, factory controllers, or the systems controlling nuclear power plants. Complexity varies from low, with a single microcontroller chip, to very high with multiple units, peripherals and networks mounted inside a large chassis or enclosure.
In general, "embedded system" is not an exactly defined term, as many systems have some element of programmability. For example, Handheld computers share some elements with embedded systems — such as the operating systems and microprocessors which power them — but are not truly embedded systems, because they allow different applications to be loaded and peripherals to be connected.
Example of embeded system
Embedded systems span all aspects of modern life and there are many examples of their use.
Telecommunications systems employ numerous embedded systems from telephone switches for the network to mobile phones at the end-user. Computer networking uses dedicated routers and network bridges to route data.
Consumer electronics include personal digital assistants (PDAs), mp3 players, mobile phones, videogame consoles, digital cameras, DVD players, GPS receivers, and printers. Many household appliances, such as microwave ovens, washing machines and dishwashers, are including embedded systems to provide flexibility, efficiency and features. Advanced HVAC systems use networked thermostats to more accurately and efficiently control temperature that can change by time of day and season. Home automation uses wired- and wireless-networking that can be used to control lights, climate, security, audio/visual, surveillance, etc., all of which use embedded devices for sensing and controlling.
Transportation systems from flight to automobiles increasingly use embedded systems. New airplanes contain advanced avionics such as inertial guidance systems and GPS receivers that also have considerable safety requirements. Various electric motors — brushless DC motors, induction motors and DC motors — are using electric/electronic motor controllers. Automobiles, electric vehicles, and hybrid vehicles are increasingly using embedded systems to maximize efficiency and reduce pollution. Other automotive safety systems such as anti-lock braking system (ABS), Electronic Stability Control (ESC/ESP), traction control (TCS) and automatic four-wheel drive.
Medical equipment is continuing to advance with more embedded systems for vital signs monitoring, electronic stethoscopes for amplifying sounds, and various medical imaging (PET, SPECT, CT, MRI) for non-invasive internal inspections.
In addition to commonly described embedded systems based on small computers, a new class of miniature wireless devices called motes are quickly gaining popularity as the field of wireless sensor networking rises. Wireless sensor networking, WSN, makes use of miniaturization made possible by advanced IC design to couple full wireless subsystems to sophisticated sensor, enabling people and companies to measure a myriad of things in the physical world and act on this information through IT monitoring and control systems. These motes are completely self contained, and will typically run off a battery source for many years before the batteries need to be changed or charged.