An embedded system is a computer system designed to perform a specific set of dedicated functions, often with limited resources and with real-time computing constraints. It is typically embedded as part of a complete device including bespoke hardware, sensors, displays, I/O and mechanical parts. Embedded systems are often associated with portable devices but many fixed installations use embedded systems. In contrast, a general-purpose computer, such as a personal computer, can perform many different tasks depending on the application software that has been loaded onto it.

Embedded systems have become very important today as they are present in almost every aspect of modern life; telecommunication systems, computer networks, consumer electronics, household appliances, heating control systems, traffic lights, engine control systems, industrial automation controllers, medical devices etc, all make use of embedded systems to provide flexibility, efficiency and complex features. According to the World Semiconductor Trade Statistics today about 98 percent of programmable digital devices are actually embedded

The  Challenge for UK Industry

The importance of the Embedded Systems market is undisputed, with a market size about 100 times that of the desktop market, but the domain of Embedded Systems lacks of a comprehensive view of its sectorial, technological and market related aspects. Furthermore, analyses so far do not take into consideration the ongoing R&D programmes and initiatives.

Europe is a major player in the field of Embedded Systems. While the US is the worldwide leader in the area of traditional computing and data processing, Europe has driven the revolution in ES. But Europe’s current market position in ES is endangered by the US and challenged by some Asian countries like China, Korea, Taiwan and India. In order to maintain the UK’s position in this growing sector, we need to ensure that we remain at the forefront of innovation and competitiveness, offering highly innovative and reliable solutions in markets such as communications, automotive, industrial automation, consumer electronics and medical and healthcare electronics.

Embedded Systems can be a very broad field and the designers of embedded systems face a special set of challenges; the nature of many embedded systems often means that both hardware and software are designed from scratch. The development of bespoke hardware may take months to complete so the development of the software must often start long before the hardware is available for the purpose of testing. Even when the hardware is available it may be necessary to debug both hardware and software simultaneously – a task that can be frustrating and costly.

Companies are faced with the management of increasing complexity in systems that must accommodate complex communications with other systems and convergence of functionality. Increasing numbers of embedded systems are considered “Safety Critical” or “Mission Critical” and this can require specialist development skills. Many companies find that they do not have sufficient breadth and depth of experience in all the necessary fields and find themselves having to seek partners to help them develop their systems.