1.1.3 – Embedded systems

An embedded system is simply “something with a computer inside it” but is not a general purpose computer such as a desktop PC.

The OCR definition of an embedded system is “a computer system which is built in to another device.” They have the following key characteristics:

  • Combines hardware and software together in one device (sometimes even one chip)
  • Is custom built for a specific purpose
  • Designed to perform a single, well defined task​

Embedded systems are usually extremely reliable and undergo extensive testing because they are responsible for some pretty important things like driving your car for you so you can fall asleep at the wheel and not die.

Examples of embedded systems are things like:

Smart speakers and displays – Image credit : Daylen, CC BY 4.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0, via Wikimedia Commons
Smart TV’s (you must include the word smart in your exam) – image credit : LG전자, CC BY 2.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0, via Wikimedia Commons
Tablets and E-readers – image credit : Wandelopa, CC BY-SA 4.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Advantages of embedded systems are:

  • Usually small which means cheap to manufacture
  • Very reliable (when did your dish washer last crash?)
  • Will be perfectly suited/customized for the particular purpose it’s made for

Disadvantages of embedded systems are:

  • Very expensive to create and develop
  • Can be used in safety critical environments so must be heavily tested
  • Can be very complex systems
  • (usually) cannot be easily updated