Embedded Software Development: Great thing to know in 2023

Embedded software development is a critical aspect of modern technology, powering an extensive range of devices and systems that have become indispensable to our daily lives. This specialised field involves designing, developing, and maintaining software that is specifically tailored to run on specific hardware platforms, often with limited resources and real-time constraints. From the smartphones in our pockets to the cars we drive, embedded software plays an essential role in ensuring the smooth operation and functionality of countless devices and systems.

In this comprehensive article, we will delve into the world of embedded software development, exploring its key characteristics, common challenges, and the latest trends shaping the industry. Whether you are a seasoned developer, a budding enthusiast, or simply curious about the technology that drives our modern world, this article will provide you with a comprehensive overview of embedded software development and its significance in today’s technological landscape.

embedded software development

1. What is Embedded Software Development?

1.1. Definition

Embedded software is a type of software that is designed to control specific functions of a device or system. Unlike traditional software applications, embedded software is tailored to meet the unique requirements of the host device and system. It is responsible for the higher-level functions of a device, such as data processing, user interaction, and communication with other devices.

Embedded software is found in a wide variety of devices and systems, not limited to mobile phones, including:

  • Consumer electronics: Smartphones, tablets, smart TVs, digital cameras, wearable devices
  • Automotive systems: Engine control units, airbags, anti-lock brake systems, infotainment systems
  • Industrial automation: Programmable logic controllers, sensors, actuators
  • Medical devices: Pacemakers, insulin pumps, hearing aids
  • Aerospace systems: Flight control systems, navigation systems, communication system

Furthermore, embedded software development refers to the process of creating software that is designed to run on a specific hardware platform, typically with limited resources and real-time constraints. Embedded software developers must have a deep understanding of both hardware and software, and they must be able to write efficient and reliable code that meets the specific requirements of the target device or system. C and C++ languages are commonly used to develop this type of software. 

1.2. Why is Embedded Software Development important?

Embedded software is crucial for the operation of a wide range of devices and systems that are ubiquitous in our daily lives. Here are some key reasons why embedded software is important:

  • Efficient Resource Utilisation: Embedded software is designed to operate within the constraints of limited memory and processing power, making it an ideal choice for devices where resource optimization is critical. 
  • Real-time Performance: Embedded software can handle real-time tasks. It can respond to events and make decisions within milliseconds.
  • Reliability and Security: Embedded software is able to withstand harsh environments, prevent data breaches, and protect against cyberattacks. 
  • Versatility and Adaptability: Embedded software can be tailored to a wide range of devices and applications, from smartphones and wearable technology to industrial automation systems and medical devices.
  • Cost-Effectiveness: Embedded software development focuses on specific functionalities and resource optimization, making it a viable solution for a wide range of devices and applications.

1.3. Embedded Software Market

The global embedded software market is expected to grow from $109.64 billion in 2022 to $286.58 billion in 2028, at a CAGR of 14.57% from 2023 to 2028.

The growth of the market is being driven by a number of factors, including the increasing demand for connected devices, the rise of artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML), and the need for more secure and efficient embedded software.

The automotive industry is the largest end-user of embedded software, accounting for over 35% of the market in 2022, followed by the healthcare and industrial automation industries. The increasing demand for autonomous vehicles and advanced driver-assistance systems (ADAS) is expected to drive further growth in this segment.

2. Embedded Software vs Firmware

Embedded software and firmware are both types of software that are used to control devices, but they have different purposes and characteristics. Here is a table summarising the key differences between them:

FeatureEmbedded SoftwareFirmware
Responsible forData-processing, user interaction, communicationDevice initialisation, hardware interaction, basic control logic
Programming languageC, C++, JavaAssembly, machine code
Update frequencyMoreLess
Modification difficultyEasierMore difficult
LocationIn volatile memoryIn non-volatile memory

For example, it is how embedded software and firmware might be used in a car:

  • Embedded software would be used to control the car’s infotainment system, such as the radio, navigation, and climate control.
  • Firmware would be used to control the car’s engine, brakes, and transmission.

3. Embedded Software Development Life Cycle (ESDLC) 

The embedded software development life cycle (ESDLC), similar to software development life cycle (SDLC), is a framework that helps developers create embedded software. There are 4 main steps in the ESDLC:

Step 1: Planning and analysis

This phase involves gathering and analysing the requirements for the embedded software to define your business idea and demonstrate the concept feasibility. This includes understanding the user needs, the target audience, the device’s hardware capabilities, the software’s functional and non-functional requirements and discovering your app’s competitors or collaborators..

Step 2: Designing

As soon as you have a viable concept for an embedded system, you can move ahead with designing the prototype and choosing a development approach for your idea implementation. This includes designing the software components, the hardware interfaces, and the data flow. You also need to identify the right tools and technologies: coding languages, operating systems, SDKs… This depends on how you define your project in terms of complexity, budget, development team…

Step 3: Implementation

It’s time to bring your idea of embedded software into reality – writing the embedded software code. This code must be optimised for the target hardware and must meet the software’s requirements.

Another important task is picking a development team, a typical embedded software development team may include embedded software engineer, hardware engineer, mechanical engineer, PCB layout engineer. Moreover, you may also need experts with experience in security, cloud-based software… 

Step 4: Commercial launch

At this phase, you have done your product and are ready to launch it in real life. It involves deploying the embedded software to the target device and testing it to ensure that it meets its requirements. This includes unit testing, integration testing, and system testing.

4. What Programming Languages are most common for Embedded Software Development?

The most common programming languages for embedded software development are:

  • C: C is a low-level programming language that is known for its efficiency and performance. It is well-suited for embedded software development because it allows developers to write code that is close to the hardware.
  • C++: C++ is a high-level programming language that is based on C. It is more powerful and expressive than C, but it is also more complex. C++ is often used for embedded software development when the application requires more features or flexibility than C can provide.
  • Assembly language: Assembly language is the most low-level programming language. It is written in a format that is specific to the target hardware, and it gives developers the most control over the hardware. Assembly language is typically only used for very critical applications where performance is paramount.
  • MATLAB: MATLAB is a high-level programming language that is often used for scientific and engineering applications. It is particularly well-suited for embedded software development that involves data analysis and signal processing.
  • Python: Python is a high-level programming language that is known for its simplicity and ease of use. It is becoming increasingly popular for embedded software development, particularly for applications that require rapid prototyping or scripting.

Other programming languages are sometimes used for embedded software development, such as Java, Ada, and Rust. The choice of programming language depends on the specific requirements of the application and the developer’s experience.

5. Common Challenges of Embedded Software Development

Embedded software development is a complex and challenging task, and there are a number of common challenges that developers must face. Here are some of the most common challenges:

Meeting real-time requirements

Embedded software often has to respond to events in real time. For example, the software in a car’s airbag control system must be able to deploy the airbags within milliseconds of a collision. This can be a difficult challenge to meet, as it requires the software to be highly efficient and performant.

Dealing with limited resources

Embedded software typically has limited memory and processing power. This means that developers must be careful to optimise the code for performance and to avoid using unnecessary resources. It can also be challenging to fit all of the required functionality onto the target hardware.

Protecting against security threats

Embedded software is increasingly vulnerable to cyberattacks. This is because embedded devices are often connected to the internet and can be accessed by attackers remotely. Developers must take care to implement appropriate security measures to protect the software and its data.

Meeting diverse requirements

Embedded software must meet a wide range of requirements, depending on the specific application. This can include functional requirements, non-functional requirements, and regulatory requirements. It can be difficult to meet all of these requirements, as they can sometimes conflict with each other.

Managing complexity

Embedded software can be very complex, especially for large and sophisticated systems. This complexity can make it difficult to develop, test, and maintain the software. It is important to use appropriate tools and techniques to manage the complexity of the software.

Keeping up with technological change

The technology used in embedded systems is constantly changing, and developers must keep up with these changes in order to create the most up-to-date and performant software. This can be a challenge, as it requires developers to be constantly learning new skills and technologies.

Cost optimisation

Developing and maintaining embedded software can be expensive. Developers must carefully manage costs throughout the development process, from the selection of hardware to the testing and deployment of the software.

6.1. Internet of Things (IoT)

The Internet of Things (IoT) is a major trend that is having a significant impact on embedded software development. The IoT is the network of physical devices, vehicles, home appliances, and other items embedded with electronics, software, sensors, actuators, and connectivity which enables these objects to connect and exchange data. This is creating a huge demand for embedded software that can connect to the internet and collect and process data. The growth of the IoT will continue to drive the demand for embedded software developers with experience in IoT technologies. Many governments across the world are already working on enacting laws, regulations and policies.

6.2. Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML)

AI and ML are becoming increasingly important in embedded software development. AI and ML can be used to develop intelligent embedded systems that can learn and adapt to their environment. This can be used to improve the performance and efficiency of embedded systems, and to develop new and innovative applications. Embedded software developers will need to have a strong understanding of AI and ML in order to develop these systems.

6.3. Cybersecurity

Cybersecurity is a major concern for embedded software developers. As embedded devices become more connected and sophisticated, they become more vulnerable to cyberattacks. Embedded software developers will need to take steps to protect their systems from cyberattacks by implementing appropriate security measures. For example, Public Key Infrastructure (PKI) – a new form of embedded security that enhances the security of exchanges between verified parties. It encrypts data, authenticates devices, and creates encrypted connections using strong asymmetric cryptography algorithms based on public and private key pairings.

6.4. Open-source software

Open-source software is becoming increasingly popular in embedded software development, as businesses are increasing their participation in open-source initiatives. In modern days, open-source software is a valuable tool for business, it can be used to reduce development costs and improve the quality of embedded software. For instance, Linux is a free open source that runs on a variety of the world’s internet servers, mobile devices (through Android) and supercomputers. 

These are just a few of the trends that are shaping the embedded software industry. You may find it interesting to explore more what will come, shaping the future of embedded software development.

Conclusion

Embedded software development is a dynamic and evolving field, constantly adapting to the demands of increasingly sophisticated devices and systems. As technology continues to advance, the role of embedded software will only grow in importance, driving innovation and shaping the future of technology. For those seeking a challenging and rewarding career in the tech industry, embedded software development offers a wealth of opportunities to make a significant impact on the world around us.

If you need an embedded software development service right now, we are here to help. AgileTech’s IT team knows how to develop top-notch solutions for embedded system usage. Are you ready to embark on a journey into the exciting world of embedded software development? Contact us today for more information!

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