Embedded Systems Applications Across Industries

Since their inception in 1961, embedded systems have completely revolutionized the way we live, work and communicate. You may not have realized it but you’re actually surrounded by embedded systems. The printer for your computer, the Wi-Fi router providing Internet access, your MP3 player, DSLR camera, refrigerator, microwave oven, even the equipment that measures your blood pressure at the doctor’s office. In fact, embedded systems today, have a ubiquitous presence in our lives. Look around you carefully and you’ll find at least a hundred embedded devices in your home itself.

The above examples clearly depict how embedded systems have found applications in almost every industry. From consumer electronics to medical systems and security to transportation embedded systems are everywhere.

We already know about the application of embedded technology in areas of consumer electronics, home automation, military technology, commercial areas, sports, etc. Today, we’ll look into some of the lesser-known industries where embedded systems play a very crucial role.

Transportation

This is an image of a person holding a smartphone with their GPS navigation pulled up while driving in a car that also has GPS navigation

When we think about transportation, the picture of powerful engines and automobile engineering comes to mind. It’s very common to overlook the contribution of embedded systems in automobiles and transportation industry as whole.

Let’s start with the GPS system, without which it is almost impossible to drive at your destination quickly these days. The GPS unit in cars, buses, trucks, etc. comes with a dedicated microcontroller along with other components, making the GPS unit is an embedded system.

What about the windshield wipers in your car? Well, they too are run on an embedded system.

The anti-lock braking system which works like a charm in slippery road conditions also depends on embedded technology.

Air bag control systems, which are triggered by accelerometers as a result of a collision are also controlled with embedded devices.

Fire Safety Systems

Designing fire safety systems for residential and commercial buildings that work flawlessly is a pretty daunting task and quite a large responsibility. It requires the proper and timely deployment of various sub-systems such as fire and smoke detection systems, alarm systems, smoke control systems, sprinklers and sometimes first responder alerts.

Fortunately, embedded systems development tools have allowed fire safety engineers to automate fire systems to a great extent. The fire and smoke detection devices are equipped with microcontrollers and sensors that trigger the alarms whenever they detect instances of fire and smoke. Similarly, other sub-systems like sprinklers and smoke control systems are also equipped with embedded technology.

These sub-systems come with dedicated embedded systems whose job is to accomplish just one or two tasks such as triggering the alarms or deploying the sprinklers.

Medical Applications

This is a black and white image of a medical heart monitor

Modern healthcare and medical science owes a great deal to embedded technology. Without embedded systems, the diagnosis and treatment of ailments would be quite cumbersome. Think about the sophisticated machines like ECG, CT Scanners, MRI, etc. How do you think they work, so flawlessly, every time? It’s because they are programmed to do the same task each time with minimal human intervention. These machines have microcontrollers embedded that are programmed to perform a specific task, or two.

Apart from these machines, embedded technology is also powering smaller devices like Glucometers and electronic defibrillators. In the future, smaller devices like micro bots will be deployed to blood vessels in the human body through tiny surgical incisions. These bots will be programmed to address the medical condition/area of concern. Unsurprisingly, these devices too will be embedded devices.

With the convergence of AI, IoT and embedded systems in the near future, the applications of embedded devices in medical science is expected to soar.

Life Critical Systems

Life-Critical systems are those whose failure may lead to the loss of lives or result in injury, damage to machines/equipment and environmental hazard. Life-critical systems are found in almost every industry such as infrastructure, medicine, transport, healthcare, aviation, railways, space exploration, etc.

Since the primary purpose of life-critical systems are to operate as back-up systems and prevent damage when the primary system fails, life-critical systems are automatic in nature. These systems must operate independently without any human interaction or manual triggers. These devices most definitely make use of embedded technology. The system on chip SOCs on these life-critical systems are programmed to do a specific task with the help of embedded software.

Apart from these industries, embedded systems also play a big role in avionics, space exploration, communication, etc. These industries including the ones mentioned above can be isolated from public domain or insecure networks (e.g. internet) as they can operate independently. They operate based on the program that’s embedded in its SOCs or microcontroller, which is very difficult to modify. These devices are usually very secure and are immune to hacking.