Eliminating complexities in embedded system development

August 21, 2017 Millie Rainer, Electrical Engineer

An embedded system is a computer system within a larger mechanical or electrical system with dedicated functionality. Embedded systems often include hardware and mechanical parts, and are part of a complete device.

A wide range of applications use embedded systems and the number of such systems is growing constantly. However, their development is becoming increasingly difficult as even a single error in the code can prove disastrous. Therefore, embedded system developers need to come up with efficient solutions that will help them reduce the complexities of embedded system development.

A few ways to reduce or eliminate complexities in the embedded system development process are:

1. Using a model-driven approach

Most embedded system developers use traditional programming languages such as C and C++ to improve reliability and reduce security flaws. However, model driven design (MDD) can be even more beneficial. MDD considerably improves verification, testing, and synthesis of embedded systems. The major benefits of using MDD are reduced development time and cost, and improved and robust design that is platform-independent.

Moreover, model-based testing allows test engineers to focus more on the intellectual challenges instead of only on the manual test case design, manual test execution, and laborious scripting. This means MDD is less error-prone, and you can ensure better quality of the products.

2. Adopting an agile approach

Agile development is becoming increasingly popular and embedded systems development can also benefit from agile development. Embedded system development using traditional approach does not offer businesses the required visibility to plan product releases and rollouts. Meanwhile, agile methods are designed to improve visibility, predictability, quality, and productivity. In the case of agile development, small and self-organized teams work closely to ensure production of high-quality products.

Many developers believe that agile does not fit with embedded system development since it includes designing hardware, but this is not always true: agile techniques such as extreme programming (XP) and scrum have been used in embedded system development for a long time.

Let us see how the principles of agile development help embedded system development:

  • Continuous communication: Constant communication among teams helps them stay abreast of developments and implement necessary changes effectively. Working in tandem with each other also helps them maintain a sustainable pace to ensure the work gets done on time.
  • Working with software over comprehensive documentation: Breaking complex work into smaller segments makes it easier for developers to work on the project and ensure timely delivery, but this can be implemented much more easily for software development teams compared to hardware teams. However, hardware teams can also work incrementally by adopting modular design and/or providing functional FPGA images (although incomplete).
  • Customer collaboration over contract negotiation: Project failure is often the result of the inability of the product/software to provide the value that customers expect. Collaborating closely with customers ensures the end product is in keeping with their expectations and fewer change requests spring up. Embedded systems are becoming increasingly sophisticated thanks to rich user interfaces, wider interoperability, and configurable operations. However, they are exponentially increasing the difficulty of capturing full requirements. Therefore, it is crucial to maintain an ongoing conversation with customers at every stage.
  • Responding to change: Whether it is software or hardware development, change is inevitable. Whether it is due to changing customer behavior, responding to competitor’s releases or opportunities discovered during implementation, change needs to be embraced in a structured manner. This is true of embedded system development as well. With proper collaboration within teams and timely feedback from customers, hardware teams can implement changes without increasing overhead costs significantly.

3. Focusing on quality control

Embedded systems find their application in satellites, airplanes, vehicles, medical technology, and other advanced areas, so reliability is one of the most important aspects to take care of. Quality control is the only process through which reliability can be ensured. Unlike traditional IT products such as PCs and servers, the hardware of embedded components is designed for specific tasks. It must meet specific requirements in terms of reliability, interoperability, energy demand, and so on. The role of quality control in embedded system development is to test the devices and unearth their flaws. The development team then fixes the bugs and ensures the product is safe for deployment. The testing team must design an organized process to verify the behavior, performance, and reliability of the device or system against designed specifications.

The easiest way to implement quality control in embedded systems is to break the embedded device code into small testable units and test each unit for its reliability. Sifting bugs at the unit level ensures developers do not have to face bigger problems in the later stages of development. Thanks to the availability of automated testing tools for embedded systems such as Tessy, EMbunit, and others, developers can now skip time-consuming manual testing and schedule testing according to their convenience.

Embedded systems, especially those used in mobile devices and automotives, are exposed to severe vibrations and other harsh environments. Therefore, they need to be designed to withstand constant wear and tear. It is only through quality control that developers can ensure the products they design work as intended.

Conclusion

As embedded systems gain popularity, companies need to be more careful when developing them as product recalls can have adverse effects on the reputation of the company as well as the development costs. They need to come up with ideas that will help them eliminate the complexities in embedded system development. Hopefully, the above tips will help companies simplify their embedded system development practices and ensure they create robust products that perform under diverse situations.

Millie Rainer has a master degree in electrical engineering. She loves to share her thoughts and insights on manufacturing industries, business and entrepreneurship. When in leisure time, she prefers to spend time in traveling with friends and family. Find her on Twitter @MillieRainer.

Previous Article
Resolving power issues in smart charging automotive systems
Resolving power issues in smart charging automotive systems

Next Article
Code cleaning with SPARK and Ada: Cut development costs upfront

Leveraging an expressive and formal specification from the start makes it easier to respect requirements, p...