Embedded systems

The digital revolution, started decades ago, has reached a stage that we cannot conduct our normal modern daily lives without this technology. Indeed, it is safe to say that we already own at least one piece of equipment, which contains a processor, whether it is a phone, a television, an automatic washing machine or an MP3 player. The colossal growth of processing power in small packages has fuelled the digital revolution. All sectors of the economy have been influenced by the digital revolution and the industry has experienced tremendous developments in all aspects of engineering disciplines.

 

It is very likely that you are familiar with software packages such as word processor, spreadsheet and web browser or have interacted with a database in a library or in a bank. These complex packages are designed by software engineers for desktop and large-scale computers. However, the vast majority of computers are dedicated to a single or limited number of tasks. These systems do not look and behave like computers to the ultimate user and are normally hidden inside another product. These computers are known as embedded systems. It is estimated that less than 2% of processor chips manufactured every year are employed in new PCs or other desktop computers. A staggering 11 billion processors were used in embedded systems during 2007 and are rising annually.

Embedded processors span the range from simple 4-bit microcontrollers, like those used in greeting cards or toys, to much more powerful devices. In fact, virtually every electronic device designed and manufactured today is an embedded system and you can easily find a few such devices in your vicinity.

 

Embedded systems can be broken into two broad categories: those that contain microprocessors (μP) with limited input/output ports and those that use microcontrollers (μC) with many more on-chip peripherals thereby reducing cost and size. In general, an embedded system can be defined as a system that:

 

  1. Is designed to do some specific task, rather than be a general-purpose computer for  multiple tasks.
     
  2. Is not always a separate device. Most often it is physically located inside the device it controls.
     
  3. Has its operational software often stored in a read-only memory.
     
  4. Often functions with limited user interaction.

 

Embedded systems are often placed inside equipment that is expected to operate continuously for years without any user intervention. This implies that these systems should be robust and be able to recover by themselves if an error occurs.  Therefore it is essential that the incorporated software is carefully designed and tested more rigorously than that for personal computers.

 

An embedded systems designer needs to be a multidisciplinary engineer with software programming skills and a broad background in electronic engineering. They must know how to implement procedures to control the target system effectively. Another important element in an embedded systems engineer’s career is the ability to manage projects of various complexities.

 

MSc Embedded Systems engineering course, such as offered at the School of Computing and Engineering of the University of Huddersfield has been designed to meet the criteria mentioned above. The department’s reputation in achieving the highest possible award of 24/24 in the Teaching Quality Assessment and its modern laboratories and course curriculum will ensure that graduates from the course are prepared for an interesting career in embedded systems engineering. Other universities in the United Kingdom that offer embedded systems courses combine the hardware and software components to a varying degree.

 

A postgraduate embedded systems engineering course will offer an academic progression to new graduates in electronic engineering, computer science, control engineering, or related disciplines.  This is equally applicable to more experienced engineers who require a postgraduate programme to enhance their technical and managerial education or to retrain for career change and better prospects.

 

Professional engineers are involved in creating the technology demanded by society to cater for its needs in consumer goods, medical equipment, transportation, communication and industrial tools.  The list is not exhaustive and continues to grow on a daily basis. This growth has led to a significant skills shortage in the embedded systems engineering sectors. Embedded systems are ubiquitous in all areas of engineering and graduates are likely to be employed in a diverse range of industries with a salary above the average for traditional engineers.

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