An introduction to embedded computers

This page focuses on an introduction to embedded computers, with a look at exactly what embedded computers are, how they work, and where we come across them in our every day lives.



An introduction to embedded computers


Computers come in all shapes and sizes. Over the years, their design and manufacture have been massively streamlined. Embedded computers are smaller and more streamlined than traditional systems. However, they are commonly used for a wide variety of purposes. By ’embedded’, these systems are ‘built-in’. This means they don’t rely on external processing.

Embedded systems are developed to help with specific tasks. They are often used for one purpose. For example, think about a simple calculator. Its only purpose is to calculate sums! It’s a brilliant example of an embedded system in action.

People use embedded systems when they need efficient, specific support. They can be used to complete certain checks or to respond to simple requests. For example, you may ask an embedded system to check the weather for you or to check if you have any new email.

While embedded computers are more commonplace than ever, there will still be a place for more advanced systems. Unlike larger PCs and systems, they can’t run more than one task at a time. This, however, doesn’t make them any less capable!


Microprocessors and Microcontrollers in embedded computers


Embedded system hardware can run either through a microprocessor or a microcontroller. While both use a CPU, or central processing unit, a microprocessor is a bare-bones system. A microcontroller has everything built-in, such as memory, and ports for communication.

Microprocessors are therefore used for simpler tasks. Microcontrollers, meanwhile, are used for complex equations and queries. You may use a microcontroller, for example, when you ask a device to boil a kettle or to control a robot!

Embedded computers can be found in some of the world’s most popular technology. Tablets, smartphones and wearable tech all run thanks to embedded systems. They are designed to offer real-time access to computing for everyday life.

Think about the devices you use every day. You may be using microprocessors without even realising it!


Take a look at this short video from a company that makes embedded computers for a wide variety of different purposes and environments:



System Communication


The IoT, or Internet of Things, refers to the network of everyday items which can communicate with one another. Technology is continuing to evolve to the point where we need it more and more each day. Therefore, embedded systems are being used to help make everyday items more efficient.

For example, you may have a home assistant such as an Amazon Echo which communicates with smart light bulbs, or even your central heating. Embedded computers are used to not only power these devices, but also to help them work together.

The IoT is seen as the future of convenient computing. It’s therefore likely embedded systems will continue to be sought after. They are relied on to help run public services and to help monitor large-scale projects such as oil pipelines and military hardware. Embedded computing lets us ask quick queries without relying on larger, more advanced systems.

However, not all embedded systems are the same. While some are used in control applications, others have no user interfaces. Some are relied on to perform automated tasks, while others we actively control.