Explaining Embedded Systems, Real Time Systems, and Blackfin Microprocessors:

Modern science and technology have changed our daily life in many ways. And oftentimes the changes are even hidden for the eye. An example of such hidden technological improvements is a result of the hi-tech computer science that has given us the microprocessors.

This article is providing some explanations and information  about the Embedded Systems, Real Time Systems, and the Blackfin Microprocessors.
And along the way the article will unveil an entire set of tech jargons which are related to the topic. “Real Time” and “Embedded Systems” are actually some very easy topics, they are just named in a confusingway. First of all the phrase “embedded systems” raises quite some questions in our mind. You must be wondering what does these “embedded systems” mean? Not realizing the fact that you have been very close to hundreds of embedded systems devices without that you were aware of its presence! There are many examples of “embedded softwares”, “embedded applications” and many other things which are confusingly named “embedded …”

An example of many hidden microprocessors with important functions can be found in a modern car. The many instruments are results of several hidden systems, and even the vital functions of the car is a result of computer science and technology.

Embedded systems in a car
Credit: www.ExoticCarPosters.com

So what is an embedded system?

Embedded systems are computer systems, which are designed only to perform a dedicated set of functions based on real time constraints and instruction sets. These systems are a lot more different than the computers and the software which we normally use at home and the office. Laptops, desktops, and their software have been designed to perform a very large variety of tasks, whereas embedded systems at the same time perform a very limited set of functions, it has a much more smaller size, and its functioning, may or may not be visible to the end user. Some of the very common household items that are using embedded system technology are:
Microwave ovens, Refrigerators, and Washing machines.

Computerized Washing Machine

Other places embedded systems in microprocessors are:
Air conditioners.
CRT. Plasma or LCD TVs.
Modems. Telephones. Video conference devices
And almost all the modern electronics items that we can think off.
The difference between the various embedded systems is only the architecture according to the functions it has to perform. And the sizes and complexity of the embedded systems can vary a lot .
Some of the advantages of the embedded systems are:
Low cost of development and implementation.
Low power consumption.
High performance.
Lower hardware and operation costs.
Reduction in the size of equipment that the system is embedded in.

Now what is an embedded application?

Following the brief introduction of the embedded systems above, then now we need to understand what an embedded application is? As the name implies, this embedded application helps running the embedded system. It can be compared to a computer’s operating system such as Windows, Mac OSX, or Linux. The embedded system is related to an embedded application, this software runs the embedded system, now since the the size embedded systems are fairly small, and do not demand many complicated instructions then it is a lot more cost effective to design a very small piece of code that will operate the entire device. It could be a program that made the operation of a washing machine easy, by selecting preset programs for washing clothes at different temperatures etc. Or it could be a complicated system that regulated a car’s fuel consumption dependent upon speed, the temperature of the engine as well as the temperature of the air outside the car. One of the many microcomputers in the car and the embedded system would regulate the fuel and air intake without any involvement from the driver, who most likely doesn’t even think of this as a computer process.

Why are these devices called Real-Time devices?

Earlier when we were defining embedded systems, we had mentioned that these systems are based on real-time constraints, which simply means that they will only operate on instructions which are fed into the system on a the real time basis, i.e. what each situation in the process is right here and now.
Like us for example consider the embedded system of a microwave oven:
The real time embedded system would undergo the following algorithm:
STEP ONE: initialize the system (that is turning every component on).
STEP TWO: verify that all components are working and in ready state and then go on standby, else run an error code.
STEP THREE: it is already on standby which means that it is waiting for an instruction from the user, in real time.
At this point the user decides to defrost potatoes at 100% power and at 2 minutes running time, and the embedded system merrily follows the instructions. This is a very simple real time system. A much more complex system is The Anti Lock Brake System of a car, i.e. the ABS system. A modern car’s electronic brake system might have several embedded systems, therefore the different systems have to be given different priorities. The real time systems are highly prioritized and are given preference higher than any of the other processes, as a result the Anti Lock Brake System, the ABS takes over (in real time) in a situation where a fast and secure braking of the car is needed.

Components of an embedded system

The embedded system is strictly designed for a very limited set of instructions, this means that the cost and space have to be kept in mind, therefore the system must have only those components which are required to run the entire system, i.e. ‘no more no less’.
The needed components are the following:
A Microprocessor: It will have to be there, it is actually the most important component, the heart of all electronic devices which perform computations.
RAM (Random Access Memory): If a microprocessor is present, then RAM will have to be present. For embedded systems these can vary from very few Kb to some hundreds of Mb.
Clock: A simple quartz crystal is used as a clock generator for almost every electronic device on the planet, these clocks do not tell time, but they are used for synchronization between the different system devices.
Flash Memory: These are yet another very essential component of an embedded system, they can be seen as small hard disks to these microcomputer systems, they store the main program, and they are not erased when the power is turned off.
Peripheral devices: These will be those devices which will be used to cater the actual set of demands, it can be LEDs, LCD display, connection ports, control/function buttons, etc.

What is a Blackfin microprocessor?

The Blackfin microprocessor is an entire family of microprocessors designed and sold by Analog Devices Inc. (ADI) with 16 bit or 32 bit instruction sets, the microprocessor has one of the most advance and its characteristic feature that is its inbuilt Digital Signal Processing (DSP) capabilities, which were earlier only found in power efficient and small micro-controllers. This unification of the best of both worlds, the microprocessors and micro-controllers, has resulted in fabrication of a microprocessor which consumes much less power and delivers a much higher computational performance.

Blackfin Processor BF 537

The Blackfin microprocessor family has been present more than 10 years in the market, and its inbuilt algorithms for image compression and video compression has made it very likable to put in use in systems highly dependent on audio and video support, these include:
- Security and surveillance
- Process controls
- Tests and measurements
- Audio processing
- Automotive industry
These microprocessors are today supported by multiple kernels and OSs and make it very ideal to implement in any embedded system dealing with audio and video.

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