What Is Embedded Software Development

by Anna Khrupa on May 23, 2022

Have you ever thought about how your coffee machine works? Or how your car deals with all electronic items without your intervention? That’s all the embedded software examples. They are actually all around us: in cars, airplanes, Wi-Fi routers, digital watches, toys, and so on. In this article, we take a closer look at what embedded software is, how it works, and how it is developed. 

What does embedded mean in software terms?

The main difference between embedded software and regular software is that embedded software doesn’t have any interface for users and is built into the hardware. That’s exactly what ‘embedded’ means.

Embedded software is designed to serve the specific device and is run on that exact device. And the complexity of such software depends on its purposes: it can be as simple as to manage the lighting colors in your interior or calculator functions, or as complex and precise as to control the GPS device, an electric car, a missile, or medical equipment. 

Another question is how embedded software works. It doesn’t use any operating system to run. Or if it does, it requires the real-time system so that all the functions perform correctly. While creating embedded software, developers put the device drivers into it so that it can function in a particular environment. 

It’s important to state the key characteristics of embedded systems’ work. 

  • Firstly, they are task-specific. It means that such systems are designed to perform certain actions and achieve certain goals and can be used only for that purpose. 
  • Secondly, they are highly reliable. The number of issues that arise during the usage of such software should be as close to zero as possible, so that the user doesn’t have to control or fix it. Embedded systems are designed to work throughout the lifespan of a device. 
  • Thirdly, the efficiency is high. Embedded systems are designed to use only the capacity that the device can provide because its capacity cannot be extended, so there must be no memory leaks or other issues. At the same time, the device must provide the minimum capacity required for the software functioning. 

As you can see, embedded software development requires lots of expertise and effort from the development team. Now, let’s look closer at how embedded software is developed. 

How to develop embedded software

When you need to develop embedded software, first, you need to decide upon the technologies to use. Mainly, the code is written using C or C++ programming languages. However, recently developers started using Python, Java, JavaScript and other high-level languages to create such software. 

Moreover, you will have to use specific software like cross-compilers and debugging hardware emulators to create and test embedded software using your computer.  

When you’re done with preparations, the next question that arises is: what is the embedded software development process? Let’s look briefly through all the stages: 

  1. Customer specifications — the first thing you need to do is to identify the purpose of the product, understand exactly what it has to perform and what goals the customer expects to achieve with its help. 
  2. System requirements — at this stage, you have to determine what the system should look like so that it can perform as expected. State in detail all the functions you have to develop. 
  3. Technical specification — now it’s time to document all technical requirements with a complete function breakdown, including all the internal and external conditions for the product work. 
  4. System design — at this point, you have to think of a system structure and the details of product work, such as internet connection, electricity supply, and other architectural details. 
  5. Prototype — prepare a test sample of a product, outlining the main features and functions of a future embedded software solution. 
  6. Operating system — it’s time to decide whether your software will need a real-time operating system or it is going to work independently. While choosing the system, ensure you’ve compared all the criteria valuable for your product and taken into account critical requirements. 
  7. Development — this is a stage where you create the main functionality of your embedded software. 
  8. Testing and debugging — after the software is developed you have to ensure its quality, check if any bugs arise and fix all the issues detected. 
  9. Verification methods — choose how you will check the system’s readiness to deploy: it can be verification of the host or the target system. We recommend using both to ensure the quality. 
  10. Verification using a host system — you have to ensure that the software complies with all the functional and non-functional requirements using an emulator. 
  11. Verification using a target system — now it’s turn to use the developed embedded software on the device it was developed for. 
  12. Technical audit — since the software runs on a target device, you have to check that both functional and physical configurations are aligned with requirements and specifications. 
  13. Release approval — before you release the embedded software you have to show all the results to the customers and validate the product with them. 
  14. Release — after you get the customer’s approval, you can release the software to production. 
  15. Maintenance — even though the embedded software doesn’t comprise any major changes during its usage, you have to constantly monitor its state and ensure no issues arise. 

As you can see, the embedded software development process looks similar to any software development lifecycle. Still you have to consider all the peculiarities of this exact type of software, which makes the work more complicated and thorough. 

The methodologies used to create embedded software are also the same as for common software development. Agile methodology is highly recommended, as you can benefit from an iterative approach while developing such difficult systems. Though if you deal with more simple embedded software like lighting on a controller or managing the toy speech, and you are sure of what you need to do and what you’ll get as a result, you can use the waterfall model. 

Final word 

Despite the fact that embedded software differs a lot in usage, the development process is still well known to all the developers and goes through all the stages from ideation to verification, release and further maintenance. 

Still, embedded software creation requires particular skills and environment for development and testing, thus it can become a challenging issue for beginners. 



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