A Guide To Understanding Embedded Computers

A Guide To Understanding Embedded Computers

Around us, there are hundreds or thousands of devices and gadgets that perform specific tasks that let us experience improved lifestyles. For example: large LCD signboards or blindingly fast AI processing or slick, gaming consoles that render immersive 3D environments. These use embedded computers, or embedded systems.

What Is An Embedded Computer?

What Is An Embedded Computer

An embedded computer is a microprocessor or microcontroller-based system that is specially designed to perform specific functions. Embedded Computers come in a combination of hardware and software and found in daily-use objects like laptops, tablets cell phones, cameras, automotive systems etc.

How do Embedded Computers Work?

Embedded systems complement processes in the device they are embedded in to provide robust solutions with high reliability and lifespans. They can be used in many industries and provide computing power and potential display graphical information via a connected display or HMI – Human Machine Interface.

What are the benefits of Embedded Computers?

Embedded computers are present everywhere, from agricultural guidance systems, medical equipment, mobile LPR systems to critical systems like driverless mining vehicles or other smaller scale devices such as digital signage displays and modern interactive kiosks.

Embedded Computer vs Personal Computers

Embedded Computer vs Personal Computers

A general computer and an embedded computer are very different from each other. One major difference is that the general computer can perform multiple tasks and run multiple applications at the same time, whereas the embedded computer is purpose built to perform a specific task.

Personal Computers Embedded Computers
General computers are standalone devices that feature input, output, and processing units to help users carry out diverse tasks and actions. Embedded computers are integral components of a larger electronic infrastructure that perform specific actions alone.
General computers can function only through manual operation. Embedded computers may not require human intervention and can execute tasks autonomously.
Components comprised of hardware and software. Components comprised of hardware, software, and firmware.
They demand more operational power because of diverse capabilities. They need less operational power as they perform only specific tasks.
Because of manual operations, they need a user interface. Embedded computers may be devoid of any user interface.
Depending on tech specifications, they can be either be expensive or affordable. They are designed to reduce infrastructural expenses.

What are the Types of Embedded Computers?

There are different types of personal computers with special capabilities including: analogue, digital IO, integrated communication or AI Processing. He we cover six different types of embedded computers. Let’s explore each of them in detail.

1. Mini PC
2. Panel PC
3. Vehicle System
4. Rugged Industrial Box PC
5. Industrial Rack mount Server
6. IoT Gateway

Mini PC

These are computers with low computing capabilities. They are small in size and are cost effective as well. These are deployed in areas or operations where minimal intelligence, or
computing power is needed. Functioning best within confined spaces, mini-PCs are generally used in surveillance systems, or as part of security devices in networks. They are used mainly in manufacturing and warehouses where consistent operations are required over diverse harsh environments.

Panel PC

Panel PCs are exceptions to embedded computers, in the fact they feature integrated screens and input devices such as keyboards or touchscreens. Their interfaces could be expanded based on requirements and they are generally used in places where human interaction is required to perform specific tasks, for instance, vending machines, robotic arms, packaging units and more.

Vehicle Systems

Specifically designed to be integrated into vehicles, these devices can withstand harsh conditions like vibrations, different terrains, climatic and temperature changes. These systems are also compatible with wireless communication protocols, to offer advanced mobility and connectivity. Vehicle systems are increasingly being deployed in fleets of cars, mining vehicles, emergency service fleets and driverless vehicles.

Rugged Industrial Box PC

As the name suggests, embedded computers are enclosed within durable cases to prevent any form of damage due to their environment or surroundings. They are embedded within IP
rated plastic or aluminium cases that offer all the protection computing modules need. These are designed to operate in extreme conditions, and you can see them in telemetry system,
roadside cabinets for ITS, agricultural, mining and offshore oil rigs just to name a few.

Industrial Rackmount Server

These are rack-mountable and can be stacked with other servers on top of shelves and racks. These computers come with high computing power through advanced CPU and memory units. They are designed to bear harsh conditions and extreme temperatures.

IoT Gateway

IoT is a network of interconnected devices that communicate with each other. Gateways are bridges between two or more devices, and computers that are deployed for this purpose are
called IoT gateway units. They are responsible for transmitting data from sensors to devices, processing the data, sending it back to output units, detecting patterns and more. IOT
gateways can perform processing at the edge and can incorporate integrated LTE/5G WAN communications.

Characteristics of Embedded Computers

Despite having specific functionalities and implementations, there are some uniting factors that make an embedded computer. Let’s explore what they are.

Form Factor

Embedded computers are small in nature. They are designed to be embedded into large and small devices to power specific functions. They are also built for harsh environments and conditions. Through soldered components and SoC-specific design, they fit into any device and can be deployed in any environmental conditions.

Cooling Systems

If you look at personal computers, there are mechanical fans such as cooling components that drive excessive heat away from circuits and modules. Generally no such fan exists in embedded computers as they would require ongoing maintenance and reduce the reliability of the system.

On the other hand, embedded computers use passive cooling systems like heat sinks and pipes. They also consume less thermal power, which further helps in eliminating heat in tandem with cooling systems.

Design

Embedded computers have a rugged design for durability. They must be fully functional across all environmental conditions such as high heat, extreme cold, wind, humidity and more. In fact, it is during times like these that the aid of embedded computers is needed more than ever. That is why they are built using durable materials and enclosed within shockproof and vibration-free components for longevity.

Maintenance

Embedded computers require low maintenance, because they are deployed in remote locations or in unusual environments, where frequent maintenance or manual servicing is almost impossible. This is also the reason they lack all forms of moving components like fans and cables, which may require maintenance. 

Dedicated Functionalities

These computers are designed to use the full power of the custom software or firmware they operate on, to deliver accurate results and output. If they are vested with the responsibility to
detect foreign objects on roads as part of driverless modules, they perform the task impeccably.

Power Consumption

Device manufacturers want their systems and units to consume as little power and energy as possible. That’s why they are designed to execute only specific tasks and do not generate
a lot of heat in the process. Embedded computers are power efficient, have a longer battery life, and incur very few energy expenses.

IoT

Embedded computers lie at the heart of IoT (Internet of Things). Modern IoT solutions demand not just the functioning of basic modules, but advanced capabilities as well. They are integrated with artificial intelligence and Big Data modules to deliver high-end results and solutions to customers. To accommodate these requirements and deliver accurate results, there is no other viable solution than embedded computers. They are designed to be very small, whilst still maintaining efficiency and longevity.

Advantages of Embedded Computers

Embedded Computers have a few core advantages that make them indispensable:

  1. Embedded computers are known for their lower power consumption with performance to process data and perform tasks.
  2. Embedded Computers have a longer life span, produce less heat, and have significantly less technical maintenance. They are enclosed within sturdy cases and consume less power. All these together work to increase the longevity of the systems they are embedded into.
  3. They require minimal servicing and maintenance.
  4. The cost involved in building and developing embedded computers are cost effective. Their components are small, and their maintenance costs are close to none.
  5. The advance operating systems means limited complex coding or low level programming language is needed for embedded computers to operate.

Applications of Embedded Computers

Thanks to their size, ability and form factor, embedded computers are used for diverse purposes.

Surveillance and Security

Embedded computers are ideal for surveillance systems that need to run continuously. Thanks to their minimal energy-consuming features and size, they can be easily installed in residential and commercial properties.

Machine Vision

They capture and analyse the image sensory data due to the presence of industrial hardware and trained software. This feature is applied in manufacturing, ADAS and LPR systems.

Digital Signage

They are used in LED panels, high-resolution displays, and projectors to display informative or required content on screen. They help users provide and eye-catching advertising and digital menu boards text with advanced customization features. 

Self-service Kiosk and Smart Kiosk

The use of embedded computers and touchscreen panels give a seamless experience to the users. The combination of advanced software and embedded hardware keeps the operational experience smooth. From ticketing machines in railway stations, to kiosks in malls and ATM’s, there are diverse applications of embedded computers in this spectrum. 

Industrial Automation

Embedded Computer in Industrial Automation

These computers enable safe and correct data transmission in quick time due to the presence of better connectivity. They help in regulating transportation smoothly from flights to trains.

Automobiles

For a driverless car to apply sudden brakes on the detection of a pedestrian, data must be collected through computer vision and processed at extremely high speed. This is only possible through embedded computers.

Where are Embedded Computers used?

A complete understanding of embedded computers is only possible when you can relate to it. So far, we have been trying to understand embedded systems from a technical perspective.

  • Industrial Automation
  • EV Charging Stations
  • Mobile License Plate Reading
  • Solid State Drives – SSDs
  • LED Displays

Real-world examples their applications and usefulness.

Industrial Automation

Industrial Automation improves the efficiency of many applications and processes. Whether it is factory automation, building automation, machine control or providing an HMI interface to systems – the use of Embedded Computers is endless. By ensuring systems have minimal downtime and improved performance the RIO is guaranteed.

EV Charging Stations

Electronic vehicles were rolled out to pave the way for a greener environment and significantly cut down carbon emissions. These ambitions would just remain on paper if not for embedded computers. They are deployed at charging stations, where they feature an interface and an output device for users to connect their cars and get insights about their car’s battery levels, maintenance requirements, automated service triggers and more.

Mobile License Plate Reading

License Plate Reading – LPR, has become a cornerstone of modern policing and enforcement of vehicle registration and parking. Modern police vehicles are deployed with multiple cameras for LPR and also In Car Video – ICV. These systems make good use of embedded computers and provide high-quality footage and LPR reads in real-time to drivers and record events as they happen.

Solid State Drives - SSDs

SSDs are the next-generation storage devices that are replacing the conventional SATA-based hard drives. These are super-fast because of their higher throughput and lower read-access times. Because of their low power consumption features, they are ideal to prolong battery life in embedded computer, mobile NVRs and portable devices. They also significantly prevent data loss by operating at higher temperatures while being tolerant to vibration and shock.

LED Displays

Embedded Computer in Digital Signage

Flashy, interactive and immersive, LED displays have always been one of the most captivating mediums to grab your attention, create a brand recall value, and drive home promotional messaging to mass audiences. With the integration of embedded computers, LED displays are only becoming more advanced in the ways they project visuals, scalability, wide-angle viewing, smoothness in visual rendering and more.

For more information on Embedded Computers, get in touch with our team. We can also create custom specifications for your requirement.