Building Efficient Embedded System Design: Process, Types, and Implementation
|In this article, we’ll discuss the embedded system design process in high-level terms. Embedded systems are widely used in biotech applications, medical engineering, laboratory and pharmacy management systems, health-tech solutions, and IoT devices. This piece includes expert advice from TATEEDA GLOBAL’s experts plus examples of solutions delivered by our company. Please contact us for a deeper consultation in embedded systems development!|
Embedded systems are the “good elves” of modern medical electronics: miniature, hardworking, omnipresent, invisible device magic!
Healthcare embedded systems are single-purpose electronic solutions that consist of several micro-components. And of course, they are embedded in other devices or their own form factors. They can come in many shapes and sizes, including conventional standalone items like electronic thermometers or pulse-oximeters, and deeply-integrated parts of larger medical machines, e.g., MRI tomographs and robotic laboratory equipment.
Since embedded system designs are hidden within the bodies of medical equipment and devices, end-users cannot interfere with the way they work unless the device is dismantled.
Embedded solutions for healthcare (and other industries) are designed to deliver a high level of reliability and technical autonomy. These systems are expected to operate in a self-reliant modality for years or even decades in a row without human interventions, including tech maintenance.
This is why they execute efficient, simplistic logic, and must remain steady against a wide range of environmental factors and risks to which more complicated systems are prone.
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Before we delve deeper into the nuances of embedded system design flow, let’s learn about the technological components that lie beneath…
Table of Contents
What Is Embedded Systems Design?
Embedded systems require specific skills to be engineered: first and foremost sufficient knowledge of electronics. Embedded systems can include certain configurations of electronic and logical components, for example:
- Microprocessors (4/8/32/64-bit core processors)
- Microcontrollers (time counters, ADC/DAC converters, etc.)
- Specialized electronic circuits, like graphics processing units (GPUs)
- Field-programmable gate arrays (FPGA)
- Volatile/non-volatile memory (RAM, ROM, and a few others)
- I/O communication interfaces
- Serial communication ports
- System and application code
- Power supply, like batteries.
In other words, the design process in embedded systems is about finding the right combination of microchips, including input/output devices, memory, interfaces, processors, and more, according to your specific system purpose and platform.
The most important features of embedded systems are…
- Low power requirement/consumption
- Optimized system failure rate
- Increased resistance to dust and other environmental particles/factors
- Little to no maintenance overhead and/or human involvement
- Minimized size, weight, and costs
- Sole task completion
- Continuous and uninterrupted uptime/operation
- Simplified programming
- Exceptional fault tolerance.
With that said, a biomedical embedded system design process must be built according to the following objectives:
🔹 Specify the purpose of the embedded system and capture all technical details with the help of an electronic diagram and other specifications.
🔹 Assemble and/or integrate a ready-made embedded system into the device prototype according to existing specifications.
🔹 Configure the hardware using embedded programming tools and languages.
🔹 Test a prototype device and, if successful, prepare to scale the process up to larger batches.
|TATEEDA GLOBAL is a San Diego biomedical software development company that can help you with HIPAA-compliant healthcare digitization, including embedded design and programming.|
✔️ We are headquartered in the U.S. (San Diego, CA) and have local project experts and software engineers available for personalized communications and technical consulting.
✔️ We offer a convenient time zone for North American clients, dedicated project managers, and favorable project rates, thanks to our well-organized R&D branch in Ukraine and other countries.
✔️ We are open for free tech consulting. Do you need expert tech advice for embedded system development?
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Types of Embedded Systems
There exist different classifications of embedded systems, including…
- Standalone embedded systems
- Networked embedded systems
- Mobile embedded systems
- Real-time embedded systems
The design process of embedded systems depends on the specific system type, and features a wide range of engineering details and customization options. Let’s check out the differences between these major system types.
Standalone embedded systems
This system type doesn’t require a computing device to function. As the name suggests, they perform independently. In the context of healthcare, examples of biomedical standalone embedded systems include:
- Electronic thermometers
- Electronic pulse-oximeters
- Fitness trackers
Networked embedded systems
This type of biomedical embedded system relies on local networks and web communications for operation and data transmissions. Usually, the following examples of embedded systems belong to the “networked” category:
- Assisted living or memory care surveillance systems and fall-detection tools
- Automated surgery and medical service robots
- Laboratory automation solutions and test machines
- IoT-based inpatient health monitoring systems with sensors, cameras, alarms, etc.
Mobile embedded systems
Portable embedded solutions include handheld devices (for example, a tablet or smartphone) and some kind of biosensors synchronized with it. For example, we can tell you about a system that TATEEDA GLOBAL recently helped to design and develop: VentriLink’s solution for ECG monitoring in remote cardiac patients.
Our solution included:
- An ECG-monitoring biosensor connected to the server through web/mobile communication channels.
- A tablet application for physicians responsible for monitoring ECG events and reviewing cardiograms for each patient.
Real-time embedded systems
This is a complicated hybrid type of embedded solution that brings a range of devices and technologies together under the umbrella of a combined system. This type of system usually requires stable, high-capacity communication channels to collect environmental data in real time through a network of sensors and deliver it to a centralized node, often supported by AI, to manage system response.
In the context of healthcare, real-time embedded systems usually consist of IoT-connected devices, wearables, and medical equipment deployed in hospital facilities.
In this kind of system…
- a great number of sensors, actuators, and other single-purpose devices are interconnected and synchronized.
- a variety of interfaces and technologies are used to serve one or several purposes.
- AI or complex algorithms can be used for emergency decision-making.
For example, complicated systems of this type can be used for patient health monitoring and robotic/automated medical care without immediate medical staff interventions. Certain actions, like automated injection of medication, can be performed automatically once sufficient data is collected and verified.
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Embedded System Design Process
Although different types of embedded systems will have a wide variety of specifics and nuances (for example, not all systems will require separate PCB design), the general design process of embedded systems can be encompassed in the following high-level steps…
Analysis of Embedded System Requirements
The first step in embedded systems design is to collect and eloquently define the requirements for your future embedded system. It’s necessary to produce a clear system plan and vision to be agreed upon with all project stakeholders. Once preliminary engineering is over, it will be necessary to move on to the next step…
Determine Detailed Technical Specifications
This step is dedicated to advanced embedded system engineering, which should result in technical specifications and electronic maps that show the actual positions of micro-elements, circuits, and functionalities.
Depending on the type of your embedded system, it’s required to plan all communication and data transition/processing channels, technologies, and nodes.
There are many factors to consider…
- Processor options
- Memory types to be used
- Peripherals and ports
- Operating voltages and powering options
- Microcontroller specifications to be used
- The cost of the embedded system.
Also, it’s imperative to make sure your system is secure and hacker-proof, especially when it comes to data transition between separate nodes and devices in more complicated system configurations that involve more than one embedded system. There exist many software packages that can help you with embedded system engineering tasks.
Printed circuit boards (PCBs) are the basic elements of many modern electronic solutions, including embedded systems. Once you have a diagram that shows the required electronic components and how they are arranged and interconnected in the PCB, you can create a virtual model that will help you test your electronic schematics without using real electronics. When PCB design is approved safe and efficient, you can choose from a number of newer technologies (like 3D–printing) to create an actual PCB with all of its electronic components.
This is one of the most important steps in the embedded system design process. Prototyping means creating a device (MVP) with your embedded system(s) to drive and test your product in real-life environments. Implementation of your embedded system usually involves seamless integration with other embedded systems in the device so they can cooperate smoothly.
Firmware & Software Development
In this step of embedded system software design, it’s necessary to design, develop, and implement code-driven components:
- Firmware to drive embedded system functionality
- Software to cooperate with embedded system functionality
Firmware is low-level code that is used to immediately operate the embedded system (so-called embedded software), while any software on higher levels (installable on computers or mobile devices) can be integrated with firmware or embedded system components to receive data and hardware abstractions.
Firmware permanently resides in non-volatile memory blocks (ROM, EPROM, EEPROM, and Flash.) An example of firmware that can be found in embedded systems is a real-time operating system (RTOS) that generates a real-time, highly deterministic response to external situations.
Test & Bug-fix
Embedded system design, including viable prototypes and software development, should undergo competent testing and bug-fixing before its introduction to end users and serial manufacturing. Electronics should be well-tested under many conditions, including operating near maximum limits.
When a product with embedded systems is finally released to the market, user feedback should be monitored and all necessary product maintenance should be provided to end users, if required.
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Embedded Software Development Steps
- Let a health-tech engineer design your embedded system specifications and electronic schematics according to your project requirements.
- Define the technological stack of your embedded software project–for example, Integrated Development Environment (IDE), Compilers, Embedded coding languages (C, C++, Python, MicroPython, Java), Debugging devices and software, emulators, testing software, devices, and more.
- Identify and fulfill FDA requirements for your type of medical device and embedded software (and make sure your process is organized in compliance with HIPAA.) Remember that certain system types, especially new medical equipment with embedded systems, require ISO certification and compliance with other standards.
- Based on your project scope, hire or gather a team of developers capable of embedded and/or conventional software development.
- Make sure a skilled project manager is assigned to break down the project into distinct phases and tasks.
- Assign these tasks to the right specialists: embedded developers, QA specialists, and others.
- Make sure you have medical professionals available for consulting and testing. Remember that medical staff (physicians, nurses, surgeons) and their patients are expected to be the end-users of your medical product, so their interests should be represented.
Embedded System Design Examples
For a variety of reasons, we cannot provide PCB specifications or electronic schematics for embedded system projects in which we participated. It’s prohibited by the NDAs we signed with our clients. However, we can tell you several interesting things about projects we executed for health-tech companies in the United States…
Most of our projects were mixed: high-level programming in combination with low-level coding and device integrations. These types of projects are always hard and complicated, as they come with thousands of details and nuances that can only be properly addressed by a skilled engineer.
One of our projects was done for Ventrilink.
The medical device in question was an ECG-monitoring IoT biosensor for remote patients that worked in combination with a protected server and tablet application for medical professionals.
✔️ We helped Vetrilink establish a stable connection and interaction between the device and software components.
✔️ We optimized the server for optimum informational intake.
✔️ We built a fast, yet reliable HIPAA-compliant tablet application with real-time scalable ECG visualizations and many other vital functions.
Another of our projects was executed for one of the largest manufacturers of lab equipment in the world (cannot be named due to our NDA).
✔️ We created a highly reliable desktop application that featured integration with low-level device components and high-level lab automation features.
✔️ We built a status-management system for samples being tested in the device.
✔️ We provided lab equipment operators with a convenient, reliable user interface to monitor critical lab test information.
Challenges in Embedded Systems Design
There are many crucial challenges in embedded computing system design…
It’s hard to build and hard to update. Once a piece of embedded software (a.k.a. firmware) is designed, developed, tested, and prepared for release, it gets replicated in batches. If any omissions or loopholes are later identified, it’s nearly impossible to fix deficient embedded software in a way that allows other software to be updated. Sometimes, firmware like RTOS can be replaced only by replacing memory blocks containing it.
Stability is paramount! No unexpected behaviors or graceful degradation is admissible for embedded systems. Everything is expected to be perfectly designed and debugged right from the beginning, assuring flawless performance under all possible conditions. There is little to no room for bugs at later project stages. You won’t want to look for tech support centers to update embedded software in your electronic thermometer, right?
Smaller form factor imposes limitations: One of the major challenges for embedded system designers and engineers is to pack more power and functionality into a small space. Modern electronic components can offer extended capabilities, so more embedded system capacities are becoming available to health-tech engineers, too.
Higher project costs: Because of the factors mentioned above, the average cost per embedded system project is higher than that of a conventional software project. Embedded system specialists and programmers (especially in the realm of healthcare) are rarer than other types of developers. Additionally, more time and money are required for embedded system architecture, testing, and debugging, as system failures are inadmissible in embedded development/programming…
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What are the most critical requirements of an embedded system design?
- Size and weight limitations.
- Limited system resources.
- Finding the most productive combinations of components.
- Zero tolerance for bugs and failures.
- Exceptionally high demands for system efficiency and reliability.
What are some recent trends in embedded system design?
- The relevance and availability of embedded AI-integrated components are growing, making embedded systems smarter overall.
- A greater number of embedded systems are going online and interconnecting with each other in cross-device modality, so more attention should be paid to cybersecurity and the safety of data transmission.
- More startups and projects are entering the market to offer dozens of new embedded solutions of all shapes and sizes, in healthcare and other industries…
If you need a professional IT team to partner with you on your custom embedded device software development and/or project augmentation, TATEEDA GLOBAL is here for you!
- Full-cycle development of embedded software systems
- IoT software project assistance, augmentation, and product testing
- Legacy embedded software upgrades and reengineering
- Long-term embedded system software maintenance services
- Affordable project costs, thanks to our R&D branch in Ukraine
- Personalized connection with our project manager HQ in San Diego, CA
- Vast onsite experience with U.S.-based IoT, healthcare, biotech, and pharma companies
- Fast team deployment—within 48-72 hours
Contact TATEEDA GLOBAL today and outsource your embedded system software development to us!