Embedded systems, as we always say in Tribal technologies, even if we don’t realize it, they are a part of our lives. In fact, without them today we wouldn’t have many of the amenities that technology has provided us with over the past sixty years.
What is an embedded system?
For those who do not yet know the world of “embedded”, in a very summary way, we could say that an embedded system, also called “embedded” Where “embedded”, is a type of electronic system which, equipped with a microcontroller or a microprocessor – its “brain” – is usually found in devices and products which, through a Software (usually developed in C / C ++ and Linux) may perform specific functions. A classic example of an on-board system is the device of a modern washing machine. To do our laundry we must select our washing program, that is to say press a few buttons which, in turn, with software, will allow the “system” to start and the chosen functions to perform perfectly. This is, very briefly and roughly, what normally happens in all types of devices that contain an on-board system.
What impact have embedded systems had on humanity?
As we said earlier, humans and embedded systems have been in a “relationship” for over 60 years and the latest advances in R&D have clearly shown that this symbiotic machine / human alliance will grow even stronger. And not only on our planet, but also in all of space.
Yes, exactly, in space. In fact, it is no coincidence that the first on-board system made in history from a guidance system developed by MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) for NASA and which played a key role in the Apollo missions to the Moon. Today, astronautics continues to be one of the sectors that invests the most in the research and development of on-board systems. A well-known case would be, for example, that of Spacex, the American company founded by Elon musk and what, counting on a incredible investment in embedded software development, everything points to the launch of the first interplanetary transport system (STI) to transport humans to Mars.
But, apart from these extreme cases, what should be noted is that from the 1970s, the use of on-board systems began to gain ground in all types of industry and sector ( unfortunately, also for the realization of military armaments and technological weapons), until they creep into our daily lives: means of transport, household appliances, safety, industrial automobile, automobile sector, railway… even in the human body.
Embedded systems and uses in the human body
Science fiction has accustomed us to thinking that “the bionic man” is menacing, sinister, and evil. In fact, listening to “the bionic man” or “the machine man”, who didn’t immediately imagine a scene from “Terminator” shooting all living things? It is also true that, in the collective imagination, there are “more positive” and peaceful examples such as “RoboCop” or “The Bicentennial Man”. But, apart from science fiction and all the cultural references or commonplaces that we may have in our society, and, above all, without focusing only on the robotics sector itself, the advancements that technology has made in the application of on-board systems to improve and improve the human condition is evident and, rather, tangible.
To this respect, there is a very interesting series on Netflix which speaks of the mechanisms which make move “our machine”, our organism and which I recommend to anyone who wants to dive into it: Inside the human body.
Embedded systems in biomedical engineering
In the first chapter of this same series (I hope not to triumph too much), is told the story of Jason Little, an American who lost his left arm following a serious accident and who, thanks to an incredible study carried out by Professor Ranu Jung (from the Department of Biomedical Engineering, Florida International University), thanks to a technological prosthesis, he was able to recover not only the mechanical functions of his phantom limb, but even tactile and neural sensations. In other words, in this precise case, it is not only a question of an aesthetically flawless prosthesis that respects the basic operations, but also of a technological system extremely advanced that overcomes the “barriers” of the human body and which, thanks to a series of stimulatory neurons inserted directly into Jason’s body, allows him to put his brain in direct communication with his bionic arm.
But what does all of this have to do with embedded systems? Well, a small detail: the system in question has, among other elements, a Raspberry Pi 3 what is a Single card computer, that is, a complete computer on a single card (chip) and that, with Arduino, represents one of the most important development environments for software and embedded systems.
Another example of integrating embedded systems directly into the human body would be the use of a implantable cardioverting defibrillator (CIM) to detect and regulate irregular heartbeats. It is a subcutaneous medical device, a microprocessor which, thanks to the emission of small electrical impulses, can intervene in the event of detection of a dangerous ventricular tachycardia. In the domain of electromedicine There are already many examples of healthcare teams controlling, caring for and improving our health, taking advantage of the endless possibilities that embedded systems they can provide to mankind.
In other words, the main goal of technology, since the dawn of our species, has always been to improve our lives and optimize our work. From the first rudimentary utensils of the Neolithic period, passing by the steam engine of James Watt and reaching the era of Industry 4.0.
From industry 4.0 to cognitive computing
In fact, when it comes to Industry 4.0, i.e. digital transformation of industrial and production processes For virtually any type of industry, it is impossible to ignore the critical role that embedded systems have played and are expected to become even more prevalent as the Fifth Industrial Revolution approaches. With the term “Industry 5.0” we mean the interconnection between people and machines thanks to the use of the most advanced technologies such as Artificial intelligence, the IoT (Internet of things) and above all the immense potential of cognitive computing.
Cognitive computing, also known as “cognitive computation”, in short, consists of the challenge of reproduce and mimic the functioning of the human brain in automated computer systems that use an infinite series of data. And it is no coincidence that today we often refer to data as “21st century gold”. In addition, in this context, of course, all aspects already used, for example, in digital marketing (machine learning, deep learning, Big Data, chatbots, etc.) but that, henceforth, their final objective is not the improvement or the automation of human labor but its complete replacement by machines.
All types of machines – or rather the vast majority – already have embedded systems which, thanks to the development of specific software, allow the automation of industrial processes. Automotive, aerospace, rail, naval, food, agricultural and many more industries would probably not exist today without the use of on-board systems, PLCs, RTOS, etc.
But now the question is different: since machines equipped with cognitive calculations can hardly be wrong, should we directly entrust them with all kinds of decisions or operations? If, let’s take an example, in the medical field, one day (and something like that already exists on the market) one could count on the diagnosis made entirely by one of these systems or, for that matter, for surgery, instead of a surgeon, in the operating room we would find ourselves alone in front of a machine programmed to operate on us without ever making a mistake, what would you do?
Software development for embedded systems
Much debate has arisen on this subject already, and although science and ethics, by their nature, are very unlikely to share the same opinion, enthusiasm for technological advancement is impossible to contain at this point. And, as much as technological progress and debates over bioethics or bioengineering rage, the critical role of embedded systems in our society can only grow and last.
At Tribal technologies, as experts in the embedded software development For different sectors, we like to think of technology as a valuable tool to create a balanced society based on reason. A company that uses progress to achieve maximum durability, efficiency and comfort. Everything else, the future of our society will tell.