Embedded software engineering: definition, peculiarities, and examples

Embedded software engineering

If you’ve ever explored the Internet of Things or looked closely at smart devices, you’ve heard a lot about embedded software development. A good example would be the embedded software that is found in a traffic light. The embedded software changes the light at optimal intervals to control traffic. In this article, we’ll look at a few more examples of embedded software engineering and services. 

What is embedded software development?

Embedded software applications are found within non-PC devices. They are either part of a microchip or a different application that is used in conjunction with a microchip to control functions within the device.

The software is created exclusively for that device. Unlike conventional applications, you would find on your PC that can be modified or installed on different systems, the software created in embedded development has processing and memory restrictions specific to that device. Embedded software can refer to a number of things, including firmware, middleware, operating systems, and others. 

An operating system allows a user to run other applications on a computing device and can allocate memory to software application programs. Firmware is a type of software designed for specific hardware. It can operate through APIs, device drivers, or operating systems. Middleware is the software layer that sits between apps and operating systems, often found in distributed applications. 

Embedded systems are found in central heating, smart cars and devices, domestic appliances like dishwashers and TVs, digital watches, GPS systems, and fitness trackers. Almost every industry in the world requires embedded software development services, from automotive companies to manufacturing firms, to the medical and military sectors.  

Embedded software consulting is usually required upfront when developing these tools. 

What does an embedded software engineer do? 

An embedded system or software engineer can design, develop and maintain embedded systems in products. It requires knowledge of entire embedded systems, and the role can vary a lot from engineer to engineer. The role will also shift from design and development to implementation, ongoing quality control, and maintenance over time. Quality Assurance is an important capability of every embedded software engineer. 

An embedded software engineer has to have knowledge about the following:

  • C and C++ programming
  • Microcontrollers and microprocessors
  • The LINUX operating system
  • Software optimization skills at a System on Chip level
  • RTOS or real-time operating systems
  • Device drivers

They may also work with electrical engineers and general software engineers to ensure that the device and software interact correctly. 

Types of Embedded Systems

There are different types of embedded systems out there, classified based on performance requirements, with many subcategories. 

Real-time embedded systems provide results or outputs with special priority assigned to output generation speed. They are most often found in aircraft controls, missile defense systems, and autonomous cars. 

Standalone systems do not require a host to function. They are found in digital cameras, watches, MP3 players, appliances, calculators, and thermostats. Network or embedded systems depend on wired and/or wireless networks for their outputs and communication, including ATMs, point-of-sale systems, or home security systems. 

Mobile embedded systems refer to small and portable devices, like laptops and calculators. There is some overlap but also key differences between mobile embedded systems and standalone embedded systems. For example, a washing machine is movable, but it’s not as mobile as a cellphone, even though it’s a standalone system.

There are also small, medium, and sophisticated-scale embedded systems to consider. The definition depends on the microcontroller used: 

  • Small-scale embedded systems use 8- or 16-bit microcontrollers
  • Medium-scale embedded systems use 16-bit or 32-bit microcontrollers
  • Sophisticated embedded systems will use multiple 32-bit or 62-bit microcontrollers. 

In general, embedded systems use embedded software along with hardware to perform specific tasks. They rely on microprocessors, microcontrollers, memory, communication interfaces, and a power supply to function. 


Embedded software is far more common than you think! In fact, you are probably surrounded by embedded software right now and reading this article on a device that uses embedded software. From cell phones to medical equipment, from planes to cars, microwaves, and toasters, we rely on the skills of embedded software engineers every day. 

It’s clear to see that embedded software development will continue to grow and expand as the demand for smart devices grows.