The Internet of Things (IoT) has as its basic concept to connect many different devices via the Internet so that data exchange can take place. Globally, the major advantage of IoT is that due to networking, the devices can be connected and controlled from anywhere in the world without much effort. Due to increasing automatization, networked devices are already being used in all sectors. They can be found in industry, agriculture, healthcare, private households and many other areas. What role does embedded software play here and what challenges must be mastered in software development?
WHAT IS EMBEDDED SOFTWARE?
Embedded software is a crucial piece of the puzzle for any Internet of Things (IoT) device. It helps to bridge the physical and digital worlds, allowing devices to communicate with each other and work seamlessly in an interconnected system.
When we talk about embedded software, we are referring to programs or applications that are basically developed for a specific hardware and are designed to repeatedly perform specific tasks without user intervention. Largely unnoticed by the user, embedded software controls, regulates and monitors technical devices. The user's points of contact with the software are usually limited to the device setup or, for example, the adjustment of modes.
With the development of embedded software for a specific hardware, the developer strives to create a close connection between flexible software and a performance-optimized hardware in order to optimize the specific requirements and maximize the benefit for the user.
CHALLENGES IN EMBEDDED SOFTWARE DEVELOPMENT
Embedded software development is a complex task. It requires a great deal of expertise to tailor the software to fit a specific piece of hardware. The development process can take several months, sometimes even several years. In addition to the time required to implement the desired functions, development must also include time for debugging or optimizing the code for maximum performance in the embedded software development phase.
Hardware-oriented programming requires not only knowledge of the programming languages used, but also expert knowledge of the underlying hardware, any hardware-specific SDKs (Software Development Kit) and other know-how. The portability of the embedded software is also an issue that should not be neglected, so that the software developed for device A can also be used on device B and C without any major development effort. Some of the challenges in embedded software development are discussed in more detail below.
Companies for which embedded software development is not a day-to-day business, but merely a side effect within the overall product development, sometimes find it difficult to carry out a risk assessment. However, development costs should be calculated in advance to ensure predictability and success measurement and to avoid creating a "bottomless pit".
In the ever-changing IoT space, "time-to-market" is a tough indicator when it comes to embedded software development. It's not for nothing that the number of active device connections in the Internet of Things is expected to crack the 30 billion mark. If you miscalculate during the product development phase due to problems occurring within the software development and the introduction phase is significantly delayed, it will be difficult to outpace the competition on the market. Time-to-market is often the key to success or failure.
CONSTRAINTS IN PRODUCT DESIGN
Due to the selected hardware, the software design must adapt to certain framework conditions. It is imperative that these are considered when programming the embedded software. The most important factors are:
- Minimization of memory requirements
- Limited power requirements
- Long-term, stable performance without maintenance
Thus, the market requires companies to develop software products with the highest possible processing power, which are as energy-efficient as possible in operation and, on top of that, can cope with a very small memory capacity – a major challenge for any embedded software developer.
Companies developing embedded software should not only have expertise in embedded software development, but also experience in implementing and updating applications within an IoT environment – especially with regard to security. As the number of networked IoT devices continues to grow, so does the risk of security vulnerabilities that can be exploited by hackers. Therefore, security should be a factor at every level: The end node, the gateway, the cloud, etc.
Wireless connection of an IoT device to the Internet can be done through many different channels such as WLAN, Ethernet, LPWAN, etc. Apart from the respective advantages and disadvantages, a suitable technology stack must be developed for each channel. This requires developers to be familiar with different technologies and protocols in order to be able to develop embedded software tailored to the intended use of the IoT device.
THE FUTURE OF EMBEDDED SOFTWARE
As the interconnectivity of IoT devices rapidly accelerates, embedded software technology is also rapidly evolving. Technology developments are one of the most important drivers of innovation in smart, high-performance devices in IoT. In this respect, embedded software development is subject to extreme integration and flexibility.
Driven not least by rising end-user expectations, the sector is growing exponentially. Fior Markets forecasts the global embedded software market to be worth more than $137 billion by 2027.
EMBEDDED SOFTWARE FROM SPECIALISTs
The pace of technology change and exponential growth in the IoT sector are drivers of embedded software development work and the daily business of developers who must find solutions to ever-changing problems. What is considered a self-evident functionality in an IoT device holds in the background a high degree of variability, configurability, extensibility and changeability of the embedded software.
If a manufacturing company wants to work in a results-oriented manner and as efficiently as possible, it cannot avoid dealing with the issue of buying embedded software as part of the "make or buy" question. Software developers, who have been dealing with embedded software for years, have a broad know-how about technologies and challenges in software development.