Increasing demand for embedded systems

Paul Boughton

An embedded system is a combination of computer hardware, software and other components that is designed to perform a dedicated system function. The majority of embedded systems need to offer real-time computing solutions for the specific application. 

As microprocessor technology has developed so has the complexity of embedded system designs. The ability of designers to employ a wide and complex range of operations in a single device, together with the enhanced production-chain efficiency and resulting cost savings has ensured embedded circuits are widely used in electronic systems used throughout industry.

Increasing demand for smart devices such as smart electricity and water meters is a significant driving force for the embedded systems market. Smart meters facilitate monitoring and management of energy consumption and ensure two-way communication with the utility. 

The use of multicore processors in embedded systems to facilitate low power consumption and higher efficiency is also a major growth driver. 

Additionally, declining microcontroller prices and growth in the healthcare industry are expected to have a positive impact on embedded system demand. This can be attributed to the substantial number of embedded systems used in medical devices such as blood glucose monitors. 

Incorporating frequency control components in an embedded system is a common occurrence; Euroquartz produces a wide range of frequency control products for embedded designs including quartz crystals, oscillators, VCXOs and TCXOs. Invariably a small footprint package is required with specification parameters including low current consumption and often custom supply voltages. As an example, the XO22 clock oscillator from Euroquartz at 20.0MHz provides a maximum current consumption of 4mA with supply voltages specified from 1.0V.

Another increasingly popular choice of embedded designers is the Euroquartz XOE32 range of clock oscillators. These small footprint SMD oscillators are designed to provide near-TCXO levels of frequency tolerance, up to ±5ppm over the operating temperature range of -10 to 70°C coupled with extremely good phase jitter performance.

As an example of design criteria in embedded systems, ZigBee wireless systems require very low power consumption as Zigbee-based applications are required to offer an extended battery life of two years plus. As a result of this requirement oscillator manufacturers have exploited the most recently available semiconductors in order to offer supply voltage operation of anywhere between 1 and  3.3V. The utilisation of a ‘Power Down’ option as opposed to the usual ‘Enable/Disable’ option commonly provided with clock oscillators has proved to be a popular method of conserving battery life.