What is an embedded computer?

An embedded computer is also known as an embedded system. Embedded computers come in various shapes and sizes and have a wide range of use in many applications. Some tasks that embedded computers perform include managing bus surveillance cameras to controlling automation lines. An embedded systems engineer can design one to be programmable, have a fixed function, with no user interface (UI) or a complex graphical UI. Almost everything runs on embedded systems. Some examples of embedded systems in daily life include vending machines, cameras, medical equipment, household appliances, information appliances, and mobile computers.

Embedded computer systems are microprocessor-based systems created for a specific task and “embedded” within a more extensive network. The embedded software and hardware is particular in their function and designed to perform specific duties and withstand various conditions. For example, an embedded computer in a refrigerator will differ from one in a digital camera. Due to this specificity, the function of embedded computers can be completely different from one to another. Embedded systems always work as part of a complete device and are low-cost, low-power-consuming, small computers.

Embedded computer processing speed can vary, but a standard processor can be used on a small motherboard. Processing speeds of embedded systems can reach 600MHz.

A close-up of a green Raspberry PI microprocessor chip.

An embedded systems design consists of soldered parts and a system on chips (SoC).

Characteristics of an embedded computer

An embedded systems design consists of soldered parts and a system on chips (SoC). With heat pipes and heat sinks that allow for passive cooling, embedded computers don’t need mechanical fans. Fans can expose them to debris and dust. The computer’s rugged design also means it can endure shock, vibration, and humidity. The computer’s sturdy design also means it can handle the outdoors, where temperatures vary greatly.

Embedded systems are fanless and cableless to lessen the number of moving parts, ensuring low maintenance and reliability. They also have low power consumption due to more power-efficient processors that reduce heat created by internal components.

These computers also have an embedded operating system (OS) that’s compact, efficient, and reliable. However, it doesn’t have many functions included in a standard desktop OS. Embedded OS typically works with less RAM than a traditional OS.

Embeddable devices

Embeddable technology, also known as implantable technology, is a tech device that can be permanently or semi-permanently attached to the human body. For example, pacemakers and microchips on pets are forms of embeddable technology. Scientists and engineers are pushing the boundaries of embeddable technology by creating “embedded devices” that plug people into computer and communication networks.

How Do Embedded Computers Work?

An embedded computer receives electronic data through a sensor or user interface and a microprocessor calculates this information. The computer can also interact with the mechanical components of the system. An embedded computer example is the anti-lock braking system (ABS) in a vehicle. The speed sensor in the automobile alerts the embedded computer of the sudden change in acceleration, and the computer regulates the deceleration speed.

microchips can be used in an embedded computer

Types of embedded computers


Real-time embedded computers provide quick responses in critical situations. It continually reacts to changes in the system’s environment. The undersea maintenance industry uses this type of computer. One of the main reasons they use this type of system is because of the inaccessibility of getting to the actual computer for maintenance. The real-time ability to continuously react and change makes this the best type of system to help underwater. 

Network embedded

This type of embedded style of computer is dependent on a connected network to perform assigned tasks. It can be a local or vast network with a wireless or wired connection. Security systems use network-embedded computers. Most people have heard of ethernet. Ethernet is one of the more popular types of network embedded systems.

Mobile embedded

Mobile embedded style computers are designed for mobile connections, so they are limited in resources such as memory. Digital cameras use mobile-embedded computers. Since newer cameras don’t need film at all, they use the digital data called bits for storage.

Rugged embedded

Rugged embedded style computers are compact and robust systems made to sustain harsh environments and extreme temperatures. These small systems are ideal for use in military defense, construction, warehouse work, and many other things. Without these rugged computer systems, these people would not be able to efficiently do their job. The computers would consistently break because they would not be able to withstand the freezing cold or very hot weather. The high winds and general use make a need for a strong case to protect the rugged embedded system.

Busy street with technology and screens

Digital signage uses digital screens to show multimedia content for information or advertising purposes.

Popular Embedded Computer Uses

As mentioned before, various industries use embedded computers. One use is in the security and surveillance industry. Embedded systems provide access to visual feeds from mobile IP cameras and sensors to mobile devices from anywhere. Digital signage is another area that uses embedded systems. Digital signage uses digital screens to show video of multimedia content for information or advertising purposes.

Chances are, if you have walked around a city, you have seen an embedded computer. Have you ever used a vending machine? Vending machines have systems that are embedded into their case so that they can be easily used by the public to get whatever snack or drink the vending machine carries.

A fun thing you can do with some of these computer systems is to teach dogs new tricks. You can use that link to learn about devices that will actually help you teach dogs and other pets new tricks.

Dogs are very smart animals. Dogs can learn through training with these computer systems. You can also save a good amount of time if you use these systems to train your dogs.

The Power Of Embeddable Technology

Embedded technology is always advancing and its application can shape various industries. Perhaps one of the more well-known applications of embedded technology is in pacemakers. An embedded device in a pacemaker uses electrical impulses to regulate the heartbeat. Pacemakers are typically made up of the computer part and the pacing wire. The computer part has electronic components and a battery. Newer pacemakers have the wireless capability where doctors can work on the pacemaker without opening it up.

a close up of a circuit board including a microchip

Embedded computers vs. supercomputers

Embedded computers are powerful and very good at what they’re designed to do. However, nothing beats a supercomputer when it comes to speed and power.

What is a supercomputer?

A supercomputer is the fastest, most powerful, and priciest computer out there. It’s a high-performance computer capable of processing more than one quadrillion instructions per second. These computers can process highly complex mathematical calculations and perform large-scale simulations and applications in medicine, aerospace, and weather forecasting. Supercomputers also have more than one central processing unit (CPU) and are millions of times faster than a general-purpose desktop PC.

Embedded computer’s ability to perform a single function extremely well makes them a popular choice for common tasks, such as dog training. Due to this specificity, embedded systems are excellent at what they do. They can be used in many industries to make people’s lives easier and safer. These computers can be programmed to do almost anything, and that can include training your dog on how to perform astonishing tricks.