Embedded system engineering: How to do it right?
N-iX
2022-04-28T21:17:03+00:00

Starting an embedded systems engineering project requires a clear vision of the end-product and a profound understanding of the project needs. This would include a roadmap for the project implementation, selection of product’s components, connectivity protocols, and a number of security p...

Embedded system engineering: How to do it right?

Starting an embedded systems engineering project requires a clear vision of the end-product and a profound understanding of the project needs. This would include a roadmap for the project implementation, selection of product’s components, connectivity protocols, and a number of security precautions.  

There are many factors that might make or break a successful product, and it is critical to pay attention to details when approaching your embedded software engineering project. So how to do it right and mitigate potential risks on the way? Let's find out.

Start by choosing the right components

Whether you plan to use a premade device or develop one on your own, you need to know how to choose and use suitable components. An experienced embedded system software engineering team will help you make the right calls depending on your project needs: 

  • Compatibility with the existing devices - you don’t always have to manufacture the whole device from scratch. In most cases, it is easier and cheaper to use premade components that are already available on the market but you must be sure they are compatible with one another and your intended product;
  • Accessibility of the components - if you plan to use premade components, they must be easily accessible. Order them from a trusted manufacturer and ensure smooth delivery logistics;
  • Market relevance - for how long will the components be in use? Do not rely on outdated components that will go out of use in the nearest future;
  • Price and budget - component manufacturing or purchasing must align with your budget goals;
  • Security - the components must be compliant with the industry’s security standards;
  • Validation - cooperate with a reliable embedded system software engineering team that will validate the quality of the components for you and make sure these components suit your project goals. 

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Select suitable connectivity protocols

There are two types of protocols – wired and wireless, and each type would suit different situations. Though wireless connectivity looks like a more attractive option in this day and age, wired connectivity protocols still have a wide number of applications in different scenarios. 

On one hand, wireless connectivity might be cheaper in implementation as you would not have to pay for the kilometers of cable, and it is also more convenient as you would not have to manage cable layout across your smart environment. On the other hand, the cable is considered more reliable and simpler. You need to make the right choice based on your needs rather than trends:

  • Distance between devices - wireless connectivity might not work if the devices are too far apart. This issue can be solved via the Mesh network but you will need more devices to set up such a network. With wires, you can just plug the devices in, though it would require a longer cable.
  • Power supply - the efficiency of connectivity would depend on power supply, and though most embedded devices do not require significant amounts of power to function properly, disruptions in power supply might affect wired connectivity.
  • Electromagnetic contamination - electromagnetic radiation might influence the quality of wireless connectivity;
  • Security of connectivity - wires can be damaged, especially if placed outdoors or within industrial facilities. That is why you need to design a proper cable layout that protects it from any damage.
  • Complexity of environment - wireless connectivity might not work well within complex environments with many physical obstacles like walls or heavy equipment. Mesh networks can address the issue, but it would also require more devices.
  • Updates and maintenance - you cannot hide your cable inside concrete walls as you might need to conduct some maintenance work on it one day. With wireless connectivity, it would be easier to update and maintain your firmware. 

Security concerns: make sure it works safely and without breaches

You need to properly secure your system from any possible breaches from the outside. If you buy pre-made components for your system, you can select secure components from the get-go. And if you make your own, you need to think about security upfront when designing the product:

  • Physical security of devices - create or purchase secure-by-design components that cannot be accessed from the outside. Secure devices cannot be tampered with from either outside or within. Any intrusion will lead to the destruction of the device, which makes access to data impossible.
  • Secure connectivity - as long as your embedded ecosystem is not connected to the Internet, it is impossible to access it from the outside. However, it might be possible to disrupt connectivity by physically severing the cables or disrupting wireless connectivity. These issues must be taken care of during the design stage.
  • Secure cloud - if you want to connect your embedded ecosystem to the cloud, you will need a partner who will set up and migrate a secure cloud infrastructure, build and streamline CI/CD processes, and prevent any security issues like DDOS attacks and intrusions.

Solve challenges before they arise and avoid the steep price of failure

The product needs to be designed, manufactured, certified, verified, tested, and installed. Failure to foresee the challenges throughout all of those stages might cost you time and money. That is why you need a precise understanding of each development stage. With an experienced embedded software engineering team by your side, you can analyze all the different aspects of embedded systems engineering and tune them to your needs.

Make the right choices with an experienced solution group

You need to foresee and account for the challenges before you even face them. That is what the discovery phase is meant for, and that is why it is one of the most essential steps in the embedded systems engineering life cycle.  If you do not think all the details through during the product discovery and design phase, adding and fixing them later would be either hard and expensive or totally impossible. 

You would need an experienced solution group that will help you elicit requirements, analyze them, choose the right components for the system, offer suitable connectivity protocols, find the best security measures, and make sure the final product is up to your expectations. 

Working with the solution group is vital as it helpps you consider all the possible challenges along the way. The discovery phase is where the dedicated team of experts maps out the final product with regard to the potential issues and finds the solutions to those issues before they snowball into serious bottlenecks along the way. 

How the Discovery phase helps you foresee and address challenges along the way

The discovery phase will give you certain deliverables: a proof of concept (POC) or minimum value product (MVP). These deliverables will show you what the final product is going to be like and whether it is going to satisfy your needs as well as the needs of your target audience. With an MVP, you are going to know exactly what you are paying for, and we will create a roadmap for the entire project to create that perfect final product. 

Having an MVP and a clear roadmap for the project life cycle, you can already start to market your product, show the prototype to the audience, and prepare for the market release. You will also know when your product will be ready and how much it will cost. 

Embedded systems engineering lifecycle

The discovery phase is arguably the most important step in the software development life cycle but certainly not the only one. Embedded system software engineering is a multi-layered process. A professional full-cycle team would follow a number of steps to make sure the final product is up to the users’ expectations and the highest industry standards:

1. Product discovery

With a set of requirements you have, we will map out the project goals, specify the required hardware and software stacks, and create architecture for your embedded product. The discovery stage will result in project-specific deliverables that give you a precise understanding of what the end-product is going to look like.

  • Product design 
  • PoC 
  • MVP
  • Hardware design verification 
  • Component selection

2. Product-driven development 

We employ an Agile methodology and focus on the end result to create secure and robust embedded products. Our goal is to cut the redundancies while keeping all the essential aspects of the software development life cycle in check to deliver a product that fully matches your needs.

  • Product development 
  • Product security 

3. Test automation

You will get a test automation framework and a set of test cases to ensure the proper functioning of the product. N-iX experts will automate any type of testing, including Smoke, User acceptance, and Black box testing to ensure stability of the product over the years.

  • We pick or create test frameworks 
  • We provide full test sets for full functionality coverage
  • CI/CD integration for continuous automatic testing
  • Create test set-ups for different types of testing 

4. Manufacturing validation

Make sure your product works the way it has been intended, is perfectly secure, and compliant with all the relevant certifications. We will help you build the hardware for your product and run product verification to ensure each hardware unit is up to the standards. N-iX will help you pass the necessary tests for certification to make sure your product is market-viable.

  • Certification 
  • Manufacturing verification support

5. Installation support

Make sure your embedded product is properly provisioned and commissioned. We will help you deploy your new devices, connect and authenticate them to the network, and configure them according to your needs. N-iX experts will help you integrate the new devices into the system seamlessly and easily. 

  • Provisioning 
  • Commissioning
  • Installation verification software

6. Maintenance

We will provide continuous support of your embedded solution making sure all the firmware updates are properly tested, the system runs smoothly, and the users are satisfied. This will include continuous health monitoring, self-recovery, and status updates for continuous performance.

  • Continuous integration 
  • Software and firmware update
  • Self-recovery
  • System health monitoring

N-iX can get you through the entire development process from start to finish. You get a dedicated team that can drive the entire project from the discovery phase and up to market launch. Having a single team working on your project from the discovery phase and up to the market launch will give your project an edge helping you get the product ready for the market launch faster.

How a full-cycle team can help you reduce overhead and time-to-market 

Working with a professional embedded system software engineering team, the managing responsibilities are shifted from you to the vendor. You make the decisions, give them your requirements, and specify your goals, and your partner manages the development team without excessive involvement on your part.

N-iX offers a full range of services related to embedded systems engineering. We will design a project architecture, conduct business discovery, run product validation, test the product, connect it to the cloud, and provide all kinds of services you’d need.

Working with several vendors takes much more money and effort from you than working with a single full-cycle partner would. The problem with several vendors is that you will have to manage their cooperation and performance on your own. You will have several teams responsible for different aspects of your project, and they won’t be able to progress without your direct supervision.

To make the development process as efficient as possible, you will need a professional development team that is going to engineer or choose the right hardware and develop software for your system. This will help you avoid spending overheads and make sure the team follows your vision for the product.

Benefits of Agile embedded systems engineering 

The teams working on the embedded system software engineering projects usually choose the Agile methodology rather than traditional project management methodologies like Waterfall. The agile embedded software development approach allows the team to drive the project forward while making continuous adjustments and improvements to the project throughout the development process.

Agile embedded development

Featured Success Story

Being a large and fast-growing company,  Weinmann needed to increase its development capabilities to reduce the market-launch time for its MEDUCORE Standard² portable defibrillators. This required a strong embedded system software engineering expertise on our side as well as experience in developing healthcare software.

The N-iX team applied its expertise in developing embedded Linux software to prepare the new release of the MEDUCORE Standard² defibrillator. As a part of the project, we’ve worked on a number of tasks: 

  • Implementing a secure communication protocol with a telemetry server;
  • Securely uploading user session data and device logs to the telemetry server;
  • Fixing multithreaded data access issues;
  • Building connections to Wi-Fi networks and managing them;
  • Fixing and improving Bluetooth printer support;
  • Creating technical documentation, UML diagrams, and unit tests;
  • Implementing the functionality to comply with a number of security regulations.

As a result, we’ve expanded the functionality of the portable defibrillators by Weinmann allowing them to connect to the telemetry server where all the user sessions are stored. That way, all the essential information about the patient can be transferred to the doctors within seconds. We’ve also released a new version of MEDUCORE Standard² firmware, which complies with all the relevant international requirements for medical equipment.  

A predictive maintenance solution for the device has been implemented as well, helping the experts to prevent any issues with the device before they occur. The in-built sensors help in detecting possible flaws in the device functioning, which is essential for upkeeping the defibrillator’s proper functioning.

As a full-cycle partner, the N-iX team gets your project from the ideation stage and up to the market launch. The agile model-based embedded software development approach allows us to adjust the product to your changing needs throughout different development stages while making incremental progress each sprint. 

Final Thoughts

So, what is embedded systems engineering and how do you approach your embedded project avoiding major pitfalls along the way? This is a complex process that requires a solid understanding of what the project is going to be like and strong expertise to create the product you have envisioned. A dedicated team of experts can map the project’s needs up and handle all the development stages for you.

To implement the embedded devices in your organization, you will need the right engineering partner. It is much easier to just work with a single team that can take your project from start to finish. And to make that happen, you will need an experienced partner who will be able to provide the results you need.



 

N-iX Staff
Mykhaylo Kohut
Solution Architect, Embedded & IoT Practice

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By Mykhaylo Kohut April 28, 2022
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About N-iX

N-iX is an Eastern European software development service company that helps businesses across the globe expand their engineering capabilities and develop successful software products. Founded in 2002, N-iX has formed strategic partnerships with a variety of global industry leaders and Fortune 500 companies, including OpenText, Fluke Corporation, AVL, Lebara, Currencycloud, TuneIn, and many others. With more than 2,000 professionals, N-iX offers expert solutions in software engineering, cloud-native services, data analytics, embedded software, IoT, machine learning, and other tech domains covering a wide variety of sectors, including finance, manufacturing, telecom, supply chain, to name a few.

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