The Application of Hardware and Software in Electronic Devices

Praful Joshi, Technical Director, Lyra Infosystems Pvt. Ltd.Introduction
When we think of hardware in the context of electronics, one thing that strikes first in our minds is a “Computer”. We all know what computers are capable of doing. In today’s world, everyone uses a computer be at work or home, either in the form of Desktop or a Laptop. Also, almost everyone uses a mobile phone which comprises of electronics hardware. As such, any device consists of active and passive electronic components, which includes computing power(CPU Core) and other passive electronic circuitry. There are many devices that we interact with, without even realizing that those devices also have complex electronics hardware and also have similar capabilities compared to a computer.

Evolution of Semiconductors and Integrations
In the early years, computers were very large in sizes because of the electronics circuits that were used in making them consisted of components. Such as diodes which were made of vacuum tubes in discrete form. When Solid State Devices were invented, that's when the semiconductor evolution started. The use of semiconductors helped making the size of computers smaller and smaller. The invention of transistor further helped to manufacture devices in lesser size.

But still, early devices, although made of SSD’s, were discrete, meaning individual components such as transistors were used to form circuits like gates, flip-flops etc. The invention of IC(Integrated Circuit) and Integration Technology allowed fabricating more Passive and Active components in single chip. This helped devices to become smaller and were also able to perform faster consuming very lower power. This started the evolution of Integrations which over the years made possible, the increasing amount of transistors to be fabricated in the same area. The Integration evolution started with SSI, MSI, VLSI and today, we see ULSI (Ultra Large Scale Integration)and GSI(Giant Scale Integration). This is why we see hardware devices getting miniaturized very fast.

Electronic Devices and Vertical Industries
There are many devices that we come across in our day-to-day lives like smart-phones, SmartTV, Set-Top-Boxes, Wi-Fi Routers which we use to connect our smart-phones/laptops for Internet Access. When we drive the car, inside the vehicle one can find dashboards/car Information System which displays the health of the car and Infotainment System which plays audio/video
and also can be connected to your smart-phones over Bluetooth, Car Navigation System which guides us to our destination. All these are Consumer Grade Devices with which we directly interact with.

But there are many more powerful devices used in creating these infrastructures. Those infrastructures allow Service Providers to provide different services to the consumers. For example smart-phone connects to a nearby Tower via a cellular communication but eventually smart-phone connects to a 3G/4G/LTE Base-station which connects to the back-end infrastructure of the Mobile Operator. These Base-stations are large devices which are powerful and have very complex electronic hardware as compared to a Consumer Device. These are all Telecom Infrastructure Devices.

The decision of selecting an appropriate SoC hardware which meets all the device requirements along with the choice of OS platform is the key

There are other industries such Automotive, Industrial Automation and Control, Medical, Aerospace and Defence which have a large deployment of the electronic devices. These devices are very complex and have their own special requirements like Industry Safety and Security Certification. Some examples of such devices are Programmable Logic Controllers(PLC), Distributed Control System(DCS),Robotics, CNC, Laser Cutting Machines etc. They are used mostly for Factory Automation and Process Control in Manufacturing Plants.Right from Patient Monitoring Systems, MRI Scanners, Pacemaker in Medical Electronics, On-Board Computers, Landing Gear, Various Sensor-based Alarms and Control Systems within Aircraft, Missile Guiding System in Defence, Engine Control Units(ECU), ABS, Cruise Control in Automotive. All these systems have electronics hardware and software embedded in them.

Inside an Electronic Device
As mentioned, all of the above mentioned systems have electronics hardware and software in them which is designed specifically to perform certain specific tasks using an algorithm. These devices are also called as Embedded Devices.

An Embedded device typically consists of the hardware comprising of computing power, i.e., CPU Core and some standard and special purpose ICs, which is called as SoC (System-On-Chip) and a software designed for the purpose for the device to do specific job all the time and this software is programmed and stored within the device itself usually on a Flash storage.

SoC(System-On-Chip)is a single chip fabrication,although made of SSD’s, for one or more similar type of Embedded Devices. Some designs may use 2-chip solution which has SoC and ASIC (Application Specific IC) both in one. The ASIC typically could be in-house developed or third-party designed and licensed which does a specific task in hardware.
Embedded Device hardware consists of SoC, ASIC (optional), Flash, RAM, Display Interfaces (depending upon the kind of device), external communication ports. Software is the important part of an Embedded Device. As today devices are very sophisticated in their requirements which in turn increase the software complexity too, most of the complex embedded devices use an Operating System such as Linux. It is mostly used by industries that have special requirements such as strict real-time performance and certification use commercial Real-Time Operating System(RTOS).

The decision of selecting an appropriate SoC hardware which meets all the device requirements along with the choice of OS platform is the key. Also the capability of Board Support Package and Device Driver development, integration of Open Source Software, application software development and testing are key factors to design and deliver good quality devices.