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3 Modern Embedded Techniques Every Developer Should Adopt

These modern software techniques could help you improve quality and get to market faster.

Jacob Beningo

January 23, 2024

4 Min Read
3 Modern Embedded Techniques Every Developer Should Adopt
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At a Glance

  • Consider modern techniques such as model-based design, containerization, virtualization
  • Revamp DevOps practices, including CI/CD pipelines
  • Be sure to monitor firmware and observe the results of new processes

The embedded systems industry has been going through some rapid changes as modern software techniques are finding their way into our industry. While the specific techniques that will transform your development may vary based on your industry and team skillsets, there are three techniques that every team should adopt. 

Modern Technique #1: Model-Based Design

Embedded developers are used to working at the intersection between the hardware and application code. They think at low levels that involve interactions with hardware. While there are situations where this is critical, there are many more opportunities to think at the highest levels of abstraction. Systems today have become so complex that building a system from the ground up just doesn’t make sense. 

Model-based design is a technique that teams can leverage to help them work at higher levels of abstraction. Instead of focusing on the hardware, they focus on the user and their application code. This technique uses a graphical model (instead of traditional code) to design and simulate embedded systems. It allows for rapid prototyping and testing, making the development process more efficient and error-resistant. 

Model-based design is often associated with the concept of “no code.” The idea is that you can create the model of your application, test it, revise it, and then generate the code. While this idea may be distasteful to many embedded developers, it’s a modern technique that can help you develop a system faster and focus on the customer. Fast iterations with customer feedback are critical to every product development cycle. 

Related:5 Embedded Software Trends to Watch in 2024

Modern Technique #2: Containerization and Virtualization

Container and virtualization are essential techniques for software developers, but they are still being adopted within embedded systems. There are several areas where these technologies can dramatically help developers. 

First, leveraging containers can help teams create isolated and consistent development, testing, and deployment environments. These environments can ensure that every developer works from the same set of tools that are configured the same. It’s not uncommon for teams to struggle with software that behaves differently on different machines. The underlying cause is often compiler or toolchain differences. The container helps ensure these environments are the same. They can also aid in getting new team members and machines set up faster by just having them build the container and then being ready to go. 

Second, these technologies can be integrated into the system's software architecture to provide a scalable and portable solution. Developers can create microservice-based architectures deployed with containers in various architectural patterns. Now, these techniques don’t necessarily apply to all embedded systems. For example, developers working with application processors running Linux can leverage these techniques readily. At the same time, developers working with microcontrollers may find them to require too much horsepower and memory to be effective. 

Related:Can Generative AI Knock Down Barriers to Low Code/No Code Dev?

While containers and virtualization are fascinating techniques, embedded developers must carefully weigh when and where to use them to provide the most significant positive impact on their development processes. 

Modern Technique #3: DevOps and CI/CD

One of my favorite techniques that I have seen create a lot of value for embedded teams is the adoption of Embedded DevOps and CI/CD. Implementing DevOps practices, including CI/CD pipelines, in embedded systems development can significantly improve the efficiency and quality of the software development process. Embedded developers typically do everything manually, such as manually testing their code, reviewing it, deploying it, and so on. 

DevOps and CI/CD help developers focus on automating their development processes. It’s all about getting feedback quickly and often. Continuous improvement and rapid iteration. What better way is there to do that than through automation? 

Related:5 Embedded Technologies to Master in 2022

CI/CD can help developers create automation that builds, tests, integrates, analyzes, and deploys their software. A simple pipeline can be put together in a few hours. An entire production intent pipeline, though, can require careful planning and skilled execution. There may be intersections of other processes throughout the pipeline, from quality assurance, security scanning, reporting, and more. Teams often create a manual gate before deployment that requires sign-off for deploying the latest firmware to a customer. 

Once in the field, observability techniques are used to monitor how the firmware behaves and report if there are any issues. Observability can help teams identify problems and bugs early and then deploy a fix to ensure their customers have the best experience using their products. 

Conclusions

Successfully designing and building an embedded system requires many things to come together. While you can create a system in many ways, these three modern techniques can help you improve quality and get to market faster. Some methods require a significant mindset shift to leverage, while others seem very natural. I would recommend that you carefully consider each of these and identify your return on investment if you were to adopt them. If the value is there, you can begin to adopt and implement the techniques over the coming months. Before you know it, you’ll have a mature and successful development cycle. 

About the Author(s)

Jacob Beningo

Jacob Beningo is an embedded software consultant who currently works with clients in more than a dozen countries to dramatically transform their businesses by improving product quality, cost and time to market. He has published more than 300 articles on embedded software development techniques, has published several books, is a sought-after speaker and technical trainer and holds three degrees which include a Masters of Engineering from the University of Michigan.

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