What are embedded computers?


Most of the systems and infrastructure that we have all come to rely on in our daily lives are controlled by computers. From smart TVs and mobile phones to traffic management systems and security cameras, computers have become an essential component of modern life, silently fulfilling a vital role in running our infrastructure and enabling society to function efficiently and safely.

But these computers do not resemble the consumer PCs that we have all become accustomed to; the large rectangular boxes found in homes and offices around the world. The computers that control and monitor our infrastructure are compact and understated, but nonetheless they are powerful and highly capable machines, often designed to undertake a specific task such as number plate recognition as part of an ANPR system. These machines are embedded computers.

Powering critical systems

An embedded computer, often known as an industrial computer or industrial embedded computer, is essentially a computing device that forms part of a larger system or solution, essentially ‘embedded’ into the wider installation.

Embedded computing is not a new concept, with its origins stretching right back to the early days of computing. The Apollo space craft utilised a rudimentary form of embedded PC to run many of the vehicle’s navigation and life-support systems.

By the 1980s, the car industry started to adopt embedded computing in the form of the engine control unit (ECU), and today tiny embedded PCs power our smart phones and tablets.

Industrial embedded computers

The embedded computers provided by Steatite come in a range of shapes, sizes and capabilities. Small fanless PCs are often used in harsh environments where moving parts can easily fail. Dust can quickly clog up a computer with a conventional cooling system, but a fanless computer eliminates the need for ventilation openings, instead dissipating heat through an external heat sink.

Embedded touchscreen panel PCs fit seamlessly into a user interface or control panel, whilst powerful rack mount computers are installed into cabinets which in turn can be connected to other systems that make up the wider installation. These industrial grade computers can be extremely powerful.

Military grade embedded computers are uniquely designed to meet the demands of military applications. Highly ruggedised, these machines can be installed with specialised connectors, shielding and mounting to reduce failure rates from the shock, vibration, dust and moisture often encountered in a military environment.

Engineering expertise

With a track record of engineering embedded PCs since 1985, the Steatite name has become synonymous with expertise, quality and reliability. Customers with very specific embedded computing requirements use Steatite computers to run critical systems in some of the most hostile environments imaginable.

Next time you walk past a roadside cabinet or board a train, the chances are it may contain a Steatite embedded computer system.

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