Ever wondered how streetlights turn on automatically at dusk or what drives a digital watch? Although we encounter ‘embedded systems’ very regularly in our daily lives, we are seldom cognizant of their presence. When something is “electronic”, “digital” or “smart”, embedded systems are behind it.
Embedded systems are computer systems – combinations of hardware components and software – dedicated for a specific function. Visually, they appear as chips or boards embedded with minute circuitry and electronic components and connected to peripheral devices (sensors and actuators – like cameras or motors).
And what are robots then? Robots are mechanical systems in which various embedded systems, sensors and actuators are controlled and coordinated in order to provide more complex capabilities and replace human involvement.
Home appliances, wearable devices, security systems… all use embedded systems. Along with robotics, they can be applied to almost any field – healthcare, automobiles, gadgets, security, factories. Scope for innovation and new applications is limited only by one’s creativity and the laws of physics, of course. They are already ubiquitous and the applications are bound to increase exponentially in times to come.
From a pedagogical perspective, learning ‘embedded systems’ equips one with first-principles knowledge of both computer hardware and software. One learns two things simultaneously:
1) How computer hardware works and
2) Programming it to do what is intended. Synthesis of hardware and software gives a complete picture and makes the learning practical.
Robotics is a truly multidisciplinary field, integrating knowledge from all branches of engineering and yet also reaching beyond to biology, law, humanities, ethics and design. This makes both one’s education as well as career opportunities multidisciplinary. And of course, Robotics is fun!
At SaiU, we began the course by learning the basics of C language. This included an introduction to computer programming and subsequently writing C codes for simple logical programs. And then we moved on to the hands on and practical eYantra MOOC when we were guided through the embedded systems and robotics online course by e-Yantra, an esteemed IIT Bombay initiative for Robotics. Finally, we put together all our knowledge of C programming, embedded systems and robotics to program the Firebird V to play Snakes and Ladders on a physical arena completely on its own!