Embedded Firmware Development Process: A Comprehensive Guide

February 16, 2023

Few decades ago, embedded system development was done using hardware programming languages like C or assembly language. But as system complexity increased, the software development process started getting involved. As a result, embedded firmware development today is mostly software-driven.

However, embedded firmware development still has hardware considerations and constraints. It is a complex process involving hardware design and software development that results in embedded firmware.

In this blog, we will discuss steps in the embedded firmware development process, hardware design considerations while designing an embedded system, developing embedded firmware software, testing and debugging embedded firmware, and deployment of embedded firmware in an embedded system.

About Embedded Firmware Development Process: A Comprehensive Guide

What is the Meaning of the Embedded Firmware Development Process?

The embedded system development process is a holistic approach to creating embedded systems. It involves a series of steps, tools, and technologies to develop embedded products from inception to production. This process provides organizations with the necessary tools and resources to create high-quality embedded systems.

Steps of Embedded Firmware Development

Step 1: Define the system specifications -The system specification defines the hardware and software requirements of the product. This step outlines system features, functionality, performance requirements, and other specifications required for developing an effective design of the system.

Step 2: Develop hardware platform -The hardware platform provides hardware components for developing embedded systems such as microcontrollers, memory, interfaces, and other components. It also provides platform designs such as schematics, layouts, and bill-of-materials so that an organization can design a custom-made system based on its specific needs.

Step 3: Develop software system -The software system includes operating systems and middleware used to develop embedded system applications such as firmware or software applications. The organization can use commercially available frameworks such as Android or iOS to develop applications specifically tailored for embedded devices.

Step 4: Design product -The last step in the embedded system development process involves designing the product using well-defined hardware process such as functional specifications, technical specifications, functional specifications document (FSD), chip design documents (CDD), environmental specification document (ESD), bill-of-materials (BOM), etc.

This step provides organizations with vital information on how to create high-quality embedded systems. With this knowledge in hand, organizations can optimize their development processes and create products that meet customer expectations and deliver business value.

Designing the hardware for embedded firmware

– Begin with a hardware design document that outlines the system requirements and specifications. This document should include details on the system’s functionality, hardware design, and hardware specifications.

– Select an appropriate microcontroller for your hardware design. Consider factors such as cost, size, operating system support, features, and availability.

– Design your PCB with the components and connections needed to run the firmware. Include signals for power input, digital inputs/outputs, programming pins, flash memory connection pins, etc.

– After testing and debugging the hardware process, program it with embedded firmware. This step involves writing code for the microcontroller using programming software or a development tool.

– On completion of the project, review and test your firmware before releasing it to users.

Testing and debugging embedded firmware

– Use hardware simulators and emulators to reduce development time. These software programs help you test embedded firmware on a real device before investing time and money into creating a firmware prototype for that device. They provide a low-fidelity version of the real device, allowing you to test your code more quickly and accurately, as well as saving time and money in terms of development costs.

– Set up test fixtures that can replicate real-world conditions. Test fixtures are physical devices used to test embedded firmware and simulate real-world situations such as operating temperatures, system clock speeds, and other variables. You can create test fixtures using various tools, such as platforms and emulators, or by creating mockups using software such as Inkscape or Illustrator. These fixtures can be used to test embedded firmware in various scenarios, saving you time and money in development costs.

– Utilize automated tests to check system performance quickly. Automated tests are a great way to check system performance quickly without having to spend valuable development resources on manual testing. This is because automated tests can run many iterations of the same set of code quickly and consistently, checking for potential issues with different inputs or scenarios. This ensures there are no inter-op errors between the firmware and hardware components of the system

You can monitor code coverage to ensure all areas of code are tested effectively. Code coverage refers to the percentage of lines of code in a given piece of software that has been executed by the software’s automated unit testing system. This can show you how much of your embedded firmware has been tested manually versus automatically, helping you determine areas for improvement in your development process

Deployment of embedded firmware

– Start with defining the requirements of a successful firmware deployment.

– Select an appropriate development methodology and tools for the job.

– Develop the firmware to meet the functional requirements.

– Test the firmware for reliability and performance.

– Deploy and validate the firmware on the target system.

– Ensure that you follow all applicable regulations, such as those pertaining to the software development lifecycle (SDLC).

How to ensure quality in an embedded firmware development project?

To ensure quality in an embedded firmware development project, it’s important to follow a formalized development process. A good development firmware software will help you quickly and consistently produce high-quality firmware for your device.

A development process should include the following steps:

– Define requirements and create a test plan.

– Develop system architecture and create prototypes.

– Follow coding standards and use automated unit testing.

– Use quality assurance processes such as peer reviews, code inspections, and static analysis tools.

– Validate the firmware with hardware tests and user feedback.

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