by Erwin Schoitsch and Amund Skavhaug

Embedded Systems are a key if Europe is to remain in the forefront of digital technology and as such they have been classified as an important research area for the European Union's Seventh Framework Programme - the main financial tool through which the EU supports research and development activities. The IST/FET (Future and Emerging Technologies) programme 'Beyond the Horizon', coordinated by ERCIM, points out that Embedded Systems, in combination with pervasive - or ubiquitous - computing, (cognitive) intelligence and software-intensive systems, which in fact means 'embedded intelligence', or 'smart systems' in the broader context of 'smart environments', are the most important challenge for strategic, long-term research, with a huge impact on society and the economy. The ITEA2 Roadmap (Information Technology for European Advancement) reaches the same conclusion - that Embedded Systems are a crucial technology for European competitiveness.

Illustration by Pertti Jarla.

ARTEMIS (Advanced Research and Technology for Embedded Intelligence and Systems) is a strong, industry-driven European Technology Platform (ETP) which aims to establish a coherent, integrated European research and development strategy for embedded systems (

EPoSS, another ETP launched in July this year (see separate article by the author in this edition) focuses on smart systems integration, which is considered an important emerging area. The key aspects are building systems from components, interdisciplinarity, a holistic approach to pervasive and ubiquitous computing, fast integration of a variety of technologies, energy autonomy and networking (

Several national research programmes in Europe cover essential aspects of this theme, for example FIT-IT in Austria (BMVIT, Federal Ministry for Transport, Innovation and Technology), with topics such as Embedded Systems, System on Chip, Semantic Systems and Security, focusing on radical innovations in these areas.

'Intelligence' takes account of autonomous reasoning and acting in a co-operative manner. 'Ambient Intelligence' refers to an exciting new paradigm in information technology, "in which people are empowered through a digital environment that is aware of their presence and context and is sensitive, adaptive and responsive to their needs, habits, gestures and emotions." (ISTAG scenarios, and Schoitsch, E., Bloomfield, R. et al. (2003), AMSD – Dependable Embedded Systems Roadmap, IST project 37553) . This applies not only for people-centred tasks, which, of course, seems the most exciting, science-fiction-type, aspect, but also for purely technical solutions like smart sensors, actuators and control systems, especially in safety related applications. Heterogeneity (of environment, applications, protocols, etc.), autonomy (self-awareness, self healing, self-organizing, etc.), nomadic mobility (ad hoc, unreliable, heterogeneous, etc.) and scale-less (number of users, geography, structure, etc.) are the new emerging embedded systems challenges (Neeraj Suri, Keynote at DECOS Conference, ME’06 Conference, 2006).

This special theme fits in very well with the current European framework and strategic research discussions. The areas addressed - with the related European research projects are referenced in brackets - include:

Embedded Systems Applications
This part provides an overview of four different, but nevertheless typical applications of embedded systems, ie, some work on autonomous systems, on intelligent road safety through co-operative networks (COOPERS); on ambient assisted living support for the ‘aging society’ (BelAmI) and on an experiment with iCat, a personal robot platform with emotional feedback. This wide spectrum of projects is typical for the broad range of foci addressed by the engineering of AmI applications for the future intelligent environment of people.

Embedded Systems Design and Development
This provides an overview of the DECOS (EU-FP6 project) tool chain for the development of dependable embedded systems in a cost-efficient manner; of a project on reconfigurable hardware for 'Embedded Architectures on Demand' (AHEAD); on system-level design of fault-tolerant systems (SynDEx); on a tool to model the behaviour of embedded system designs (mCRL2); on reactive processing for reactive embedded systems and on a very specialised aspect of designing concurrent systems (tagged procedure calls, TPC). This covers a broad range of system architecture, design and development issues in the embedded systems area.

Ambient Intelligence (AmI) Systems, Smart Environments, Platforms and Services
The articles provide an overview of one ERCIM member's AmI research facility (FORTH); on a user-centred design approach to smart environments (EASE); on platforms for ambient services - spanning the gap between the issue of sensor networks and adaptive applications - (Ambiance, Construct); on Service-Oriented Architectures for pervasive computing environments (ARLES) and, as a special case, intelligent materials for smart applications. This part should give a feeling for the broad range of perspectives of 'ambiance' (vs. embedded systems in technical engineering applications).

Further on, this special theme continues with articles covering specific key aspects and technologies of embedded systems and ambiance implementations:

Wireless Sensor Networks
Firstly, there is a description of a Network of Excellence to overcome the fragmentation of research in this field (CRUISE). Then two key aspects of wireless sensor networks are highlighted: Intelligent RFID sensor integration (IntelliSense RFID) and collaborative capture, linking information systems to real work by sensor networks (ACES).

Embedded Systems
A key characteristic of embedded systems is the use of restricted resources, a problem to be resolved beforehand by modelling. One article covers autarkic power generation for networked embedded systems (FIT-IT, Intermon), another covers guarantees on resource usage bounds (EmBounded).

Massively Deployed Embedded Systems: Trust and Security
Massively deployed and networked embedded systems are prone to security breaches leading to loss of safety or reliability/availability of safety or loss of business critical services (and loss of consumer confidence). The ITEA project Trust4All project has written two articles on different aspects of this problem - research on context-aware trust in open environments as a basic research issue and a trust management framework. The special problem of protecting privacy by providing separate digital identities depending on the context of use in ambient environments is handled in another article (BASIS).

These areas overlap in part, so overlapping topics may be addressed as well. This theme should provide a vision of the future for anyone interested in embedded systems and address the challenges and risks for research, the economy and society rather than focusing on a single, isolated subtopic.

In most cases, the articles are based on reports of European research projects and Networks of Excellence and thus provide a good overview of research and applications in the areas addressed.

Several ERCIM working groups and many teams within ERCIM member institutes are involved in at least some of the aspects of this special theme, which was suggested by the ERCIM Working group on Dependable Embedded Systems. We have tried to provide a comprehensive overview on many different aspects of this important theme.

Please contact
Erwin Schoitsch, ARC Seibersdorf research/AARIT, Austria

Next issue: January 2023
Special theme:
"Cognitive AI & Cobots"
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