2.4.2 Embedded Systems
Linux started out as something that would only run on a computer like Linus Torvald’s: an Intel 386 PC with a specific hard drive controller, but since anyone could add to or change Linux, people started building support for other hardware. Eventually, Linux started supporting other chips with an emphasis on small size and low power consumption.
Because of this flexibility, a significant number of device makers have used Linux as the operating system for their hardware products. Today we call these embedded systems because they are designed to do a specific task on hardware optimized for only that purpose. These systems encompass a tremendous diversity of devices that are used today, from cell phones to smart TVs and appliances, to remote monitoring systems for pipelines and factories.
As Linux evolved, specialized processor chips were developed for consumer and industrial devices to take advantage of its capabilities. Support for Linux has become so ubiquitous that it is possible to prototype and bring to market new devices using off-the-shelf components. The rise of cheap, small, adaptable single-board computers like the Raspberry Pi has given experimenters and entrepreneurs everywhere tools to quickly build custom solutions, powered by Linux, that would have taken months of work by specialized teams just a few years ago.
While consumers are familiar with embedded Linux entertainment devices like digital video recorders (DVRs) and “smart TVs,” the real impact of embedded Linux is just starting to be realized. The internet of things (IoT) is just ramping up with cheap, ubiquitous devices being deployed on everything from oil wells to solar generating farms. These networks of smart sensors and controllers enable engineers to adjust critical processes in real time while monitoring and reporting back to central control stations. As more processes are being monitored and more data is being integrated with machine learning and artificial intelligence (AI) we can anticipate gains in efficiency, safety and productivity only dreamed of by past generations.