Embedded medical and space systems make use of miniaturized computers that are designed and programmed to do only one or a very limited number of functions. Their minute size and very low energy demands allow them to be used in several environments. Combined with other systems, they can be used to create any number of new devices.
Embedded Systems in Medicine
Because of their small size and their specificity in function, embedded systems have been widely used in medicine, especially when used as a relatively large component. Current computer tomography (CT) scanners use application-specific integrated circuits (ASICs) that span a few square inches; this is quite big in comparison to other implementations of embedded systems which cover a mere fraction of an inch.
Photodiodes are yet another embedded system that is critical to CT scanners. Photodiode arrays (photodiodes arranged in a linear fashion on an integrated chip) are responsible for detecting different wavelengths of light, a fundamental function in CT technology.
A more advanced and more recent technology used for medical detection, magnetic resonance tomography (MRT; also known as magnetic resonance imaging or MRI), also makes use of embedded systems. MRT requires radio frequency (RF) transmission and reception coils, which respectively activate and receive the magnetic resonance signals in and from the patient under observation.
The RF antennae used in MRT technology are examples of medically applied embedded systems. Embedded RF antennae have also gained greater use with the wide adoption of the parallel acquisition technique (PAT) for faster construction of images; the PAT uses an array of RF antennae to receive data.
Embedded Systems in Space
Organizations and governments have been finding many uses for embedded systems in their outer space programs, too. Their minute size and low power demands make them appropriate components in space-bound vehicles where both space and available energy are strictly budgeted and rationed.
Embedded systems in outer space must be primarily durable. They must be able to withstand zero gravity situations as well as different kinds of radiation. Few embedded devices pass the rigorous NASA standards for devices that are sent out into space. One device that passes such standards is the MIP405 computer system. It is able to withstand around 200 million electron volts radiation. It also has a wide range of operating temperatures so it can function in variable temperature conditions. At the same time, it has the processing power and functionality equivalent to that of an old laptop computer.