In firmware development, engineers need to work closely with the system's hardware on which the software runs. Firmware refers to a specific computing class that deals with providing low-level control for a device's specific hardware. System firmware is what adds functionality to hardware devices. Typical examples of devices comprising firmware are computer peripherals, embedded systems, consumer appliances, etc. Engineers working with firmware development must have specific knowledge of clock signals, timing diagrams, digital circuit designs and other relevant hardware technologies. The demands of firmware developers or engineers are multiplying due to the constant increase in IoT and M2M computing applications.
Stages of Firmware development
Collecting client's requirements is the primary step towards firmware development. Proper documentation of gathered requirements makes the further development process less complex and easy to manage. This document must hold detailed information about the product to be developed with all its intrinsic features and the client's specific needs. Later at the testing stage, these written requirements are cross-checked with the product to verify and ensure that all the requirements are met.
Plan out architecture
The architecture of a product defines all its persistent features. It provides an answer to every "How" involved in the system. In-depth knowledge and understanding of the system are required to prepare an architecture. It is best documented via a collection of block diagrams representing the workflow with directional arrows connecting subsystems. A firmware design should identify system sub-level blocks such as middleware, device drivers, RTOS and other major application components.
Some of the products may require an extra amount of time. Identify and manage every task in a timely manner to eliminate any last-minute rushes or delays. Identified milestones and deadlines during development give the necessary push to the process.
Testing is a mandatory phase. Various test sets can be developed and performed to check the product's performance and abilities. System tests help to verify that product as a complete entity meets the stated client's requirements. Integration tests are performed to verify that every subset of the system works properly when integrated as a whole. A dedicated testing team with software engineering skills is required to perform integration testing.
Once the product is developed and delivered, it is mandatory to take proper checks for its efficient working. The feature diversity of the system should be taken into consideration and provide regular updates to level-up the product and remove the reported bugs if any.
Firmware design languages
C/C++: C is the fundamental programming language. C is preferred over C++ for firmware development.
VHDL: VHDL is short for Very High-Speed Integrated Circuit Hardware Description Language. To program an FPGA or designing an ASIC, Hardware Description Languages (HDLs) are recommended to define digital logic. Also, System Verilog would be a good choice for developing a system with extensive digital logic.
Python: Though Python is a great software programming language, yet it is not recommended for firmware designing. The reason is it involves periodic garbage collection operations, which may create latency problems. However, many developers hype for Python to access a vast range of functionality and powerful computing capabilities.
Undoubtedly, firmware development is a challenging task and would require a considerable investment of cost, time and effort. With the increasing popularity of IoT-enabled devices, wearables and embedded systems, the demand for firmware developers will range even higher.
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