By Jakob Engblom
They just upgraded our coffee machine in the office. When I came out into the kitchen to get another cup, a service technician was there with a laptop perched on the sink and a USB cable running into the innards of the coffee machine, into the back of its open front panel. When I asked what was going on, he said that he was updating the coffee machine. In particular, he was adding the feature of selecting the strength of the coffee being brewed.
A software update to add features to a coffee machine? It is a bit weird, but also a perfect illustration of how pervasive embedded software has become in all manners of systems.
It is not easy to explain to non-technical people just what an embedded system is and what software does when it is not running as an application on a PC (or smartphone or tablet or other familiar computing device). Our coffee machine upgrade does offer a nice illustration of what is going on, and how software and hardware combine to form cyberphysical systems.