Book Image

Hands-On RTOS with Microcontrollers

By : Brian Amos
Book Image

Hands-On RTOS with Microcontrollers

By: Brian Amos

Overview of this book

A real-time operating system (RTOS) is used to develop systems that respond to events within strict timelines. Real-time embedded systems have applications in various industries, from automotive and aerospace through to laboratory test equipment and consumer electronics. These systems provide consistent and reliable timing and are designed to run without intervention for years. This microcontrollers book starts by introducing you to the concept of RTOS and compares some other alternative methods for achieving real-time performance. Once you've understood the fundamentals, such as tasks, queues, mutexes, and semaphores, you'll learn what to look for when selecting a microcontroller and development environment. By working through examples that use an STM32F7 Nucleo board, the STM32CubeIDE, and SEGGER debug tools, including SEGGER J-Link, Ozone, and SystemView, you'll gain an understanding of preemptive scheduling policies and task communication. The book will then help you develop highly efficient low-level drivers and analyze their real-time performance and CPU utilization. Finally, you'll cover tips for troubleshooting and be able to take your new-found skills to the next level. By the end of this book, you'll have built on your embedded system skills and will be able to create real-time systems using microcontrollers and FreeRTOS.
Table of Contents (24 chapters)
Section 1: Introduction and RTOS Concepts
Section 2: Toolchain Setup
Section 3: RTOS Application Examples
Section 4: Advanced RTOS Techniques

Deciding when to use an RTOS

Occasionally, when someone first learns of the term real-time OS, they mistakenly believe that an RTOS is the only way to achieve real-time behavior in an embedded system. While this is certainly understandable (especially given the name) it couldn't be further from the truth. Sometimes, it is best to think of an RTOS as a potential solution, rather than the solution to be used for everything. Generally speaking, for an MCU-based RTOS to be the ideal solution for a given problem, it needs to have a Goldilocks-level of complexity—not too simple, but not too complicated.

If there is an extremely simple problem, such as monitoring two states and triggering an alert when they are both present, the solution could be a straightforward hardware solution (such as an AND gate). In this case, there may be no reason to complicate things further, since the AND gate solution is going to be very fast, with high determinism and extreme reliability. It will also require very little development time.

Now, consider a case where there are only one or two tasks to be performed, such as controlling the speed of a motor and watching an encoder to ensure the correct distance is traversed. This could certainly be implemented in discrete analog and digital hardware, but having a configurable distance would add some complexity. Additionally, tuning the control loop coefficients would likely require twiddling the potentiometer settings (possibly for each individual board), which is undesirable in some or most cases, by today's manufacturing standards. So, on the hardware solution side, we're left with a CPLD or FPGA to implement the motion control algorithm and track the distance traveled. This happens to be a very good fit for either, since it is potentially small enough to fit into a CPLD, but in some cases, the cost of an FPGA might be unacceptable. This problem is also handled by MCUs regularly. If existing in-house resources don't have the expertise required with hardware languages or toolchains, then a bare-metal MCU firmware solution is probably a good fit.

Let's say the problem is more complicated, such as a device that controls several different actuators, reads data from a range of sensors, and stores those values in local storage. Perhaps the device also needs to sit on some sort of network, such as Ethernet, Wi-Fi, controller area network (CAN), and so on. An RTOS can solve this type of problem quite well. The fact that there are many different tasks that need to be completed, more or less asynchronously to one another, makes it very easy to argue that the additional complexity the RTOS brings will pay off. The RTOS helps us to ensure the lower priority, more complex tasks, such as networking and the filesystem stacks, won't interfere with the more time-critical tasks (such as controlling actuators and reading sensors). In many cases, there may be some form of control system that generally benefits from being run at well-defined intervals in time—a strength of the RTOS.

Now, consider a similar system to the previous one, but now there are multiple networking requirements, such as serving a web page, dealing with user authentication in a complex enterprise environment, and pushing files to various shared directories that require different network-based file protocols. This level of complexity can be achieved with an RTOS, but again, depending on the available team resources, this might be better left to a full-blown OS to handle (either RTOS or general-purpose), since many of the complex software stacks required already exist. Sometimes, a multi-core approach might be taken, with one of the cores running an RTOS and the other running a general-purpose OS.

By now, it is probably obvious that there is no definitive way to determine exactly which real-time solution is correct for all cases. Each project and team will have their own unique requirements, backgrounds, skill-sets, and contexts that set the stage for this decision. There are many factors that go into selecting a solution to a problem; it is important to keep an open mind and to choose the solution that is best for your team and project at that point in time.