Embedded Software Development for Safety Critical Systems

Anam Javaid
CEO Rendream
2023-06-21 . 15 min read

Embedded software development for safety-critical systems is a world where precision is paramount. Security-critical systems, such as those found in aerospace, medical devices, automotive, and industrial automation, demand a level of reliability that goes beyond ordinary software development.


Safety Standards and Regulations:

Understanding safety and regulation standards is foundational. ISO 26262, for instance, is crucial in the automotive industry, while DO-178C is important for aviation. Regulatory bodies like the FDA, FAA, and EASA enforce compliance. These standards and regulations serve as roadmaps, assuring that safety-critical software meets stringent quality and safety criteria.

System Requirements Analysis:

Before getting into code, we need to define system requirements. Functional requirements specify what the system should do, while safety requirements define how to assure safety even in adverse conditions. Risk assessments mark the potential hazards and their impact, guiding our efforts to mitigate these errors. The traceability matrix assures that every software component aligns with these safety goals.

Architecture and Design:

System architecture explains how different components interact, including redundancy strategies and hardware-software partitioning. Software architecture details the organization of the code, task scheduling, communication protocols, and error handling systems. A strong architectural foundation is essential to building a safety-critical system that can withstand failures.

Coding Standards and Guidelines:

Coding standards like CERT C and MISRA C set rules for writing safe and reliable code. Code reviews and inspections assure compliance with these standards, while static code analysis tools help catch potential issues early in the development process. Unit testing and code coverage assessments testify that the software behaves as expected.

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Verification and Validation:

Verification processes, such as requirements-based and model-based testing, assure that the software meets its specifications. Validation methods, such as functional safety testing and fault injection, confirm that safety requirements are met, even under adverse conditions. These procedures provide the necessary confidence in the system’s reliability.

Configuration Management:

Configuration management, including version control, baseline management, and change control, keeps the software’s evolution under control. These practices are essential to maintain consistency and reliability throughout the development lifecycle.

Documentation and Traceability:

In security-critical systems, comprehensive documentation is essential. It has detailed records of requirements, test cases, design decisions, and change histories. The traceability matrix links every requirement to its corresponding design and test artifacts, providing a clear trail of compliance with safety goals.

Tool Qualification:

Qualifying and validating development and testing tools is necessary. It assures that these tools do not introduce errors and can be trusted in the development procedure. Guideline documents provide instructions on how to effectively use these tools to support security objectives.

Risk Management:

Risk management is an ongoing procedure that identifies potential hazards, assesses their likelihood and severity, and integrates mitigation strategies. Risk acceptance criteria help teams make better decisions about whether certain risks can be tolerated or require further attention.

Software Lifecycle Management:

Managing the software’s lifecycle involves version control, release management, and planning for maintenance and end-of-life scenarios. It assures that the software remains reliable and up-to-date throughout its operational life.

Training and Competence:

Developers and testers need to receive proper training to understand safety-critical requirements and coding standards. Continuous skill development and certification programs help assure that the team remains competent in this specialized field.

Supplier and Subcontractor Management:

Managing third-party components is critical. This includes evaluating the reliability of suppliers and conducting audits, subcontractors, and assuring that all external components meet the same rigorous safety standards as the rest of the system.

Incident Reporting and Handling:

Even with all precautions, incidents can happen. Establishing an incident reporting procedure helps teams respond swiftly. Root cause analysis discovers the source of issues, and corrective actions prevent their recurrence, further increasing system safety.

Compliance Audits and Certification:

External certification and audits are often necessary for safety-critical systems. Detailed documentation, coupled with adherence to standards and best practices, is critical for successful certification and regulatory compliance.


To conclude, embedded software development for safety-critical systems is a discipline that demands meticulous planning, continuous improvement, adherence to standards, and unwavering commitment to safety. The journey we have explored is a testament to the rigor required to make software that protects lives and assures a safer future.



Security-critical systems are those where failure could result in loss of life, prominent harm, or damage to the environment. They are crucial in industries like aviation, automotive, and healthcare. Assuring their reliability and security is vital to protect human lives and property.


Several security standards are relevant, depending on the industry. Common ones have DO-178C for aerospace, ISO 26262 for automotive, and IEC 61508 for general industrial systems. These standards provide guidelines for verification, development, and validation.


Getting compliance requires a structured approach. It includes meticulous documentation, adherence to rigorous testing, coding standards, and traceability. Integrating these practices from the project’s inception is key to meeting safety standards.


Risk assessment is a fundamental step. It helps to mark potential hazards and assess their impact. This information informs security requirements and guides decisions on software design, testing, and mitigation strategies.


Selecting tools and an environment that meet safety standards is crucial. Look for tools with qualification evidence and consider their effect on the system’s safety. The choice of an RTOS, comp...


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