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A realtime operating system is a special type of operating system used for what are called embedded systems. These are computers that often don't have a screen or keyboard and have limited resources such as memory or processor speed. An operating system (OS) such as Windows or MacOSX are not realtime OSs.
A realtime OS has the special requirement (in addition to being on an embedded system) that some operations need to be done within a specific timeframe or the operation is invalid. For example, sitting at your computer, if you don't touch a key for a few minutes, the computer isn't going to have a problem with that. However, in all realtime OSs, delays in the processing will cause errors.
Here are two examples of realtime OSs that are commonly used:
(1) A pacemaker. This is a device that is inserted in someone's chest to provide electrical impulses at regular intervals to help their heart beat. If the device missed a beat, it may be fatal.
(2) The Anti-lock Braking System (ABS) controller in a car. When the driver of the car presses on the brake, this device controls the signals to the actual brake pads with the wheels. If the device does not correctly manage the timing of the brake pads, the car will not stop correctly.
Realtime OSs involve special programming that takes additional training for software engineers and is considered more difficult to get correct for safe applications.
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