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Most embedded systems need to be self-reliant. It’s not usually possible to wait for someone to reboot them if the software hangs. Some embedded designs, such as space probes, are simply not accessible to human operators. If their software ever hangs, such systems are permanently disabled. In other cases, the speed with which a human operator might reset the system would be too slow to meet the uptime requirements of the product. A watchdog timer is a piece of hardware that can be used to automatically detect software anomalies and reset the processor if any occur. Generally speaking, a watchdog timer is based on a counter that counts down from some initial value to zero. The embedded software selects the counter’s initial value and periodically restarts it. If the counter ever reaches zero before the software restarts it, the software is presumed to be malfunctioning and the processor’s reset signal is asserted. The processor (and the embedded software it’s running) will be restarted as if a human operator had cycled the power.

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