Real-time processing is a kind of data processing that responds instantly to commands or to the entry of data. In some cases, this may also refer to the appearance of instantaneous response when in reality there is a short delay. This processing is often divided into two different categories, hard real-time and soft real-time.
Hard real-time processing refers to a system in which a deadline that must be met. If the deadline is not met, the task or system is considered a failure. This kind of processing can be found in systems with which there is often little room for failure. Some examples may include airplane control systems, pacemakers, and many medical devices that monitor the health of patients who may be in critical condition.
Soft real-time processing, on the other hand, is a kind of processing in which the deadlines may be missed without the system failing because of the delay. In some cases, the system might suffer from poorer quality or decreased effectiveness of functions. These processes are often found in audio and visual systems. A recorded video, for example, might miss frames, though the video will not fail because of the lateness or deletion of certain frames. Instead, the quality of the video is decreased.
Real-time processing is used in a number of different industries around the world. Some common examples of this kind of processing can be found in the processing of transactions by credit card companies. Many of these companies use a batch processing method that allows a number of transactions to be recorded at once. This is an example of soft real-time processing.
Many automobiles use real time computing as well. An automobile engine can be a good example of hard real-time processing. If the engine is late in its response to the command it receives, it might cause the whole automobile to malfunction.
There are a number of designs that are used to produce real-time processing systems. One of the most common methods for real-time design is the Modular Approach to Software Construction Operation and Test (MASCOT). MASCOT is a method of software design that was first introduced by United Kingdom Ministry of Defence in the 1970s. This method differed from other software development methods in that its main focus was not the functionality or purpose of the system being designed. The developers of MASCOT focused instead on the real-time processes and efficient performance of the systems that they developed.