Microcontrollers usually run so-called real-time operating systems (RTOS). The reason they run these stripped down operating systems that deemphasize security and robustness is that a typical operating system relies on the hardware to provide multiple protection domains and memory isolation. Without that hardware support, the operating system only deals with simpler things like scheduling, synchronization, and memory allocation.
It is possible to provide fault tolerance and isolation through software, but it requires a software layer that shields the applications that run on top of it from the underlying hardware. This layer is typically called a virtual machine.
You may have heard about two different kinds of virtual machines: The ones that emulate a concrete computing system and the ones that provide a platform-independent managed environment for a specific class of high-level languages to run in. Because of its significantly lower system requirements, we have focused on the latter kind and designed an embedded virtual machine in the tradition of Java — not Docker — for microcontrollers. It runs on the ESP32 chips from Espressif Systems, and it augments the primitive FreeRTOS operating system that is bundled in Espressif’s IoT Development Framework (ESP-IDF) with the capabilities for safely running platform-independent software applications side-by-side.
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