Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Embedded systems get smarter, tougher

12.03.2008
A European research team has achieved the twin, and apparently contradictory goals, of making embedded systems both smarter and tougher.

The RobuCab, an autonomous vehicle about the size of a golf cart, trundles at 10kph along a quiet French street. Alarmingly, it looks like it is driving itself. Surprisingly, that is more or less true.

The RobuCab is following the line of the kerb. One embedded system trains a camera on the path edge, another tracks the angle and direction of the kerb, while others control the gearing and acceleration. Combined, they enable the RobuCab to drive along the road.

It is an astonishing demonstration of just how sophisticated embedded systems, and the software that controls them, can become. But there are some serious problems to surmount before this level of sophistication becomes common.

Embedded systems are all around us. They can range from very simple sensors that tell your boiler when to turn on the central heating in your home, to very powerful computers that help control flight.

“They are everywhere,” explains Kevin Hammond, coordinator of the Embounded project, a team developing sophisticated new software for the RobuCab. “Half the world’s annual spend on computers goes on embedded systems. And often, it is items we would not even think of as a computer, like a digital watch. But, like a digital watch, all embedded systems have software and some degree of processing hardware.”

They run ABS (‘anti-lock breaking systems’) in cars, avionics and high-tech toasters. They are in RFID (‘radio frequency identification’) chips, mobile phones and microwave ovens. Serious people are already talking seriously about ‘painting’ embedded systems onto walls just like, well, paint. Or of house bricks with microchips inside.

Calling 99.9999
But while embedded systems are tiny, industry and society makes huge demands on them. “Some of them, like avionics, must be essentially unbreakable, with six nines of uptime.” That means they must operate 99.9999 percent of the time. By contrast, desktop computers need only work 75 percent of the time.

“An embedded system’s memory might only run to 10 or 20 bytes of information, but these tiny systems must be more reliable than normal desktop computers,” Hammond states.

And that is only the first challenge. The tasks they are designed to do are becoming much more sophisticated, like the RobuCab, and that makes programming them extremely difficult.

Thus far, embedded systems were programmed using very simple instructions but, while these are powerful, hundreds of simple instructions are required to drive the more complex tasks of emerging systems. More instructions mean an exponential growth in the risk of error.

“Specialist engineers currently spend an enormous amount of time testing these systems, but, even then, there is no guarantee that all possible problems have been checked,” warns Hammond.

Paradoxical goals
As they become more sophisticated, they can do more complex tasks but the risk of failure grows. So Embounded began with two apparently paradoxical goals: establish precise controls to enhance safety and create a more sophisticated programming language at a higher level of abstraction. One that tells the system what goal to achieve, but does not tell it precisely how to do it.

Hammond explains that the team sought to improve precision and performance, but also wants to reduce programming control. “It is a non-trivial problem,” he jokes.

Embounded tackled this by first developing a new, more sophisticated programming language for embedded systems, called Hume. Next, it developed a programming methodology that increases system precision and performance using certificates to limit, or “Embound”, resource usage.

Then, they developed “costing-by-construction”, a technique to sandbox the functional modules within a computer program. This means they are kept apart, making it easier to guarantee the required resources for each functional module.

Finally, they developed a suite of tools to analyse prototype-embedded systems. This can guarantee that a given system design will work as planned.

It is an enormous number of outputs for a comparatively small project and the team’s work has inspired the enthusiasm of colleagues in research and industry. “Finally someone has combined the critical features needed for successful development of embedded systems: [Hume has] exactly the features I have been looking for … I have actually designed a language myself to accomplish some of the goals, but I can scrap that now since you seem to get it all right (unlike me),” wrote one Swedish researcher not associated with the project.

“We have had many more people contact us spontaneously, so clearly engineers and scientists are looking for a new way of developing embedded systems.

“Funding agencies, too, are very enthusiastic, and the consortium received further funds to work on software for an autonomous vehicle for the UK government. This was really a piece of blue sky research, we were not a commercialisation project. But we have developed a strong prototype and worked out where the shoe pinches,” says Hammond.

The project gained from a very high level of co-operation and synergy between the partners. LASMEA, in Clermont-Ferrand, used the RobuCab to test the system, while, AbsInt GmBH in Saarbrucken, Germany, produced high-quality execution time information. The Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich worked on resource certification analysis, while Heriot-Watt University in the UK provided compilers and other tools.

The University of St. Andrews developed fundamental models and analyses, as well as overseeing the project. "The fit was very good, and we've developed strong links over the course of the project," says Hammond.

The Embounded team has submitted proposals for a follow-on EU-funded project. And the work on Hume and its associated methodologies and tools will carry on regardless, edging forward, like RobuCab, towards tougher and smarter embedded systems.

Christian Nielsen | alfa
Further information:
http://cordis.europa.eu/ictresults/index.cfm/section/news/tpl/article/id/89601

More articles from Information Technology:

nachricht Camera technology in vehicles: Low-latency image data compression
22.02.2018 | Fraunhofer-Institut für Nachrichtentechnik, Heinrich-Hertz-Institut, HHI

nachricht Developing reliable quantum computers
22.02.2018 | Albert-Ludwigs-Universität Freiburg im Breisgau

All articles from Information Technology >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Developing reliable quantum computers

International research team makes important step on the path to solving certification problems

Quantum computers may one day solve algorithmic problems which even the biggest supercomputers today can’t manage. But how do you test a quantum computer to...

Im Focus: In best circles: First integrated circuit from self-assembled polymer

For the first time, a team of researchers at the Max-Planck Institute (MPI) for Polymer Research in Mainz, Germany, has succeeded in making an integrated circuit (IC) from just a monolayer of a semiconducting polymer via a bottom-up, self-assembly approach.

In the self-assembly process, the semiconducting polymer arranges itself into an ordered monolayer in a transistor. The transistors are binary switches used...

Im Focus: Demonstration of a single molecule piezoelectric effect

Breakthrough provides a new concept of the design of molecular motors, sensors and electricity generators at nanoscale

Researchers from the Institute of Organic Chemistry and Biochemistry of the CAS (IOCB Prague), Institute of Physics of the CAS (IP CAS) and Palacký University...

Im Focus: Hybrid optics bring color imaging using ultrathin metalenses into focus

For photographers and scientists, lenses are lifesavers. They reflect and refract light, making possible the imaging systems that drive discovery through the microscope and preserve history through cameras.

But today's glass-based lenses are bulky and resist miniaturization. Next-generation technologies, such as ultrathin cameras or tiny microscopes, require...

Im Focus: Stem cell divisions in the adult brain seen for the first time

Scientists from the University of Zurich have succeeded for the first time in tracking individual stem cells and their neuronal progeny over months within the intact adult brain. This study sheds light on how new neurons are produced throughout life.

The generation of new nerve cells was once thought to taper off at the end of embryonic development. However, recent research has shown that the adult brain...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

VideoLinks
Industry & Economy
Event News

2nd International Conference on High Temperature Shape Memory Alloys (HTSMAs)

15.02.2018 | Event News

Aachen DC Grid Summit 2018

13.02.2018 | Event News

How Global Climate Policy Can Learn from the Energy Transition

12.02.2018 | Event News

 
Latest News

The RWI/ISL-Container Throughput Index started off well in 2018

22.02.2018 | Business and Finance

FAU researchers demonstrate that an oxygen sensor in the body reduces inflammation

22.02.2018 | Health and Medicine

Histology in 3D: new staining method enables Nano-CT imaging of tissue samples

22.02.2018 | Life Sciences

VideoLinks
Science & Research
Overview of more VideoLinks >>>