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.
“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
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
Supercomputing the emergence of material behavior
18.05.2018 | University of Texas at Austin, Texas Advanced Computing Center
Keeping a Close Eye on Ice Loss
18.05.2018 | Alfred-Wegener-Institut, Helmholtz-Zentrum für Polar- und Meeresforschung
At the LASYS 2018, from June 5th to 7th, the Laser Zentrum Hannover e.V. (LZH) will be showcasing processes for the laser material processing of tomorrow in hall 4 at stand 4E75. With blown bomb shells the LZH will present first results of a research project on civil security.
At this year's LASYS, the LZH will exhibit light-based processes such as cutting, welding, ablation and structuring as well as additive manufacturing for...
There are videos on the internet that can make one marvel at technology. For example, a smartphone is casually bent around the arm or a thin-film display is rolled in all directions and with almost every diameter. From the user's point of view, this looks fantastic. From a professional point of view, however, the question arises: Is that already possible?
At Display Week 2018, scientists from the Fraunhofer Institute for Applied Polymer Research IAP will be demonstrating today’s technological possibilities and...
So-called quantum many-body scars allow quantum systems to stay out of equilibrium much longer, explaining experiment | Study published in Nature Physics
Recently, researchers from Harvard and MIT succeeded in trapping a record 53 atoms and individually controlling their quantum state, realizing what is called a...
The historic first detection of gravitational waves from colliding black holes far outside our galaxy opened a new window to understanding the universe. A...
A team led by Austrian experimental physicist Rainer Blatt has succeeded in characterizing the quantum entanglement of two spatially separated atoms by observing their light emission. This fundamental demonstration could lead to the development of highly sensitive optical gradiometers for the precise measurement of the gravitational field or the earth's magnetic field.
The age of quantum technology has long been heralded. Decades of research into the quantum world have led to the development of methods that make it possible...
02.05.2018 | Event News
13.04.2018 | Event News
12.04.2018 | Event News
22.05.2018 | Life Sciences
22.05.2018 | Earth Sciences
22.05.2018 | Trade Fair News