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 Cutting edge research for the industries of tomorrow – DFKI and NICT expand cooperation
21.03.2017 | Deutsches Forschungszentrum für Künstliche Intelligenz GmbH, DFKI

nachricht Molecular motor-powered biocomputers
20.03.2017 | Technische Universität Dresden

All articles from Information Technology >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

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

Im Focus: Giant Magnetic Fields in the Universe

Astronomers from Bonn and Tautenburg in Thuringia (Germany) used the 100-m radio telescope at Effelsberg to observe several galaxy clusters. At the edges of these large accumulations of dark matter, stellar systems (galaxies), hot gas, and charged particles, they found magnetic fields that are exceptionally ordered over distances of many million light years. This makes them the most extended magnetic fields in the universe known so far.

The results will be published on March 22 in the journal „Astronomy & Astrophysics“.

Galaxy clusters are the largest gravitationally bound structures in the universe. With a typical extent of about 10 million light years, i.e. 100 times the...

Im Focus: Tracing down linear ubiquitination

Researchers at the Goethe University Frankfurt, together with partners from the University of Tübingen in Germany and Queen Mary University as well as Francis Crick Institute from London (UK) have developed a novel technology to decipher the secret ubiquitin code.

Ubiquitin is a small protein that can be linked to other cellular proteins, thereby controlling and modulating their functions. The attachment occurs in many...

Im Focus: Perovskite edges can be tuned for optoelectronic performance

Layered 2D material improves efficiency for solar cells and LEDs

In the eternal search for next generation high-efficiency solar cells and LEDs, scientists at Los Alamos National Laboratory and their partners are creating...

Im Focus: Polymer-coated silicon nanosheets as alternative to graphene: A perfect team for nanoelectronics

Silicon nanosheets are thin, two-dimensional layers with exceptional optoelectronic properties very similar to those of graphene. Albeit, the nanosheets are less stable. Now researchers at the Technical University of Munich (TUM) have, for the first time ever, produced a composite material combining silicon nanosheets and a polymer that is both UV-resistant and easy to process. This brings the scientists a significant step closer to industrial applications like flexible displays and photosensors.

Silicon nanosheets are thin, two-dimensional layers with exceptional optoelectronic properties very similar to those of graphene. Albeit, the nanosheets are...

Im Focus: Researchers Imitate Molecular Crowding in Cells

Enzymes behave differently in a test tube compared with the molecular scrum of a living cell. Chemists from the University of Basel have now been able to simulate these confined natural conditions in artificial vesicles for the first time. As reported in the academic journal Small, the results are offering better insight into the development of nanoreactors and artificial organelles.

Enzymes behave differently in a test tube compared with the molecular scrum of a living cell. Chemists from the University of Basel have now been able to...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

International Land Use Symposium ILUS 2017: Call for Abstracts and Registration open

20.03.2017 | Event News

CONNECT 2017: International congress on connective tissue

14.03.2017 | Event News

ICTM Conference: Turbine Construction between Big Data and Additive Manufacturing

07.03.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Argon is not the 'dope' for metallic hydrogen

24.03.2017 | Materials Sciences

Astronomers find unexpected, dust-obscured star formation in distant galaxy

24.03.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

Gravitational wave kicks monster black hole out of galactic core

24.03.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>