Design of Embedded Controllers for Safety Critical Systems

Project IST-2001-38314


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Control Algorithms

Embedded Software






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The design of embedded systems has been for years more a craft than an art or a science. The design methods used suffered from informal specifications, lack of adequate support for verification, fairly long design times. This situation has become untenable as their complexity and safety, cost and power consumption requirements posed upon them has scaled up. The situation has been made even more difficult by the increasing degree of integration in the semiconductor industry that has made possible to build Systems-on-Chips (SOC) with unparalleled compute power. In too many cases, errors in conception and implementation of embedded controllers have caused dramatic problems especially in the area of space exploration and applications (in particular, the Ariadne and the Mars Lander cases). On the other hand, the opportunities offered by technology for embedded controllers are immense: for example, the stability problem of the Mercedes Class A vehicle was solved relatively quickly by devising new control algorithms cleverly implemented in software on the powerful platform that was dedicated to suspension control. This solution would not have been possible just a few years ago.

Our research agenda is to introduce well-founded methods for the design of embedded controllers for safety critical application from specification to implementation. Much research and development work has been done in each of the disciplines that have to be tapped for the solution of the problem. However, a holistic view of the problem is still missing and this is our first important innovation. We believe that realizing this vision for embedded systems requires combining the strengths of several communities of interest: researchers in system level design and Electronic Design Automation (EDA); researchers in embedded SW and systems; and tool companies in both the EDA and ESW domains.   These worlds have traditionally been isolated; it is time for the worlds to collide.

We wish to combine expertise not only in different disciplines, but also from different scientific and industrial cultures: Europe and US. Both industrial and scientific communities realize the importance of embedded systems in their roadmap. In Europe, two networks of excellence have been recently started: one on real-time systems and one in advanced control.

In U.S., we mention the efforts by DARPA (particularly relevant examples are the two programs: Model Based Integration of Embedded Software (MoBIES) and Software Enabled Control (SEC)) and the ones by the Marco Program initiated by the Semiconductor Industry Association (particularly relevant to the theme of COLUMBUS are the Gigascale Silicon Research Center and the Circuit, Software and Components Center). The second innovation comes, then, from the attempt at merging Europe and US expertise in the field. This forms the third leg in an overall plan for science in embedded controller design in Europe with the two networks of excellent being the other two. We believe we can achieve success in this area because of the leadership roles that the proponents have in the world and of their long lasting research interactions among the participants across the Ocean. UCAM, AQUI, INRIA and their subcontractors, are present in the steering committee of both networks of excellence. UCB and VU are in a leadership positions in the DARPA and MARCO programs. The bridge between the UCAM, AQUI and UCB has been ensured by frequent visits and joint research carried out in the past. VU has been interacting on a more recent basis but the research vectors are perfectly aligned.

In the remainder of this section, we analyze our innovation claims in three main areas: control, embedded software and platforms.