Design of Embedded Controllers for Safety Critical Systems

Project IST-2001-38314


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  The design of Embedded Systems (ES) is all about the implementation of a set of functionalities satisfying a number of constraints ranging from performance to cost, emissions, power consumption and weight.


The choice of implementation architecture implies which functionality will be implemented as a hardware component or as software running on a programmable component. In recent years, the functionalities to be implemented in ES have grown in number and complexity so much that the development time is increasingly difficult to predict and to keep in check.


The complexity increase coupled with the constantly evolving specifications has forced designers to look at implementations that are intrinsically flexible, i.e., that can be changed rapidly. Since hardware-manufacturing cycles take time and are expensive, the interest in software-based implementation has risen to previously unseen levels.


The increase in computational power of processors and the corresponding decrease in size and cost have allowed the movement of increasingly functionality to software. Among the many new developments in information technology, the fusion of information processing with physical processes literally changes the physical world around us. From toys to airplanes and from cars to factory robots, computers monitor and control our physical environment. Information processing that is tightly integrated with physical processes is called embedded computing.


Embedded computing is becoming the universal system integrator for physical systems. Its pervasiveness is well illustrated by the following facts: (a) the total shipment of microprocessor units (MPU) and micro control units (MCU) in 1997 was over 4.4 billion units, and of this about 98% related to embedded applications[1]; and (b) between 1994 and 2004 the need for embedded software developers was expected to increase 10 fold.[2]

However, this move corresponds to increasing problems in verifying design correctness, a critical aspect of ES since several application domains, such as transportation and environment monitoring, are characterized by safety considerations that are certainly not interesting for traditional PC-like software applications. In addition, little attention has been traditionally paid to hard constraints on reaction speed, memory footprint and power consumption of software -- these constraints are crucial for ES. Embedded Software (ESW) is really an implementation choice of functionality that can be alternatively implemented as a hardware component and we cannot abstract away hard characteristics of software as we have done in the traditional software domain. No wonder then that we are witnessing a crisis in the ES domain for ESW design.

[1]  K. H. Hodges: “Embedded Micro-component Market Study,” DARPA.

[2]  R. H. Bourgonjon: “Embedded Systems in Consumer Products,” in Lecture Notes on Embedded Systems, LNCS Vol. 1494, 1996, pp. 395-403.