Building better internal processors
From cars and planes to medical scanners, many features of modern life rely on multiple internal electronic systems. At the same time, the availability of multi-core computing platforms is a breakthrough for system and application integration. The ARTEMIS/ECSEL-JU and industry co-funded project EMC2 has developed tools to run real-time applications of mixed criticality into multi-core computing systems which increase efficiency while maintaining safety and function.
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Today’s world is full of complex mechanical devices, most of which contain several internal electronic controllers doing different jobs. These are known as embedded systems. For example, a modern car may have 100 different such systems controlling everything from the airbags to the windows and on-board entertainment. Aircraft also have many different computers, each with a particular role. Similarly, equipment ranging from industrial manufacturing machines to medical scanners has multiple embedded processors.
Having many embedded systems is expensive and inefficient, as each one must be designed and built separately and requires a power source. These systems all need to ‘talk’ to each other to ensure each device functions correctly. And since some may be more important for safety and security than others they must be prioritised. As a result, the growing need for embedded systems is a major bottleneck in the development of more efficient, cheaper, sustainable devices something the EU-funded EMC2 project aimed to address.
“Many of the innovations in today's devices are based on many small embedded systems doing a particular, isolated job,” says Frank Oppenheimer of German project partner OFFIS who was a member of the EMC2 management team. “If you want more and more functions in your device you can’t just keep adding hundreds more embedded systems. So the trend is to integrate different functions into a single hardware platform.”
Combining multiple functions into one processor brings a number of challenges. In a car, for example, a manufacturer might want to integrate the entertainment system with a processor controlling anti-collision technology and other functions. These two functions have very different levels of so-called criticality: a car is still safe if the video player does not work but is very dangerous if the anti-lock braking system fails.
However, playing videos requires a lot of computing power and the video player might freeze or crash. The embedded system must be able to accurately allocate its resources so that the most important functions always get priority and are not affected by problems in non-critical areas.
In addition to integrating several functions, many advanced features such as automated driving require far more computational power than traditional electronic microcontrollers can provide. EMC2 responded by developing tools and technologies for modern multi-core processors that deliver enough computing resources for embedded systems controlling functions with different criticalities.
EMC2 project brought together over 100 partners across Europe to develop software and hardware tools for combined embedded systems that can perform multiple functions safely and efficiently across many different technologies and applications.
“We have many outputs from the project but think of them as an ecosystem of resources like a toolkit or building blocks,” says Oppenheimer. “We have developed new hardware such as multi-core processors, as well as run-time systems to allow multiple applications to run without interfering with each other.”
But, he adds, one size does not fit all. “There is no silver bullet for all systems a solution in a car might not work in a medical scanner. And a tiny pacemaker in the heart cannot use the same embedded system as an aeroplane,” he says. “We have therefore enabled manufacturers to combine different building blocks together and test them to find solutions for their particular problem areas.”
Embedded systems are a fundamental part of today’s machines and devices. By finding ways to combine systems, the EMC2 project has the potential to revolutionise manufacturing. “We would like this to become sustainable, systematic and accessible,” Oppenheimer says.
EMC2 received funding from the EU through the ARTEMIS Joint Undertaking, which combines FP7 funds with dedicated financial support of the Joint Undertaking member states and in-kind contributions from the project beneficiaries. Since 2014, the ECSEL Joint Undertaking has assumed and continued the activities of the ARTEMIS Joint Undertaking under the H2020 programme.