Chess: Center for Hybrid and Embedded Software Systems

Embedded software systems are pervasive, found for example in automobiles, aircraft, communications devices such as radios and telephones, toys, and weapons. The software in these systems has to be safe, reliable, and robust (it must work even when the system has partially failed). Moreover, it is different from desktop software in that it fully engages real world. It cannot pause or reboot, for example, because the physical devices with which it interacts will continue to react to the laws of physics. Moreover, this software is called upon to provide ever more sophisticated functionality, and to deal with multiple concurrent events.

The prevailing methods of software engineering do not address well this problem domain. As a consequence, many of the advances in software engineering have not yet made their way into embedded software development. Part of the reason for this is that the basic methods of computer science abstract away certain critical features of the physical world, such as the relentless march of time.

The design of many of these embedded software systems depends on a rich systems science. For example, control theory offers the ability to analyze complex interactions for stability. Signal processing offers the ability to compensate for physical phenomena such as noise and distortion. However, the methods of systems science do not adequately reflect the realities of software, such as the resource management required to share a single processor across multiple tasks.

This center is aimed at bridging this gap between computer science and systems science by developing the foundations of a modern systems science that is simultaneously computational and physical. This represents a major departure from the current, separated structure of computer science (CS), computer engineering (CE), and electrical engineering (EE): it reintegrates information and physical sciences. It will have a profound impact on teaching and research, and is committed to re-architecting and retooling undergraduate education.

The project has five focus areas of research:

Hybrid systems theory.
The focus here is on scaling up pioneering approaches that integrate physical modeling with computational systems. Existing methods work for simple, low-dimensional systems; the researchers will seek methods that apply to complex, interconnected systems with stochastic attributes. As part of this effort, the mathematical foundations of systems theory need to be rebuilt in a way that tightly integrates continuous and discrete domains.
Model-based design.
The main effort here is to develop a set of models with solid mathematical foundations that allow for the systematic integration of diverse efforts in system specification, design, synthesis, analysis and validation, execution, and design evolution. Key to this effort is research in concurrent and real-time models of computation, and in formal ways of modeling the modeling techniques themselves.
Advanced tool architectures.
The deliverables from this project will be a set of reusable, inter-operating software modules, freely distributed as open-source software. These modules will be toolkits and frameworks that support the design of embedded systems, provide infrastructure for domain-specific tools, and provide model-based code generators.
Experimental research.
The program will leverage existing system-building efforts involving avionics, anti-terrorism technologies, vehicle electronics, and autonomous robots. In addition the project will apply its methods to networks of embedded systems for applications such as environment monitoring, building protection, and emergency response.
The program will re-architect and retool teaching at undergraduate and graduate levels by profoundly revising the structure of computer science and electrical engineering curricula. The new curriculum will embrace the emerging modern systems science and future industrial practice.

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