Embedded systems have multiple functionalities in the aerospace industry and can be basic or highly complex. One thing is certain, this technology is vital for mission-critical tasks, reliability and safety. Aerospace Tech Review spoke to subject matter experts at Rapita, CoreAVI and TTTech to learn about the latest developments in embedded systems technology.
As the world’s aircraft become more sophisticated and data-driven, embedded avionics systems that integrate computer hardware and software to manage specific onboard functions are becoming more common. This is why the trends and advances that are occurring in the embedded avionics systems market are of great importance to the entire aviation industry, and worth monitoring by anyone whose job touches upon aircraft construction, operations and maintenance.
To get a better perspective on this topic, Aerospace Tech Review conducted an “ATR Roundtable” with experts in the embedded systems industry. They are Nick Bowles, head of marketing with Rapita Systems (rapitasystems.com), Neil Stroud, vice president of business development and marketing with CoreAVI Inc. (www.coreavi.com), and Kurt Doppelbauer, vice president strategic sales & business development, Business Unit Aerospace, TTTech (www.tttech.com).
Aerospace Tech Review: Let’s start with you telling us about your company’s work in embedded avionics systems.
Nick Bowles: We provide tools (Rapita Verification Suite) and services to the embedded avionics industry that help with verifying software, as per DO-178C guidelines. (Editor’s note: DO-178C, Software Considerations in Airborne Systems and Equipment Certification is the primary document used by the FAA, EASA and Transport Canada to approve commercial software-based aerospace systems.)
Neil Stroud: CoreAVI is focused on the safety domain delivering open standards-based certified software drivers and libraries. They are based on VulkanSC and OpenGL SC that enable companies to develop and deploy the safest graphics and compute applications up to DO-178C DAL A levels.
CoreAVI enables our customers to efficiently scale their massive safety critical software investment and ROI through open APIs (application programming interfaces) accelerating certification cycles and time to revenue whilst maintaining the highest levels of safety. We are people innovating safety in an autonomous world.
Kurt Doppelbauer: TTTech Aerospace provides high-performance deterministic embedded network platform solutions, certified and certifiable to level A DO-178/DO-254. Our products have completed over 1 billion flight hours in Level A safety-critical applications like fly-by-wire, power systems, avionics, engine controls and environmental control systems.
We offer a complete integrated network platform solution, from chip IP, ASICs, on-board hardware to configuration and qualified verification tools that enable simpler system integration and reconfiguration, the set-up of deterministic networks (ARINC 664 part 7 / AFDX, TTEthernet, TTP) that enable the design and integration of advanced integrated aircraft systems that are used by worldwide industry market leaders and their systems suppliers in their large commercial programs. We are also well prepared to serve modernization initiatives with the IEEE 802.1-based TSN standards to support mixed-criticality system needs both on compute level and on the networking side.
Aerospace Tech Review: What trends are influencing the development of embedded avionics systems in terms of the products your company produces, and the market in general?
Bowles: While Agile software development methodologies have been widely used in many industries for a number of years, it is only recently that embedded avionics have started to embrace this approach.
It is an accepted principle in embedded systems development that detecting errors late in the development lifecycle means they are significantly more expensive to fix than if detected earlier. With this in mind, Agile methodologies, where testing happens earlier, and defects are identified and resolved sooner, confer obvious benefits to cost and time-sensitive avionics projects. By emphasizing an iterative, incremental and rapidly evolving approach to development, Agile also enables early communication and feedback from project stakeholders.
Stroud: Performance requirements, safety, consolidation and scalability are all key trends that are heavily influencing embedded avionics systems.
Bowles: Rapid turnover and change monitoring are crucial in Agile workflows. To support our customers that want to move to an Agile development philosophy, we have developed the Rapita Verification Suite (RVS) to enable a quick testing cycle and integrate with our customers’ existing development environments and toolchains, including source code and requirements management, issue tracking and continuous integration software. This improves the efficiency of software development, verification, and problem resolution processes.
RVS supports rapid turnover by allowing automated generation of test templates and test vectors for boundary values. It also supports change monitoring by integrating with a customer’s configuration management, requirements management and continuous integration software, including dedicated plugins for Jenkins and Atlassian Bamboo.
As the industry moves towards adopting Agile development methodologies, tool features such as integration with CI tools including Jenkins (pictured) support rapid change monitoring and automated testing.
Doppelbauer: There are three key trends we see in the market. Firstly, the trend towards more integrated systems that reduce size, weight, power and cost (SWaP-C), allowing for easier handling of equipment and lowering total lifecycle cost. Secondly, the need for substantially higher data transfer rates (versus ARINC 429 or CAN/ARINC 825) as modern avionics systems gather and process a lot more data than their predecessors to handle current needs as well as future upgradability and technology insertion. And thirdly, the need for versatility i.e. products have to be able to accommodate different form factors and network requirements so they can be used for a wide range of applications and systems as well as on different aircraft and rotorcraft programs.
We also see the need to support a more Agile development workflow, which has been common in other industries for many years. The same principles apply to integrated modular avionics (IMA) that enable the continuous integration of applications and services into very complex networked architectures. TTTech Aerospace supports customers in mastering architectural complexity with its strong background in networking technology and tools supporting the Software Defined Networking paradigm in highly regulated environments.
Aerospace Tech Review: What are your customers asking for, when it comes to advances in embedded avionics systems, and why?
Stroud: Customers are asking for multiple things to help them solve their challenges. Firstly, accelerated delivery schedules to enable them to certify and deploy more quickly against tight project timelines. From a technology point of view, as well as safe graphics applications such as PFDs, safe computers and safe AI are becoming increasingly important. This requires deterministic execution of neural nets. Support of mixed criticality on single platforms is becoming more pervasive requiring virtualization support.
Bowles: Over the last few years, our customers have been increasingly asking for a comprehensive verification and certification solution that enables the use of multicore processors in embedded avionics systems. While multicore platforms offer improved SwaP (size, weight and power) characteristics and longer-term supply security, their behavior is non-deterministic due to the presence of interference channels. These interference channels, often caused by inter-core competition for shared resources, can impact software execution times and cause timing deadlines to be missed, making the certification of their use in embedded avionics systems challenging.
Designing and certifying multicore hardware and software are key considerations for all major avionics suppliers as we move forward as an industry. Certification guidelines for multicore processors have recently been formalized via “A(M)C 20-193”, which sets out a series of objectives that must be met when developing multi core-based embedded avionics systems. These objectives supplement DO-178C guidance.
Interference, which affects timing behavior for multicore software, can result from contention on shared resources used by different cores in a multicore system
Doppelbauer: Our customers want certifiable, cost-efficient, versatile and high-performance solutions that simplify system setup and maintenance. We have built our aerospace product portfolio on open standards compatibility, reliability and certifiability to the highest standards.
In view of the demand for these high performance, scalable and modular network platforms and supporting products, customers are asking for solution partners that help them build, integrate, test, verify, and certify the systems.
Aerospace Tech Review: What is your company doing to meet these demands, in terms of new products/services and upgrades?
Bowles: To meet the demands of the aerospace and defense avionics industry for a unified solution to address A(M)C 20-193 guidance, Rapita has produced a unique solution – MACH178. MACH178 is an end-to-end solution that supports the certification of multicore DO-178C systems and includes certification artifacts, software tools, engineering services and qualification support. The solution is being used by multiple avionics developers across the globe, including Bell, who are leveraging the benefits of modern multicore processors to meet the demands of their next-generation Invictus 360 rotorcraft.
Stroud: CoreAVI continues to develop stack support based on Vulkan SC and OpenGL SC for an increasing number of GPUs including AMD, Intel, Arm, NXP and more to offer developers ‘port of choice’ for their particular designs. Our product features for both high performance safe graphics and safe compute are being continually augmented. Our certification strategy continues at pace offering up to DO-178C DAL A. More details can be seen at www.coreavi.com
Doppelbauer: This year, we have introduced the TTE-Switch Module A664 Pro. It is the world’s first 1 Gbit/s, fully ARINC 664 part 7/AFDX compatible, TTEthernet switch module for the aerospace market. It is certifiable to the highest aerospace safety standards (DAL A) and can be used at the core of a wide range of certifiable on-board Ethernet networks in fixed wing aircraft, business jets, rotorcrafts, advanced air mobility and UAVs (uncrewed aerial vehicles).
The TTE-Switch Module A664 Pro offers high-performance data transfer with speeds of up to 1 Gbit/s that are needed in modern avionics networks. It allows customers to develop their own flight switch for multiple aircraft/rotorcraft and levels of determinism of Ethernet, including “best-effort” Ethernet (IEEE 802.3), ARINC 664 part 7and time-triggered Ethernet (SAE AS6802). This reduces obsolescence and supplier management costs.
The switch module’s small size, weight and power needs allow it to be used in avionics switches with different form factors such as ARINC 600, 3U VPX, 6U VPX or as a standalone line replaceable unit (LRU). When building such a switch, the TTE-Switch Module A664 Pro covers the complex electronics certification for hardware, software, chip and for the systems aspect, offering a simplified way to reach a complete switch certification.
The TTE-Switch Module A664 Pro can be used in applications requiring the highest aerospace safety standards (DAL A) in DO-178C / DO-254. In the future, there will be additional applications, e.g., in the field of urban air mobility (UAM), where DAL A certification will also be a prerequisite.
Aerospace Tech Review: Finally, what new advances/trends in embedded avionics systems do you foresee in the years ahead?
Bowles: One trend influencing the development of embedded avionics systems is the increased adoption of GPUs for safety-critical functions.
Using GPUs for safety-critical avionics systems raises a number of challenges. For example, GPU Compiler translations and libraries are unlikely to be designed to have predictable behavior, and compiler optimizations are less likely to be documented. Another challenge is that GPU threads and cores may be shared among multiple partitions in parallel.
Rapita is involved in ground-breaking work to enable GPU verification for high-criticality avionics systems, including defining a certification approach with a major European OEM. Building on this research, as well as a close partnership with CoreAVI, Rapita plan to develop off-the-shelf solutions for structural code coverage and black-box timing analysis in the future.
As emerging technologies such as eVTOL systems and the use of AI and machine learning become more popular in the coming years, we look forward to working with industry to provide and develop solutions that support the certification of systems using these technologies.
Stroud: We foresee trends such as increasing levels of safety across a broader range of platforms. Also, we expect to see higher levels of platform integration and consolidation with more functions residing on common hardware. Finally, mass deployment of safe AI will be required across a huge range of applications as we drive towards autonomous operation
Doppelbauer: More automation and autonomy are driving the ever increasing need for processing power and upgradability fielded in shorter time cycles, while at the same time raising the bar for the levels of integrity of the overall system. Thus, the integration of constantly changing and augmented functions, as well as verifying and certifying them, requires specific architectures for networked hardware and software platforms that are enabled and orchestrated by powerful software development and verification environments.
One key element is the underlying network integration platform which the industries have agreed to abstract via Software Defined Networks. The decoupling of the application from the hardware and the network is the fundamental paradigm in a software defined environment that is required to enable a continuous integration development process and to validate/verify the different planes independently from each other. In a market where Zero Trust, endorsing concepts such as Micro Segmentation and Least Functionality, is a fundamental requirement for a system’s cyber resilience, ensuring these principles at design level is the only way to master that complexity. TTTech Aerospace foresees new, deeply vertically integrated platforms that allow development of mixed-criticality applications decoupled from the physical world, i.e. the actual compute hardware as well as the physical network. This will allow to develop new applications as well as reuse existing code more rapidly, while meeting the needs for innovation in a contested environment.