Next-generation embedded systems need new technology

25 oktober 2019

Cars, satellites, aircraft, robots and pacemakers are all controlled by software in embedded computer systems. That they should be updatable in a simple and, above all, safe way without the entire unit needing to be replaced is crucial for future technological development. Uppsala professor Wang Yi is leading an interdisciplinary project to develop a new system architecture for tomorrow’s embedded software in advanced electronics.

Wang Yi. Photo: Kajsa Örjavik

“We aim to develop new theories and technology for building systems that can be updated without going wrong. It must be possible to guarantee that they’ll work the way we want them to. Today, that isn’t feasible – we don’t even know how to build such systems. That’s why basic research is needed,” says Wang Yi, Professor at the Department of Information Technology.

In planning his next five years as research leader of a project recently awarded a SEK 25 million grant from the Knut and Alice Wallenberg Foundation (KAW), Wang Yi is most concerned with time, financial and, not least, safety aspects. They are what he wants to improve, for future embedded software in advanced electronics, by creating a new, dynamically updatable system architecture and making it bug-free.

No room for error

An error in updating a mobile phone is no disaster, but in a pacemaker update any malfunction or defect is more critical. If a pacemaker can be updated or upgraded with software and new features, and its energy use modified, it could last many more years. Time and money could be saved and, in particular, the patient would need no further surgery. The critical issue is exactly how reliable the update is. There is no room for error.

“Diabetes is another area where this plays a major role. Say we develop a device that intuitively senses how much insulin the patient needs. It has to be perfectly safe. After all, if the dose is too big or too small the patient may die.”

A future where everything is possible?

Wang Yi’s dream is that, in the future, we shall be able to create and reprogramme industrial products exactly as we wish. Thus, for example, we would be able to design our own car and then, using apps, update or upgrade it by adding self-driving, for example. This should be as simple as updating a mobile phone, and we should be able to rely on everything working. With fail-safe updates, everything is possible.