Safer vehicles through aircraft technology

July 04, 2012 // By Matthias Gerlach and Stefaan Sonck Thiebaut, OpenSynergy
The growing number of electronic control devices in vehicles calls for a short-term solution that allows several functions to be integrated onto one chip. Avionics provides one model: in that field, the technology of partitioning has already been in use for ten years [1]. A microkernel, acting as the basic operating system, generates partitions in which other operating systems can run. Software company OpenSynergy has made this technology part of its standard software platform, and prepared it for adoption by the car industry. This article addresses this transference, in particular with regard to maintaining the safety standards that apply to the development of automotive software.

The large number of electronic control devices found in vehicles already has a significant impact on the total weight of cars, and thus on their fuel consumption. Electronic hardware also adds considerable cost, so that using even more hardware in vehicles would therefore be irresponsible, both ecologically and economically. Carmakers and automotive suppliers have only one option: to integrate several functions onto one control device. The safest and most efficient solution is the combination of microkernel and virtualization technology.

In this technology, a microkernel forms the basis of the software architecture, providing the basic functions to allow the integration of additional operating systems. It generates different logical software partitions on the processor. Operating systems with very different requirements can be integrated onto each of these partitions, because the partitions run independently of one another. Even if the software in one partition crashes, the entire system continues to run unhindered. This type of system design prevents the operating systems from influencing one another, and thus simultaneously enhances protection from malicious attacks.

Virtualization technology means that the operating systems installed in the partitions no longer use the physical hardware; they use "virtual" hardware instead. This allows even highly complex operating systems to run in a partition.

Partitioning already in use in aircraft

Partitioning through the use of microkernels has already been in use in aircraft technology for over ten years. This technology is used as part of integrated modular avionics (IMA) architecture (illustration 1). Several years ago engineers were able to reduce the number of control devices required in aircraft even as the number of software systems needed continued to rise. Airbus, for example, uses the microkernel PikeOS from SYSGO AG for its long-haul Airbus A350 aircraft, as well as for its military cargo plane Airbus A400M. PikeOS is certified in accordance with the DO-178B safety standard.

The fact that microkernel technology reached maturity long ago in avionics gives rise to the

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