Dedicated electronics that make the grade

Electronic systems in cars, aircrafts, printers, appliances and biomedical devices are all embedded systems, electronics that perform a specific task as opposed to, for example, a computer that is multipurpose. Improved reliability and energy efficiency will address pressing needs.

Complex components and devices can have many embedded systems. For example, cars have embedded systems to control individual functions such as anti-locking brakes, heating and air conditioning, and automatic transmission. While general-purpose systems have their own characteristics, dedication to a given task has its own – analogous to a person who specialises in a given job. The job runs more smoothly and quickly as it does not rely on other systems for support or data and there are often fewer errors.

To address the increasing need for power management and reliability of embedded systems, scientists created the EU-funded training network LORELEI (Low-energy and reliable reconfigurable processing systems). A focus on reconfigurability makes it possible to reprogramme for a dedicated task, achieving flexibility but maintaining the benefits of an embedded system.

While numerous constraints must be addressed, including cost, performance, volume, weight and power, the latter has become particularly important given increasing concerns about energy consumption and climate change. Further, new semiconductor components are less reliable, creating the challenge of producing reliable systems with unreliable components.

LORELEI is making excellent progress. Among the many achievements so far, partners evaluated the effects of reconfiguration at the system level, considering processor, memories and interconnection mechanisms. As mentioned previously, reconfigurability of dedicated systems is very important in terms of cost, time and flexibility. A new version of a configurable processor supports improved techniques for the online test of special processors that better accommodates reconfigurability and fault tolerance.

The team has also successfully developed innovative techniques for implementing reconfigurable systems on programmable platforms. The latter could have applications in space systems. Similarly, given the exposure to ionising radiation in space, partners have analysed the effects of radiation on massively parallel platforms such as graphical processing units and evaluated their sensitivity to erroneous signals or data.

Embedded systems play an integral role in numerous devices and applications from cars to space systems. The LORELEI training network is enhancing the reconfigurability, power management and reliability of such systems while preparing a new generation of scientists equipped to carry the torch.