Alex Wilson, director - EMEA, APAC and Japan A&D market at Wind River - examines how virtualisation has been implemented into defence and aerospace applications


ixing software at different, safety-critical levels is becoming

increasingly common in aerospace and defence designs. Systems need to combine software, written to the DO-178C standard, while supporting non-certified applications. On this, one should consider how machine learning algorithms and vision applications can be used next. Communications and control systems must deliver stringent cybersecurity protection. But they must also support a wide range of communication protocols, in order to connect with external systems of an unknown security pedigree.

All of this raises a significant challenge for system designers, as there is no easy or affordable way to achieve the right level of certification, or testing, with this new class of heterogeneous systems. In the past, developers have used separate, federated systems to overcome some of these challenges. But maintaining this strategy is problematic when it comes to managing lifecycle costs and size, weight and power specifications. This is putting pressure on new,

feature-rich applications to run within the same physical and electrical footprint as legacy systems. At the same time, these newer applications have to provide process isolation, to ensure that safety is not compromised as a result of the interaction of critical and general- purpose components.

Moreover, traditional validation and verification can take years, costing millions of dollars. This can limit the use of the latest software and hardware components, restricting their functionality. One way to overcome these

tests is to use a single operating platform running on modern, cost effective hardware, while providing a robust and secure separation of the software elements into secure partitions


using virtualisation, enabling predictable performance for the mission and safety-critical components. Examples include a secure, certified real-time operating system, while at the same time supporting open source and non-certified applications in other partitions, such as machine learning. Using a single hardware platform, with secure virtualisation software, solves the challenges of affordability, safety certification, integration of legacy software and adherence to standards. One such example is the Wind River Helix Virtualisation Platform (Helix Platform). It is based on a certifiable Type-1 hypervisor that supports a wide range of applications, all with different levels of criticality. Using the Helix Platform, these applications can run simultaneously on a single multi-core microprocessor. This allows the VxWorks’ real-time operating system to run on the same device as Wind River Linux. Furthermore, Helix Platform supports any unmodified operating system, such as Linux or Windows. The Type 1 hypervisor virtualisation layer provides full control over hardware configuration. It allows for high- performance compute cycles and low- overhead I/O access, using the hardware virtualisation accelerators available in mainstream processors. The advantage of the virtualisation

technology is not just the development of equipment. The business model for

vendors changes, as it allows equipment to be easily upgraded with new applications, while supporting legacy software, all without compromising the safety critical operation. These new applications can also be shared across programmes, dramatically reducing development and test costs. Wind River development tools, such as Workbench and Simics, are also supported on this platform. Workbench is used to edit, compile, debug and analyse code in the system, while Simics allows developers to simulate full-systems for testing and validation. This means the custom applications can be developed and tested alongside the VxWorks safety-critical applications, and adjacent to general purpose applications running on Linux. This extends to modular hardware architectures, such as integrated modular avionics (IMA), and software applications with vision processing and machine learning. As a result, the applications can be re-used for different customer requirements, without compromising the safety and security certifications. The virtualisation approach opens up

Hardware and software have a new beneficiary

the platform, permitting third party vendors who specialise in specific disciplines, such as safety-critical graphics, to develop elements of the system alongside the lead developers. Wind River Professional services, rated

to level 3 of the capability maturity model integration model (CMMI), can assist design and programme teams in meeting standards and certification requirements, by utilising platforms such as Helix Platform.

All of this helps aerospace and defence developers combine multiple operating systems, with applications functioning at different levels of criticality, onto a single, cost-effective multi-core system.


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