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05 February 2008, 15:21

TOPCASED: System development using Open Source

Dr. Oliver Diedrich

The TOPCASED project, started by Airbus, sets out to provide new development tools for critical aerospace security systems – using Open Source principles.

The new Airbus A380 is currently the most sophisticated commercial aircraft in terms of computer technology: Pilots control their jets with a joystick (posh name: Sidestick Controller), and all flight manoeuvres are computer-controlled. LCD panels have superseded traditional instruments in the cockpit. Individual systems are closely networked.

When computers play a vital role – in aircraft and car manufacturing, but also in medical equipment or power plant control –, the demands on hardware and software are particularly high. Critical security systems are expected to provide multiple redundancy and proven error-free operation as standard. Therefore, development is much more involved – and the respective development tools have to meet particular requirements. These requirements cannot be met by the traditional software market, explains Gérard Ladier, Senior Manager Software Engineering in the Airbus Avionics & Simulation Products Software department.

Computers rule the cockpit of the new Airbus 380

An Airbus aircraft has a working life of up to 30 years. On-board hardware and software needs to be maintained, updated and adapted to new specifications for the same amount of time. However, 30 years is an eternity in the short-lived software industry. Which software vendor can nowadays guarantee that their tools will still be usable and meet all the relevant requirements in 2030? And the production path from system specifications to tested control programs and the hardware to run them on requires many tools.

Solution: Open Source

Led by aircraft manufacturer Airbus, several companies located in the French Aerospace Valley close to Toulouse have, therefore, formed a consortium and initiated the TOPCASED Open Source project to create the necessary system development tools. TOPCASED is an acronym for Toolkit in Open source for Critical Applications & Systems Development.

"This is a very accurate description of what we want to achieve with this project", says Ladier: "TOPCASED aims at providing a comprehensive toolkit which covers the entire development process from establishing system specifications to implementing hardware and software, including project-wide management tasks like requirements tracing, version control and change management." According to Ladier, tool quality is a major focus, since the tools are intended for developing particularly reliable systems.

Airbus manager Ladier
Airbus manager Ladier: Open Source is a credible solution for our problems

In the Airbus manager's view, projects like Eclipse are proof that Open Source is now mature enough to provide credible solutions for creating innovative and reliable system development tools with long-term support. "If the TOPCASED project is successful, it could become a core element for solving the problems we have with many system development tools regarding their availability and cost", explains Ladier. In addition, end users would already get involved at the definition stage of their most important tools this way.

Apart from Airbus numerous – predominantly French – companies in the aerospace and car industries, as well as hardware and software vendors, universities and research institutes are involved in the project. Among the partners are satellite manufacturer EADS Astrium, Siemens VDO Automotive suppliers, the French space agency CNES, electronics manufacturers Rockwell Collins and Thales, the software forges Adacore, Anyware Technologie, ELLIDISS Software and TNI Software, some IT service providers specialising in avionics, automotive and embedded systems, and Carnegie Mellon University as well as several French research institutes and top universities specialising in aerospace technology, IT and electronics. More companies have already expressed their interest in becoming partners, and international partnerships are on the agenda.

The project is tightly organised: A steering group deals with strategic and organisational considerations and delegates the technological part to an architectural committee and the quality control of the project to a quality control group. Sub-projects work on individual tool families and are teamed up with partners who are responsible for the research and development in each respective area. TOPCASED is co-chaired by an Airbus representative and a joint representative of the academic partner institutions.

The project is funded through both commercial and public sources: TOPCASED is a part of the ISAURE (Ingénierie des Systèmes embarqués Aéronautiques, de l'Automobile, des Radiocommunications et de l'Espace) government programme which supports the development of embedded systems for aerospace, automotive and radio technology purposes. Additional projects within this programme complete the range of system development tools.

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