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Section: Scientific Foundations

Issues in Design Automation for Complex Systems

Hard Problems

The design of safe real-time control systems is difficult due to various issues, among them their complexity in terms of the number of interacting components, their parallelism, the difference of the considered time scales (continuous or discrete), and the distance between the various theoretical concepts and results that allow the study of different aspects of their behaviors, and the design of controllers.

A currently very active research direction focuses on the models and techniques that allow the automatic use of formal methods. In the field of verification, this concerns in particular the technique of model checking. The verification takes place after the design phase, and requires, in case of problematic diagnostics, expensive backtracks on the specification. We want to provide a more constructive use of formal models, employing them to derive correct executives by formal computation and synthesis, integrated in a compilation process. We therefore use models throughout the design flow from specification to implementation, in particular by automatic generation of embeddable executives.

Applicative Needs

Applicative needs initially come from the fields of safety-critical systems (avionics, energy) and complex systems (telecommunications), embedded in an environment with which they strongly interact (comprising aspects of computer science and control theory). Fields with less criticality, or which support variable degrees of quality of service, such as in the multi-media domain, can also take advantage of methodologies that improve the quality and reliability of software, and reduce the costs of test and correction in the design.

Industrial acceptance, the dissemination, and the deployment of the formal techniques inevitably depend on the usability of such techniques by specialists in the application domain — and not in formal techniques themselves — and also on the integration in the whole design process, which concerns very different problems and techniques. Application domains where the actors are ready to employ specialists in formal methods or advanced control theory are still uncommon. Even then, design methods based on the systematic application of these theoretical results are not ripe. In fields like industrial control, where the use of PLC (Programmable Logic Controller [37] ) is dominant, this question can be decisive.

Essential elements in this direction are the proposal of realistic formal models, validated by experiments, of the usual entities in control theory, and functionalities (i.e., algorithms) that correspond indeed to services useful for the designer. Take, for example, the compilation and optimization taking into account the platforms of execution, the possible failures, or the interactions between the defined automatic control and its implementation. A notable example for the existence of an industrial need is the activity of the Athys company (now belonging to Dassault Systemes ) concerning the development of a specialized programming environment, CellControl , which integrates synchronous tools for compilation and verification, tailored to the application domain. In these areas, there are functionalities that commercial tools do not have yet, and to which our results contribute.

Our Approach

We are proposing effective trade-offs between, on the one hand, expressiveness and formal power, and on the other hand, usability and automation. We focus on the area of specification and construction of correct real-time executives for discrete and continuous control, while keeping an interest in tackling major open problems, relating to the deployment of formal techniques in computer science, especially at the border with control theory. Regarding the applications, we propose new automated functionalities, to be provided to the users in integrated design and programming environments.