Team, Visitors, External Collaborators
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Research Program
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Section: Research Program

Programming Languages for Cyber-Physical Systems

We study the definition of languages for reactive and Cyber-Physical Systems in which distributed control software interacts closely with physical devices. We focus on languages that mix discrete-time and continuous-time; in particular, the combination of synchronous programming constructs with differential equations, relaxed models of synchrony for distributed systems communicating via periodic sampling or through buffers, and the embedding of synchronous features in a general purpose ML language.

The synchronous language Scade , ( based on synchronous languages principles, is ideal for programming embedded software and is used routinely in the most critical applications. But embedded design also involves modeling the control software together with its environment made of physical devices that are traditionally defined by differential equations that evolve on a continuous-time basis and approximated with a numerical solver. Furthermore, compilation usually produces single-loop code, but implementations increasingly involve multiple and multi-core processors communicating via buffers and shared-memory.

The major player in embedded design for cyber-physical systems is undoubtedly Simulink , ( with Modelica ( a new player. Models created in these tools are used not only for simulation, but also for test-case generation, formal verification, and translation to embedded code. That said, many foundational and practical aspects are not well-treated by existing theory (for instance, hybrid automata), and current tools. In particular, features that mix discrete and continuous time often suffer from inadequacies and bugs. This results in a broken development chain: for the most critical applications, the model of the controller must be reprogrammed into either sequential or synchronous code, and properties verified on the source model have to be reverified on the target code. There is also the question of how much confidence can be placed in the code used for simulation.

We attack these issues through the development of the Zelus research prototype, industrial collaborations with the SCADE team at ANSYS/Esterel-Technologies, and collaboration with Modelica developers at Dassault-Systèmes and the Modelica association. Our approach is to develop a conservative extension of a synchronous language capable of expressing in a single source text a model of the control software and its physical environment, to simulate the whole using off-the-shelf numerical solvers, and to generate target embedded code. Our goal is to increase faithfulness and confidence in both what is actually executed on platforms and what is simulated. The goal of building a language on a strong mathematical basis for hybrid systems is shared with the Ptolemy project at UC Berkeley; our approach is distinguished by building our language on a synchronous semantics, reusing and extending classical synchronous compilation techniques.

Adding continuous time to a synchronous language gives a richer programming model where reactive controllers can be specified in idealized physical time. An example is the so called quasi-periodic architecture studied by Caspi, where independent processors execute periodically and communicate by sampling. We have applied Zelus to model a class of quasi-periodic protocols and to analyze an abstraction proposed for model-checking such systems.

Communication-by-sampling is suitable for control applications where value timeliness is paramount and lost or duplicate values tolerable, but other applications—for instance, those involving video streams—seek a different trade-off through the use of bounded buffers between processes. We developed the n-synchronous model and the programming language Lucy-n to treat this issue.