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DARPA has an interesting program called META that looks at approaches for component based design of complex engineering systems, especially aerospace systems. The idea is interesting and there is definitely already a large and growing number of papers being published at various real-time systems and control conferences on this systems engineering aspect. Yet I must say that I haven’t found a good paper on this subject for systems that involve any kind of analog component. Aviation Week has an article on the topic today that mentions the analogy with hierarchical and component-based automated design of integrated circuits. However, it is well known that these approaches work well with digital circuits but that as soon as analog signals enter the picture, automated design becomes much more complicated. I do not think we currently have proper abstractions necessary for component-based analog or mixed-signal system design. Moreover, these abstractions are likely to be more complex to develop than thinking of a transistor as a switch for digital design. For example, analog component-based design will have to trade-off performance for robustness of the components and convince the system designer that the overall system performance is still acceptable in interesting cases.

Update 11/02/10: Aviation week has another interesting article on systems engineering and integration, which mentions the META program.