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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.

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I’m coming back from CPS Week, which I attended for the first time. The nice part was that the conference took place at KTH in Stockholm. The not so nice part was that I got stuck (like everybody else there) on my way back due to the volcanic eruption in Iceland. Fortunately I only wanted to reach Paris, not the US. That took me 3 days rather than 3 hours however.

The conference was fun. For those who wonder, CPS stands for “Cyber-Physical System”. Granted, that might not be the best name one could come up with. I actually thought that “cyber-” had disappeared in the 90s, but apparently it has come back. Pretty much every plenary speaker struggled to offer his definition of what a CPS is, but none was very convincing.

So let me maybe say here what CPS are in my opinion. It turns out that many researchers working in different areas, such as real-time systems, control systems, or sensor networks, face the same kind of problems and work on the same systems, but used to go to different conferences and publish in different journals. The goal of CPS week is to change that and foster collaboration, which I think is a good idea. But you need a new word to be able to bring these people together. Clearly, you cannot suddenly tell researchers in real-time systems that now they are doing control theory, and vice-versa. That’s why you can pretty much put whatever you want in your definition of CPS, depending on your background.