Monday Oct 17, 2011

Greg Bollella and Eric Jensen on the Future of Cyber-Physical Systems with Embedded Java and Berkeley DB

At JavaOne 2011, Greg Bollella, Chief Architect for Embedded Java and Eric Jensen, Oracle Principal Product Manager and a former embedded developer, gave a session (25143) titled “Telemetry and Synchronization with Embedded Java and Berkeley DB”. Bollella has been a leader in the Embedded Java and real-time Java space since Java was first applied there.

The presentation offered a vision of the potential future of Cyber-Physical Systems (CPS), defined as, “a system featuring a tight combination and coordination between the systems computational and physical elements,” that was so powerful that even if the expectations turn out to be exaggerated, CPS technological change will, in a decade or so, significantly alter our lives in pervasive and unforeseeable ways. Bollella went so far as to say that CPS applications have the potential to dwarf the 20th Century IT Revolution.

He drew a contrast between where CPS applications are in use today and where they will be in use tomorrow.

Today: High confidence medical devices and systems; assisted living; process control (metal smelting, chemical plants, refineries); traffic control and safety; advanced automotive systems; energy conservation; environmental control (electric power, water resources, and communications systems); distributed robotics (telepresence, telemedicine); defense systems; manufacturing; smart structures; home automation; building automation; transportation (rail, air, water, road); retail systems (point of sale and monitoring); entertainment industry; mining; industrial control (power generation).

Tomorrow:  Distributed micro-power generation; highly advanced autonomous driver assistance features; networked autonomous automobiles; networked building automation systems; cognitive radio (distributed consensus about bandwidth availability); large-scale RFID-based servicing systems which could acquire the nature of distributed real-time control systems; autonomous air traffic control; advanced industrial and home networked robotics; intelligent traffic control systems; intelligent autonomous power (gas/electricity); distribution systems; networked personal medical monitoring devices.

A lot to take in – the technology all around us growing in intelligence! In 2009, 3.9 billion embedded processors were shipped – the number is expected to double to roughly 8 billion by 2015. Some predict that by 2025 the number will be well into the trillions. And currently, an estimated five times more embedded software is written than all other software today. If the reality is anywhere close to the projections and estimates, we are in for an interesting ride on some intelligent transport.

Telemetry

Bollella went on to discuss telemetry, a term frequently used by NASA and defined as a technology that “allows remote measurement and reporting of information”. Central to telemetry is the idea that the information does not persist on the device after measurement. Uses of telemetry in the automotive realm include streaming operational data from the vehicle to the manufacturer’s IT system for analysis, services for vehicle operator, failure prediction, and feedback to design teams on wear and failure rates. For industrial automation, telemetry is used for failure prediction and to process monitoring and reporting

Synchronization

Bollella explained that his use of synchronization is idiosyncratic to database technology and involves two synchronized databases containing the same set of data and relationships. Any change in one database appears (after some indeterminate delay) in the other. The information on the device persists on the device as long as it does on the backend

The use cases for synchronization are widespread and include:

•    Healthcare: Telemedicine, Home health systems, Mobile health practitioners
•    Industrial: Manufacturing, Mining
•    Energy: Smart Grid, Energy Management
•    Entertainment: TVs, set top boxes, automotive rear-seat entertainment
•    Distribution/Shipping: Everything from local deliveries to transoceanic cargo shipments
•    Government: Border Control, Resource Management, Customs, Immigration, Land Management, Forest Service, etc
•    Law Enforcement/Military: Police officers and soldiers in the field, also aboard Naval vessels
•    Retail: Real time inventory linked to point-of-sale transactions
•    Distribution/Shipping: Everything from local deliveries to transoceanic cargo shipments

Bollella acknowledged that serious development challenges remain. The current state of CPS connectivity is poor, with the vast majority being standalone. Given the highly connected world of social networking, mobile devices, and the web, this might be surprising. But it is important to consider that these are two technological areas have evolved in environments with different demands. CPS is focused on real-time, predictability, safety, security, and fault tolerance; the Web is a different matter.

CPS requires real-time with predictable control loops -- there are no standard communication protocols or Ethernet or “IP-over” functionality on devices. There are harsh environments, especially in spacecrafts, that can affect wired Ethernet, and there exists incompatibility of data formats and communication protocols with IT standards.

Perhaps of greatest importance, there has been little perceived need for CPS connectivity with devices. But this is changing rapidly, and with it, obstacles are being overcome as one of the major trends in embedded is connectivity development. Bollella admitted that there were a lot of unknowns going into the future, but the challenges are not insurmountable.

Oracle’s Eric Jensen took over and gave some details about the Oracle Berkeley DB and the Oracle Database Mobile Server, which he characterized as the best way to synchronize mobile or embedded applications that utilize SQLite or Berkeley DB with an Oracle backend. The embedded Java platform, when coupled with Berkeley DB and Database Mobile Server, has the ability to manage networks of embedded devices using existing enterprise frameworks in a way that could prove to be quite revolutionary

It will be interesting to look back in 10 years and see how much Cyber-Physical Systems have, or have not, changed the world.

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