Many innovative products in diverse economic sectors depend on greater and greater complexity in the microsystems that provide the desired functionality. Evolution of this complexity is evident in both the physical hardware such as integrated circuits and in the sophisticated software that makes the individual elements work together. It follows that using these hardware and software building blocks to create a cohesive product presents some serious challenges. To meet this crucial need, a Montréal firm has developed new technology that allows clients to integrate the design of hardware and software in embedded systems, resulting in faster development times and therefore lower costs for clients.
Space Codesign Systems Inc. was initially founded in 2008 by Polytechnique Montréal professor Dr. Guy Bois with the support of his graduate student and co-founder, Laurent Moss, who joined the company in 2010. The company’s SpaceStudio™ technology has matured to become a powerful and unique front-end design tool.
The company’s software allows system architects to create virtual platforms and move components back and forth between hardware and software, without recoding or changing the memory mapping. This provides the designer with an important advantage because a function only needs to be designed once.
Space Codesign’s end-to-end automated Electronic System Level (ESL) technology has libraries that presently target aerospace and multimedia applications. The technology was used in the design of a GPS receiver for the European Space Agency’s Galileo global navigation satellite system through a partnership with the French company, M3 Systems. Other aspects of the ESL product have been customized for aerospace applications. Space Codesign has also done a case study that used the design software to develop a Motion-JPEG (M-JPEG) video decoder.
The company has received support from the National Research Council and the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council. Resources and knowledge from CMC Microsystems benefited both the researchers undertaking the early design work and the company once it spun out of the university. CMC subsequently made the ESL technology available to researchers at a number of universities across Canada, Bois reports. These early users provided valuable feedback and influenced the company’s product development.
Bois and his colleagues are now working to broaden the company’s customer base, and have successfully established a presence in the Asian market through a Taiwan-based partner serving customers in the semiconductor industry. This connection allows Space Codesign to connect with systems engineers and promote the benefits of the new ESL design process , which allows designers to “drag and drop” blocks of code from software to hardware. “The tool takes care of all the work that transfer normally requires. There is no more need to recode between C and VHDL, change memory mapping, or be restricted to pre-defined hardware. What took hours now takes minutes,” says Bois.
The company’s innovations address the growing gap between increasingly complex and sophisticated embedded systems and the traditional design process, which can be slow and cumbersome. Since the 1990s, there have been improvements, largely due to hardware design. But software is still developed separately. This means that prototypes require a risky integration phase, involving recoding of software to work with the hardware, or worse, re-engineering the hardware if that doesn’t work.
Space Codesign Systems uses a single language, C/C++, and allows for an integrated design process. “By taking advantage of the SystemC library definitions and TLM-2.0 interface standards—both part of standard IEEE 1666—we can use a single language, C/C++,’’ says Bois. “Under this approach, the hardware/software co-design process is conducted from the very start of an embedded system project.”
“This is a process where there is no longer need for multiple design languages, design teams and models, where the recoding of functions for hardware or software is a thing of the past,” says Bois. Software development can start before physical hardware is available which makes it easier to make modifications. Early validation speeds up the design process, which saves researchers time and money.