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Patent Issued for Control Architecture and Process for Porting Application Software for Equipment on Board an Aircraft to a Consumer Standard...

September 11, 2014



Patent Issued for Control Architecture and Process for Porting Application Software for Equipment on Board an Aircraft to a Consumer Standard Computer Hardware Unit

By a News Reporter-Staff News Editor at Computer Weekly News -- A patent by the inventors Baudisson, Jean-Luc (Bras, FR); Lebailly, Jean-Pierre (Gignac-la-Nerthe, FR), filed on March 29, 2011, was published online on August 26, 2014, according to news reporting originating from Alexandria, Virginia, by VerticalNews correspondents.

Patent number 8819646 is assigned to Airbus Helicopters (Marignane Cedex, FR).

The following quote was obtained by the news editors from the background information supplied by the inventors: "(1) Technical Field

"The present invention relates to a method of arranging at least one piece of application software for operating on a computer hardware unit of equipment so that it operates like a piece of equipment that is at least partially virtual on standard computer hardware, and it also relates to a communications control architecture for standard computer hardware including such software.

"(2) Description of Related Art

"More particularly, the present invention relates to arranging a piece of on-board application software on host computer hardware that may be the hardware of the equipment for which the software is intended, in which case the hardware is said to be 'real' and the arrangement then takes the form of hosting. The present invention also relates to arranging the application software on host computer equipment of consumer standard, suitable for example for being coupled to a simulation tool, the other equipment then being said to be 'broadly' virtual when it includes real standard input/output cards, and/or being said to be virtual or 'strictly' virtual when it includes only virtual input/output cards having at least the same functions as real input/output cards, with the arrangement then taking the form of re-hosting or 'porting'.

"Throughout the text below, equipment or hardware that is 'broadly' virtual or 'strictly' virtual is referred to generically as being 'at least partially' virtual.

"The present invention with its associated computer hardware then forms a communications control architecture respectively for the real equipment or for the at least partially virtual equipment. This arrangement may be used for various steps in the lifetime cycle of the software by providing a model that is representative of the behavior of the equipment, in particular it may be used for proceeding with preliminary testing prior to installing the software on the equipment for which it is intended or for testing after the software has been installed on said equipment, e.g. as a result of updating said software, with this being done in a real or a simulated environment for the software or indeed when it is incorporated in application software for providing an environment simulator.

"Below, an example software application used is that of operating equipment on board a vehicle, and in particular an aircraft. It should be understood that this is done purely by way of illustration and does not present any limiting character on the software that forms a portion of the communications control architecture of the present invention.

"In this example, the composition of a communications control architecture A for a piece of equipment that is to be mounted on board a vehicle, and advantageously on board an aircraft, the architecture A being made in accordance with the prior art. This architecture A is made up of a software unit 1a and a computer hardware unit. The software unit comprises various pieces of software, and in particular application software, digital bus controller software, and software for converting physical magnitudes into raw data in the format(s) of digital buses and/or of inputs/outputs of analog and/or discrete type.

"The software unit comprises an original equipment manufacturer's (OEM) software-hardware abstraction software layer corresponding to the computer hardware unit of the equipment in which the software unit is to be arranged. This layer is a software utility that controls the peripherals of the computer hardware unit to provide communication between the software unit and the computer hardware unit.

"The OEM software-hardware abstraction software layer enables the pieces of various software of the software unit to operate with the computer hardware of the equipment for which the software is mainly intended. Said computer hardware unit presents a series of input/output cards with a digital bus and/or inputs/outputs of analog and/or discrete type for implementing the equipment by communicating outside the control architecture, together with corresponding drivers. Communication between the software unit and the computer hardware unit takes place in both directions as represented by arrows. The computer hardware unit communicates outside the control architecture in input as represented by arrow and in output as represented by other arrow.

"During the development lifetime cycle of the software, it is common practice to arrange a piece of application software by re-hosting it on computer hardware units other than the hardware unit of the equipment for which it is intended, the software unit and the re-hosting computer hardware then forming another control architecture referred to as a 'virtual' architecture, as contrasted with a 'real' architecture when the software unit is associated with the hardware unit of its destination equipment. Thus, the software unit can be arranged on a computer hardware unit other than the hardware unit of its equipment, e.g. the hardware of a simulation tool acting as equipment that is, at least partially, virtual. This makes it possible to perform simulations that are representative of the operation of the equipment as reproduced by the simulation tool. For reasons of cost, it is often advantageous for the simulation tool receiving the at least partially virtual equipment to be made up of electronic elements of a standard that is widespread and inexpensive. Thus, it is very important for this arrangement in the form of re-hosting to take place quickly, without difficulty, and to be performed reliably while advantageously being inexpensive.

"Document U.S. Pat. No. 5,551,015 describes a method and a device for directly converting a program in an object code that runs on dedicated equipment to run in various other pieces of equipment having their own architectures. For those other pieces of equipment, the purpose is to simulate fully the operation of the main destination equipment, so as to run the program in object form, i.e. without recompiling it.

"Document U.S. Pat. No. 6,654,950 describes a software arrangement system. In that document, the idea is to convert code in a first language into some other base language that may be the language of the simulation tool.

"The methods and the systems described in those documents involve testing times that are lengthy because of the cycles of modification, unitary testing on the development platform, generating the on-board code, loading it into the target computer, and testing on an integration bench may be very lengthy. That increases development costs when integrating software in target equipment, giving rise in particular to the test bench being monopolized for long periods, to expensive monopolization of real pieces of equipment, to a high cost of platform simulators, in particular for document U.S. Pat. No. 5,551,015, to unavailability of the real pieces of equipment, and to difficulty in obtaining pieces of equipment in their reference software versions, with the same applying to training simulators.

"The simulation of a piece of equipment involving both equipment control functions and a bus controller function cannot be performed using a communications layer that does no more than exchange data in shared memory."

In addition to the background information obtained for this patent, VerticalNews journalists also obtained the inventors' summary information for this patent: "The problem of the present invention is to enable application software to be arranged equally well on the computer hardware of the equipment for which it is intended and on another piece of equipment, said arrangement being performed in a manner that is simple and effective while guaranteeing safe and reliable communication between said software and the computer hardware of the corresponding equipment.

"To this end, the invention provides an arrangement method for arranging a software unit intended for a piece of equipment equally well either on a computer hardware unit of said equipment, the equipment and its computer hardware then being said to be 'real', or else on a computer hardware unit of other equipment, the other equipment and its computer hardware then being said to be 'at least partially virtual', said at least partially virtual computer hardware being 'strictly' virtual when it manages virtual input/output cards, and being 'broadly' virtual when it manages either real input/output cards, or an association of real and virtual input/output cards, wherein the arrangement method comprises the following steps:

"a step of developing a standardized software-hardware abstraction software layer in the software unit, the standardized software-hardware abstraction software layer being made up of a library of primitives that interface firstly with the source codes of the software unit and secondly with the real or at least partially virtual computer hardware unit; and

"a step of developing one real-hardware software layer for each real computer hardware unit or one virtual-hardware software layer for each at least partially virtual computer hardware unit, each real-hardware or virtual-hardware software layer of a hardware unit being suitable for communicating with the standardized software-hardware abstraction software layer, each real-hardware software layer co-operating with real input/output cards and each virtual-hardware software layer co-operating with real and/or virtual input/output cards.

"According to additional embodiments of the present invention:

"the method consists in hosting the software unit on the real hardware unit of the real hardware or in re-hosting the software unit on the at least partially virtual hardware unit;

"the method includes a step of developing a communications software layer implementing and managing data exchanges between said virtual input/output cards, when present, said cards possibly forming portions of an at least partially virtual piece of equipment or of a group of at least partially virtual pieces of equipment of a test or simulation tool;

"the method includes connecting disturbance software to the virtual-hardware software layer to deliver indications of physical disturbances likely to be encountered on the real transmission media and to be conveyed by the communications software layer;

"the method includes a step of testing the virtual-hardware software layer that includes the drivers for real and/or virtual input/output cards and for testing the communications software layer by coupling the software unit running on an at least partially virtual computer hardware unit coupled to at least one simulation tool acting as at least partially virtual equipment;

"the standardized software-hardware abstraction software layer presents a common software structure so as to be capable of being associated equally well with a plurality of real or at least partially virtual computer hardware units;

"the development of the standardized software-hardware abstraction software layer in the software unit comprises: a step of recovering source codes of the application software of the software unit to be arranged; a step of adapting the source codes of said application software to a compiler of the real or at least partially virtual computer hardware unit; and a step of compiling and editing links for said software unit and said standardized software-hardware abstraction software layer;

"the method includes a step of testing the software unit of the equipment on an a standard at least partially virtual computer hardware unit that is coupled at least to a test tool acting as at least partially virtual equipment;

"the method includes integrating or directly coupling a plurality of real input/output cards and/or a plurality of virtual input/output cards with the hardware abstraction software layer via the real-hardware software layer or the virtual-hardware software layer; and

"communication between the software unit and the real or at least partially virtual computer hardware unit takes place using a standardized communications protocol.

"The invention also provides a real or virtual control architecture having a software unit and a computer hardware unit that is either real or at least partially virtual, said real or virtual architecture being allocated to operating a piece of equipment for which it is intended that is said to be respectively real equipment or equipment other than said real equipment, the equipment other than said real equipment being equipment that is at least partially virtual, said real or at least partially virtual computer hardware unit receiving said software unit and being specific to the real or virtual equipment by managing said equipment via real input/output cards communicating with digital buses to operate the real equipment, or with real and/or virtual input/output cards for communicating with at least partially virtual equipment, the architecture comprising:

"a standardized software-hardware abstraction software layer made up of a library or primitives that interface firstly with source codes of the software unit and secondly with the real or at least partially virtual computer hardware unit; and

"a real-hardware software layer or a virtual-hardware software layer respectively in the real computer hardware unit or the at least partially virtual computer hardware unit, said real-hardware or virtual hardware software layer forming the portion of the real or at least partially virtual computer hardware unit that interfaces with the standardized software-hardware abstraction software layer, the real-hardware software layer serving respectively to manage real input/output cards communicating with digital buses of the real computer hardware unit of the real equipment, the virtual-hardware software layer serving to manage real and/or virtual input/output cards communicating with digital buses of analog type and/or of discrete type of the at least partially virtual computer hardware unit, said virtual cards performing at least the same functions as the real input/output cards and their associated drivers of the real computer hardware unit.

"In embodiments, for a virtual architecture for use with at least one simulation tool acting as at least partially virtual equipment, its at least partially virtual computer hardware unit is of a standard that is widespread and inexpensive, of the unitary PC type or comprising at least two PCs connected together, the virtual input/output cards with their drivers, when present, being incorporated in or coupled to the virtual-hardware software layer, the virtual input/output cards being managed via an inexpensive and widespread standard network of the Ethernet type or of the type comprising a network of analog and discrete signals.

"In embodiments, the virtual architecture includes only real input/output cards.

"In embodiments, the virtual architecture includes only virtual input/output cards, a communications software layer implementing and managing data exchanges between the virtual input/output cards.

"In embodiments, the virtual architecture includes a combination of real input/output cards and of virtual input/output cards, a communications software layer implementing and managing data exchanges between the virtual input/outputs.

"The invention also provides real or at least partially virtual equipment, wherein it respectively includes such a real or virtual architecture.

"The invention also provides a group made up of such real or at least partially virtual pieces of equipment, wherein the real or at least partially virtual pieces of equipment present, in their software units, standardized software-hardware abstraction software layers of similar design.

"In embodiments, at least a portion of the real or at least partially virtual computer hardware units are connected to one another, said portion forming real or partially virtual equipment combining the functions of the real or at least partially virtual pieces of equipment making it up.

"Finally, the invention provides a vehicle, including on board such a real piece of equipment or such a group of real pieces of equipment. In embodiments, the vehicle is an aircraft.

"The technical effect is obtained essentially by replacing the already-known OEM software-hardware abstraction software layer in the communications control architecture of the equipment with a standardized software-hardware abstraction software layer. This layer can co-operate equally well either with a real-hardware software layer, when the associated computer hardware unit is the unit corresponding to the communications control architecture of the equipment, or with a virtual-hardware software layer when the computer hardware unit is the unit corresponding to the communications control architecture of a tool for simulating said equipment. The standardized abstraction software layer and the real-hardware abstraction software layer or the virtual-hardware abstraction software layer are interposed between the software unit and the computer hardware unit of said equipment.

"Furthermore, in some embodiments it is advantageous adding a communications software layer that makes it possible to simulate the software unit at a development stage that is as early as possible and as inexpensive as possible.

"While complying with the original design of the software unit, the technical effect obtained is that of greatly facilitating the arrangement of the software unit on the real hardware unit of the on-board equipment for normal operation thereof or on an at least partially virtual computer hardware unit of a simulation tool in order to perform simulation trials of said equipment."

URL and more information on this patent, see: Baudisson, Jean-Luc; Lebailly, Jean-Pierre. Control Architecture and Process for Porting Application Software for Equipment on Board an Aircraft to a Consumer Standard Computer Hardware Unit. U.S. Patent Number 8819646, filed March 29, 2011, and published online on August 26, 2014. Patent URL: http://patft.uspto.gov/netacgi/nph-Parser?Sect1=PTO1&Sect2=HITOFF&d=PALL&p=1&u=%2Fnetahtml%2FPTO%2Fsrchnum.htm&r=1&f=G&l=50&s1=8819646.PN.&OS=PN/8819646RS=PN/8819646

Keywords for this news article include: Airbus Helicopters, Software.

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