January 15, 2005

Way Cool

It has been close to 20 years since I designed an embedded computer system for an industrial application, but I like to keep in touch with what is going on in the field. One of my favorite magazines is the COTS Journal, which deals with the use of Commercial Off The Shelf systems in mission critical applications. This hardware has design features in common with desktop computers, which speeds development time and lowers costs, but is designed and manufactured to be far more rugged and reliable.

Here is an article which describes, in terms I don't fully understand, how one company's components were used in the development of something straight out of the science fiction of my youth. It uses a vision system (basically a video camera) and then a specialized processor build from Field Programmable Gate Arrays to spot air turbulance so as to enable aircraft to fly more smoothly thru it. I remember reading of robot pilots which would do this, but boxes like this are making the fictional anthropoid robot obsolete.

Like every other type of integrated circuit, FPGAs are doubling in density every year or two, and picking up features and speed along the way. Originally they were used to replace a handfull of standard logic chips on a board, and now they can hold entire systems. There are "chip" companies which manufacture nothing, but will sell you a data file which amounts to a standard microprocessor to include in your custom chip.

Posted by triticale at January 15, 2005 06:50 PM

Somebody is experimenting with the use of rat neurons to act as an autopilot. Supposedly, 15000 rat neurons can learn to keep a simulated aircraft straight and level.

Posted by: David Foster at January 16, 2005 09:59 PM

I presume that this is at the functionality of a conventional autopilot, correcting course after deflection. Anticipating turbulence, as per the system I described, takes autopilot to a whole new level.

It will be a while before neuronic pilots appreciate the music of Bob Dylan, a la The Ship Who Sang.

Posted by: triticale at January 17, 2005 02:43 AM
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