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Cleared—And Verified—For Takeoff

Ensuring avionic computing systems satisfy DO-254 with coverage-driven verification.

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If you’re like me, you’re probably not in any hurry to get on an airplane amidst our current global pandemic. Commercial air travel has declined dramatically as a result of the novel coronavirus—but beyond private and recreational travel, aviation remains an essential component of many key areas of modern life, including military and defense; commerce and package delivery; medical care; search and rescue; and firefighting.

COVID-19 concerns aside, when I think of air travel, the first thing that comes to mind is safety. I know I’m not alone in the thoughts that cross my mind: “Is this plane going to get me to my final destination without incident? I sure hope I never have occasion to see for myself whether my seat cushion truly doubles as a flotation device!” Though the average person’s primary focus is on our own experiences on airplanes, it’s important to remember that safety in aviation isn’t limited to commercial flights: it is of critical importance in all of the other sectors I mentioned. Pilots, air crews, ground crews, and those depending on the services enabled by aircraft all depend upon planes’ getting from point A to point B safely.

Though the pandemic can feel interminable, at some point, air travel will get back to normal levels. We’re already seeing an increase in the number of flights since the pandemic first hit, even to the point that reports of overcrowded airplanes are hitting news headlines. In the meantime, it is essential for the avionics industry to continue moving forward to ensure the safety of the next generation of aircraft—and the people who rely on them. Innovation in the computing systems that support aircraft needs to continue, not only to make commercial aircraft safe, efficient, and comfortable, but also to ensure the same level of safety and efficiency in non-commercial aircraft.

OneSpin has had the pleasure of working closely with Clue Technologies, whose work on researching and designing intelligent avionic computing systems hasn’t stopped just because commercial air travel is down. We’ll take a deeper dive into how Clue is using OneSpin to tackle the verification of their designs to boost safety and achieve certification under the strict avionics safety standard DO-254 (Design Assurance Guidance for Airborne Electronic Hardware). As we study their verification flow, keep in mind that much of Clue’s verification effort with OneSpin can be applied to non-avionic electronic systems as well.

Let’s start with a look at Clue Technologies and what they produce. The company designs sophisticated avionics computers that deliver high-performance video processing, high-density storage, and intensive data concentration. These intelligent computers aid in providing state-of-the-art automation in today’s aircraft. However, this increase in automation necessitates more rigorous safety measures to avoid catastrophe and loss of lives. The individual components must meet strict DO-254 safety requirements.

Clue turned to OneSpin to help in the stringent verification effort and to meet the safety requirements prescribed by the DO-254. Clue is applying OneSpin 360 DV-Verify to their FPGA soft IP cores for their WittyBox family of flight and mission computers. DV-Verify ensures complete verification of a design, assuring that it behaves as intended and, equally importantly, that it does not do anything that it isn’t supposed to do.

The next generation of integrated modular avionics (IMA), including communication protocols, video conversion, data processing, data filtering, traffic management, and health monitoring, will use these FPGA soft IP cores. These IMA applications are hyper-critical in nature, therefore the cores that power them must not only function as intended, but also be extremely safe and secure. Undetected bugs could end in disaster. Clue has used the technology to augment their simulation-based verification environment and, in so doing, enabled the discovery of bugs that had eluded the company’s simulation-only flow. Ignacio Fernández Montes, CEO at Clue Technologies, noted that Clue’s ultimate goal is to help produce safer and more efficient aircraft and provide the highest quality computing systems to make that happen: “[OneSpin’s] technology will allow us to exhaustively verify our state-of-the-art designs beyond what simulation alone can provide.”

Beyond reliable functionality, Clue’s products must achieve a fine balance of exceptional performance and safety. Their devices are based on VHDL in compliance with the RTCO-DO-254 and RTCO-2C153 standards. This allows the devices to achieve the highest levels of design assurance level (DAL) certification—but reaching DO-254 certification is a rigorous, if not downright arduous, process. By applying the DV-Verify solution early in the verification flow, convergence can be achieved earlier to aid in reaching DO-254 certification. The Quantify App within the DV-Verify solution allows for the precise measure of verification progress that will lead to faster sign-off and greater confidence of zero bugs escaping into the final design.

Ignacio added, “We are always seeking to improve our design process in terms of agility and robustness… As safety-critical-system designers, the key value that we take from OneSpin is of course formal verification. We saw a robust and powerful tool that could be also applied to our industry. We have been working closely with OneSpin to learn together how their product could help us meet RTCO-DO-254 objectives in terms of requirement verification, traceability, and coverage.”

Clue is seeing value in working with OneSpin that extends beyond safety certification. Clue implements agile methodologies and performs incremental design based on fast iterations. To aid in this process, they have integrated OneSpin’s solutions into their automatic testing platform, resulting in more tests being completed with more efficacy. Errors are detected earlier, which helps to accelerate development and improve code quality.

When safety is non-negotiable, IC designers would be wise to pattern their verification methodologies after Clue’s approach. The bottom line is that the principles that Clue lives by are found in most companies designing today’s advanced electronics. Learning from Clue and their use of OneSpin’s solutions can give any company a boost in their own verification efforts to assure the functional correctness and safety of their designs. Clue saw an opportunity to augment their existing verification flow and proactively sought out ways to assure the integrity of their designs—and, by extension, to safeguard everyone who will rely on those avionic systems.



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