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Mission-Critical Systems from Defense to iPhones

Posted by on Thursday, September 17, 2009 in Fall 2009, Sidebar.


With an enemy missile hurtling toward their aircraft, fighter pilots shouldn’t have to wonder whether their defense systems will work in time. Testing how such systems perform before they’re used in a hostile environment is just one of the many projects that Professor Doug Schmidt directs using building-block middleware computer software he, his students and staff developed.

“Our work relates to making it easier to develop and test these large-scale information systems to make sure they perform the right functionality at the right time,” Schmidt says. “These are very large, complex software applications and we use middleware platforms—reusable software that coordinates the application and infrastructure components of an IT system—and tools to validate and enhance confidence in mission-critical systems.”

Schmidt, professor of computer science and computer engineering and associate chair of computer science, oversees a team that currently performs such computer testing for a wide range of sponsors, including the U.S. Navy, Lockheed Martin, Raytheon, BBN Technologies, the U.S. Air Force, the Australian navy and Northrop Grumman.

Through an Air Force Research Laboratory grant, for example, Schmidt works with several companies to help develop a system to link defense fighters seamlessly to the Defense Department’s Global Information Grid (GIG). The goal of the GIG is to enable military personnel in the field to securely and reliably connect to needed information whether via Internet, cell phone, e-mail, GPS or technology yet to come.

Applications for his team’s work are not just defense-related: The European Space Agency is using Schmidt’s middleware technology as a building block for the Galileo global satellite navigation system, the continent’s own global positioning service. Europe’s new CoFlight air traffic management system, which will modernize and unify European air traffic, also uses his middleware technology.

Health care applications exist as well, particularly for medical imaging and picture archiving. Siemens and GE have been shipping medical imaging products based on Schmidt’s middleware for over a decade.

“Our ACE and TAO middleware are distributed using an open-source licensing model, similar to the widely used Linux operating system,” Schmidt says. Users can also customize ACE and TAO or consult with Schmidt’s R&D team for help in converting the baseline open-source middleware into specific applications.

“Smart” is the operative word for another area of research interest. As part of a new course, Schmidt is working with students to build applications that connect smart phones (such as Google Android and the Apple iPhone) to smart communication systems (such as cloud computing, where computing services are provided via the Internet). The project uses hardware and software provided by Google and Apple.

“We’re always asking ourselves how to keep students’ interest in computing. This is it,” Schmidt says. “We give them something technical they can hold in the palm of their hands. We teach them the fundamentals and then we allow them to build on these by developing interesting applications. We want to unleash the creative power of smart students.”