Wayne State University

Wayne State University researcher receives National Science Foundation CAREER award to develop smaller, more predictable computer systems

Detroit - A Wayne State researcher is working to understand how to squeeze the most applications into the smallest, lightest, most power-efficient computers while still guaranteeing predictable system behavior.

Nathan Fisher, Ph.D., assistant professor of computer science in WSU’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences and resident of Royal Oak, Mich., received the National Science Foundation’s Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) Award totaling $400,000 to develop algorithms, analysis and system design tools for integrating and consolidating multiple subsystems on a shared processing platform. Also, he will design curriculum and an outreach program aimed at increasing recruitment of students to the field of embedded systems programs and research, with a focus on underrepresented groups.

Embedded systems are computer systems designed to perform one or a few functions, often with real-time computing constraints. As seen with the rise of smart phones, MP3 players, and the complex computers built into cars and airplanes, the demand for more applications on a single device has led to an increase in multiple subsystems operating on shared processing platforms. Virtualization execution environments (VEE) technologies enable consolidation and permit embedded systems to be designed with reduced size, weight and power over non-integrated systems.

VEEs still hold many challenges, however, such as allocating a shared processing platform’s computational resources to many subsystems and ensuring all timing requirements are met. “When you’re working with multiple embedded subsystems that have competing computational deadlines, it is essential to isolate the effect of one subsystem against the others, because if one subsystem takes up too much processing time, the other deadlines won’t be met.”

To address the problem, Fisher is developing algorithms for real-time subsystem scheduling that maximize the use of resources with the VEE framework. He also is developing a resource-sharing protocol between subsystems, developing system design tools and designing the first techniques for verifying the timeliness of VEEs.

The project includes a substantial education component aimed at increasing awareness of embedded and real-time system design to students of all academic levels, with a focus on underrepresented groups. The work will provide materials sufficient for at least two Ph.D. dissertations, an undergraduate research project developing a robotics-based educational tool and a K-12 curriculum and outreach program. The curriculum will be integrated into WSU’s Explorations in Robotics Camp, a program that teaches 11- to 16-year-olds to solve challenges by building and programming robots using the LEGO Mindstorms Robotics Invention System.

Fisher hopes that by increasing the exposure of real-time embedded systems, he may begin to appeal to a more diverse group of students. “One of the most interesting things about computer code is that really complex systems can be built using relatively simple algorithms,” he said. “The work that’s done in this field translates directly into cell phones, airplanes, cars and any other device that utilizes embedded systems. I think making that connection is key in recruiting a more diverse group of people into the field.”

Fisher also was the recent recipient of a Best Paper Award for the IEEE Transactions on Industrial Informatics. The paper, “Resource-Sharing Servers for Open Environments,” can be viewed at http://ieeexplore.ieee.org/xpls/abs_all.jsp?arnumber=5169980&tag=1.

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Wayne State University is one of the nation’s pre-eminent public research universities in an urban setting. Through its multidisciplinary approach to research and education, and its ongoing collaboration with government, industry and other institutions, the university seeks to enhance economic growth and improve the quality of life in the city of Detroit, state of Michigan and throughout the world. For more information on research at Wayne State University, visit http://www.research.wayne.edu.