Wireless Innovation Forum Top Ten Most Wanted Innovations

#1 Techniques for Efficient Porting of Waveform Applications Between Embedded Heterogeneous Platforms

1.1 Executive Summary

To reduce development time and cost for software defined radios, it is important that the waveform software is written to be “easily” portable from one hardware platform to another hardware platform. SDR development processes today are mostly informal or ill-defined; standards for exchanging information between different steps in processes are not mature; tools do not use standard interchange formats and are not interoperable. An area of emphasis should be on the development of tool interchange standards and the development of end-to-end processes and tools to support the development of SDR applications, components, and platforms. 

Software architecture and design paradigms must evolve to integrate the software design model with the physical radio architecture to address platform-specific requirements and differences in the current versus the target radios that impact software porting.
The ability to quickly certify ported waveforms for use on various radio computing platforms also promises to significantly reduce development cost and time to market of software based radios.

1.2 Application

The implementation of software to represent the waveform is often hampered by the fact that the waveform specification is not clearly stated and the target platform is composed of multiple processors, each one interacting with one another differently. Developers need to use multiple tools to achieve their project objectives but lack of standards makes the integration very challenging.

The benefits of achieving greater portability between heterogeneous platforms will benefit a broad range of user communities including

  1. Waveform Application Developers: More efficient waveform porting will enable waveform developers to develop component-based waveform implementations that can be ported to other radio systems. This reduces the waveform development cost.
  2. Radio Developers/Integrators: As a radio developer/integrator, more efficient waveform porting enables a wider selection of waveforms that may be ported and deployed on their radio systems, within the physical limits of the radio hardware capability.
  3. End Users: Ultimately, the end user community benefits through lower costs of radios and the waveforms and applications that run on the radio. This applies to both commercial and government users. This end cost benefit is realized because one of the side effects of more efficient software is a more product-based development, resulting in wider range of products and a more competitive environment.

1.3 Description

One of the benefits of software radios is the ability to reuse parts or all of the software implementation to a different radio hardware platform. However, this is not a trivial problem because SDR platforms often contain multiple processors of different types, e.g. General Purpose Processor (GPP), Digital Signal Processor (DSP), Field Programmable Gate Array (FPGA), as well as evolving processor architectures together with other reconfigurable components and devices. 

To reduce development time and cost, it is important that the software written be “easily” portable from platform to platform. In order to achieve this objective, software architecture and design paradigms must evolve to encompass multiple programming languages such as C, C++ and HDL. In addition, design paradigms should allow for multiple design approaches such as multi-threaded applications on GPP or concurrent state machine designs for an FPGA. Design paradigms should also integrate the software model with a systems model of the physical radio architecture to address platform-specific requirements and differences in the current versus the target radios that impact software porting.

There are several key elements that are required to realize this innovation. These encompass the range of technology, engineering disciplines, systems engineering practices and process, common representation standards, and intra-company process changes. New technology is required to enhance and extend the expressiveness of current design and modeling tools to encompass a heterogeneous waveform design. However, in addition to waveform design, the tools must also be capable of modeling the hardware elements of a radio system and be able to represent the constraints and capabilities of the platform in such a form that enables the analysis of a waveform design with respect to the target hardware on which it is to be deployed. This encompasses multiple engineering disciplines including digital design, electrical engineering and software engineering. Furthermore, these disciplines must evolve to operate in a more cohesive and integrated manner that promotes collaborative architecture and design across all engineering disciplines. This is a fundamental difference in mindset from most current practices and processes which are typically hardware focused through the systems discipline with the software engineering aspect typically not joining the process until after the hardware architecture has been largely decided. 

Ported waveform software must be certified on the platform to which it is ported. Methods to simplify this process would significantly reduce development cost and time to market and could expand the SDR ecosystem by enabling third-party software to be used across multiple platforms.