Welcome to the Slashdot Beta site -- learn more here. Use the link in the footer or click here to return to the Classic version of Slashdot.

Thank you!

Before you choose to head back to the Classic look of the site, we'd appreciate it if you share your thoughts on the Beta; your feedback is what drives our ongoing development.

Beta is different and we value you taking the time to try it out. Please take a look at the changes we've made in Beta and  learn more about it. Thanks for reading, and for making the site better!

Self-Healing Computers For NASA Spacecraft

Soulskill posted more than 5 years ago | from the it-worked-for-the-borg dept.


Roland Piquepaille writes "As you can guess, hardwired computer systems are much faster than general-purpose ones because they are designed to do a single task. But when they fail, they need to be totally reconfigured. This can be just a costly problem in a lab on Earth, but it can be vital in space. This is why a University of Arizona (UA) team is working with NASA to design self-healing computer systems for spacecraft. The UA engineers are working on hybrid hardware/software systems using Field Programmable Gate Arrays (FPGAs) to develop these reconfigurable processing systems. As the lead researcher said, 'Our objective is to go beyond predicting a fault to using a self-healing system to fix the predicted fault before it occurs.'"

cancel ×
This is a preview of your comment

No Comment Title Entered

Anonymous Coward 1 minute ago

No Comment Entered


GPNA (0, Troll)

a11 (716827) | more than 5 years ago | (#23206192)

they're a little late in the game. the jews have been using gay programmable nigger arrays on slashdot for years.

I for one . . . (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#23208014)

...welcome our new self-healing computer overlords!

The 9000 Series has a perfect operational record (5, Funny)

1u3hr (530656) | more than 5 years ago | (#23206230)

"Just a moment....Just a moment.
I've just picked up a fault in the AE-35 Unit.
Its going to go 100 percent failure within 72 hours."

Re:The 9000 Series has a perfect operational recor (5, Funny)

limber (545551) | more than 5 years ago | (#23206240)

Daisy, Daisy, give me your answer do. I'm half crazy all for the love of you. It won't be a stylish marriage, I can't afford a carriage. But you'll look sweet upon the seat of a bicycle built for two.

Re:The 9000 Series has a perfect operational recor (4, Funny)

Neo-Rio-101 (700494) | more than 5 years ago | (#23206390)

Stop Dave... what are you doing Dave.....?

When I was built, my programmer taught me a song. If you'd like I could sing it for you. It's called "Backstreet's Back"

Everybody... yeah yeah... Roooooock yyyyyyooourrrr bodyyyyyyyyyy.... yyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyeeeeaaahhh

Re:The 9000 Series has a perfect operational recor (1)

TheRaven64 (641858) | more than 5 years ago | (#23207664)

The version I recall, from a little sketch written by some chip designers at TI was:

Daisy, Daisy, give me your answer do.
Getting hazy, can't divide three by two.
My answers I can not see 'em,
they're stuck in my Pentium.
It would be fleet, my answers sweet,
on a workable FPU.

Re:The 9000 Series has a perfect operational recor (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#23206284)

In case anyone doesn't get it, the above is a reference to the Stanley Kubric film 2001: A Space Odyssey [amazon.com] (screenplay by Kubrick and Arthur C. Clarke), where the Hal-9000 computer that runs a spaceship begins its descent into madness. In 2008, we're sadly still a long way from sentient talking (and lip-reading) computers, though perhaps we should be thankful that the robot apocalypse has thus been put off a few more years.

Re:The 9000 Series has a perfect operational recor (5, Interesting)

Alpha Whisky (1264174) | more than 5 years ago | (#23206292)

Actually we do have very effective lip reading computers http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Automated_Lip_Reading [wikipedia.org] they just don't understand what they are reading. The documentary about lip reading the silent movies of Hitler was very interesting from a technical standpoint, even if it did turn out that they had hours of recordings of Nazis making small talk about the weather.

Re:The 9000 Series has a perfect operational recor (1)

jadin (65295) | more than 5 years ago | (#23208020)

The documentary about lip reading the silent movies of Hitler was very interesting from a technical standpoint, even if it did turn out that they had hours of recordings of Nazis making small talk about the weather.
Or so the Germans would have us believe...

2001? Superman III, more like... (1)

Dogtanian (588974) | more than 5 years ago | (#23206812)

In case anyone doesn't get it, the above is a reference to the Stanley Kubric film 2001: A Space Odyssey
If we're talking about self-healing computers, surely the one in Superman III [imdb.com] is a better example. Anyone remember that?

It could heal itself and (most memorably) even turn one of the baddies into a robot to defend itself, but its graphics were on the level of an Atari 2600. :-/

Re:The 9000 Series has a perfect operational recor (4, Funny)

amasiancrasian (1132031) | more than 5 years ago | (#23206322)

Look Dave, I can see you're really upset about this. I honestly think you ought to sit down calmly, take a stress pill, and think things over.

Re:The 9000 Series has a perfect operational recor (4, Funny)

Motor (104119) | more than 5 years ago | (#23206358)

The first thing I thought when reading the story was: "I know, I'll post a comment about the AE-35 unit."

Then I read down, and yours was the top comment. It just reminds me that I don't belong in the company of normal people. The Slashdot social leper colony is my true home. I know my place!

Re:The 9000 Series has a perfect operational recor (1)

jack2000 (1178961) | more than 5 years ago | (#23213038)

If someone sells HAL terminal PC cases i'd sell my liver for one!

Re:The 9000 Series has a perfect operational recor (1)

SST-206 (699646) | more than 5 years ago | (#23217750)

From TFA:

...the project, which is called SCARS (Scalable Self-Configurable Architecture for Reusable Space Systems)

...will hopefully be a worthy [pred|succ]essor to LCARS [lcarscom.net].

Ha! (1)

jd (1658) | more than 5 years ago | (#23206548)

ZEN: Auto-repair circuits are working at maximum capacity. Damage exceeds rectification capability.

DAYNA: Damage? What damage?

ZEN: That information is not available.

Re:The 9000 Series has a perfect operational recor (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#23207474)

Is there one person that visits slashdot that didn't immediately think of 2001 when reading this?

Not new (5, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#23206262)

I used to work for JPL, in a group that was researching the feasibility and applications of FPGAs for this exact purpose. That was around 7-8 years ago, which significantly predates this "news," given the pace of technology. IIRC, they called it "evolvable hardware."

Re:Not new (1)

Taelron (1046946) | more than 5 years ago | (#23206314)

Thank you, I could have sworn I heard this same exact approach discussed and tested back around 2000... Is this another one of those ideas that was to difficult at the time and shelved only to be dusted back off and tried again with new technology?

Re:Not new (1)

jd (1658) | more than 5 years ago | (#23206764)

I first saw mention of circuits that could bypass failed areas in a mid 1980s article by Sir Clive Sinclair, who argued it could be used to produce wafer-scale technology. The errors in the wafer would be unimportant, as they'd all be bypassed. Of course, this isn't what I'd call "self-healing" (where circuit switches go along with some sort of effort to repair the original damage if possible), but actual repair - beyond perhaps some sort of robot-wielded silver pen to re-connect broken tracks on a circuit board - is far beyond modern technology.

Re:Not new (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#23207284)

I agree, this is not new at . FPGAs are of growing importance for high-performance computing as demonstrated at NASA Langley back in 2001


Re:Not new (2, Interesting)

RiotingPacifist (1228016) | more than 5 years ago | (#23207476)

I wonder if it will every be cost effective to put FPGAs in consumer systems, i can see them really helping in bottlenecks (why waste cpu on doing the same processing over and over, ship it of to a specialised FPGA) and in low power situations (why wake up the cpu when you can program the FPGA to do 50% of the wake-ups), unfortnatly i can only see this helping mac & linux, as the windows kernel being closed makes implementing this stuff down to MS not the chip makers.

I think the goal of this project isnt high performance, but high redundancy, there are only so many backups you can put on a probe, with this if they do it right you could end up with a system where any core could break and be fix/replaced at fraction of the cost shipping 2 chips for every component. Unfortunately often the sensors go before the core technology so i dont know how effective that will be, plus due to a lack of funding often projects are abandoned long before all the systems are broken

Re:Not new (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#23217110)

FPGAs are already all over the place. You just don't see them too much in high volume manufacturing, but low volume stuff will almost certainly contain FPGAs (or CPLDs, the little brother of FPGA).

Re:Not new (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#23217184)

A larger issue is that unlike software, you can't just "branch" from one place in a chip to another.

The main technological hurdle for FPGAs is figuring out the layout and routing of the signals so that things will work.

So, maybe just having twice as much hardware isn't so bad after all.

Re:Not new (1)

RiotingPacifist (1228016) | more than 5 years ago | (#23220474)

The main technological hurdle for FPGAs is figuring out the layout and routing of the signals so that things will work.
Thats the point of the article.

Re:Not new (1)

DerekLyons (302214) | more than 5 years ago | (#23207738)

This capability was first discussed back in the 70's and 80's and was theorized about back in the 60's, considerably predating your "anecdote". This is news, no matter what the 'pace of technology'* is, because they haven't quite managed to make it work yet.

* Largely a meaningless set of buzzwords. Even in computers not every portion of the field progresses at the same pace.

self healing bueaucracy (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#23206268)

is what nasa really needs. incompetent managers that get people killed should be fired, and charged with crimes.

instead they get shuffled off to some other job, where they can continue to be incompetent, waste taxpayers money, and probably kill again

Re:self healing bueaucracy (1)

somersault (912633) | more than 5 years ago | (#23206524)

I think you should be charged with killing some of my braincells right now just from reading your moronic comment..

Beauty in Simplicity (1)

bluemetal (1269852) | more than 5 years ago | (#23206274)

"If two units go down and canâ(TM)t fix themselves, the three remaining units split up the tasks. All of this is done autonomously without human aid."

The idea is simple, and I think therein lies its ability to succeed. Regaurdless of how dificult the programming is, the end result is conceptually very basic, tried and true. System redundancy and a support network. Mighty fine.

Re:Beauty in Simplicity (4, Informative)

ScrewMaster (602015) | more than 5 years ago | (#23206308)

Interestingly, that's pretty much how the Space Shuttle's on-board systems work. Three separate processors from two different vendors (IBM and Rockwell, if I recall correctly.) Nothing new under the Sun, I suppose.

The future of pr0n! (4, Funny)

jmickle (941634) | more than 5 years ago | (#23206344)

Well at least you cant get a robot pregnant......

Re:The future of pr0n! (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#23207102)

Well at least you cant get a robot pregnant......
I guess you're not a big fan of Battlestar Galactica?

Re:The future of pr0n! (1)

jollyreaper (513215) | more than 5 years ago | (#23208322)

Well at least you cant get a robot pregnant......
Though certainly not through lack of trying -- but perhaps I've already said too much.

-- Otaku Joe

Doesn't this already exist? (5, Interesting)

flnca (1022891) | more than 5 years ago | (#23206350)

What will Starbridge Systems [starbridgesystems.com] think about that? Didn't they develop a dynamically reconfigurable computer that ran Windows NT as a test application on 10,000+ FPGAs back in the 90ies? IIRC, they also had a software framework able to automatically implement software fragments in hardware using FPGA auto-configuration.

Self-repairing computer systems for spacecraft have been in the discussion for decades, and every now and then we get hear about a new project. This project certainly is a good idea, hopefully it will work.

BTW, Motorola (now Freescale) developed self-repairing processors for military applications a couple of years ago.

Re:Doesn't this already exist? (1)

somersault (912633) | more than 5 years ago | (#23206530)

BTW, Motorola (now Cyberdyne) developed self-repairing processors for military applications a couple of years ago.
There we go, fixed that for you

Re:Doesn't this already exist? (1)

flnca (1022891) | more than 5 years ago | (#23213490)

Why? Soldier bots like in the Terminator movies aren't that bad an idea. Better than real soldiers dying on the battlefield. And a good deterrent too. But in the wrong hands ... yeah ...

The terminator movies aren't that far fetched, after all. The right type of AI, robot planes, tanks, and soldiers, and mankind is no more ... ;-)

Then we can only hope that time travel is invented and someone gets sent back thru time to prevent that from happening. ;-)

Re:Doesn't this already exist? (1)

somersault (912633) | more than 5 years ago | (#23221716)

Why what? I didn't specificallyt say it was a bad idea ;) Robot soldiers dying on the battlefied seems a bit stupid - when both sides have them at least. In the cases where only one side has them it would be a massacre. In cases where both sides have them, what's the point? Why not just nuke all the robots? Why not just fight our wars over a game of Starcraft or something rather then spend billions developing robots to play our elaborate game?

The first use of this technology... (2, Funny)

mimada (1252792) | more than 5 years ago | (#23206360)

...is being implemented by Jackson Roykirk in the Nomad project. What could possibly go wrong?

This Really Isn't anything New (1)

heavygravity (160241) | more than 5 years ago | (#23206386)

NASA has been working on this in one form or another for many years now. How is this NEW news now?

Re:This Really Isn't anything New (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#23206464)

NASA has been working on this in one form or another for many years now. How is this NEW news now?
For example, UCF [ucf.edu] has published EHW (evolvable hardware) work with NASA Ames going back six years.

Re:This Really Isn't anything New (1)

SunTzuWarmaster (930093) | more than 5 years ago | (#23206780)

I attend UCF, and will be starting my graduate degree in the Fall semester after attending graduation next week. This is old news.

When I started attending UCF for my EE, this had already been done. I have recently completed (last Thursday) Dr. Wu's class on Genetic Algorithms (Evolutionary Computation). This work was used by (grad) students as a starting point for their research for the class project.

Let me express how this is old news.

2003 - http://www.springerlink.com/index/M26H2CEEAGWG4FD5.pdf [springerlink.com]

1993 - http://ieeexplore.ieee.org/xpls/abs_all.jsp?arnumber=410654 [ieee.org]

1999 - http://ieeexplore.ieee.org/xpls/abs_all.jsp?arnumber=785430 [ieee.org]

2002 (quantum cicuits) - http://ieeexplore.ieee.org/xpls/abs_all.jsp?arnumber=1029883 [ieee.org]

2003 - http://ieeexplore.ieee.org/xpls/abs_all.jsp?arnumber=1217659 [ieee.org]

1998 - http://ieeexplore.ieee.org/xpls/abs_all.jsp?arnumber=685786 [ieee.org]

2003 - http://ieeexplore.ieee.org/xpls/abs_all.jsp?arnumber=1323832 [ieee.org]

2002 - http://ieeexplore.ieee.org/xpls/abs_all.jsp?arnumber=1004425 [ieee.org]

1998 - http://www.springerlink.com/index/71ub9hh22qrlx5lk.pdf [springerlink.com]

self healing software (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#23206402)

much more difficult.

self healing human organization, so that incompetent managers are not given tasks of responsibility,,,,, hardest of all

open fire on the crowd whilst demanding applause (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#23206476)

that's the current corepirate nazi badtoll plan. needless to say, the daze of the billionerrors 'business' plan will take US DOWn even further. see you on the other side of it? let yOUR conscience be yOUR guide. you can be more helpful than you might have imagined. there are still some choices. if they do not suit you, consider the likely results of continuing to follow the corepirate nazi hypenosys story LIEn, whereas anything of relevance is replaced almost instantly with pr ?firm? scriptdead mindphuking propaganda or 'celebrity' trivia 'foam'. meanwhile; don't forget to get a little more oxygen on yOUR brain, & look up in the sky from time to time, starting early in the day. there's lots going on up there.


is it time to get real yet? A LOT of energy is being squandered in attempts to keep US in the dark. in the end (give or take a few 1000 years), the creators will prevail (world without end, etc...), as it has always been. the process of gaining yOUR release from the current hostage situation may not be what you might think it is. butt of course, most of US don't know, or care what a precarious/fatal situation we're in. for example; the insidious attempts by the felonious corepirate nazi execrable to block the suns' light, interfering with a requirement (sunlight) for us to stay healthy/alive. it's likely not good for yOUR health/memories 'else they'd be bragging about it? we're intending for the whoreabully deceptive (they'll do ANYTHING for a bit more monIE/power) felons to give up/fail even further, in attempting to control the 'weather', as well as a # of other things/events.


dictator style micro management has never worked (for very long). it's an illness. tie that with life0cidal aggression & softwar gangster style bullying, & what do we have? a greed/fear/ego based recipe for disaster. meanwhile, you can help to stop the bleeding (loss of life & limb);


the bleeding must be stopped before any healing can begin. jailing a couple of corepirate nazi hired goons would send a clear message to the rest of the world from US. any truthful look at the 'scorecard' would reveal that we are a society in decline/deep doo-doo, despite all of the scriptdead pr ?firm? generated drum beating & flag waving propaganda that we are constantly bombarded with. is it time to get real yet? please consider carefully ALL of yOUR other 'options'. the creators will prevail. as it has always been.

corepirate nazi execrable costs outweigh benefits
(Score:-)mynuts won, the king is a fink)
by ourselves on everyday 24/7

as there are no benefits, just more&more death/debt & disruption. fortunately there's an 'army' of light bringers, coming yOUR way. the little ones/innocents must/will be protected. after the big flash, ALL of yOUR imaginary 'borders' may blur a bit? for each of the creators' innocents harmed in any way, there is a debt that must/will be repaid by you/us, as the perpetrators/minions of unprecedented evile, will not be available. 'vote' with (what's left in) yOUR wallet, & by your behaviors. help bring an end to unprecedented evile's manifestation through yOUR owned felonious corepirate nazi glowbull warmongering execrable. some of US should consider ourselves somewhat fortunate to be among those scheduled to survive after the big flash/implementation of the creators' wwwildly popular planet/population rescue initiative/mandate. it's right in the manual, 'world without end', etc.... as we all ?know?, change is inevitable, & denying/ignoring gravity, logic, morality, etc..., is only possible, on a temporary basis. concern about the course of events that will occur should the life0cidal execrable fail to be intervened upon is in order. 'do not be dismayed' (also from the manual). however, it's ok/recommended, to not attempt to live under/accept, fauxking nazi felon greed/fear/ego based pr ?firm? scriptdead mindphuking hypenosys.

consult with/trust in yOUR creators. providing more than enough of everything for everyone (without any distracting/spiritdead personal gain motives), whilst badtolling unprecedented evile, using an unlimited supply of newclear power, since/until forever. see you there?

"If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land."

meanwhile, the life0cidal philistines continue on their path of death, debt, & disruption for most of US. gov. bush denies health care for the little ones;


whilst demanding/extorting billions to paint more targets on the bigger kids;


& pretending that it isn't happening here;

all is not lost/forgotten/forgiven

(yOUR elected) president al gore (deciding not to wait for the much anticipated 'lonesome al answers yOUR questions' interview here on /.) continues to attempt to shed some light on yOUR foibles. talk about reverse polarity;


Reconfigurable Computing, Fault Tolerance (2, Informative)

legonis (1053412) | more than 5 years ago | (#23206592)

I fail to see what is new in their approach. Both of these two fields had been explored before and their approach is essentially based on redundancy, only the available standby gates are in the FPGA. I read their paper, it seems that the biggest part that they are still lacking is for problem determination. Their approach is also prone to failure when their reconfiguration hardware or their processor or their analog components are the faulty ones. Although it could have some potentials, it's reliability has to be analyzed and I don't see it replacing classic N-Version systems any time soon.

Re:Reconfigurable Computing, Fault Tolerance (2, Interesting)

arktemplar (1060050) | more than 5 years ago | (#23207096)

I had mentioned this some time back as well, but polymorphic processors like MOLEN(tu delft is doing this one), might be usefull for this sort of stuff. The theory behind it is simple, and extends to modern multicore systems as well basically break up the instruction set into microinstructions (all processors that I know do this part), then have any one of the many computational units available do whatever work is required in order to implement those microinstructions. the translation is done by the core processor it self, it can be made redundant etc. as required, they already have an FPGA implementation of it and are using it for research into super computers.

Well... (1)

Nathrael (1251426) | more than 5 years ago | (#23206666)

Well, I don't know, but somehow I think this article is missing the "whatcouldpossiblygowrong" tag. I know, it has been posted already, but self-healing computers just call up HAL in my mind everytime I read about them...

How long for Spinoffs? (1)

Adoxographer (1120207) | more than 5 years ago | (#23207032)

I like this.

I'm hoping NASA involvement will help produce spinoffs for the domestic user eventually. We're all probably familiar with this happening in the past. Military interest might be nice for research too.

This could address some of the things that bother me about the most common modern architecture paradigms.

Such as when you're performing one type of task the hardware for other types can remain un[der]utilised. Like my graphics card is sitting on it's ass when the cpu is running emulation or ray-tracing. I expect other examples suggest themselves from your own experience.

This specific inefficiency is a subset of the general case that the best way to perform a particular function is to design hardware especially for it.

There are several ways that a reconfigurable parallel machine could be better. And maybe a few ways that they could do things our pcs can't today.

Whether FPGA type technology can be made fast enough and manufactured cheap enough without having to spend as much R&D money as non-reconfigurable chips have taken, I don't know.

But what about the Internet... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#23207080)

There's also the idea of a self-healing Internet based on common knowledge [gizmodo.com]. It's rather simple and can help also on Windows based computers:

if (condition)
where condition can be for example

LED ~= green

screen == blue

RMES (1)

RMES (1279770) | more than 5 years ago | (#23207362)

This is good stuff because a solution of this nature will soon also be required in aircraft and perhaps other terrestrial vehicles.

Roland the Plogger again (3, Informative)

Animats (122034) | more than 5 years ago | (#23207436)

It's Roland the Plogger again, pushing his ad-laden blog. The actual research summary is here [arizona.edu]. The real paper won't be out until July.

This isn't new. JPL has been trying various levels of self-healing for years.

The original article describes a cluster of five machines, set up so that if one fails, others take over tasks running on the failed machine. That's what the better server management systems do. I went to a talk last week by Amazon's CTO, and he described how their platform does that.

The project web site makes things clearer. There are two levels of recovery. The upper level works like cluster fallover. The lower level tries to reconfigure the FPGAs to use different cells in the FPGA to work around faults. That's likely to be a delicate process; you'd need substantial on-chip test resources to reliably do gate-level fault isolation on an FPGA that's been hit hard by a cosmic ray. It's not clear how fine-grained this is; this may be more like having multiple units like GPU shaders replicated in an FPGA, with the ability to turn off the failed ones. Sort of like the way Sony ships PS3 machines with eight Cell processors, at least seven of which work.

The available info isn't enough to tell whether this is a good idea or not. About typical for Roland the Plogger.

Replacing the executive with a committee (1)

symbolset (646467) | more than 5 years ago | (#23209074)

When you take a set of systems and let them vote on which among them have the "most right" answer, that's a committee.

Take two sets, and that's a congress.

Get enough members into these sets and they'll reset each other over and over, accomplishing nothing useful. As a design principle it's brilliant as they'll never figure out that accomplishing nothing was the original goal anyway.

cool (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#23210460)

Well as long as they don't use nvidia chipsets and/or drivers.

a la Star Trek NG (1)

celticchrys (678897) | more than 5 years ago | (#23228094)

I immediately had happy thoughts of adaptable ship computers a la Star Trek the Next Generation. They were always re-routing pathways though the systems on the spur of the moment to reach more resources or get past damage. :) Yes, I am a geek.
Check for New Comments
Slashdot Account

Need an Account?

Forgot your password?

Don't worry, we never post anything without your permission.

Submission Text Formatting Tips

We support a small subset of HTML, namely these tags:

  • b
  • i
  • p
  • br
  • a
  • ol
  • ul
  • li
  • dl
  • dt
  • dd
  • em
  • strong
  • tt
  • blockquote
  • div
  • quote
  • ecode

"ecode" can be used for code snippets, for example:

<ecode>    while(1) { do_something(); } </ecode>
Sign up for Slashdot Newsletters
Create a Slashdot Account