It’s a Real Time World!
The need for Real Time Operating Systems (RTOS) is growing by leaps and bounds with the precise timing requirements of telecommunications, complex processes, and the Internet of Things. Even things like the Mars Curiosity Rover has an integrated RTOS, where all tasks need to be precise and synchronized – from moving the arm to gather a soil sample to controlling the camera to transmissions back to Earth to moving to a different location. Side note: Curiosity has been on Mars for over 5 years and is still going strong. In fact, every August 5th the lonely rover sings “Happy Birthday” out loud, all alone, with an entire planet to itself. I don’t know if that’s adorable or a little sad! Anyway, I digress.
We see real time systems gaining in popularity controlling factory assembly lines, robotics, and gaming. A real time system may be one where its application can be considered to be mission critical. The anti-lock brakes on a car are a simple example of a RTOS – the real-time constraint in this system is the short time in which the brakes must be released to prevent the wheel from locking. Real-time computations can be said to have failed if they are not completed before their deadline, where their deadline is relative to an event. So, the implications of a timing failure could be catastrophic.
I thought it would be useful in this blog post to share a few real life stories about the growing use of RTOS in this Real Time world.
The first is air traffic control, which I am sure all of you are familiar with – especially if you have experienced flight delays, and haven’t we all? The air traffic control system consists of a number of sensors that report an aircraft position. This data is joined with flight plan and weather information to develop the best estimate of current position and velocity of each flight in the system. The data is supplied to air traffic control, who primarily directs aircraft on the ground and in the air – separating aircraft to prevent collisions, organizing and expediting the flow of traffic, and providing information and other support for pilots when able. A SUSE customer, Deutsche Flugsicherung (DFS), is responsible for all air traffic control in Germany (one of the busiest air spaces in the world) and ensures safety for aircraft across Germany, operating in 19 international airports. At DFS, several thousand highly specialized and distributed computer systems must run 24/7 in order to support the air traffic controllers in their daily work. In the background, several hundred software, system and air traffic control engineers are responsible for maintaining this complex IT landscape, all without ever interrupting the operations of the air traffic control system as a whole. Every outage has immediate consequences on the air traffic control capacity, possibly causing millions of Euros in damage for the users of German air space per day. Safety is the top priority across the whole enterprise. As you can imagine, air traffic control operations relies on precise timing, predictability, and reliability that only a Real Time Operating System can provide. And with more than 3 million flights over German soil every year, equating to 10,000 aircraft movements each and every day, the consequences of imprecise timing could be dire.
My second story is around an event that is near and dear to my heart – the Winter Olympic Games, which kicks off on February 9th . And this year we will all be able to experience the Winter Olympics with most immersive viewing experience in history, with live and on-demand virtual reality events in an interactive VR environment. Not only are the 3D views in real-time, but the technology needed to synchronize 360-degree video with realistic proportions and depth with audio relies on a real time operating system to ensure instant, predictable and continuous service availability. In addition, the Olympics are known for showing off precise timing. Data is collected through the timing and scoring systems which are able to capture the exact time where an athlete crosses the finish line or when the points are awarded by the judges. With every result captured, a message is sent from the official timekeepers to a central collection system where they are processed, consolidated, and distributed to your phone or your tablet. This whole process takes fewer than 2 seconds. Commentators and journalists obtain the results even faster, in less than 0.3 seconds. These live results are what allows you to follow the competition in real time. It includes everything – schedules, results of specific competitions, statistics, summary of cumulative results, medals, athlete biographies, and access to historical information and records. With so many different tasks and events, everything must work like clockwork. And that means everything, including providing a synchronized and precise viewing experience to billions of people around the world.
The third story involves yet another cool interest of mine – Formula 1 racing. As a technical sport, motor racing demands of its participants a close understanding of the technologies that can help them. F1 motor racing is probably second only to the aerospace industry in the application of aerodynamic simulation and wind tunnel technology. It is a testament to the rapid advance of Linux in high performance computing that most teams in Formula 1 have been using Linux systems in their aerodynamic and engine workshops for a number of years. Today, they are competing for top finishes in an environment where the difference between success and failure is hundredths of a second in car designs, so racing engineers are constantly seeking fractions of a second in performance improvement. On average they’ll make a change to the car every 20 minutes during the course of a season, and to do that, simulation is vital in making efficient changes to the car. They need to simulate and predict the car’s behavior down to milliseconds. Every year the cars get faster and cars reach new limits of endurance and performance, despite a regular tightening of the rules for the sake of safety and increased competitiveness. Every new rule that is imposed to slow the cars down or level the playing field becomes a challenge for the designers, to readjust the vital balance of weight, material, power, downforce, grip, and traction. When the car is running, it transmits a huge amount of real time data on the critical parameters of the engine or chassis to the ground staff. Simulation is a vital technique for predicting the behavior of the cars in all weather conditions, on the wide variety of tracks and surfaces used by Formula One. Adjustment of the aerodynamics of cars are affected not just by speed on the straights, but by the cornering characteristics of the cars on every corner of every race track on the calendar. A RTOS that ensures precise timing of all of the working parts of a race car enables the performance needed in a broad range of circumstances. The car has to be quick in fast, medium and slow corners, and in a range of track conditions, and computational fluid dynamics (yes I said that) is used to model these and analyze the effects of differing ride height, steer angle, and more. Analysis is also performed on the telemetry data that is collected during a race. A team may monitor the parameters of the car while it is running to identify problems or make small set-up changes during the course of the race, or collect the data for analysis back in the factory, to predict and modify the car’s performance in future races. Every piece of data about the engine and the car is stored for future reference. Every alteration is recorded and may be retrieved for retrospective analysis of how the car’s behavior has changed over time. The vision for the near-future is that the telemetry data can be fed back for analysis and the parameters of the racing car can be readjusted in real time while the car is on the track.
In summary, I presented just a handful of interesting scenarios that involve precise timing and predictable computing behaviors. We are seeing the need for precision and predictability today across many different industries:
- Banking and financial services – trading applications, high-speed messaging, algorithmic trading
- Aerospace and military – aircraft control and simulation systems, communications, fighter jet simulations, weapon systems, training systems
- Automotive and transportation – vehicle subsystems control, driver-less vehicles
- Manufacturing and utilities – robotics, assembly lines, industrial process control, nuclear power systems, chemical plants, device simulation, data acquisition
- Entertainment – multimedia animation systems, interactive video games, video cameras
- Telecommunications – network routers, telecom switches, web sites and services, Internet of Things, Voice over IP, audio/video streaming
Oh, by the way – I got so wrapped up in my stories that I almost forgot – the new release of SUSE’s RTOS is now available! Check out SUSE Linux Enterprise Real Time at https://www.suse.com/products/realtime/ . It has some new features for sharing Real Time workloads with non-Real Time workloads within a single virtual machine, along with an updated Real Time kernel.
I hope you found this blog post interesting and useful.