IITs to grow knowledge hub for safety critical systems

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A modern car features millions of lines of software code. Most of its systems – braking, fuel injection, steering – are controlled by software running on embedded processors. Almost all safety critical systems today rely on correct functioning of software driven electronic components – this includes, for example, railway signalling systems, temperature control in atomic reactors, real time operation in smart electrical grids, and automated healthcare devices like pacemakers and insulin pumps.
 
In spite of the extensive verification practices for such systems, failures due to design errors continue to haunt the community and repeatedly return us to the question – to what extent can we allow software and electronics to drive highly safety critical systems?
 
Now MHRD in partnership with the Ministry of Railways, under its IMPRINT program, is setting up FMSAFE, India’s first knowledge centre on Formal Methods on Safety Critical Systems. Formal methods are a new genre of techniques which use logic based Artificial Intelligence theories to prove the correctness of software and electronic systems before they are deployed in safety critical applications. These methods have been recommended in many international industrial safety standards and are widely practiced by leading companies like Intel, Microsoft and Google. A coordinated formal methods program in India will help indigenous developers in India to aim for high degree of safety assurance that is essential for global competence.
 
“India is recognized for its competence in software development, but design and validation of safety critical embedded software requires a different skill set. India has the potential to assert its supremacy as a software power house in the domain of embedded control. What will be needed is a deep understanding on what is safety critical in Indian operating contexts and developing design and validation practices accordingly. This is what the new centre aims to catalyse”, said Prof Pallab Dasgupta, who will lead the FMSAFE centre at IIT Kharagpur.
 
The FMSAFE Centre, to be located at IIT Kharagpur, will function as a networked knowledge and research centre on Formal Methods for Safety Critical Systems, in collaboration with IIT Kanpur and IIT Bombay. Students working on cutting edge projects under this centre will spend time at all three IITs. The centre will be led by Prof Pallab Dasgupta from IIT Kharagpur along with Prof Sandeep Shukla from IIT Kanpur and Prof Supratik Chakraborty from IIT Bombay.
 
“Safety and reliability of electronics and software will be the determining factor for wide scale automation in all sectors of technology. Through this centre we bring the best experts on formal methods in the country together to accelerate the growth of safe open engineered embedded system solutions in the country, which is key to reducing costs without compromising safety”, said Prof P PChakrabarti, Director, IIT Kharagpur. Professor Chakrabarti is involved with the center in his personal capacity as a renowned Computer Scientist.
 
A wide cross-section of industries have expressed interest to participate in this collaboration. BARC, HAL, Indian Railways, Intel, Microsoft, TCS, Tata Motors, Synopsis are among them."FMSAFE welcomes participation of industries and government agencies in developing India-specific technology that can formally prove the safety of the systems we use" added Dasgupta. 
 
The formal methods research group at IIT Kharagpur already has long standing technology development partnerships with many companies and PSUs, including Intel, General Motors, Synopsys, SRC, HAL, and Indian Railways. These partnerships have led to deployed technologies, international patents and research papers in top rated international journals. The new centre will build upon the existing foundations and aim to address the needs of indigenous requirements as a knowledge centre on safety critical systems.