NICTA and Qualcomm

As you will soon hopefully be aware, the Embedded Systems and Real Time Operating Systems group (the research group that Gelato@UNSW is embedded in) within National ICT Australia today released news that they are partnering with Qualcomm on some chipset solutions. Many of you will know people like Gernot and the hacker-extrondiare Benno who made this all possible (while I had nothing to do with it at all).

The essence of this announcement is the tiny microkernel L4 with an operating system layer Iguana wrapped around it. On top of this you can run a modified version of Linux, called Wombat.

This is important for a number of reasons. From a technical point of view, memory protection in embedded systems isn't generally a given -- any process can kill another, making things often very hard to debug. Using this operating system stack you get full memory protection. Secondly, it is possible, and work is ongoing, to formally verify the L4 microkernel. This means that it will have been shown, much as in the way of a mathematical proof, that it works. For your embedded system, which might be stuck somewhere that the reset button is very hard to reach, this is a great reassurance. Lastly, having a modified version of Linux available means there are a number of possibilities for you not having to re-write legacy code. You also avoid licensing issues around using something like ucLinux, which are a big concern to many embedded systems players.

From a non-technical point of view, this represents around 10 years of hard work from various people involved in what has been known as the Keg lab, after the tiny room it all started from in the UNSW Electrical Engineering building. It means that people in Australia are doing really interesting systems work and coming up with products that really stand out and customers want (I can't say more, but be sure that the Qualcomm partnership will not be the last). You should be excited, because starting to commercialise research projects is a push in the right direction to becoming a powerhouse of innovation like so many of the famous American universities. And if you have youth on your side, enrol at UNSW, do the various operating systems courses and come and join us on NICTA Level 6 -- the view is great!