December 09, 2009

SIUC to be home to Center for Embedded Systems

by Tim Crosby

CARBONDALE, Ill. -- Southern Illinois University Carbondale will be home to a national consortium of electronics research, thanks to a grant from the National Science Foundation and the leadership of SIUC faculty.

The Center for Embedded Systems is a joint effort between SIUC’s College of Engineering, the Fulton School of Engineering at Arizona State University and private industry, said Spyros Tragoudas, professor in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering and leader of the effort at SIUC.

The center will be the only one of its kind funded by NSF in the nation, he said. That means other universities that wish to conduct research in this way will have to join the center and meet the requirements to do so.

“It was a very tough competition and I’m very happy NSF approved it,” said Tragoudas, who works in the computer engineering specialization. “They felt we have good quality faculty here, so that by itself is big. This puts SIUC in the forefront in this area.”

Embedded systems are everywhere. They are environments that use embedded microprocessors to control systems and provide feedback. Research issues include finding ways to achieve and maintain access to the microprocessors, testing and verifying their reliability. It also involves the design, size and weight of such microprocessors, which may be critical based on their intended application.

“One company we are possibly working with is building sensors that would be attached to a butterfly, to track their flights,” Tragoudas said, giving an example. On the other end of the scale, embedded systems can be used to guide the flight of a rocket or control networks.

Like all computer and electronic technologies, embedded systems are rapidly evolving, which is why Tragoudas and others sought to create an NSF center for studying them.

“This consortium is needed because this field is fluid and ever changing. Nothing is static and the changes are drastic, month by month,” he said. “The center gives industry the ability to see a group of existing faculty within in one or more universities and assess whether they can collaborate to meet their needs.”

The center, which NSF will help fund for up to 10 years, will directly involve at least one SIUC student per project each year, with the overall impact felt by many more students who get to know industry leaders and researchers through meetings and laboratory visits.

SIUC is known for its ability to test the reliability and speed of microprocessors, as well as their power consumption, Tragoudas said. Faculty from the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering will participate in the consortium, and faculty from other departments might also eventually become involved.

“This consortium will be a center for excellence in the field of embedded systems,” Tragoudas said. “Excellence includes maintaining a very high-quality research program, educating and training graduate and undergraduate students for absorption into the nation’s industry and contributing to the success of its industrial partners through knowledge and technology transfer.”

The first research projects already are in place, with new ones scheduled for selection early next year. Researchers will conduct fundamental research aimed at eventual specific applications and products.

“There is industry that wants to benefit from research activities in such a setting,” Tragoudas said.

The consortium first needs to recruit industry partners, each of which will pay a fee annually for membership and to sit on its Industrial Advisory Board, which will select proposed research projects for funding. Tragoudas said the consortium has several companies and agencies that have joined already, including Intel's Microprocessor Technology Laboratories, Intel's Embedded and Communications Group, Raytheon, U.S. Navy NAVSEA Crane, Science Applications International Corp. and Wildlife Materials International.

Industry partners, each of whom must provide at least $25,000 to join, will work with the consortium in a variety of ways, including providing internships to students who will be paid through the grant by their respective university. The internships will give companies a head start on recruiting academically talented students to eventually work there.

“This is more attractive to students, too, “ Tragoudas said. “So this kind of center helps and attracts students and helps companies recruit qualified individuals inexpensively.”

The consortium also will provide industry partners with a broad base of experts in the fields of electrical and computer engineering and science, Tragoudas said, allowing the companies access to research results that could affect their product line development. It will focus on several areas, including manufacturing processes for microprocessors; thermal, power and energy management; and high performance design and testing, among others.

“The consortium will provide an excellent opportunity for carrying out pre-competitive or exploratory research,” he said, adding that companies may in some cases request researchers conduct certain studies and research projects.