Carnegie Mellon and NASA Establish Consortium With Industry To Address Problems in Dependability of Computer Systems

BY Byron Spice - Wed, 2000-12-06 12:00  Printer-friendly version

PITTSBURGH-Carnegie Mellon University and NASA have formed a High Dependability Computing Consortium (HDCC) whose mission is to eliminate failures in computing systems critical to the welfare of society.

Twelve information technology companies have agreed to work with Carnegie Mellon and NASA to develop the consortium and its agenda. They include Adobe Systems, Inc., Compaq Computer Corp., Hewlett-Packard Corp., IBM Corp., ILOG, Inc., Marimba, Inc., Microsoft Corp., Novell, Inc., SGI, Inc., Siebel Systems, Inc., Sybase, Inc., and Sun Microsystems, Inc.

Dependable systems technology is necessary to insure that the software created for space missions, defense, health care, electronic commerce, or any systems affecting human safety or well-being functions properly. Recent highly publicized crashes of online services like AOL and Yahoo highlight the need for highly dependable systems.

Earlier this year, NASA funded a Carnegie Mellon proposal to develop the consortium with a grant of $500,000. Since then, the university has been enrolling partners and, together with NASA, will formalize a research agenda. Application areas that could demonstrate dependable technology include air traffic control, Internet communication, power generation and transmission, space exploration, health care and highway safety. Additional areas will be identified by the industrial collaboration.

"Carnegie Mellon has played a lead role in forming this consortium," said university President Jared L. Cohon. "Once established, we will help lead it and contribute to its technical agenda. The university has a long history of building practical computing systems and is recognized for its expertise in software engineering. We have an innovative faculty that excels in cross-disciplinary research. All of these capabilities will contribute to the success of the HDCC."

"Carnegie Mellon's expertise in robotics has played a major role in the success of numerous NASA research projects," said NASA Ames Research Center Director Henry McDonald. "We look forward to working with the university and our industry partners to advance NASA's computing capabilities for future research projects."

The High Dependability Computing Consortium represents the first concrete step in Carnegie Mellon's plan to develop a presence in the Silicon Valley. Last January the university signed a memorandum of understanding with NASA establishing a partnership to explore the creation of a branch campus at Moffett Field.

Since then, the university has signed a letter of intent with the agency that outlines the programs Carnegie Mellon plans for the site. The university plans to build 500,000 square feet of space on 15 acres of a 40-acre tract at the 2,000-acre Moffett Field site that is being set aside as a university reserve. NASA is developing this site as a research park.

"We want to showcase our research and educational offerings in Silicon Valley, the information technology capital of the world," said James H. Morris, dean of the School of Computer Science at Carnegie Mellon. He said the goal of current planning is to create a suitable platform, including classrooms, laboratory space and housing that would allow any department of the university to run a program there at reasonable cost. Initially, the facility would be used for research with NASA, executive education programs, electronic commerce courses, computer science, robotics and software engineering.

Nationally known research and educational programs from Carnegie Mellon's engineering college and Software Engineering Institute may also play key roles at the Silicon Valley campus.

Morris and others at Carnegie Mellon believe a presence in Silicon Valley can enhance the educational experience of students at the Pittsburgh campus by giving them opportunities to do internships or research with NASA or Silicon Valley companies.

Carnegie Mellon is participating with NASA as the agency puts together an environmental impact statement for development of the Moffett Field site. The university has hired San Francisco-based BMS Design Group, EHDD architects and consultant Barnes and Co., to assist the university in planning. Funding for these services has come from Silicon Valley-based friends of the university.

"We want to undertake basic, empirical and engineering research aimed at making the creation and maintenance of computer systems a true professional discipline comparable to civil engineering and medicine," said Morris. "As shapers of the future, universities should address the software quality problem now, before the world at large sees a crisis.

"Carnegie Mellon has more than 2,500 alumni in Silicon Valley," said Morris. "They want to see us take a more active role in this environment."

Carnegie Mellon has had a long-standing relationship with NASA's Ames Research Center. They have developed high profile robots such as Dante, which explored the interior of a volcano, and Nomad, which did a 125-kilometer trek across Chile's Atacama Desert and found meteorites in Antarctica. In addition, researchers from departments as diverse as philosophy, computer science and mechanical engineering have worked with Ames researchers. Projects have included formal methods for verifying digital circuitry, vision and navigation, machine learning and data mining.

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Byron Spice | 412-268-9068 | bspice [atsymbol] cs.cmu.edu