Embedded brains brings open source concept to RTOS world

September 18, 2012 // By Christoph Hammerschmidt
In automotive and aerospace environments, there are many applications requiring real-time behaviour and thus these environments are the home turf of real-time operating systems. So far, the concept of open source software plays only a marginal role at best in this field. A German engineering company with deep roots in the automotive and aerospace markets now intends to change this.

Thomas Doerfler, General Manager of Embedded Brains finds that RTEMS deserves a bigger role in many industry segments. RTEMS stands for "Real-Time Executive System for Multiprocessor Systems" and has originally been developed by the US armed forces back in the 1980s - the acronym initially had the meaning "Real-Time Executive for Missile Systems". For some reason, the armed forces lost their interest in the system and transferred it to the open domain where it currently lives a wallflower life. But with multiprocessor approaches gaining traction in the automotive segment- where advanced driver assistant systems, for instance, call for ever more computing power - RTEMS could be the platform of choice for safety-critical applications which also need to be scalable in a wide range. Plus, it helps OEMs and suppliers in the automotive world to reduce their dependency on specific suppliers. "RTOS vendors sometimes get taken over or they change their strategy", Doerfler explains. "In the automotive electronics industry you need long-term availability and stability for your software platforms. With an open-source approach this can be ensured more easily".

Currently, RTEMS is deployed in relatively few aerospace applications such as mission critical systems for satellites, but also in industrial environments with driverless transport systems being a typical application. It also has loyal supporters in large science applications such as the DESY electron synchrotron in Hamburg (Germany). This could by one of the reasons why RTEMS runs on most popular hardware architectures, ranging from x86 to MIPS, Freescale's Coldfire family and Renesas' V850 which is quite popular in automotive applications. It also runs on the Sparc architecture developed by Sun Microsystems (today a unit of Oracle software). Sparc is still relevant in the aerospace market since it is implemented on radiation-hardened chips. A RTEMS port to Infineon's TriCore architecture is currently underway.

In comparison to Linux, the only other open source operating system with real-time capabilities, RTEMS has been developed with short