NASA Ames Research Center has signed an agreement to award $23.3 million to
Carnegie Mellon University’s School of Computer Science to develop a
multi-disciplinary, multi-institutional High-Dependability Computing
Program (HDCP) to improve NASA’s capability to create dependable software.

The incremental five-year cooperative agreement is part of a broad strategy
for dependable computing that links NASA, Carnegie Mellon, corporate
partners and other universities. Carnegie Mellon experts will collaborate
with NASA scientists and researchers from universities, including the
Massachusetts Institute of Technology, University of Maryland, University
of Southern California, University of Washington and University of
Wisconsin, to measure and improve the dependability of NASA’s systems.

“We are delighted to work with Carnegie Mellon,” said Ames Center Director
Dr. Henry McDonald. “Carnegie Mellon is a leader in computing and robotic
technologies. We see this as a cornerstone as we move forward with the
development of NASA Research Park,” he said.

“While software dependability has been a theme of computing research for
several decades, this program addresses the issue in a new way, looking at
the particular challenges of large systems, and combining measurement with
improvement,” said William L. Scherlis, principal research scientist in the
Institute for Software Research, International in Carnegie Mellon’s School
of Computer Science. Scherlis and James H. Morris, professor and dean of
the School of Computer Science, are principal investigators on the
High-Dependability Computing Program.

“This is a unique opportunity to develop an empirically based science for
software dependability, and could have a major impact on NASA’s ability to
rely on complex software for advanced mission capability,” said Dr. Michael
L. Lowry, chief of research in advanced software engineering technology
within the Computational Sciences Division at NASA Ames. Previous research
collaborations between this division, headed by Dr. Daniel Clancy, and
Carnegie Mellon have resulted in tools that formally verify artificial
intelligence software that autonomously controls robotics spacecraft.

Dependability is a major challenge for all complex software-based systems.
Today there are few effective techniques for measuring dependability and
for improving the dependability of large and complex systems. Aspects of
dependability include safety-critical reliability, high security, high
integrity, continuous operation and human-computer interaction. “Human
performance and human computer interaction are critical elements of
software reliability,” said Dr. Terry Allard, chief of the Human Factors
Research and Technology Division at NASA Ames. These criteria have long
been requirements for space and defense systems. Now they are increasingly
important for systems in many other sectors of society, including systems
associated with national infrastructure, defense and health care, as well
as mainstream systems ranging from electronic commerce to desktops.

“By studying large systems and components important to NASA, we will be
better equipped to understand the challenges of moving techniques for
measuring and improving dependability from the laboratory into practice,
both for NASA and for the mainstream software development that contributes
to the NASA mission,” Scherlis said. “The testbed projects will provide
important stepping stones in this process.” Testbed projects, to be
announced over the next few months, are likely to include an advanced
networking architecture for the International Space Station and NASA’s
research to improve air-traffic control.

Morris explained that the diverse skills needed to accomplish the HDCP’s
goals do not reside exclusively at any single laboratory. The principal
focus is on strengthening software dependability for NASA. In addition,
Carnegie Mellon and its partners will develop collaborations with industry
and with other major software development efforts, including open source
projects. First-year funding for the HDCP is $2.9 million, which will be
divided between Carnegie Mellon’s Pittsburgh campus, research efforts on
the West Coast and other universities as subcontractors.

The High-Dependability Computing Program is the most recent in a number of
important collaborations that Carnegie Mellon has undertaken with NASA.
Carnegie Mellon has worked for the past two years to establish a presence
in the Silicon Valley. This includes formation of the High-Dependability
Computing Consortium (HDCC) jointly with NASA and 15 Silicon Valley
companies, focused broadly on reducing failures in computing systems
critical to the welfare of society.

Carnegie Mellon has an agreement with NASA to use facilities at Moffett
Field to initiate the high-dependability program. “Carnegie Mellon has
unique capabilities to offer in Silicon Valley, the information technology
capital of the world,” said Morris. He believes that Carnegie Mellon’s
presence in the valley not only makes its offerings more broadly
accessible, but also can enhance the educational experience of students at
the Pittsburgh campus by giving them opportunities for internships or
research with NASA or Silicon Valley companies. In addition, “Carnegie
Mellon has more than 2,500 alumni in Silicon Valley. They want to see us
take a more active role in this environment,” he said.

In other work with NASA Ames, Carnegie Mellon researchers have developed
high-profile robots such as Dante, which explored the interior of a
volcano, and Nomad, which discovered meteorites in Antarctica. In addition,
Carnegie Mellon researchers also have worked with Ames researchers on
projects such as formal methods for verifying digital circuitry, vision and
navigation, machine learning and data mining.