The STRL participates in increasing Public Awareness of Safe and Dependable IT

People are heavily dependent on computer based Information Technology systems to control many facets of everyday life in industry, business and the home. How can we be sure that such computer systems are safe and dependable?

In 1999 EPSRC awarded a grant to STRL for a project to increase public awareness and appreciation of the many challenges that exist in developing highly dependable and safe Information Technology systems on which the operation of businesses and socio-economic organisations are based.

To promote such awareness an exemplar demonstrator was developed and installed together with a set of supporting posters in Snibston Discovery Park, Coalville, Leicestershire in August 2000. The demonstrator is an example of using a computer in a complex unstable control system; this being indicative of many of today's industrial control systems such as the control of the stability of an aircraft in flight.

The exemplar hardware

The exemplar uses a TQ CE151 Ball and Plate

Click for full picture

apparatus (see above picture) which consists of:
  • a table which can tilt in the X (forward/backward) and Y (side to side) directions under computer control
  • a ball rolling freely on the table
  • a TV camera positioned above the table to enable the computer to determine the ball position

The general aim being that software in the controlling computer can determine the ball position and by tilting the table move the ball to the required position.

Click for full picture

The picture above shows the CE151 Ball and Plate installed in its cabinet at Snibston.
In this case the Ball and Plate is controlled either by the user or the computer:
  1. the user (in this case a member of the public) uses a tracker ball to tilt the table backwards/forwards and side to side to position the ball
  2. if the tracker ball is not used for a few seconds the computer takes control and moves the ball around the table in a predetermined pattern; any movement of the tracker ball returns control to the user

Thus the user can attempt to control the ball position (in the process finding out how difficult it is) and then turn over control to the computer. Thus achieving the aim of giving the user a appreciation of how difficult it is to control an inherently unstable system and hence the importance of ensuring safe and dependable IT.

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The exemplar is supported by a poster display (see above picture) giving examples of IT system failures (e.g. aircraft crashes, rocket launch failures, financial system crashes, database errors, etc.) together with a discussion of how IT systems may be formally proved to eliminate or at least reduce the possibility of failure.


Acknowledgements are due to:

  • EPSRC and De Montfort University for supporting the project,
  • Snibston Discovery Park, Coalville, Leicestershire for advice and technical assistance,
  • TQ Ltd for advice on equipment selection and technical assistance,
  • HumuSoft for the source of the CE151 software thus enabling it to be adapted to suit the particular requirements of the exemplar,
  • Penny and Giles Ltd. for advice on selecting, interfacing and programming a P&G tracker ball.

Nov 29 2007
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