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7 June, 2006 - 09:47 By Staff Reporter

Essex start-up pledges to save embedded systems industry billions

A University of Essex spin-out has developed a ground-breaking technology with the potential to save wider industry several billion dollars every year through the efficient operational testing of increasingly complex hi-tech electronic systems.A University of Essex spin-out has developed a ground-breaking technology with the potential to save wider industry several billion dollars every year through the efficient operational testing of increasingly complex hi-tech electronic systems.

Nine month-old UltraSoC Technologies is already in confidential discussions with a number of European automotive equipment manufacturers keen to run the start-up’s prototype solution to the ‘embedded system challenge’.

UltraSoC plans to generate income by licensing a well-protected technology portfolio of software tools and hardware architectures for next-generation electronic systems.

Though the company’s work is still at the final proof-of-concept stage, a full market-ready product is anticipated within the next few months, prompting the firm to expand its presence at the Department of Computer Science on Essex’s Wivenhoe campus.

Company founder and chief technology officer, Dr Klaus McDonald-Maier, said: "We are very pleased to open our new office at Essex, which will complement our commercial offices at Cambridge and on the Canterbury Enterprise Hub."

The embedded system challenge refers to the problem thrown up by the rise in complexity of computer systems, which has resulted in companies experiencing a major challenge in ensuring the correct operation and reliability of their systems.

During system development, mistakes that lead to incorrect behaviour – bugs – are introduced, most often through human error. These bugs need to be found and removed so that the specification is met and the product made reliable.

This verification and debugging process already makes up approximately half the total cost of product development, a total which the US National Institute of Standards and Technology estimates to be around £32bn per annum in the US alone.

Higher levels of integration have led to complete electronic systems being housed within one chip, a System-on-Chip, which further complicates developments as there is very limited visibility within a functioning chip. This is particularly important for real-time systems where a certain action has to be taken at a specific point in time. A deviation from this specific point in time can have adverse results.

UltraSoC’s technology not only allows significant cost savings, but also provides potential safety advantages.

The capability also offers significant commercial advantages due to the high volumes for such embedded systems within markets like the semiconductor sector, which play a major role in the production of mobile phones – next on UltraSoC’s list of market opportunities.

"Our system is half the size and much cheaper than alternative technologies," said Dr McDonald-Maier. "It is also around 70 per cent more effective than our next competitor."

Since its incorporation, UltraSoC has raised several thousand pounds from Kent University, the East of England Development Agency and the European Social Fund, though it has had some £2m in funding from other parties, significantly the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council, prior to that.

Dr McDonald-Maier said further funding would probably be sought next year.

Dr McDonald-Maier currently leads the embedded and intelligent systems research group within the Department of Computer Science, which is to become the Department of Computing and Electronic Systems next year when it combines with Electronic Systems Engineering.

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