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CACM Reports: How Software Redundancy Helped Deliver Curiosity to the Surface of Mars

February 2014 Issue Reports on Relying on Ready Technologies; How Computers Enhance Math Research; and Timing Analysis for Hard Real-Time Systems

The Association for Computing Machinery
Advancing Computing as a Science & Profession

Contact: Virginia Gold

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Software controls all functions on Curiosity, the rover that landed on Mars a little over a year ago, and continues to plumb the mysteries of the Red Planet. NASA Jet Propulsion Lab scientist Gerard J. Holzmann describes the redundant software and hardware that ensured Curiosity would reach its destination and function as its designers intended in an environment where there are no second chances. In this issue of Communications of the ACM, he focuses on the set of precautions the flight software team took in developing the Mars Science Lab mission software to ensure spacecraft reliability, and system debugging and repair from millions of miles away.

  • Stephen Andriole of Villanova University defines "ready technology" as emerging technologies that are accessible and cost-effective. Driven by employees/consumers who adopt technologies to solve a variety of problems, many of these are cloud-based, open source, and live happily outside of corporate firewalls. He offers examples of ready technologies and counsels CIOs and CTOs to rethink the way useful technology enters the enterprise.
  • Just as computers have transformed a broad range of human activities, mathematicians and computer scientists are poised deliver on a long-standing promise to do the same for mathematics. Science writer Don Monroe examines new discoveries that have spurred mathematicians to explore how computers can enhance mathematics research.
  • ACM President Vint Cerf surveys the technology breakthroughs over the last century and observes that search engines of the Internet have become the moral equivalent of cognitive implants. Now that we are on the cusp of generating an Internet of Things and other bold technologies, he concludes, it does not seem excessive to suggest the world of 2064 will be as far beyond imagining as 2014 was in 1964.
  • Computation takes time, but how much? Researchers at Germany’s Saarland University examine the problem of verifying real-time behavior of safety-critical embedded systems like anti-lock brakes and airbags, where punctuality is critical.

Click here for Communications Table of Contents. Visit Communications for industry news, commentary, observations, and practical research. Communications, the flagship publication of ACM, is available online in digital format.

About ACM
ACM, the Association for Computing Machinery, is the world’s largest educational and scientific computing society, uniting computing educators, researchers and professionals to inspire dialogue, share resources and address the field’s challenges. ACM strengthens the computing profession’s collective voice through strong leadership, promotion of the highest standards, and recognition of technical excellence. ACM supports the professional growth of its members by providing opportunities for life-long learning, career development, and professional networking.