Boeing cockpit designers use automatic software generator to save development time

ST. LOUIS - Engineers at The Boeing Co. Phantom Works in St. Louis needed a commercial-off-the-shelf (COTS) code-development tool to write software drivers automatically for displays in aircraft cockpits and simulators.

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By John McHale

ST. LOUIS - Engineers at The Boeing Co. Phantom Works in St. Louis needed a commercial-off-the-shelf (COTS) code-development tool to write software drivers automatically for displays in aircraft cockpits and simulators.

They found their solution with the VAPS development tool from Virtual Prototypes in Montreal.

"The key discriminator in the selection of VAPS was the portable code it produces," says Timothy Burns, senior principal engineer at Boeing. "The entire process - from having an idea, to executing embedded software - takes just a few minutes."

VAPS helps software engineers specify, test, simulate, and deploy visual real-time, interactive 2D graphical user interfaces with little actual coding.

Virtual`s engineers recently released VAPS 5.0, which adds a standard graphics library for all the product`s supported platforms and a help engine standardized with a Web browser on all platforms. Current customers, including Boeing, will upgrade to the new product, Virtual officials say.

Leaders of the U.S. Department of Defense and weapons system integrators turning towards COTS simulation and software equipment more and more for its code portability and lower price, says Phillipe Collard, president and chief executive officer at Virtual Prototypes.

"Simulation is one of the most potent tools for building a new weapons system," Collard says. Off-the-shelf technology not only provides high performance, but has a better time-to-market than custom technology, he says.

Virtual experts are also designing the prototype avionics display for the Lockheed Martin F-22 advanced tactical fighter with their VAPS and STAGE products.

Collard says he sees the defense industry split into three parties: end users - the government and the military; suppliers of COTS equipment - companies such as Virtual Prototypes; and equipment integrators - companies such as Boeing and Lockheed Martin.

When choosing between COTS and custom equipment, these players need to find a happy medium, Collard says. COTS at all costs is not the way to go, he offers; neither is customizing everything. Every application is different, he says.

Boeing Phantom Works experts use the VAPS tool to replace hand coding in developing cockpit displays. VAPS, which works on UNIX or Windows NT, helps to solidify requirements for embedded systems early in a display`s lifecycle.

Once engineers design and test a cockpit display, VAPS generates ANSI C code that implements the display, and cross-compiles the generated code directly to the aircraft graphics processors.

VAPS also renders cockpit displays as Windows NT executables, which can test non-graphical avionics software within the Phantom Works Desktop Testing Environment. Company officials make these executables available on their Intranet.

"We plan to make these same executables available to customers and suppliers, in order to enhance communications," Burns says. Integrators can reuse VAPS generated code in simulators, and other test sites.

Boeing engineers are using VAPS to link embedded system software directly to the associated HTML-based documentation, to provide supplemental information for the cockpit displays online.

"We see this as a big benefit for enhancing communication both internally and with our customers and suppliers," Bruns explains. "We will finally be able to closely associate the embedded system behavior with the describing documentation. The beauty of it is that you only need a Web browser and a PC running Windows NT to use the executables; no expensive software tools are required by the end user."

Boeing officials are also funding development of Virtual`s next-generation automatic code generator technology and the move of Virtual`s C Code Generator /Lite (CCG/Lite) product into mission-critical avionics applications.

CCG/Lite is a version of Virtual`s C Code Generator that addresses small-memory, high-performance, in-vehicle display systems. CCG/Lite reduces code three to six times more than the original C Code Generator, which is for trainers and simulators.

For more information on VAPS and Virtual Prototypes contact Shelley Chapatis by phone at 514-341-3874 ext. 259, by fax at 514-341-8018, by mail at Virtual Prototypes, 4700 de la Savane, Suite 300, Montreal, QC Canada H4P IT7, by email at shelley@virtualprototypes.ca, or on the World Wide Web at http://www.virtualprototypes.ca.

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Engineers at the Boeing Phantom Works in St. Louis, are using the VAPS 5.0 code generator and porting tool from Virtual Prototypes in Montreal, to replace their current hand-coding methodology for developing cockpit displays.

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