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Flight Simulator Hackathon, a sample of safety-critical programming

Get to know the challenges of programming in Avionics. An example of that job you can get during EDC Hackathon – Flight Simulator.
Hackathon edc

On October 12th, the unique Hackathon will take place during the 9th Night at the Institute of Aviation. The challenge will be to assemble and integrate the Cessna 172SP cockpit with the Flight Simulator. In only 24 hours, participants will have a chance to realize a project, that in the real engineer-programmers’ life would take around five years.

Why that kind of topic was chosen? How the Hackathon challenge reflects everyday tasks, that EDC engineers have to deal with? We talked with three of the Hackathon organizers – Maciej Sobczak – Software Engineer, Sławomir Kret – Software & Systems Manager and Marcin Szafrański – Systems Engineer.


How did you come up with the idea of building the airplane cockpit and its integration with the simulator?


SK:
The idea was born out of our passion for flying. We want to show that what we do every day - programming in aviation - can be fascinating.

MS: At EDC, in GE Digital we create systems that are part of the aircraft's equipment and subject of the strictest supervision. We work on safety-critical systems. Humans’ lives depend on the quality of what we do. Those strict requirements and the responsibility that comes from them have a serious impact on the rigor and scrutiny of our work practices, including heavy reliance on industry process standards. In fact it is the rigor and the mandatory certification process that makes a huge difference between safety-critical systems and other software products, where it is not the safety, but time-to-market that drives the work culture. If we say that we want to see the participants spending 24 hours on what takes us five years, there is only a little exaggeration in this. Real avionics is really hard, but in this Hackathon we want to squeeze the fun part of it!

MSz: The challenge the participants will have to face is similar to what we do here at EDC Avionics, but with no need to follow all those strict regulations. Unlike us, they will be allowed to use any technologies to bring the cockpit ready for flight in 24 hours. This is because the flight simulator gets in the air only virtually.

The task is quite wide. It requires different skills.


MS:
I think that’s what makes it unique when compared to other Hackathons. To complete the task the team must show the abilities not only to program the software, but they should also know something about the electronics, aircraft hardware and systems engineering. Those are all the skills we need to know working in Avionics.

So what kind of programming languages are you using daily?


MS:
At EDC, we use technologies that have gained recognition and have shown maturity over the years, such as C and Ada, which many young engineers might consider to be obsolete, but at the same time no other technology proved to be serviceable over the range of 30 years, which is a typical lifespan of the aviation project. This allows us to keep the highest level of quality and safety. In addition, to automate some of our daily tasks we are using also some popular technologies, for example Python.

And if it comes to the systems engineering. How do you use it daily and how the participants will have to utilize it during Hackathon?


SK:
During our challenge the teams will have to make a lot of tough decisions about usage of software and hardware and their integration into a working system. That is basically what systems engineering is about - every project needs a person who is responsible for planning, design decisions and integration of various project parts. Systems engineers at EDC have been supporting big international avionics projects for about four years by now.

It looks like the job in Avionics is quite complex. What exactly are you working on?


MS:
We can distinguish seven fields of Avionics projects at EDC.

  1. Power control systems
  2. Fuel pumps control
  3. Creating backup and open flight deck displays solutions
  4. Control of turboprop propeller units
  5. Monitoring health parameters of the pilot
  6. Landing gear condition monitoring and control
  7. Data conversion and transmission systems


Are any of them part of the Hackathon task?


MSz:
During Hackathon participants will have to create a cockpit for Cessna 172SP, in a modern, glass-cockpit version. This will require from them to create a Flight Display solution – quite like those developed at EDC.

SK: They will also need to integrate the cockpit with the flight simulator and thus create the “nervous system” of the plane. This is a good example of an application of the above-mentioned data conversion and transmission systems. By implementing solutions directly into the simulator the hackathonists will be able to see the effects of their work right away!


That’s quite unusual at your work, isn’t it?


SK:
That’s true, normally we have to wait quite long before we will see the effects of our work in reality. But as we said at the beginning – in Hackathon there are no restrictions. The most important thing is to have fun while doing some very interesting Avionics stuff!

Maciej, you mentioned seven fields of Avionics. We shortly described two of them that will be used in Hackathon. What about the rest? Can you, please, tell more about each of the other five areas?


MS:
Sure. In the Power control systems projects we are dealing with complex rules for managing power valves and switches. Interestingly, the power control system needs to manage the fuel pumps as well and this system needs to be very reliable. When it comes to the Control of turboprop propeller units, our goal is to model and implement control rules for distinct phases of the flight, to optimize the energy output and fuel consumption. We also realize projects related to landing gear. We are working on monitoring its condition and the ways of control it from the pilot’s cabin.

All those projects relate to a plane. You also mentioned monitoring health parameters of the pilots. You also take care of them?


MS:
That’s true. As we are working on the safety of the flights, we also need to make sure that nothing wrong is happening to the pilot, who is responsible for the aircraft. We are working on the system that is monitoring such parameters as pulse, responsiveness and the ability to focus.


That seems like a science-fiction kind of work.


SK:
Those are real things we implement in planes that take you for holidays and business trips every day. But you are right, some days we feel like in a computer game. Maybe that’s why we chose the topic of Hackathon connected with gaming. 😊


Thank you all for you time and your answers.

You can still sign up for the EDC Hackaton 2018! Visit edc.pl/hackathon website for details. 

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