Actor-Oriented Design of Embedded Hardware and Software Systems

Edward A. Lee, Stephen Neuendorffer and Michael J. Wirthlin

Invited paper, Journal of Circuits, Systems, and Computers, Vol. 12, No. 3 pp. 231-260, 2003.

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In this paper, we argue that model-based design and platform-based design are two views of the same thing. A platform is an abstraction layer in the design flow. For example, a core-based architecture and an instruction set architecture are platforms. We focus on the set of designs induced by this abstraction layer. For example, the set of all ASICs based on a particular core-based architecture and the set of all x86 programs are induced sets. Hence, a platform is equivalently a set of designs. Model-based design is about using platforms with useful modeling properties to specify designs, and then synthesizing implementations from these specifications. Hence model-based design is the view from above (more abstract, closer to the problem domain) and platform-based design is the view from below (less abstract, closer to the implementation technology).

One way to define a platform is to provide a design language. Any valid expression in the language is an element of the set. A platform provides a set of constraints together with known tradeoffs that flow from those constraints. Actor-oriented platforms, such as Simulink, abstract aspects of program-level platforms, such as Java, C++, and VHDL. Actor-oriented platforms orthogonalize the actor definition language and the actor composition language, enabling highly polymorphic actor definitions and design using multiple models of computation. In particular, we concentrate on the use of constrained models of computation in design. The modeling properties implied by well chosen constraints allow more easily understood designs and are preserved during synthesis into program-level descriptions. We illustrate these concepts by describing a design framework built on Ptolemy II.

Keywords: Actor-oriented design; embedded systems; model-based design; models of computation; platform-based design; synthesis; Ptolemy II; JHDL.