Staying “Mission Ready”: When Rugged VPX Systems Matter

Diagnosis and prevention can include monitoring a variety of sensor data and other metrics can help pin-point system problems. Patterns of behavior can be identified, and analysis applied to ascertain impending failures and replace a system ahead of a mission.

In the past, people would only see the doctor when they were sick, and remedies would be prescribed, and sick days taken. The impromptu doctor’s visit may be fortuitous, however, as it could lead to diagnosis of more serious issues that could have become catastrophic if not caught. A better way of catching these issues is yearly health checks, providing ‘preventative maintenance’ and enabling issues to be diagnosed and resolved before they become calamitous – keeping you ‘mission ready’ and able to tackle your daily life more consistently.

Figure 1: Staff Sgt. Arjune Haynes reviews an echocardiogram at Langley Air Force Base, Va. Haynes, originally from Trujillo, Panama, was inspired to join a branch of the U.S. armed forces after a life-changing encounter with a service member during Operation Just Cause in 1989. This photo has been altered to protect patient information. (Image credit: U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Aubrey White)

Technology has now introduced a plethora of wearable, smart electronic devices that constantly monitor aspects of your health, such as heart beat, breathing patterns, number of steps taken and so on. This information is then used to calculate and provide additional metrics such as calories burnt – data can help you monitor and maintain a healthy lifestyle daily. In addition, it builds a library of historical data that can identify behavioral trends – good and bad. This data can help you adjust your lifestyle to get back on track and improve your ‘mission readiness’.

Catching issues

We can draw a parallel with the “health” of rugged electronic systems. For example, consider a rugged VPX system. Traditionally, upon power-up the system would run a system diagnostic on via a Power-on Built-In-Test (P-BIT). Running a system diagnostic is like the yearly check-up that will catch issues before embarking on a mission. However, a failure can prevent the mission from going ahead. In the case of a failure, the box must be removed and replaced, which takes time and requires a large inventory of spares. But what if you get a failure during operation? This can lead to the loss of key functionality and require a “mission abort.”

The introduction of Continuous/Initiated BIT (CI-BIT) enables more constant monitoring with the ability at mission time to assess the health of the hardware. If a failure is detected, the severity of the failure can be determined in context and provide an opportunity to continue the mission, albeit with reduced functionality. If redundancy is architected into both the hardware and software design, then the application can potentially re-allocate resources dynamically and continue operation as normal.

Getting smarter

Smarter electronic systems mean more manageable missions. If you can add monitoring of a variety of sensor data and other metrics such as temperatures, supply voltages, disk writes and the like, you can get even smarter. Not only can it help pin-point system problems with much better granularity – both reducing time, labor, and cost of repairs – it can also enable you to identify the system behavior that leads up to a problem. Patterns of behavior can be identified, and analysis applied to ascertain impending failures and replace a system ahead of a mission.

Figure 2: Lt. Col. Matthew Yaun conducts aerial operations during a training flight onboard a C-17 near Charleston, S.C. Training flights are vital to the operational success of Airmen because they help develop the necessary skills for combat and humanitarian missions. Yaun is a pilot assigned to the 300th Airlift Squadron. (Image Credit: U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Barry Loo/Released)


To make the above practical, a software framework is required to facilitate gathering all the sensor data and executing a collation of metrics across boards and systems on a platform. (In this case, a coalition is a combination of metrics derived from sensor fusion.) It needs to provide efficient distribution to multiple consumer applications tasked with ensuring both short- and long-term mission readiness.

Abaco is developing such a framework within modern embedded computing systems. We’re committed to helping our customers stay “mission ready.’”


David is the Principle Software Engineer of Abaco Systems’ HPEC Center of Excellence in Boston, responsible for both the AXIS software suite and HPEC system development. He has a background in military signal and image processing, starting his career as a scientific officer for the UK Ministry of Defence working with lasers and missile seeker technology, and then moving into software development in the days of the Texas instruments C40 and Analog Devices Sharc processors. As Principle Software Engineer in Boston, he has led the development of the AXIS software suite and helped shape Abaco’s HPEC strategy.

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