We’ve all heard about the space missions that are DOA when NASA engineers lose touch with the spacecraft or lander. In other cases, some critical system fails and the mission is compromised.
Both are maddening scenarios because the spacecraft probably could be easily fixed if engineers could just get their hands on the hardware for a few minutes.
Ali Akoglu and his students at The University of Arizona are working on hybrid hardware/software systems that one day might use machine intelligence to allow the spacecraft to heal themselves.
Akoglu, an assistant professor in electrical and computer engineering, is using Field Programmable Gate Arrays, or FPGA, to build these self-healing systems. FPGAs combine software and hardware to produce flexible systems that can be reconfigured at the chip level.
Because some of the hardware functions are carried out at the chip level, the software can be set up to mimic hardware. In this way, the FPGA “firmware” can be reconfigured to emulate different kinds of hardware.