Specification: The Biggest Bottleneck in Formal Methods and Autonomy

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Rozier, Kristin
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Rozier, Kristin Yvonne
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Aerospace Engineering

The Department of Aerospace Engineering seeks to instruct the design, analysis, testing, and operation of vehicles which operate in air, water, or space, including studies of aerodynamics, structure mechanics, propulsion, and the like.

The Department of Aerospace Engineering was organized as the Department of Aeronautical Engineering in 1942. Its name was changed to the Department of Aerospace Engineering in 1961. In 1990, the department absorbed the Department of Engineering Science and Mechanics and became the Department of Aerospace Engineering and Engineering Mechanics. In 2003 the name was changed back to the Department of Aerospace Engineering.

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Computer Science

Computer Science—the theory, representation, processing, communication and use of information—is fundamentally transforming every aspect of human endeavor. The Department of Computer Science at Iowa State University advances computational and information sciences through; 1. educational and research programs within and beyond the university; 2. active engagement to help define national and international research, and 3. educational agendas, and sustained commitment to graduating leaders for academia, industry and government.

The Computer Science Department was officially established in 1969, with Robert Stewart serving as the founding Department Chair. Faculty were composed of joint appointments with Mathematics, Statistics, and Electrical Engineering. In 1969, the building which now houses the Computer Science department, then simply called the Computer Science building, was completed. Later it was named Atanasoff Hall. Throughout the 1980s to present, the department expanded and developed its teaching and research agendas to cover many areas of computing.

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Electrical and Computer Engineering

The Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering (ECpE) contains two focuses. The focus on Electrical Engineering teaches students in the fields of control systems, electromagnetics and non-destructive evaluation, microelectronics, electric power & energy systems, and the like. The Computer Engineering focus teaches in the fields of software systems, embedded systems, networking, information security, computer architecture, etc.

The Department of Electrical Engineering was formed in 1909 from the division of the Department of Physics and Electrical Engineering. In 1985 its name changed to Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Engineering. In 1995 it became the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering.

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  • Department of Electrical Engineering (1909-1985)
  • Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Engineering (1985-1995)

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Advancement of AI-enhanced control in autonomous systems stands on the shoulders of formal methods, which make possible the rigorous safety analysis autonomous systems require. An aircraft cannot operate autonomously unless it has design-time reasoning to ensure correct operation of the autopilot and runtime reasoning to ensure system health management, or the ability to detect and respond to off-nominal situations. Formal methods are highly dependent on the specifications over which they reason; there is no escaping the “garbage in, garbage out” reality. Specification is difficult, unglamorous, and arguably the biggest bottleneck facing verification and validation of aerospace, and other, autonomous systems.

This VSTTE invited talk and paper examines the outlook for the practice of formal specification, and highlights the on-going challenges of specification, from design-time to runtime system health management. We exemplify these challenges for specifications in Linear Temporal Logic (LTL) though the focus is not limited to that specification language. We pose challenge questions for specification that will shape both the future of formal methods, and our ability to more automatically verify and validate autonomous systems of greater variety and scale. We call for further research into LTL Genesis.


This is a post-peer-review, pre-copyedit version of an article published as Rozier K.Y. (2016) "Specification: The Biggest Bottleneck in Formal Methods and Autonomy." In: Blazy S., Chechik M. (eds.) Verified Software. Theories, Tools, and Experiments. VSTTE 2016. Lecture Notes in Computer Science, vol. 9971. The final publication is available at DOI: 10.1007/978-3-319-48869-1_2. Posted with permission.

Fri Jan 01 00:00:00 UTC 2016