Military Embedded Systems

SOSA’s rubber is meeting the road in rapid system development


October 07, 2022

John Orlando

Epiq Solutions

Travis Doll

Sciens Innovations

Image: nuraghies/Freepik

Using SOSA aligned components, a complete software-defined radio (SDR) solution was created for a TSOA-ID event in a little over two weeks, representing up to a 10-time reduction in cost and schedule compared to solutions developed without the use of well-defined open standards. It’s an open road for the development of improved technologies in military and defense applications.

The Open Group’s Sensor Open Systems Architecture (SOSA) Technical Standard 1.0 was released in September 2021, after almost three years of collaboration between the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) and more than 100 manufacturers of embedded hardware and software. The resulting SOSA Technical Standard promotes portability and reusing sensor components by defining hardware, software and interface standards. For RF and SDR [soft-ware-defined radio] payload card vendors, this also means complying with the Modular Open Radio Frequency Architecture (MORA) specification to ensure their VPX cards can be successfully utilized as envisioned by SOSA. 

Of the many steps to test and validate interoperability in a SOSA aligned system, the point at which system designers start thinking about how they will command and control a device from the outside world makes up a crucial piece of the puzzle. This integration requires implementing various MORA and Vehicular Integration for C4ISR/EW Interoperability (VICTORY) interfaces that enable other components to discover the hardware and “talk” to it for command and control, data ingest and egress, health and status, and then determine its capabilities.

Stop spinning wheels

Most hardware vendors focus on the mechanical and electrical requirements defined by the SOSA Technical Standard, whereas software companies tend to focus on the interface requirements of the card being created. It’s just the natural delineation to play to each side’s core competencies. Thanks to open standards initiatives like SOSA, more hardware and software companies are collaborating during the development process. The result is that engineers are confident that at the end of the hardware development cycle they will know what is required to fully integrate the card into a SOSA system.

Collaboration among hardware and software developers means ensuring that the time and resources to upkeep the implementation of open standards-based interfaces, including MORA, in software and firmware can be shared and allocated appropriately. Such sharing typically enables internal hardware-development teams to focus more on product innovations and applications.

Shift things into gear

The common goal of open systems standards development is interoperability among platforms, systems, and related components. Validating interoperability can manifest itself in different ways. There are companies working collaboratively to develop mechanisms utilized in a broader sense across the industry, as well as physical demonstrations and testing held at events like the Tri-Service Open Architecture Interoperability Demonstration (TSOA-ID). Such was the case for Sciens Innovations and Epiq Solutions coming together.

Because they were both members of SOSA, Sciens Innovations and Epiq Solutions knew of each other for years through the SOSA community. Sciens’ reputation for implementing MORA aligned software and firmware within the DoD tied in nicely with Epiq Solutions’ growing line of SOSA aligned SDR hardware.

After discussions, Epiq Solutions and Sciens Innovations decided to create a demo that would show the realization of leveraging Sciens’ MORA software layer on top of Epiq Solutions’ hardware for a live demo at an upcoming in-person TSOA-ID. Creating and demonstrating an SDR product and streaming the results in real time would fully utilize Epiq Solutions’ competencies as an embedded SDR card vendor and Sciens’ abilities as a software and firmware development team, a natural pairing of capabilities. (Figure 1.)

[Figure 1 | The signal-processing solution was developed in 2.5 weeks for TSOA-ID 2022]

Sciens used its helux tool kit, developed to fit a specific need in the development of SOSA aligned systems, which would enable the discovery, command, and control of Epiq Solutions’ Sidekiq VPX400. The SOSA aligned Sidekiq VPX400 is a wideband RF card with multireceive and multitransmit capabilities, which would serve as the SDR for the demonstration.

During the TSOA-ID demonstration, this SDR card was able to ingest 800 MHz IBW [instantaneous bandwidth], search for signals of interest, then reconfigure on the fly to find a signal and transmit in that signal range. Without the SOSA standard, this level of integration between hardware and software would typically take several months to bring a demonstration together. By leveraging the MORA specification defined within SOSA, that timeline was reduced to a few weeks.

From zero to 60

From start to finish, the demo was created, tested, and showcased in just two and a half weeks. Along with the hardware-agnostic helux tool kit from Sciens, it included the four main components found in a typical signal-processing system:

•          SDR (Epiq Solutions’ Sidekiq VPX400)

•          Single-board computer/SBC (connected over 1 GbE and 40 GbE)

•          SOSA/CMOSS VPX chassis

•          User interface

Prior to MORA and SOSA, each component would have had to have its own documented interface specifications defining the architectures a specific interface connects to, capability discovery of each component, and configuration of available resources. For example, in the absence of standard interfaces, the virtual knobs of the SDR would need to not only be manually searched for, but the definitions of how the knobs could be configured and to what ranges would also be required.

Then comes the arduous task of ensuring the specifications meet the requirements, with the possibility of discovering – many, many hours into development – that the multiple specifications coming together yield a shortage of spectrum range capability, for example. Simply transferring RF signal metadata between two components had a high chance of not aligning due to specification incompatibility, resulting in loss of information and system functionality. 

Using Sciens’ helux reference design to provide MORA 2.4 enabled interfaces for Epiq Solutions’ Sidekiq VPX400, the tedious and manual error-ridden processes associated with assembling a standardized SDR card were eliminated, a testament to SOSA’s principles put into practice.

The Sidekiq VPX400 RF transceiver represents a single card that can be configured for many different operating modes. The SOSA primary RF payload slot profile (14.6.11-4) that the VPX400 uses automatically ensures the card's compatibility with the system into which it is being plugged in. As such, the card becomes immediately functional from an electrical and mechanical standpoint and supports the basic interface requirements of a SOSA RF payload module.  (Figure 2)

[Figure 2 | Block diagram shows the layout of Epiq Solutions' SOSA aligned SDR RF payload card.]

Additionally, MORA provides the standardized resource discovery, capability profile, management, control, data, and context messaging transported over an Ethernet VICTORY Data Bus (VDB) and Ethernet MORA Low Latency Bus (ML2B). So a MORA board support package (BSP) enables standardized access and control of the RF chain on an SDR payload card such as the VPX400. The Sciens Innovations' MORA Explorer application running on a separate SBC was used to interface to the VPX400 over VDB and ML2B and provide easy control and observability of this MORA resource.

Turbo-boost system development

Using a hardware-agnostic, holistic MORA toolkit provided the software and firmware foundation, the tooling for demonstration, and the support system to keep the project successful and compliant, while facilitating rapid development. The helux tool kit includes software implementations of MORA/VICTORY interfaces, HDL modules for framing, filtering and arbitration of MDM/UDP [Mobile Device Management/User Datagram Protocol] packets, and tools to facilitate end-user interaction and demonstration of SOSA hardware. (Figure 3.)

[Figure 3 | The reference design in the helux software and firmware tool kit helps users avoid the manual processes associated with integrating a standardized SDR RF payload card into SOSA aligned systems.]

This approach substantially reduced development time, which will ultimately affect market-entry cost by offloading the risk and financial commitment required for each SOSA hardware vendor to assemble their own MORA software/firmware team. With the common software/firmware integration requirements already handled, hardware vendors can focus on better capabilities for their hardware and the SOSA physical hardware requirements. The result: A far more efficient approach and a more stable solution given that the tool kit supports many cards.

Spot the checkered flag

Eliminating integration errors is only one aspect of what the SOSA standard provides. For decades, system designers have had to work in the space between being restricted to having one payload slot for each sensor, creating large and cumbersome products, or limiting sensor functionality to get a smaller form factor. Success in balancing these demands for increased sensor functionality with smaller sizes has varied.

The versatile specifications defined by SOSA standard slot profiles end the tradeoff between more features/large size and a small form factor. Developers can pack many functions and features onto a single card, while facilitating data transmission across interfaces for use by other components of the signal-processing system. Leveraging this versatility is one of the benefits outlined in the joint Sciens Innovations and Epiq Solutions demo system.

Putting the SOSA Technical Standard 1.0 into practice is showing real-world benefits, with expedited development cycles through proven interoperability demonstrations that are helping facilitate the adoption of SOSA and MORA by members of the military embedded community. The open standards approach results in greater availability of compliant hardware for the DoD to choose from as they try to meet their mission needs.

Travis Doll, Ph.D., the CEO and president of Sciens, is a software engineer specializing in digital signal processing with many years of industry experience in developing and delivering robust collection capabilities to the intelligence community. Dr. Doll earned both his Ph.D. and master’s degree in electrical engineering from Drexel University in Philadelphia. During his graduate years, Dr. Doll was awarded two National Science Foundation Graduate Teaching Fellowships to develop and implement STEM education within the Philadelphia school system. He received his bachelor’s degree in computer science from Dickinson College in Pennsylvania.

John Orlando is CEO and co-founder of Epiq Solutions, an engineering company focused on delivering software-defined radio (SDR) products and turnkey RF sensing solutions. He is an author and presenter on all things SDR, most recently presenting at GRCon 2021 on “Breaking through the 6 GHz Barrier.” He earned a master’s degree in computer science from the Illinois Institute of Technology (Chicago) and a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering from Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology in Indiana.

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