Custom Computing for Advanced Digital Systems

Lead Research Organisation: Imperial College London
Department Name: Dept of Computing


Advanced digital systems provide many exciting opportunities for UK economic growth. Our current Platform Grant has enabled us to implement a strategy of developing novel custom computing solutions, which involve customising the latest hardware and software elements, to meet demanding requirements from many applications. These include embedded systems applications such as software-defined radio and patient monitoring, as well as high-performance computing applications such as financial modelling and medical imaging. Continued Platform Grant funding will allow us to build on our success, to support strategic development of our team, and to extend our lead in custom computing technology to cover a wide variety of advanced digital systems for healthcare, environment, and security applications.There are three new strategic directions on which we are uniquely capable of making major impacts. We plan to conduct exploratory research to identify promising projects for responsive-mode funding for the following:1. customisable heterogeneous architectures, including design space exploration of devices and systems, relevant development methods and tools, and prototyping platforms and design portability enhancement;2. self-adapting design, including architecture innovations, adaptation policies and optimisation strategies, and design and verification flow;3. security-aware systems, including architecture enhancements, compilation and test generation environments, and experimental facilities and demonstration flow.The added value aspects for this Platform Grant proposal include: (a) providing continuity of support, (b) exploring significant strategic directions, (c) contributing to research infra-structure, (d) attracting fresh talents, (e) pioneering and strengthening international collaborations, and (f) accelerating technology transfer.

Planned Impact

Those who would benefit from this research include: 1. FPGA vendors, such as Altera and Xilinx 2. other related silicon device vendors, such as ARM and nVidia 3. computer-aided design tool vendors for developing such devices, such as Cadence and Synopsys 4. companies offering products or services which rely on high-performance computing systems that would benefit from the above devices, such as J.P. Morgan, Maxeler and cloud service providers 5. companies offering products or services which rely on embedded systems that would benefit from the above devices, such as Nokia and Microsoft 6. individuals or organisations who use such products or services, especially those who would benefit from enhanced security 7. the Research Associates working on this project, together with students who work on related projects 8. students and others studying related courses e.g. hardware design, high-performance computing, embedded systems This project has significant potential for 3 kinds of transformational impact: (a) improved efficiency and security of FPGA and related devices, (b) improved productivity of designers and users of FPGA and related devices, and (c) new or improved applications and services enabled by such devices. Hence: (a) FPGA vendors will benefit from more efficient architectures and from higher designer productivity (b) Other silicon vendors will benefit from better prototyping capabilities, and to adapt particular techniques (e.g. those related to energy reduction or security enhancement) where applicable (c) Computer-aided design tool vendors can improve their tools for developing FPGA architectures based on our work (d) Companies with products or services relying on high-performance computing systems would be able to offer more powerful systems with enhanced security in a shorter time and at a lower cost (e) Companies with products or services relying on embedded systems would be able to speed up implementing better and cheaper real-time systems with lower energy and enhanced security (f) Users of such products or services would be able to enjoy improvements more timely and at a lower price (g) Environment would benefit from reduced energy usage; society would benefit from improved security In addition, FPGA technology has potential to benefit many more applications. Examples include improving: (a) the internet by making it more efficient and secure through FPGA-based message routers and intrusion detection engines (b) cloud computing systems by significantly reducing their power and energy consumption, and need for cooling (c) healthcare provision by accelerating, for instance, medical imaging (d) scientific understanding through experimental facilities such as the Large Hadron Collider at CERN (e) simulation facilities for a wide range of applications, from chip design to climate change to gaming, by lowering the efforts of prototyping such systems We would work with our industrial collaborators to take into account their suggestions for key challenges that next-generation devices would need to meet, so that they can benefit from this project as soon and as much as possible. We would also explore dissemination and use of the project results for a wide range of research and development efforts, together with initial exploitation measures either through the project industrial partners, or through exploitation routes recommended by Imperial Innovations or the Institute for Security Science and Technology, to help in commercialising research in case the project results in methods, tools, and other material that could lead to exploitable services and products in the long term. The means of dissemination includes publishing papers in relevant journals and conferences, providing a project web portal wih access to publications and open-source tools and benchmarks, developing tutorial and teaching material, and liaising with related projects.


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Description The Platform Grant contributes both to the stability and the flexibility for our research team, enabling us to make significant progress in specified areas and in new areas.

First, the Platform Grant enhances stability by retaining key researchers. Advances in the three specified areas are as follows.

1. Customisable heterogeneous architectures. We have developed, in collaboration with Cambridge, a new architecture for Sequential Monte Carlo algorithms with applications in air traffic management and mobile robotics. Customisable architectures have also been proposed for applications including financial simulation and genetic algorithms.

2. Self-adapting design. New designs have been developed based on self-aware tuning and on self-adaptive clusters with wireless network. Novel assertion techniques have also been introduced to guide self-adaptive systems.

3. Security-aware systems. Three approaches have been studied. The first involves information flow control for secure cloud computing. The second covers session types for parallel system analysis. The third concerns methods for optimising hardware pipelines which can be used as building blocks for high-performance secured systems.

Second, the Platform Grant contributes to funding flexibility which enables us to explore research directions unforeseen in the original proposal. Examples include scalable precision analysis and scalable session programming, resulting in new EPSRC grants on Codesign: A Higher-order Approach (EP/K015168/1) and Exploiting Parallelism through Type Transformations for Hybrid Manycore Systems (EP/L00058X/1). Funding flexibility also enabled recruiting Dr. Eddie Hung opportunistically; he was instrumental in our winning the S. Vassiliadis Award in 2014.

Further project findings and other details can be found in:
Exploitation Route We have successfully leveraged the Platform Grant to increase considerably our grant portfolio. The findings will be taken forward through these grants, such as EPSRC grants on Codesign: A Higher-order Approach (EP/K015168/1) and Exploiting Parallelism through Type Transformations for Hybrid Manycore Systems (EP/L00058X/1). as well as European Horizon 2020 projects such as EXTRA, and industrial projects with Altera, Maxeler and Huawei. Further research will also be conducted through the EPSRC Centre for Doctoral Training in High Performance Embedded and Distributed Systems. Moreover, Dr. Cadar was awarded an EPSRC Early Career Fellowship, and members of our team are Co-Is for two Programme Grants, EP/K034448/1 and EP/K008730/1, and the Platform Grant EP/L000407/1.
Sectors Aerospace, Defence and Marine,Digital/Communication/Information Technologies (including Software),Electronics,Environment,Financial Services, and Management Consultancy,Healthcare,Pharmaceuticals and Medical Biotechnology

Description Thanks to the Platform Grant support, our world-class standing is confirmed by the large number of prestigious awards won by our research group. These include the Royal Academy of Engineering and Imagination Technologies Research Chair (2014), the Jochen Liedtke Young Researcher Award (2015), the Ironman Award at the FCCM'12 symposium, the Stamatis Vassiliadis Outstanding Paper Award twice at FPL'10 and FPL'14, the Best Paper Award at ARC'12 and ASAP'13, the Best Poster Paper Award at HEART'12, the Distinguished Artifact Award at ESEC/FSE'13, and the Best Artifact Award at ISSTA'14. Three of our papers have been selected to be among the 27 most significant papers from the first 25 years of the FPL conference. We delivered invited talks at prestigious events such as FPT'11, ARC'12, FHPC'12, CECA'13, EUC'14, GTC'15, ELLIIT'15. The Platform Grant also contribute to career development. Eleven RAs supported by the Platform Grant found permanent positions. Dr. Thomas became lecturer at Imperial. Dr. Kalyvianaki became lecturer at City University. Dr. Migliavacca became lecturer at University of Kent. Dr. Liu became Associate Professor at Tianjin University. Dr. Stott became a Teaching Fellow at Imperial. Dr. Becker became Head of Max-Academy at Maxeler. Dr. Fidjeland joined Google DeepMind. Dr. Hung joined Invionics. Dr. Susanto joined Cadence. Dr. Tsoi and Dr.Wong took up positions at Imagination Tech. and ZMP respectively. The Platform Grant enabled them to experience pump-priming research, PhD supervision, grant proposal preparation, teaching, and technology transfer, while providing bridging support between appointments. In addition, the Platform Grant enables us to complete a Patent on novel on-chip configuration generation for effective dynamic data access.
First Year Of Impact 2011
Sector Digital/Communication/Information Technologies (including Software),Electronics
Impact Types Societal

Description EPSRC Centre for Doctoral Training
Amount £4,081,694 (GBP)
Funding ID EP/L016796/1 
Organisation Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) 
Sector Academic/University
Country United Kingdom
Start 04/2014 
End 11/2022
Description EPSRC Platform Grant
Amount £1,263,356 (GBP)
Funding ID EP/P010040/1 
Organisation Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) 
Sector Academic/University
Country United Kingdom
Start 03/2017 
End 02/2022
Description EPSRC Programme Grant
Amount £4,981,302 (GBP)
Funding ID EP/N031768/1 
Organisation Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) 
Sector Academic/University
Country United Kingdom
Start 05/2016 
End 11/2021