Leveraging Today’s Technology for Secure Avionics Software Development

Leveraging Today’s Technology for Secure Avionics Software Development

New technologies and ways of collaborating are shaping the ways software businesses build embedded systems for the avionics industry. Given new and high-impact opportunities in today’s agile approaches, businesses in the avionics field are learning that they need to reevaluate how they write and deploy code, secure their applications against cybercriminals, and ensure functional safety.

Wind River recently conducted a survey of leaders in aerospace and defense and discovered five key technologies that are driving major changes:

  • Container-based workloads that help address the challenges of managing distributed avionics software, increasing reliability, and allowing developers to push updates and patches faster.
  • Vision systems for both mission-critical applications, such as monitoring pilot fatigue in military aircraft, and non–mission-critical avionics systems, such as maintenance procedures.
  • 5G communications to facilitate data exchange between airframe components as well as allowing much faster air-to-ground (ATG) communication and coordination.
  • Autonomous controls that are not only enabling delivery drones, cargo drones, and other forms of unmanned aircraft but are also helping to make flight operations easier and more efficient.
  • Artificial intelligence and machine learning that helps monitor the health of avionics devices and navigation systems and improves the passenger experience. Increasingly, this AI processing is being performed on the airframe itself as new generations of hardware are released.

To Embrace New Technology, Avionics Needs Modern Software Development

The monolithic waterfall method of software development and maintenance is poorly suited to the reality of working with these new technologies. Companies that want to maximize impact while also helping staff find new and efficient ways to collaborate are starting to rely on processes and tools that have long taken root in the IT field.

  • DevSecOps model: Embedding security testing into every stage of the development process and implementing a DevSecOps framework can help businesses keep up with a rapid build-and-release cycle while responding more effectively to sophisticated cyberthreats.  
  • Continuous integration/continuous deployment (CI/CD) pipelines: The work of building functional CI/CD pipelines in avionics benefits immensely from the use of simulation technology, as it allows developers to test and validate their ideas without needing to access the live machine or expensive avionics hardware. Testing in simulated environments enables developers to create a CI/CD pipeline of tested code so that teams can stand ready to deploy on demand.
  • Virtualization technology: Chip vendors are providing systems-on-chip (SOCs) that allow developers to create software-defined environments that accommodate legacy applications while still embracing cloud-based development practices.
  • Containerized application: Open source container specification, such as the Open Container Initiative at the Cloud Native Computing Foundation, allows developers to package applications using documented processes, methods, and tools, maximizing the portability of their application and avoiding vendor lock-in.
  • Artificial intelligence (AI) and data feedback loops: AI is moving into the avionics mainstream, enabling more intelligence and autonomous systems while helping crews reduce the complexity of flight operations. To make the most of AI adoption, collecting data must be part of the development process. Gathering and integrating application data, system data, operations data, and customer user data gives your developers the raw material for progressive AI improvements and also paves the way for new and lucrative business models.

Balancing Modern Software Development and Functional Security

No matter which new technologies or software development processes a team decides to adopt, it goes without saying that the top priority will be maintaining safety and security. That means strict adherence to the guidelines laid out in DO-178C, DO-355A/ED-204A, DO-356A/ED-203A, and others. The ways that developers and avionics professionals can take advantage of modern technologies while maintaining high standards for functional safety and security is the topic of our latest white paper, Avionics in 2023: Using Modern Technology for Secure and Certified Software Development. Inside, you’ll find a complete overview of our recent survey and an in-depth look at the strategies and tactics that are helping avionics developers with greater efficiency. We hope you check it out.