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Real Time Operating Systems for IEC 61508

In today’s world many potentially dangerous pieces of equipment are controlled by embedded software. This equipment includes cars, trains, airplanes, oil refineries, chemical processing plants, nuclear power plants and medical devices. As embedded software becomes more pervasive so too do the risks associated with it. As a result, the issue of software safety has become a very hot topic in recent years. The leading international standard in this area is IEC 61508: Functional safety of electrical/electronic/ programmable electronic safety-related systems. This standard is generic and not specific to any industry, but has already spun off a number of industry specific derived standards, and can be applied to any industry that does not have its own standard in place. Several industry specific standards such as EN50128 (Railway), DO-178B (Aerospace), IEC 60880 (Nuclear) and IEC 601-1-4 (Medical Equipment), are already in place. Debra Herrmann (Herrmann, 1999) has found a total of 19 standards related to software safety and reliability cut across industrial sectors and technologies. These standards’ popularity is on the rise, and more and more embedded products are being developed that conform to these standards. Since an increasing number of embedded products also use an embedded real time operating system (RTOS), it has become inevitable that products with an RTOS are being designed to conform to such standards. This creates an important question for designers: how is my RTOS going to effect my certification? This article will attempt to explore the challenges and advantages of using an RTOS in products that will undergo certification.

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