Analogue-digital systems and the modular decomposition of physical behaviour

by   E. J. Beggs, et al.

We take a fresh look at analogue-digital systems focussing on their physical behaviour. We model a general analogue-digital system as a physical process controlled by an algorithm by viewing the physical process as physical oracle to the algorithm, generalising the notion of Turing. We develop a theoretical framework for the specification and analysis of such systems that combines five semantical notions: actual physical behaviour, measured behaviour, predicted behaviour, computed behaviour and exceptional behaviour. Next, we consider the more general and applicable situation of complex processes that exhibit several distinct modes of physical behaviour. Thus, for their design, a set of mathematical models may be needed, each model having its own domain of application and representing a particular mode of behaviour or operation of physical reality with its own physical oracle. The models may be of disparate kinds and, furthermore, not all physical modes may even have a reliable model. We address the questions: How do we specify algorithms and software that monitor or govern a complex physical situation with many physical modes? How do we specify a portfolio of modes, and the computational problem of transitioning from using one mode to another mode as physical behaviour changes? We propose a general definition of an analogue-digital system with modes, and show how any diverse set of modes, with or without models, can be bound together, and how the transitions between modes can be determined, by constructing a data type and mode selection functions. We illustrate the ideas of physical modes and our theory by reflecting on simple examples, including driverless racing cars.


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