Though developers of avionics software are among the most conservative in the software engineering community, and rightly so, Java is beginning to penetrate even this very specialized industry. The reasons are compelling. Java, designed in the 1990s, offers much better abstraction and stronger object-oriented encapsulation than C and C++. Rigorous enforcement of the type system reduces software engineering errors. Built-in syntactic and library features make multithreaded programming on multi-core processors straightforward. And the popularity of Java makes it easier to recruit Java developers, to license Java development tools, and to find and reuse off-the-shelf software components. Finally, the Java platform offers portability and scalability benefits that far exceed what has been achieved with more traditional legacy languages.
The relevance of traditional software engineering benefits to safety-critical avionics development is growing as the software used for avionics and UAVs increases in size and complexity. At the same time, operational practices for these systems are placing increased demand on modular composition of software components.
Early UAVs were little more than remote-controlled drones, with no onboard decision making, and only the minimal control software required to implement the operations requested by the remote-control operator. More recent UAVs are significantly more capable. Some autonomous UAVs now run their own mission planning software onboard. UAVs that operate autonomously can respond quicker to unanticipated threats and opportunities. They can also capture and assimilate more data from a more flexible array of sensors, and can make more informed decisions based on availability of this information.
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