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Now Available: Innovators Under 35 2013 See The 2013 List »

June Andronick, 32

Software that can’t crash

NICTA

Credit: Meghan Petersen

PROBLEM: To test the reliability of software that controls embedded chips in medical devices and vehicles, computer scientists have relied on trial-and-error methods that can miss bugs.

SOLUTION: By using mathematical analysis to prove that a piece of software is reliable, June Andronick can take into account all possible inputs to the software, and all the possible ways the software could process those inputs.

Working at Australia's national IT research center (NICTA), Andronick and colleagues in Gerwin Klein's lab were able to use this analytical technique to write a small operating system that will always behave exactly as intended, never crashing (barring incorrect assumptions about the hardware).

Because the OS acts as the gatekeeper to the hardware, it can block instructions that would cause a crash—say, instructions coming from the application software that makes decisions about how an engine should be throttled. Some computer scientists predict that mathematically verifying the reliability of critical software components will become the norm in certain systems.

The technology could also help protect against cyber-attacks, Andronick says. The operating system could block unauthorized actions that are issued by software that has been hacked through some point of vulnerability, such as a Web browser. "The attack on the untrusted part can't keep the trusted part from functioning correctly," she says. —William M. Bulkeley

2011 TR35 Winners

Pieter Abbeel (video)

Robots that learn from people

June Andronick (video)

Software that can’t crash

Jernej Barbič (video)

Speeding up simulations of complex objects

Dan Berkenstock (video)

Cheaper satellite pictures

Brian Gerkey (video)

A common language for robots

Jeff Hammerbacher (video)

Managing huge data sets

Gert Lanckriet (video)

Teaching computers to classify music

Alina Oprea (video)

Guaranteeing cloud security

Aishwarya Ratan (video)

Converting paper records to digital in real time

Noah Snavely (video)

Synthesizing 3-D models from 2-D photographs

Piya Sorcar (video)

Software that can be localized to teach taboo topics

Kun Zhou

Creating movie-quality graphics in real time

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