This interview is part of an ongoing series VDC conducts with IoT and embedded software solution providers to share views on their company, products, and state of the market.
In part one, Quentin Ochem of AdaCore explains that reports of Ada’s death are greatly exaggerated. In part two, Quentin provides insights into how he sees the Ada market evolving.
VDC: You mentioned the stability of the Ada market earlier, but how would you see the Ada market evolving?
Quentin: The stability of the market provides a very strong and stable niche for AdaCore to work from - and this gives us time to do a few things. In the recent years, we’ve seen an increasing number of teams developing new projects in Ada – sometimes moving back from C++ or Java. We’re also starting to see people coming to us that have absolutely no Ada background and who decide to start using the language. Those are extremely exciting for us. We’re working on improving our product line for these.
To again put things in historical perspective, we noted earlier that Ada was ahead of its time. This had consequences on the quality of the tools. It also had consequence on the fitness for various purposes. Ada is great for verification, testing, static analysis, and formal proof, all concerns that were barely emerging in the 80’s outside of enlightened circles (A&D being one of them). The best proof of that is its SPARK Ada subset, now attracting brand new people motivated by the sole interest of experimenting and deploying formal methods. This was an academic-only topic a few decades ago.
VDC: What is driving this interest in Ada outside of A&D? and what sort of challenges will these new users face?
Quentin: It’s been said over and over again, but embedded systems are relying more and more on software, with software becoming more and more complex. This is true across the board, whether you look at Medical Devices, Industrial Automation, Automotive, Industrial IoT, or Energy, for example. Switching from a culture where software is the last wheel of the coach to a software-centric culture is the big challenge. Ignoring this challenge often translates into hidden costs will blow up after deployment. Think of the one billion dollar settlement following the Toyota unintended acceleration case. We can only kick in once this challenge is met, that is once teams and companies acknowledge the problem and start looking for solutions.
Then you have two choices: you can decide to slowly introduce new elements on top of existing technologies, or you can start fresh with a whole new software toolset fit for that purpose.
VDC: What sort of challenges will these new users face?
Quentin: One of the main barriers to Ada adoption today is the availability of trained developers. We’re working on this. We’re investing in training, tutorials, universities, and similar. See our free on-line training (“AdaCore University”) or the 200+ universities who are part of the GNAT Academic Program.
But to be fair, it’s always surprising to see the language being described as a limiting requirement for hiring. In our experience, Ada is very easy to learn if you’re already proficient in embedded software, for example those using C, C++, or Java.
At the higher level, the real challenge here is not the language. It’s the development of reliable software. Ada is just a means to that end, but it comes at a cost. All means do. Some costs kick in early on, some costs kick in later, and some are easier to quantify than others. The only pragmatic question that remains is “Do the benefits outweighs the cost?” Answering that question is a challenge in itself and may even involve an element of faith.
VDC: Quentin, do you have any last words for our readers?
Quentin: The grandiose Ada era, the Ada universal language wannabee era, the crusty, buggy, heavy and expensive Ada tool era ended fifteen years ago, and that’s good. This is the beginning of a new Ada era, which is well positioned in its growing niche, with a lightweight, state-of-the-art, swift toolset. Time to market. This is the Ada of the generation Y – the github, open-source, cheap embedded hardware and bad Star Wars sequels generation. Increasing numbers of people have the need for strong, established tools and methodologies to develop reliable software regardless of the industry and there aren’t that many solutions out there. Those who are interested in trying out something different will find an open ear in the Ada ecosystem. We even welcome gray beards ;-).
VDC: Thank you, Quentin!
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Quentin Ochem leads the technical account management and business development activities at AdaCore, in connection with projects from the avionics, railroad, space, and defense industries, both in Europe and North America. His software engineering background includes a special focus on development and verification tools for safety- and mission-critical systems. Quentin has over 10 years of experience in the Ada programming language and has conducted customer training on numerous topics, including the Ada language, AdaCore tools, and the DO-178B and DO-178C software certification standards.
View the 2017 IoT & Embedded Technology Research Outline to learn more.