Synchron - An API and Runtime for Embedded Systems

Abstract - Programming embedded systems applications involve writing concurrent, event-driven and timing-aware programs. Traditionally, such programs are written in low-level machine-oriented programming languages like C or Assembly. We present an alternative by introducing Synchron, an API that offers high-level abstractions to the programmer while supporting the low-level infrastructure in an associated runtime system and one-time-effort drivers.

Embedded systems applications exhibit the general characteristics of being (i) concurrent, (ii) I/O–bound and (iii) timing-aware. To address each of these concerns, the Synchron API consists of three components - (1) a Concurrent ML (CML) inspired message-passing concurrency model, (2) a message-passing–based I/O interface that translates between low-level interrupt based and memory-mapped peripherals, and (3) a timing operator, syncT, that marries CML’s sync operator with timing windows inspired from the TinyTimber kernel.

We implement the Synchron API as the bytecode instructions of a virtual machine called SynchronVM. SynchronVM hosts a Caml-inspired functional language as its frontend language, and the backend of the VM supports the STM32F4 and NRF52 microcontrollers, with RAM in the order of hundreds of kilobytes. We illustrate the expressiveness of the Synchron API by showing examples of expressing state machines commonly found in embedded systems. The timing functionality is demonstrated through a music programming exercise. Finally, we provide benchmarks on the response time, jitter rates, memory, and power usage of the SynchronVM.

Preprint of paper accepted at ECOOP 2022

Arxiv link