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WTC '93, Aachen

20-22 September 1993

When the Transputer Initiative completed, The Transputer Consortium (TTC) was set up with Mike Jane as Coordinator. It organised WTC '93 with strong support from the RAL staff. This article appeared in ECN 47.

This year's World Transputer Conference (WTC) joined up with the annual German transputer conference, called the Transputer AnwenderTreffen (TAT). The combined event took place at the Eurogress Centre in Aachen, Germany on 20-22 September.

The conference was run as five concurrent streams. Keynote talks and a closing panel discussion formed the plenary sessions. Hardware and software demonstrations from commercial suppliers and academic poster sessions took place in an exhibition area. A 2 day tutorial programme held at the Klinikum followed the main conference.

Overall, the conference was a great success. I attended as a delegate and picked up a lot of positive feedback particularly from the some of the 56 young European researchers who would normally have been unable to attend, had they not received funding from the CEC! There were around 475 attendees, with many gratifyingly from the less affluent parts of Europe. (32 counties were represented in total).

The Venue

I arrived in Aachen on a Saturday evening right in the middle of the city festival. There was a great atmosphere in the open area surrounding the medieval cathedral, though I did quickly trip past the open-air stall where pigs' heads were being grilled on a tray. The conference banquet was held in the historic Town Hall. We stood around having drinks and a number of canapes went past on trays. I am afraid I am one of those people that will have at least one of everything that is not fish. Even when canape-style desserts arrived, we were still joking about it being like a banquet in microcosm or so this is it then. As the evening came to a close, it gradually dawned on us that that WAS it. There were complaints! Wits decided that the microcosmic banquet should become a regular feature of WTC conferences. The next evening Parsytec (a German firm that produces transputer systems) held a reception at their premises in Aachen. Food was provided in more conventional quantities.

The Klinikum, a monumental teaching hospital which acted as the site for the tutorials, is an overwhelming shout of an architectural statement. It looks like a cross between a land-locked oil-rig and a leviathan of an up-ended woodlouse. It adheres to the school of exposed services - vast candy-striped ductings clad the exterior. The inside is an astonishing shade of apple green.

Selected Plenary Talks

Transputers On The Road, Dr. Uwe Franke, Daimler-Benz

The use of transputers to autonomously drive a car was demonstrated. I was impressed believing that autonomous driving was still some time away. The trick is to scale the size of the problem to the hardware, which has to be both commodity cheap and not add significantly to the price of a car. To reduce the computational power required, there is intelligent selection of which parts of the video image are to be analysed and also careful selection of the visual clues used to identify cars, road signs and road markings etc.

The system has already clocked up around 2000 km of autonomous driving on the autobahns of Germany. There were lively discussions amongst the delegates on the legality of this! The car really exists and was on display in the exhibition area. Dr Franke had driven it (or had it driven him?) from Stuttgart to Aachen!

Parallel Image Processing for Road Traffic Pricing and Port Container Traffic Control, Dr. Chuang Ping Derg, Rahmonic Resources Pte Ltd, Singapore

Singapore is a small island that supports a large population. To discourage traffic, car and road tax amount to several times the price of a car. The result is that only rich people have motor transport. A fairer system is to tax road usage directly using credit-cards which are slotted into the dash-board. These contain road units which are decremented automatically at electronic checkpoints and which can be simply purchased at garages. A system like this is no good, unless offenders can be caught. Computerisation means that the summons will probably get back to the house before the offender!

The system is built out of transputers and violations are identified using video cameras and image processing to capture licence plate information.

The port of Singapore is a busy thoroughfare, the third busiest in the world. Many containers are handled and many containers are lost! Using an image processing system similar to the above, containers are identified and their movements are tracked.

Architectural Advances in The T9000, Roger Shepherd, Inmos Ltd

Two aspects of the architecture of the T9000 were treated: the cache and shared channels. Such an admirably clear explanation was given of the design decisions in developing the cache of the T9000, that one could see no other way! However, predictability of performance for real time applications is lost with a cache. The T9000 solution is to use half the cache as fast on-chip memory and the other half of the cache as true cache. We gain from predictable performance when required, as well as general cache acceleration of a statistical nature. Instead of having to place critical data in on-chip memory as for the T800, the cache tables for this internal memory are set up to refer to the critical data notionally in off-chip memory. The result is that instead of moving the data to the on-chip memory - the on-chip memory is moved to where the data is. Clever, eh? So the cache memory is still actually acting as cache, except for half the cache there is no such thing as a cache miss.

Conclusion

Overall, I left the conference re-enthused and greatly impressed by those researchers and developers who are pushing the field forward. Many thanks go to the organisers of the conference both in the U.K. and Germany for their sheer hard work.

David Johnston, RAL