NASA puts automated software code patents on auction block

NASA spacecraft control system translates well into commercial software development

NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center this week said it is set to auction an exclusive license to five patents it holds for automated software development on Nov. 11, 2010.

NASA said the technology was originally developed to handle coding of control code for spacecraft swarms, but it is applicable to any commercial application where rule-based systems development is used.

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The technology offers a methodology for developing formal models for control systems where systems failure would have catastrophic implications. Examples include: simulation and modeling software, automated industrial control systems, sensor networks, smart grid IT systems and complex robotics, NASA stated.  

According to NASA: "There are two steps in automatically generating software codes. The first step, currently done manually, generates a formal model that embodies the user requirements. NASA Goddard's breakthrough technology utilizes Learning Automata to generate potential scenarios from a formal set of user requirements. The scenarios are then used to generate a formal model that is verifiably consistent with the user requirements. The second step, from formal model to verifiable code, is already well established."

"What's exciting about this technology is that it's the first time that developers can have absolute confidence that the implementation truly meets their requirements and that the system operates correctly," said inventor Michael Hinchey in a statement. "Other approaches have claimed this, but this is the first time that the relationship is fully proven mathematically."

The expected value of this lot exceeds $250,000, according to the ICAP Ocean Tomo intellectual property brokerage firm handling the sale.

In related news, NASA said this week Boeing had adopted software the space agency developed to boost fuel savings.  The software, known as Direct-To was developed at NASA's Ames Research Center and promises to let airlines to save fuel and reduce emissions by identifying flight route shortcuts that are acceptable to air traffic controllers.

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