Facilitating the design of complex systems

CEA-List’s research on augmented collaborative digital engineering focuses on developing tools and methods to assist engineers with the design of complex systems made up of multiple components that interact with each other, plus increasing amounts of software.

What do a space launcher, an airliner, and the average car have in common? They are all what are known as “systems of systems,” made up of a significant number of different technologies—mechatronics, electronics, and, increasingly, computers—that constantly interact with each other. In some cases, these systems are responsible for critical functions. During operation, systems of this type are characterized by a high degree of complexity.

CEA-List’s INCA research program addresses augmented collaborative digital engineering methods and tools designed to assist engineers with the development of these software-intensive complex systems.

A new approach to major project design

Our researchers are focusing on a new project design paradigm called model-driven systems engineering (MDSE) that hinges on formalizing all engineering knowledge within a development environment. Within this environment, processes and methods can be automated, values can be checked to ensure they are coherent, and system operation can be simulated—all before the actual design work begins. Data produced during simulation can also be leveraged to automatically generate the computer code that will be implemented in the future system.

CEA-List’s flagship MDSE software is called Papyrus. It uses UML (Unified Modelling Language) and is available under an open-source license from the Eclipse Foundation. Papyrus is widely used by companies in a range of industries. SNCF Réseau, which manages France’s rail infrastructure, and Ericsson, are just two examples of enterprise users. Smaller companies like Sherpa Engineering and CIL4Sys integrate Papyrus into their tools and services.

Research area 1

Making formal verification methods more accessible to companies

The researchers assigned to our INCA program are developing solutions leveraging formal verification—one of CEA-List’s areas of excellence—to help make systems designers’ work more efficient. Formal mathematical methods are used to prove that computer code is correct “by construction” and that it is free from bugs and security vulnerabilities.

Airbus and other major industrial companies have been using CEA-List’s Frama-C platform for years to debug their programs and make them safer. The objective of the INCAS program at CEA-List is to make these techniques available to users in a much wider range of industries.

CEA-List’s Polygraph computational model uses a model-driven formal method that facilitates the design and validation of real-time systems. It was transferred to startup Alkalee, which is using it to design and monitor the behavior of automotive E/E architectures.

Read more about formal verification methods

Research area 2

Bringing artificial intelligence into systems engineering

Artificial intelligence is another tool that can help make designing complex systems easier. Our researchers are developing AI-powered chatbots, for example, to help designers by recommending proven solutions they can recycle from other projects and even from other industries.

Read more about AI for systems engineering

Research area 3

Open-source software, an efficient innovation driver

CEA-List uses an open-source model to make it easier for businesses to access the software it develops. The INCA research program has released several major software suites, including the popular Papyrus UML software and Frama-C formal code verification software.

Read about CEA-List’s open-source engineering software

A long, strong track record in formal verification methods

CEA-List brings two major advantages to the INCA program.

  • First, the institute has many years of experience with formal methods and is maintaining its position of leadership by working on new programming languages and frameworks that will push back the limits of what is currently possible.
  • Second, a model-driven (MDSE) approach leveraging algorithms developed by our researchers for the INCA program to automate many of the engineering steps in large systems projects.

See also

Software development environments


A model-based system engineering (MBSE) platform to facilitate the design of complex hardware and/or software systems.
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Software development environments


Guaranteeing program safety and security with an open-source formal analysis environment for code written in C.
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Success Story


CIL4Sys Engineering, a systems engineering services company that works with major French companies, joined forces with CEA-List on a software engineering venture.
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