Symbian ecosystem to receive EUR 22 million through SYMBEOSE initiative

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SYMBEOSE, a consortium of organisations, led by the Symbian Foundation, has successfully applied for funding from the Artemis Joint Technology Initiative, which is partly backed by the Europe Commission and aims to facilitate public-private partnership for research and development activities in embedded systems. As a result, the Symbian ecosystem will see an investment of €22 million, which will be focused on improving the ease of device creation, improving a number of the platform's core enablers and meeting requirements for future embedded systems.

SYMBEOSE, which stands for  'Symbian – the Embedded Operating System for Europe', is a consortium of organisations from a range of areas: devices and chipset manufacturers (ST Ericsson and Nokia), Technology Consultancies, Software Component Manufacturers, Commercial R&D and Academic R&D.

It is important to note that SYMBEOSE is not related to the future of the Symbian Foundation itself. It is not an alternative organisation to the Symbian Foundation, or a replacement source of funding. Rather it is an ecosystem wide research and development project, framed as an EC technology framework project, which has been put together under the leadership of the Symbian Foundation, as part of its role as the non-profit organisation responsible for guiding the open source Symbian platform.

The Symbian Foundation is leading the project and will receive about €1 to 2 million in funding to help organise, shape and direct research and development efforts. The remaining €20 million will be shared among the other 23 organisations involved in the project. Half of the funding comes from the EC Commission, through the Joint Technology Initiative's Artemis programme. Matching funds are provided by commercial organisations (usually those within the projects).

Being accepted by the Artemis Joint Technology Initiative is a feather in the Symbian platform's cap and is a welcome achievement by the Symbian Foundation. It is exactly the sort of initiative that will help grow the open source credentials of the platform (all SYMBEOSE activities will be carried out in the open) and is likely to result in a number of significant code contributions to the platform. It also demonstrates a continued interest, from multiple companies and research and development organisations, in the future of the Symbian platform. 

SYMBEOSE Aims and activities

The overall aim of SYMBEOSE is to preserve Symbian's position as a world leader in mobile OS development and explore future paths for related technology development. 

There are three broad areas where the project is likely to have an impact. Firstly, it aims to help improve device creation on the Symbian platform by making it more hardware 'agnostic'. This ties in with the aims of the Symbian Foundation's existing SHAI (Symbian Hardware Abstraction Interface). Essentially, this looks to make the platform independent of any particular hardware requirement (e.g. chipset architecture). Currently, a significant amount of work is needed to 'bring-up' (create) a device on the Symbian platform on a given hardware platform. This limits the number of areas where the platform can be used and makes it hard to create Symbian devices without a large initial investment. A key issue is enabling easier device creation, while maintaining the frugal power and hardware characteristics of the platform.

Secondly, the project will look to create additional and improve existing platform enablers. For example, this would include work in the area of asymmetric multi processing, which is vital if mobile devices are to fully utilise multi-core chipsets in a power efficient manner. Other areas of interest might include additional multimedia functionality (image and video processing) and support for additional memory techniques and file systems. Additionally, the project will allow for research into areas for future development, in other words looking at what standards and technology might become important in the future.

Finally, the project will look to promote the Symbian platform as a solution for future embedded systems. This would move the platform beyond its current mobile phone-orientated activities. It seems certain that always-on connected devices of any sort (sensors, appliances, components) will become more common in the future (driven in general by a move towards ubiquitous computing). Such devices will require software with similar characteristics to mobile phones today (low power and hardware requirements) and Symbian is potentially well positioned to provide a solution here. Linux is currently dominant in advanced embedded software systems, but the move to always-on Internet-connected devices could be a disruption point or at least create room for additional software platforms.

Some of the major development themes being considered include:

  • Core systems memory management architectures and file systems to support eMMC devices using new memory techniques such as Phase change memory (PCM)
  • Asymmetrical multiprocessing (AMP) to assign different performance levels across CPU cores to optimise power consumption
  • Developer tools: cross platform developer and non-developer environments, core system efficiency, virtual simulation platforms plus fully open source HRP
  • Multimedia development on advanced image processing and video acceleration standards
  • New application frameworks to encourage services based on semantic oriented speech-to-text input, mobile payment services (in partnershipwith Santander), new multimedia formats
  • Platforms Beyond Mobile with main themes around track and trace, embedded devices, system modularity

More information is available in this Symbian Foundation blog post.

Rafe Blandford, All About Symbian, 2nd Nov 2010