What is a Critical Computing System?

Critical Systems are those systems which must possess and retain a high degree of reliability and dependability, enhanced availability, maintainability, and ever-increasing levels of safety and security. Typically, Critical Systems belong to one of the following categories:

  • Safety-Critical, in which the occurrence of a failure can lead to situations considered as being catastrophic, including death or severe injury to people, harm to the system’s surrounding environment, or significant economic losses caused by loss or damage to property/equipment.
  • Mission-Critical, in which failure generates an inability to complete the overall system, project objectives or one of the goals for which the system was designed.
  • Business-Critical, in which failure or interruption greatly impacts business operations, productivity and reputation.
  • Security-Critical, in which loss of sensitive data through theft or accidental loss can generate severe consequences in terms of privacy or national security.

Typically executing on embedded processors, which represent around 96% of all processors available worldwide, most of the existing Critical Systems heavily depend on real-time computing systems, in which correctness depends not only on the logical result but also on the time at which the result is produced. These have been pushing forward new concepts such as “cyber-physical systems” or “cooperating objects”, which translate their increasing ubiquity and pervasiveness, and have emerged to describe research and engineering efforts that tightly conjoin real-world physical processes and computing systems. The revolution steams from the extensive networking of embedded computing devices and the holistic cyber-physical co-design that integrates sensing, computation, actuation, networking and physical processes.

Therefore, these cyber-physical systems topics constitute a key strategic research, development and innovation area, pivotal to boosting the development of the future generation of highly complex and automated computing systems, which will be pervasive in virtually all application domains, and remain the cornerstone of Critical Systems. Notable examples are aeronautics, aerospace and defence systems, robotics and automation, autonomous transportation systems, Internet of Things, energy-aware and green computing, smart factory automation, smart grids or advanced medical devices and applications.

ISEP as an International Leader in Critical Computing Systems Research & Innovation

ISEP has a national and international recognized leadership on research, development and innovation of real-time and embedded systems (RTES) for more than 20 years, in great part through its research centers and notably CISTER - Research Centre in Embedded & Real-Time Computing Systems. CISTER has established itself as one of the leading international research centres in the area, providing seminal results and achieving a high level of participation in many of the international R&D initiatives that drive the main developments of this class of systems.


ISEP has a long history of collaboration with key industrial players in various domains of activity. These include a number of major global players such as Airbus, Honeywell, Embraer, Boeing, Thales, Siemens, Bosch, NVIDIA, among many others. In parallel the national ecosystem of critical systems and applications has grown exponentially, with special focus on the Porto and North region, with examples such as Critical Techworks, Critical Software, Altran Portugal, Bosch, Continental, Natixis, EFACEC, Vestas, DSR, EVOLEO, among many others. All these players have already strong collaborations with ISEP through CISTER and other collaborative initiatives are being set-up in the region such as the Vortex CoLab in which ISEP and CISTER play an important role.