Reflective Memory 101

What do you think when you hear the words reflective memory? Does it sound like a memorization technique or something out of science fiction? In fact, this invention isn’t far-fetched at all; it’s sophisticated technology that makes life easier for many people every day. It’s especially useful in the avionics field, providing reliable data transmission for flights and serving as a useful tool in simulations and flight modules.

The Basics
All technical jargon aside, reflective memory is simply a way in which to share deterministically common data between independent, different systems. Typically, these devices are connected by fiber optics, and often utilize Real-Time operating systems. These systems form a deterministic network when any one system on the network acquires data and writes it to the local memory. This data is then written locally to all the other systems in the network, behaving much like a dual-ported memory system.

Basically, these are real-time local area networks, a term many of us are familiar with. This means that each computer or device on the network constantly has a local, up-to-date copy of all shared data sets. The technology is highly useful for industries where determinism, the simplicity of implementation, and lack of software overhead are crucial considerations. Although very different from other methods, it can be compared to other means in which to transfer large blocks of data between systems, including bus repeaters, Direct Memory Access, and traditional LANs.

A Brief History
Reflective memory was developed in the 1980s by VMIC and used for applications in VME systems. GE Fanuc, a venture between Fanuc of Japan and GE, later acquired VMIC. Today, it is completely owned by GE and operates as a part of their business unit, GE Intelligent Platforms.

These networks are great fits for companies that work in very deterministic data communications that deliver strictly timed performances, such as with simulations or distributed control systems. As mentioned before, this technology is popular within the avionics industry, but also has many other applications. For example, it plays a crucial role in the Large Binocular Telescope, an incredibly advanced optical telescope located in Arizona.

Other modern day applications include in CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research, and Korea Superconducting Tokamak Advanced Research plasma control system.

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