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Research at the Institute for Computer Engineering

On this page we briefly introduce the chairs at the Institute for Computer Engineering of the University of Heidelberg and their research areas:


Application Specific Computing

Our research focuses on significant improvements of performance and accuracy in application specific computing through a global optimization across the entire spectrum of numerical methods, algorithm design, software implementation and hardware acceleration.

These layers typically have contradictory requirements and their integration poses many challenges. For example, numerically superior methods expose little parallelism, bandwidth efficient algorithms convolve the processing of space and time into unmanageable software patterns, high level language abstractions create data layout and composition barriers, and high performance on today's hardware poses strict requirements on parallel execution and data access. High performance and accuracy for the entire application can only be achieved by balancing these requirements across all layers.

Particular attention is given to parallel algorithms and hardware (GPU, many-core, FPGA, custom) in relation to

  • Data representation (mixed-precision, compression, redundancy)
  • Data access (layout, spatial and temporal locality)
  • Data structure (unstructured grids, graphs, adaptivity)
  • Numerical methods (ILU, Krylov, GMG, AMG)
  • Programming abstractions (CUDA, thrust, PSTL, C++2x, UPC++)

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Computer Architecture

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The Computer Architecture Group at the University of Heidelberg has the expertise to design complex hardware/software systems. As system architects we cover not only the operation principles but include the technology and the software to build real working prototypes. All levels of system design are covered, starting at the application programming interface, e.g. MPI, through the efficient design of device drivers finishing at custom build hardware devices based on standard cells.

The group mainly focuses on the design of parallel architectures which achieve their high performance by improving communication between computational devices/units. Scaling such systems is a great challenge to the architecture of the interconnection network (IN) and the network interface controller (NIC). Special attention is paid on the interface between software and hardware to setup communication instructions.


Areas of Research:

  • Parallel- and cluster computing
  • New computer architectures und paralell computers
  • Low latency interconnection networks
  • Communication in cluster systems
  • Efficient hardware development tools


Projects include:

  • Center of Excellence for Hypertransport
  • HTX Board: A universal Hypertransport test platform
  • SEED: Support for Education in Electronic Design
  • ATOLL: Atomic low latency interconnect for cluster computing
  • FSM Designer 4: An efficient FSM design tool

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Computing Systems

Today, research in computing systems is most concerned with specialized forms of computing in combination with seamless integration into existing systems. Specialized computing, for instance based on GPUs (as known for gaming) or FPGAs (field programmable gate arrays) or ASICs (not the shoe brand but “application-specific integrated circuits”), is motivated by diminishing returns from CMOS technology scaling and hard power constraints. Notably, for a given fixed power budget $p$, energy efficiency $e$ defines performance $perf$: $perf [\frac{ops}{sec}] = p [Watt] \cdot e [ops/Joule]$. Thus, a sustained performance scaling based on CMOS technology requires to improve the energy efficiency of compute and memory operations substantially, which is typically being done using the previously mentioned specialized forms of computing. However, any specialization stands in contrast to generality, thus raising various questions related to programmability and algorithmic innovation. 

Particular research foci include

  • resource-efficient ML such as model compression for edge, mobile and embedded systems, 
  • code analysis and generation as for instance based on CLANG/LLVM and targeting (multi-)GPU systems, 
  • HW/SW codesign to meet application objectives by a comprehensive treatment of software and hardware components, and 
  • specialized processor architectures under performance, energy efficiency and programmability constraints.  

The group is most concerned with bridging the gap in between application and hardware, including automated tools as well as abstract models that facilitate reasoning about various optimizations and decisions.

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Circuit Design

At the chair of Circuit Design, microelectronic circuits are developed, tested and applied. These microchips often contain extremely sensitive, low noise amplifiers for capturing sensor data and modules for further analog and digital signal processing. The crucial parts of such chips are designed completely manually. They are simulated on the analog level to achieve a maximal performance. The designs are fabricated in state-of-the-art CMOS technologies and are put into operation here at the group. A typical use case consists not only of designing the chip, but also includes building suitable control and data acquisition systems, the control and synchronisation of all components and the analysis of the measured data.

Here are some examples of our recent chip developments:

  • Highly integrated circuits for positron emission tomography 
  • Readout electronics for DEPFET sensors for the future ILC detector
  • Chips for detecting X-rays with hybrid pixel sensors 
  • Novel monolithic pixel sensors 
  • Development of front-end electronics for the CBM experiment at FAIR at the GSI.
  • High-speed microscopy within the Viroquant project
  • Detectors for synchrotron experiments at DESY, ESRF and the future XFEL
  • Circuit design techniques for generation of secret keys for cryptography 

Without such chips and systems being highly optimised for special tasks many research projects today could not be realized.

For students the "Computer Architecture" and "Circuit Design" groups offer the specialisation course on "Chip Design". This starts with the transistor and the fabrication process technologies of chips and provides basic knowledge of analog design and circuits. The description and design of digital circuits is covered in detail and every step from the idea to a complete chip is practically exercised in lab courses. 

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Optimization, Robotics & Biomechanics

The research focus of the Optimization, Robotics & Biomechanics (ORB) Chair is on modeling, optimization and simulation of dynamic motions of anthropomorphic systems, i.e. humans, humanoid robots, and virtual human characters. Other research directions include motions of industrial robots, art robots, flying robots and swarm robots. From a mathematical perspective, we are particularly interested in the application and development of efficient numerical optimal control, inverse optimal control and non-smooth optimization techniques for complex hybrid dynamical system models. We also develop efficient tools to set up realistic dynamical optimization models of humans, robots and other technical devices including rigid multibody system models, muscle models and neural control.

Our research projects cover the following topics:

  • optimization of humanoid walking motions in different terrains
  • human movement understanding & identification of underlying objective functions of human motions in different situations
  • generation of fast human-like walking, running, jumping, diving and other gymnastics motions stability optimization of human and robot motions study of
  • characteristics of pathological gait in orthopedics and of walking motions with prostheses, orthoses and functional electrical stimulation
  • optimization of the design and control of exoskeletons
  • optimization of physically assistive devices for the elderly
  • trajectory optimization for robots
  • studies of artistic and emotional aspects of dynamic motions and development of art robots
  • investigation of processes related to cognition and orientation during locomotion and traffic interaction
  • controlling octocopters for automated photogrammetric reconstruction in archeology
  • needle path planning in robot assisted prostate brachytherapy and development of training environments
  • optimal control studies of manipulation combining motor control and biomechanical modeling approaches

Our interdisciplinary research creates bridges between scientific computing and many other disciplines, such as robotics, engineering, biomechanics, medicine, orthopedics, sports, computer graphics, cognitive sciences, art and archeology.

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