Reporting back on the HPSPSA & CASPER Workshops 2016

28 Feb 2016 - 12:45

From 25 to 29 January 2016, the University of Cape Town hosted the 3rd High Performance Signal and Data Processing South Africa (HPSPSA) Workshop, which was co-located with the Collaboration for Astronomy Signal Processing and Electronics Research (CASPER) Workshop 2016 (see website).

The purpose of combining these two events was, firstly, to encourage collaboration and the exchange of techniques between the HPSPSA and CASPER communities, and secondly, to increase the number of attendees at the combined event, given that both of these communities are fairly small. There were 85 participants, including the keynote speakers and facilitators for the laboratory sessions. In addition, visitors from industry were eager to join and sit in on some of the training sessions (see: group photo above taken on the second day of the Workshop).

Objectives of the Workshop

The objectives of the HPSPSA Workshop were:

  • To inform participants about the latest technologies used in radio astronomy signal processing and similar forms of signal processing fields.
  • To train participants in skills related to radio astronomy processing and similar signal processing methods (such as software defined radio techniques, and dealing with the management and access to Big Data)

Although the Workshop was aimed predominantly towards training in the field of radio astronomy signal processing technology, it was also applicable to scientists and engineers working in other fields who use similar instrumentation and signal processing techniques. Many of the techniques learned with regard to radio astronomy applications can also be adapted to other contexts, such as data acquisition and processing for particle physics experiments.

The Workshop aimed to support both industry and academic participants, and the programme was thus structured to allow for industry participants (who might not have time to attend all the days) to focus on doing tutorials to learn about specific tools.

Keynote Speakers

Several invited keynote speakers gave excellent presentations on a range of topics:

  • Rob Adam (SKA) – An update on the SKA
  • Gerhard Drolshagen – The European Space Agency’s Space Situational Awareness (SSA) programme and its near-earth object (NEO) segment
  • Germano Bianci – A potential application of the Northern Cross array for space debris, situated in Bologna, Italy
  • Sven Flegel – Space Object Observation with the Tracking and Imaging Radar (TIRA) system
  • Alex Bassios and Clifford van Dyk (Peralex) – Introduction to the SKARAB platform, an agile extreme-scale networked FPGA supercomputer
  • Dan Werthimer – CASPER Philosophy
  • John Ford – Multi-core ADC Artifacts
  • Amit Mishra – Big Data
A selection of snapshots from the short oral presentations

Round Table Discussions and Working Groups

Round table discussions and working groups were also arranged, which would allow a group of interested participants to meet in order to exchange ideas and strategize solutions for common problems.

A selection of snapshots from the round table discussions

Lastly, a range of tutorials was provided throughout the workshop.

During Day 1, the afternoon was split between two parallel sessions of: P1: panel discussion concerning SSA-NEO; and P2: CASPER tools tutorial. There were two short presentations leading into the CASPER tools tutorial. The first presentation was an introduction to the new SKARAB platform and related tools, and this was followed by an introduction (or Prof. Werthimer would say ‘initiation’) of participants unfamiliar with the CASPER tools into the philosophy and underlying approach to using and maintaining these tools.

A selection of snapshots from the tutorials during HPSPSA2016
During the afternoon of Day 2, an OpenCL tutorial was presented by an engineer from Altera. The purpose of this tutorial was to introduce participants to OpenCL language and facilities provided by the latest version of Quartus II. This was aimed as a hands-on experience to provide participants insights into how OpenCL works and prospects for using or adapting these approaches for development or prototyping of FPGA-based processing systems. Participants could alternatively choose to continue with the CASPER tools tutorial.
Suleyman Demirsoy (below) presenting the Altera OpenCL tutorial
During the afternoon of Day 3, participants could choose between the FPGA Bootcamp (an introduction to Verilog) or continuation of the CASPER tools tutorial (part 3); alternatively participants could attend the working group meetings.
John-Philip Taylor presenting (below) on the “FPGA Mini Bootcamp” in Verilog flavor held during the CASPER2016 conference
(Article and photographs by Dr Simon Winberg.)