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Alkalee secures the operation of embedded systems

Innovation Article published on 19 December 2023 , Updated on 16 January 2024

With the boom in robotisation, electrification and connectivity, embedded systems continue to grow in complexity. A spin-off from the Laboratory for Integration of Systems and Technology (List - Univ.  Paris-Saclay, CEA), the start-up Alkalee, in partnership with Renault, is offering its solutions and services as a resolution to the many problems that arise (responsiveness, timing errors).

In 2016, the Renault automotive group and the CEA-List launched the FACE project with the aim of designing innovative electronic architecture to add new functionalities to the connected vehicle. "At the time, I'd been working on embedded software issues at the CEA for ten years. This project was a real opportunity to develop the technologies I was working on in an industrial setting," explains Paul Dubrulle, former CEA Researcher and Co-founder and CTO of start-up Alkalee.

In 2019, a start-up incubation project, named Alkalee, was launched at the List. It then continued at the IncubAlliance Paris-Saclay deeptech start-up incubator in order to move towards the industrialisation of these technologies. In July 2020, the start-up was officially created and received its first order. "Founding Alkalee meant that we could exploit the technologies we produce. When it was launched, I naturally took the technical lead, as I'd been working on the project from the start," comments Paul Dubrulle, Alkalee's current Chief Technical Officer (CTO). The company also has two other co-founders: Raphaël David, Head of Strategic Programmes for Mobility at the CEA and the start-up's current Chief Executive Officer (CEO), and Laurent Le Garff, Head of Electronic Innovation Projects for the Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi Alliance and Chief Operating Officer (COO) of Alkalee.

Since its creation, the start-up has financed itself mainly through sales, a Wilco interest-free loan and innovation grants from the BPI. "Alkalee relies on our own funds, BPI grants and bank loans. For the time being, we have not raised any funds and, together with CEA Investissement, we hold all the capital," adds the CTO. Alkalee won the I-Lab competition in July 2021 along with a French Tech emergence grant. In 2021, the start-up also entered the NeveOS programme, selected as part of the Directorate General for Enterprise's (DGE) Steering Committee for Automotive Research and Mobility (CORAM) and supported by Renault and Continental. This consortium aims to design high-performance computer systems for the electrical and electronic architectures of tomorrow's vehicles.

In September 2022, Alkalee registered its first commercial license for its Euphilia tool. At the same time, its period at IncubAlliance Paris-Saclay came to an end. "Today, we're in an incubator in Saclay, but we no longer benefit from any support," explains Paul Dubrulle. In total, the start-up already holds seven exclusive CEA patents and filed for another in 2022.


Complex technology

The software in cars is becoming increasingly important and the functions it provides are sometimes a decisive factor in the decision to buy a vehicle. For example, it enables vehicles to detect whether they are crossing a white line, regulates speed, adjusts course or even takes action in autonomous cars. Consequently, car manufacturers aim to design vehicles around such software. They are known as Software-Defined Vehicles (SDV). Eventually, the cars' software will be regularly updated and new applications installed to enhance their functions.

Alkalee operates in this context by offering a tool for integrating this software into vehicles. "We help to make the programmes more robust, in order to demonstrate that they are not dangerous for car users or passers-by," explains Paul Dubrulle. In order to carry out all these tasks, there's a low-level software that controls the hardware, called the operating system. Then there's a software application for each task such as driver assistance or lane control. Between the two, middleware simplifies the development of application software without worrying about the details of the low-level software. "In addition to its tool, Alkalee provides embedded software capable of integrating with existing industrial middleware to facilitate the implementation of safe and secure overall operation," adds the co-founder.

Alkalee's solutions were not previously as essential as they are today. However, with the increasing number of driver assistance and connectivity functions and new forms of electric or hybrid propulsion in embedded systems, software complexity is growing exponentially. The methods applied remain the same, but demonstrating that the programmes are safe is becoming ever more difficult. So how does the start-up go about it? "We use model-driven engineering. In other words, we structure the information using the same terms for similar elements, so that it can be shared more easily," explains Paul Dubrulle.

Indeed, embedded systems are subject to numerous constraints, particularly in terms of action time. The system perceives its environment using a sensor, the software translates the information, and another estimates speed or the risk of colliding with a pedestrian. The system then assesses whether the driver needs to be warned or if it should take control of the vehicle itself. "The reaction time needs to be very short and timing errors limited to avoid causing an accident. We are working on these failures. In these models, we add information to automate analysis and verification using formal methods. Our core contribution is the automation of these analyses by the system and the generation of software to ensure compliance with the results," explains the co-founder.


Industrial product development

For three years, the start-up has focused on developing its product. It is now entering its integration phase with customer processes. "We're coming to a pivotal moment where we're able to demonstrate our technology on a fairly extensive part of the system. We have a solution that scales very well. This enables us to provide our customers with a tool that helps them build a model which will generate the configuration for the embedded software," explains Paul Dubrulle.

The challenge is to produce software capable of integrating with the vehicle's pre-existing software. The aim is to build bridges between the tools offered by Alkalee and those that customers are already using. In the coming years, the start-up will connect its product to the ecosystem to accelerate the adoption of its solutions by SMEs and mid-sized businesses (MSB). Alkalee is also looking beyond the automotive world, towards the defence sector and autonomous off-road civil or military vehicles. Consequently, the company is currently raising pre-series A funds. The next round will take place in around two years in order to finance a company expansion (scale-up).