Name: André Platzer
Affiliation: Carnegie Mellon University
Every now and then, an innovation so vital comes along that it’s hard to imagine how we got along without it. Think seatbelts, antibiotics, fire hoses. Now add André Platzer’s KeYmaera, software that helps computer-controlled safety systems avoid catastrophic errors.
Now a computer scientist at Carnegie Mellon, Platzer grew up in Germany, where he became, of all things, an accomplished ballroom dancer. “I won a few tournaments,” he says. “But I was fascinated with computers, and that began to take up my time.” In 2006, as a professor at the University of Oldenburg in Germany, he began investigating how autopilot systems could fail. When he discovered that there were no models that could test more than a handful of conditions, he built KeYmaera. Prior to it, a collision-avoidance proposal for the Federal Aviation Administration would have told two close planes with intersecting flight paths to each hang a right turn, fly a half circle, and make another right turn to avoid a collision. When KeYmaera tested what would happen to the planes at varying airspeeds, altitudes and trajectories, it found that, in rare cases, the protocol could actually put planes on a collision course. Platzer fed alternative scenarios into KeYmaera until it verified a safer fly-around maneuver. His software has also made potentially lifesaving corrections to models of Europe’s high-speed train systems and adaptive cruise control in cars. “Before you spend $1 billion on a system,” he notes, “it’s good to make sure that it works.” —Bjorn Careysingle page
Five amazing, clean technologies that will set us free, in this month's energy-focused issue. Also: how to build a better bomb detector, the robotic toys that are raising your children, a human catapult, the world's smallest arcade, and much more.