Firmware-Specific Bug #10: Jitter

Some real-time systems demand not only that a set of deadlines be always met but also that additional timing constraints be observed in the process. Such as managing jitter.

An example of jitter is shown in Figure 1. Here a variable amount of work (blue boxes) must be completed before every 10 ms deadline. As illustrated in the figure, the deadlines are all met. However, there is considerable timing variation from one run of this job to the next. This jitter is unacceptable in some systems, which should either start or end their 10 ms runs more precisely.

If the work to be performed involves sampling a physical input signal, such as reading an analog-to-digital converter, it will often be the case that a precise sampling period will lead to higher accuracy in derived values. For example, variations in the inter-sample time of an optical encoder’s pulse count will lower the precision of the velocity of an attached rotation shaft.

Best Practice: The most important single factor in the amount of jitter is the relative priority of the task or ISR that implements the recurrent behavior. The higher the priority the lower the jitter. The periodic reads of those encoder pulse counts should thus typically be in a timer tick ISR rather than in an RTOS task.

Figure 2 shows how the interval of three different 10 ms recurring samples might be impacted by their relative priorities. At the highest priority is a timer tick ISR, which executes precisely on the 10 ms interval. (Unless there are higher priority interrupts, of course.) Below that is a high-priority task (TH), which may still be able to meet a recurring 10-ms start time precisely. At the bottom, though, is a low priority task (TL) that has its timing greatly affected by what goes on at higher priority levels. As shown, the interval for the low priority task is 10 ms +/- approximately 5 ms.

Firmware-Specific Bug #9

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