Design and Implementation of an Embedded Python Run-Time System


Thomas W. Barr, Rebecca Smith, and Scott Rixner, Rice University


This paper presents the design and implementation of a complete embedded Python run-time system for the ARM Cortex-M3 microcontroller. The Owl embedded Python run-time system introduces several key innovations, including a toolchain that is capable of producing relocatable memory images that can be utilized directly by the run-time system and a novel foreign function interface that enables the efficient integration of native C code with Python.

The Owl system demonstrates that it is practical to run high-level languages on embedded microcontrollers. Instrumentation within the system has led to an overall system design that enables Python code to be executed with low memory and speed overheads. Furthermore, this paper presents an evaluation of an autonomous RC car that uses a controller written entirely in Python. This demonstrates the ease with which complex embedded software systems can be built using the Owl infrastructure.


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@inproceedings {180964,
author = {Thomas W. Barr and Rebecca Smith and Scott Rixner},
title = {Design and Implementation of an Embedded Python {Run-Time} System},
booktitle = {2012 USENIX Annual Technical Conference (USENIX ATC 12)},
year = {2012},
isbn = {978-931971-93-5},
address = {Boston, MA},
pages = {297--308},
url = {},
publisher = {USENIX Association},
month = jun

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