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R&D Opportunities for 21st Century Cyber-Physical Systems

Wed, 02/27/2013 - 7:00am
NIST

A new report provides a high-level perspective on key challenges and research opportunities for advancing CPS. It is intended to inform decisions about the technology R&D that should be pursued.

Read complete report here.

The wide reach of the Internet along with rapid advances in miniaturization, speed, power and mobility have led to the pervasive use of networking and information technologies (IT) across all economic sectors. Increasingly, these technologies are combined with elements of the physical world (e.g., machines, devices, structures) to create smart or intelligent systems that offer increased effectiveness, productivity, safety and speed and enable functions not previously possible.

Integrated networking, information processing, sensing and actuation capabilities allow physical devices to operate in changing environments. This makes smart systems possible but also creates the need for a new “systems science” that can lead to unprecedented capabilities. Tightly coupled cyber and physical systems that exhibit this level of integrated intelligence are sometimes referred to as cyber-physical systems (CPS). All CPS have computational processes that interact with physical components. These can be relatively simple (e.g., a heater, cutting machine) or comprise multiple components in complex assemblies (e.g., vehicles, aircraft systems, oil refineries). The computational and physical processes of such systems are tightly interconnected and coordinated to work together effectively, often with humans in the loop.

Robots, intelligent buildings, implantable medical devices, cars that drive themselves or planes that automatically fly in a controlled airspace — these are all examples of CPS. Today, CPS can be found in such diverse industries as aerospace, automotive, energy, healthcare, manufacturing, infrastructure, consumer electronics and communications. Everyday life is becoming increasingly dependent on these systems — in some cases with dramatic improvements.

There is a growing trend toward computational intelligence, automation and control for complicated but well-defined tasks or processes, especially when demands or constraints are not amenable to human intervention. For example, automatic collision systems could detect moving objects and respond faster than a human operator. Unmanned CPS could be used to reduce the risk to human life by detecting mines, exploring volcanoes, or conducting otherwise hazardous tasks. Machines driven by a computer do not suffer fatigue and may be more precise than is humanly possible. In future CPS could make possible concepts only imagined today, such as unmanned tours to the moon, bionic suits and automated large-scale indoor agriculture systems.

This trend does not remove the importance of human involvement but does change roles and requirements for new skill sets. Furthermore, as CPS become more dependent on computational processes, it becomes increasingly important that they be engineered to be reliable, secure, and safe. Future scientific and engineering advances that extend the connectivity of these systems and deliver greater reliability could open new opportunities to take advantage of the unique properties of CPS.

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