Friday, September 28, 2007

What are Cyber-Physical Systems?

Professor Edward A. Lee wrote the following about the Center for Hybrid and Embedded Software Systems (CHESS) and Cyber-Physical Systems:

The Center for Hybrid and Embedded Software Systems (CHESS) is building foundational theories and practical tools for systems that combine computation, networking, and physical dynamics. In such systems, embedded computers and networks monitor and control physical processes in feedback loops where physical processes affect computations and vice versa. For the last 30 years or so, computers have been increasingly embedded in stand-alone, self-contained products. We are poised, however, for a revolutionary transformation as these embedded computers become networked. The transformation is analogous to the enormous increment in the utility of personal computers with the advent of the web. Just as personal computers changed from word processors to global communications devices and information portals, embedded computers will change from small self-contained boxes to cyber-physical systems, which sense, monitor and control our intrinsically distributed human environment.

Cyber-Physical Systems (CPS) are integrations of computation,
networking, and physical processes. Embedded computers and networks monitor and control the physical processes, usually with feedback loops where physical processes affect computations and vice versa. The economic and societal potential of such systems is vastly greater than what has been realized, and major investments are being ade worldwide to develop the technology. There are considerable challenges, particularly because the physical components of such systems introduce safety and reliability requirements qualitatively different from those in general-purpose computing. Moreover, the standard abstractions used in computing do not fit the physical parts of the system well.

Applications of CPS arguably have the potential to dwarf the 20th
century IT revolution. They include high confidence medical devices and systems, assisted living, traffic control and safety, advanced automotive systems, process control, energy conservation, environmental control, avionics, instrumentation, critical infrastructure control (electric power, water resources, and communications systems for example), distributed robotics (telepresence, telemedicine), defense systems, manufacturing, and smart structures. It is easy to envision new capabilities, such as distributed micro power generation coupled into the power grid, where timing precision and security issues loom large. Transportation systems could benefit considerably from better embedded intelligence in automobiles, which could improve safety and efficiency. Networked autonomous vehicles could dramatically enhance the effectiveness of our military and could offer substantially more effective disaster recovery techniques. Networked building control systems (such as HVAC and lighting) could significantly improve energy efficiency and demand variability, reducing our dependence on fossil fuels and our greenhouse gas emissions. In communications, cognitive radio could benefit enormously from distributed consensus about available bandwidth and from distributed control technologies. Financial networks could be dramatically changed by precision timing. Large scale services systems leveraging RFID and other technologies for tracking of goods and services could acquire the nature of distributed real-time control systems. Distributed real-time games that integrate sensors and actuators could change the (relatively passive) nature of on-line social interactions. The positive economic impact of any one of these applications areas would be enormous.

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