$1 Million Award Supports Smart Systems R&D

The University of Maryland at College Park's Institute for Systems Research will work with NIST to develop test methods and measurement tools, essential for ensuring these systems perform reliably and consistently.

A $1 million cooperative agreement awarded by the National Institute of Standards and Technology to the University of Maryland at College Park establishes an R&D partnership to work on perfecting new smart systems. Also called cyber-physical systems, these are networked physical, computer, and biological technologies used in building control systems and remotely monitored and controlled medical devices. The agreement calls for researchers at Maryland's Institute for Systems Research to help NIST as it develops and deploys standards, test methods, and measurement tools to support consistently reliable performance by these systems, while also protecting them from cyber threats.

"Smart vehicles, buildings, electric grids, and manufactured products that combine IT and physical technologies into interactive, self-fixing systems are transforming industries," said Shyam Sunder, director of NIST's Engineering Laboratory. "These systems are fiendishly complex, yet the hardware and software must work 100 percent of the time. We want to help industry ensure that the systems are safe, secure, and resilient."

According to NIST's announcement, "computing, sensing, communication, control, and related technologies already account for significant shares of the cost of cars, planes, machine tools, medical equipment and a host of other products. For many of these products, the CPS portion is expected to exceed 50 percent by the end of the decade. Innovations that distinguish one competitor’s offerings from the rest of the pack will depend increasingly on the mastery of CPS."

The three-year agreement pledges the university and NIST to evaluate the existing technical and theoretical foundation for CPS, identify gaps and obstacles, and ascertain the needs for measurement and standards. Institute for Systems Research staff will assess existing and anticipated markets and develop a framework to help guide investments in CPS-related research. The funding also supports efforts to devise a framework to foster an open standards platform approach to make systems interoperable.

"While we can expect an ever larger and more diverse range of smart operating systems and applications, they all share a basic set of requirements that should not be addressed in stovepipe fashion. With this effort we will take a broad view of these new technologies as we develop standards and measurement tools that would apply to all," Sunder said.

"Current approaches to engineering CPS are at their infancy at best, and they are too application-specific, too costly, too error prone, and they take too long," said Maryland principal investigator John S. Baras, the Lockheed Martin Professor in Systems Engineering and founding director of the Institute for Systems Research. "There is a clear need for unifying principles within and across application domains. Investigating and understanding how the cyber components can be synergistically interweaved with the diverse physical components in CPS pose foundational research challenges in science, engineering, and computing, and they will transform science and engineering education. We welcome the opportunity to help meet this need and the associated challenges by working closely with NIST scientists and engineers."

The institute was established in 1985 as one of the National Science Foundation's first six Engineering Research Centers and is within the A. James Clark School of Engineering at the university.

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