The folks at USCAR drew my attention to cyber-physical systems (CPS), a discipline of keen interest to the National Science Foundation (NSF) and to a growing number of universities, as well as to Ford, GM, Chrysler, and other automakers.
USCAR thinks of CPS as a network of highly sophisticated electromechanical subsystems autonomously controlling hybrid drive, automated parking assist, crash avoidance, and other kinds of systems. It’s not just for cars and related applications such as automated traffic control. According to the NSF, cyber-physical systems will someday be available for tasks ranging from robotic surgery to search and rescue.
USCAR formed a CPS task force the members of which have been highly visible at CPS conferences. Bill Milam, Ford technical expert for embedded systems at USCAR, chairs the task force.
“People rarely understand the deep complexity in today’s cars and trucks,” Milam says. “The systems that interact within them – engine, transmission controllers, braking, steering, communications, passenger safety and comfort – are as complex as any electromechanical systems out there.
Milam adds that CPS events have given educators and experts from other industries a clearer understanding of the sophistication and scale of CPS deployment within the auto industry – a larger deployment than in most other industries.
According to Milam, CPS requires a more holistic approach to vehicle development – a need to understand how complex systems function at both a very deep level and at a high level.
“If you always engineer systems from the top down, you miss opportunities to utilize the processing capabilities on the deep-level computational system, and conversely, engineers on the embedded system level frequently cannot see where their systems can be better leveraged for the overarching structure. They can miss out on opportunities to help high-level problem solving,” he says.
In future CPS meetings, researchers from industry and the academic community will consider near-term strategies for system development.