Professor Receives NSF Grants to Develop Advanced Real-Time Computing Methods for Decision-Making

With society relying increasingly on cyber physical systems to control airplanes, energy grids and other mechanical devices, professors at the Cockrell School of Engineering are making it their mission to develop real-time computing methods that are smarter, safer and better and can react and operate more like humans.

A cyber physical system, which is used to augment or replace humans in controlling physical processes, is linked to a broader computer network. The systems are tasked with complex and critical functions, such as launching rockets, delivering radiation treatment and flying aircraft on autopilot.

Behcet Acikmese, an assistant professor in the Department of Aerospace Engineering and Engineering Mechanics, and his team are working to expand the decision-making capabilities, safety and resiliency of cyber physical systems. Ackimese received two National Science Foundation (NSF) grants, which together total more than $850,000, to support major research projects aimed at improving different aspects of cyber physical systems.

For one NSF grant, Acikmese is studying insights from models of human behavior to design autonomous cyber physical systems.

"Although we are far from autonomous decision-making that can handle many things that humans can do effortlessly, we are making progress," Acikmese said.
"Humans have efficient ways to observe the operational arena and make decisions that are robust to address potentially dynamic uncertainties. We would like to analyze human decision-making in relevant mission contexts and use insights obtained to design robust autonomy protocols."

Acikmese has put together a multidisciplinary team that includes psychologists and computer scientists. Ufuk Topcu, currently an assistant professor at the University of Pennsylvania who will join the Cockrell School next year, is also a member of the research team. Topcu's research focuses on mobile robots and vehicles and their integration into transportation and electrical energy systems.

Acikmese will use the second NSF grant to develop new software for cyber physical systems. His project, called SORTIES (Semantics of Optimization for Real Time Intelligent Embedded Systems), is aimed at increasing the reliability of algorithms that carry out specific actions.

"The project will develop software to analyze algorithms, and it will generate reliable real-time decision-making software for embedded applications," he said.

Advances in cyber physical systems are anticipated to have a major impact in decreasing costs and increasing productivity across industries. Emerging technologies, such as driverless vehicles, will depend heavily on advancing cyber physical systems.

"Cyber physical system technology will transform the way people interact with engineered systems, just as the Internet has transformed the way people interact with information," Acikmese said. "New, smart technology will drive future innovation and competition in sectors such as agriculture, energy, transportation, building design and automation, health care and manufacturing."

“Cyber physical system technology will transform the way people interact with engineered systems, just as the Internet has transformed the way people interact with information,” said Behcet Acikmese, assistant professor in the Department of Aerospace Engineering and Engineering Mechanics.