UVA Engineering Launches Formal, International Search for Faculty, Graduate Students in Cyber-Physical Systems

The University of Virginia School of Engineering and Applied Science has opened its international search for eight faculty members to join a multi-million dollar initiative that will drive innovation in cyber-physical systems, an area of research exploring both the promise and risks of the worldwide technology explosion.

The new tenured or tenure-track faculty members will work across five departments:

  • Civil and Environmental Engineering
  • Computer Science
  • Electrical and Computer Engineering
  • Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering
  • Systems and Information Engineering

UVA is seeking candidates who are committing to solving the most critical problems at the intersection of the cyber and physical worlds. All areas of research will be considered, including but not limited to:

  • Smart Cities
  • Advanced infrastructure and intelligent transportation systems
  • Wireless and mobile health, and closed-loop medical devices
  • The safety, security, and reliability of cyber-physical systems
  • Systems and Information Engineering
  • Robotics, drones, and autonomous or connected vehicles
  • Smart manufacturing systems
  • Low-power and energy harvesting technologies
  • Sensor design including RF sensing and novel sensing devices
  • Other technologies or applications related to cyber-physical Systems

The job posting is available at jobs.virginia.edu.

The School of Engineering also is seeking at least 12 graduate students for master’s and PhD programs with a focus on cyber-physical systems. Applicants should apply to the graduate program through the graduate admissions site, should choose the departments most aligned with their research interests, and should prominently indicate cyber-physical systems as an area of interest in their applications. To have the highest chance of success, candidates should emphasize any experience with research, system design, and other examples of novel problem-solving. Application review will start Dec. 1 and continue until the positions are filled.

Cyber-physical systems refers to cyber systems that interact with and help control the human environment. Examples are devices that monitor human activities and health; unmanned aerial vehicles; automated vehicles and infrastructure systems; and smart buildings.

Cyber-physical systems research has been a strength at the UVA School of Engineering, where more than a dozen researchers already are making significant contributions to the field. Projects underway include a body monitor that could warn an asthma sufferer of an impending attack, a system to prevent cyber attacks on police cars and other emergency vehicles, the next generation of smart home thermostats, and crash test dummies explicitly designed for study of vehicle rollovers, which are a major cause of traffic fatalities.

The breakthroughs driven by UVA Engineering’s investment will benefit humanity, improve quality of life and expand the knowledge base.

As part of the new initiative, the school is launching a new cross-disciplinary lab to strengthen connections between cyber-engineering and physical-engineering research.

The initiative reflects Dean Craig Benson’s strategy of leveraging the School’s established research strengths to better address society’s most pressing challenges and make the School more competitive in attracting research funding and top graduate students. The initiative will connect engineering, architecture, medicine and potentially many other fields.

“UVA is one of the best comprehensive universities in the world, which gives us an excellent opportunity to target our resources, drive innovation and make a positive impact on society,” said Benson, who became Dean in July. “This initiative is an example of our determination to bring faculty members together, across disciplines, to collaborate and accelerate discovery.”

The UVA School of Engineering offers a vibrant research culture where innovative, interdisciplinary, and foundational research is conducted in a collegial atmosphere. It is committed to enhancing a culturally diverse community and strongly encourages applications from women, minorities, veterans and persons with disabilities; furthermore, the university is an active dual career employer. The University of Virginia is an equal opportunity and affirmative action employer and is actively boosting the participation of women faculty in science and engineering with the support of a National Science Foundation ADVANCE grant.

Executive Associate Dean for Research Pamela Norris said the initiative also represents a paradigm shift in the way the School of Engineering hires faculty and conducts research. It aligns with UVA’s emphasis on faculty collegiality across schools, departments and centers, she said.

“We are committed to leading the nation in cyber-physical systems research,” she said.

BP America Computer Science Professor John Stankovic, who is the recipient of a National Science Foundation grant announced in September to develop novel approaches for cyber-physical systems that can transform communities, said, “In my opinion, cyber-physical systems is the future of engineering education and research. It breaks the artificial boundaries between departments, and its impact on the world will be profound.”

The critical importance of such research was highlighted recently during the “Commonwealth of Virginia Cyber Security – Unmanned Systems Technology Showcase.” Munster Professor Barry Horowitz, Chair of the UVA Systems and Information Engineering Department and member of Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s Virginia Cyber Security Commission, demonstrated the group’s work with the Virginia State Police to assess the potential risk of cyber attacks on automobiles, specifically those used by emergency first responders. The outcome of the research will be to help law enforcement agencies and other first responders establish training protocols and explore low-cost technology to assist public safety agencies with reducing the risk of cyber attacks against their vehicles, according to a release from the Governor’s office.

UVA Professor John Lach’s work in the area of cyber-physical systems also was accomplished with strong collaborations. Lach, Chair of the Charles L. Brown Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering and co-director of the UVA Center for Wireless Health, leads the research team developing body monitors for asthma and other health applications in partnership with UVA’s Schools of Medicine and Nursing.

“This initiative will bring together researchers from diverse backgrounds and application expertise, leading to new synergies and applications that can better address societal grand challenges,” Lach said.

One thrust of the research will be to address the potential risks created by dependency on cyber-physical systems. “The challenge is to achieve the benefits of the technology while maintaining human control, privacy, and safety,” said Professor Kevin Skadron, Chair of the Department of Computer Science, one of several departments that will have a role in fully developing the cyber-physical systems initiative. “We have to manage design flaws and software vulnerabilities that could hurt the user or compromise security.”

Brian Smith, Chair of the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering and Director of its Center for Transportation Studies, leads a research team supporting federal and state government efforts to develop “connected” technologies and applications that allow vehicles and the infrastructure to work together to make travel safer and more efficient. Smith said, “Our work in connected vehicles has brought to the forefront the need to address cyber-security issues. These issues are complicated, requiring teams with expertise across a wide range of engineering disciplines.”

Eric Loth, Chair of the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, noted that autonomous airborne vehicles – drones – are ever-important cyber-physical systems to a wide variety of agencies and companies. “In addition, as automobile technology matures from crash avoidance to driver-assisted and eventually fully autonomous vehicles, UVA’s world-leading research in vehicle safety will leverage the availability of new sensing and control algorithms to further push the boundaries of occupant protection to mitigate injuries and save lives,” he said.

Commonwealth Associate Professor Kamin Whitehouse, whose research includes smart home technologies such as a new generation of smart home thermostats, said, “We anticipate a strong pool of international candidates who will be attracted by the opportunity to conduct groundbreaking research for the greater good.”

More information about the initiative can be found at http://linklab.virginia.edu. The new faculty and the lab are expected to be in place beginning late spring 2016, Whitehouse said.

University of Virginia School of Engineering and Applied Science: www.seas.virginia.edu