Twenty years ago, during his term as President of the National Academy of Engineering, University of Virginia Computer Science Professor William Wulf launched a remarkable effort to spread the word about the importance of innovation, education and research to the American economy. Wulf and his wife, UVA Computer Science Professor Anita Jones, also a National Academy of Engineering member, established the Academy’s now well-known series of regional meetings for leaders in engineering and science to share knowledge and ideas.

On April 30 and May 1, 2019, this work came full circle when UVA Engineering Dean Craig H. Benson, also an Academy member, hosted a NAE regional meeting and symposium focused on cyber-physical systems, the technologies and systems at the interface of the cyber and physical worlds. Wulf and Jones hosted keynote speaker Vinton G. Cerf, Vice President and Chief Internet Evangelist for Google, at a dinner the opening night of the meeting, and Jones was a distinguished guest at the symposium.

The meeting and symposium were held in conjunction with a UVA site visit for the Center for Advanced Self-Powered Systems of Integrated Sensors and Technologies (ASSIST), a National Science Foundation-sponsored Nanosystems Engineering Research Center (NERC).

The symposium opened with a video sharing the work of UVA Engineering’s Link Lab, a collaborative space involving more than 30 affiliated faculty and 200 graduate students engaged in cyber-physical systems research and education. Benson gave opening remarks about the NAE’s mission for service to the nation, emphasizing that engineers are not only contributors to society, but leaders expanding the frontiers of knowledge and technology for the betterment of humanity.

NAE President C. D. Mote, Jr., then provided brief remarks about regional meetings as an opportunity bring the Academy out to its membership while bringing the membership to the Academy. The meetings are learning experiences for the Academy, he said. Other regional meetings this year have included the University of Texas at Austin, the Illinois Institute of Technology and Agilent, a California-based research, development and manufacturing company.

Mote emphasized that the topic of cyber-physical systems is extremely important, because we live in a time of accelerating change that creates global opportunities and demand for engineers.

Opening remarks also were provided by James H. Aylor, former Dean of UVA Engineering and president-elect of the Virginia Academy of Science, Engineering and Medicine, established in 2013 at the urging of Virginia’s U.S. Sen. Mark Warner and modeled after a similar organization in Texas. VASEM’s goals are aligned with the goals of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine. John A. Stankovic, BP America Professor of Computer Science and Director of UVA Engineering’s Link Lab for cyber-physical systems, welcomed attendees of the regional meeting and symposium.

Cerf’s keynote address was entitled “Ethics, Computer Science and the Internet of Things.”

“If you come away with nothing else,” Cerf said, “please come away with a sense of deep responsibility to the society that is affected by the engineering, especially the software and computer engineering that pervades our lives today.”

Users expect products just to work, with intuitive interfaces and provisions for safety, reliability and privacy. “One of our important ambitions to be to make this true,” he said. “Every single person in this room has experienced unintuitive interfaces. Some of you may even be responsible for producing them.”

Users also expect devices and systems of devices that have interoperability, with common standards that are agreed to and implemented. “We should evaluate product offerings as the users see them, not as the engineers see them,” he said.

Engineers also have to understand that the Internet of Things is a complex ecosystem that cannot be oversimplified. Devices from multiple brands should work together; software updates must have integrity and validity; and there should be a way to protect systems of devices from cyber attacks, so hubs that securely connect devices should be considered. Developers must think through the desirable properties of systems and the complexities that must be solved. How do you make systems scale up for hundreds and even thousands of devices? How can they be accessed and controlled for groups of people? How can authority be added to new users or be taken away when needed? How will privacy be protected?

“I hope this is giving you a sense for how hard this problem is and how complex it is, and how important it is to figure out how to solve it,” he said. Engineers will put billions of devices to work for the Internet of Things, which could herald either a utopian future or a nightmare. “It is a shared responsibility to try for the former and avoid the latter.”

Cerf’s keynote address was followed by a panel discussion entitled “Securing the Cyber-Physical Universe,”  led by Jack Davidson, UVA Engineering Professor of Computer Science, Director of the Computer Science Cybersecurity Program and Co-Organizer of the UVA Cyber Innovation & Society Initiative. Panel members were Andrew Bochman, Senior Grid Strategist, National & Homeland Security, Idaho National Laboratory; Stephanie Forrest, Director of the Biodesign Center for Biocomputation, Security and Society, and Professor in the School of Computing, Informatics and Decision Sciences Engineering at Arizona State University; and S. Shankar Sastry (NAE), Faculty Director of the Blum Center for Developing Economies, NEC Distinguished Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Sciences and Former Dean of Berkeley Engineering. Sastry said that in every board room in the world, leaders are grappling with what the digital transformation will mean for their organizations and for humanity as a whole.

Veena Misra, Distinguished Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering at N.C. State University and Director of the Center for Advanced Self-Powered Systems of Integrated Sensors and Technologies (ASSIST), delivered a presentation entitled “Smart Health at the Cyber-Physical-Human Interface.” She shared opportunities in personalized health, including continuous health monitoring that gives clinicians  actionable information about patients with long-term, chronic diseases and helps improve health outcomes. ASSIST researchers are developing wearable sensor systems that are self-powered and provide informative and continuous data for patients suffering from such conditions as asthma and irregular heartbeat.

George J. Pappas, the Joseph Moore Professor and Chair of the Department of Electrical and Systems Engineering at the University of Pennsylvania, member of the General Robotics, Automation, Sensing & Perception (GRASP) Laboratory and the Penn Research In Embedded Computing and Integrated Systems Engineering (PRECISE) Center, shared “The CPS Foundations of Safe Autonomy.” The presentation was an overview of the progress and continued challenges in developing autonomous systems. Pappas outlined research on safe mission planning for robot swarms in known environments; semantic modeling in unknown environments; and safe mission planning in unknown environments.

In his “Smart Cities for Flooding” presentation, David Maidment (NAE), Hussein M. Alharthy Centennial Chair in Civil Engineering at the University of Texas at Austin, outlined some examples of a cyber-physical systems approach to enable communities to adopt capable, adaptable, scalable, secure systems for environmental resiliency, such as in coastal communities dealing with extreme weather events, flooding and sea level rise. Maidment also shared the challenge researchers are undertaking to develop a national water model to assess hydrology in a new way on the continental scale in the United States.