Stankovic will collaborate with a multi-university team to ensure citizens receive equal service from citywide smart systems.

The University of Virginia School of Engineering is participating in a new National Science Foundation-funded smart and connected communities project aimed at giving citizens more equitable access to public services that are managed through smart systems.

John A. Stankovic, BP America Professor in UVA Engineering’s Department of Computer Science and director of the Link Lab for cyber-physical systems, is working with Desheng Zhang, assistant professor in the Department of Computer Science at Rutgers University; Fei Miao, assistant professor in the Department of Computer Science and Engineering at University of Connecticut; and Shan Lin, assistant professor in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at Stony Brook University.

The three-year, $2.3 million grant will help the city of Newark, N.J., develop strategies to ensure its digital public services are inclusive for all citizens.

The researchers will analyze a common problem with the smart systems many cities are adopting to manage city-wide services. Conflicts in how these independent systems interact can contribute to a digital divide that leads to service inequities. The researchers will prescribe smart technology solutions that will help ensure citizens receive equal benefit from residential services.

According to the news release from Rutgers University, one objective is using technology to give residents equal access to information, a key for successful collaboration. “We have wanted to create one interactive map to be the sole source of information for every land parcel in Newark on a web site that will be intuitive for residents to use. This is a big step toward that goal,” said Newark Mayor Ras J. Baraka.

John A. Stankovic

John A. Stankovic, BP America Professor in UVA Engineering’s Department of Computer Science, is director of The University of Virginia's Link Lab for cyber-physical systems.

The project takes advantage of a long-standing research strength at UVA for safe and trustworthy cyber-physical systems. The Link Lab, which UVA launched in 2016, is a research incubator where close to 45 faculty and more than 200 graduate students from all areas of engineering are working together to disseminate cyber technologies in areas of smart and connected health, autonomous systems, smart cities, and hardware for the “internet of things.”

Stankovic is internationally recognized for his work in cyber-physical systems. In his 2014 paper Research Directions for the Internet of Things, Stankovic made the call for researchers to collaborate in the face of a cyber evolution that was creating a new era of research problems.

“We did not predict the Internet, the Web, social networking, Facebook, Twitter, millions of apps for smartphones, etc., and these have all qualitatively changed societies’ lifestyle. New research problems arise due to the large scale of devices, the connection of the physical and cyber worlds, the openness of the systems, and continuing problems of privacy and security,” Stankovic wrote. “It is hoped that there is more cooperation between the research communities in order to solve the myriad of problems sooner as well as to avoid reinventing the wheel when a particular community solves a problem.”

Link Lab embodies the multi-disciplinary approach to cyber-physical systems research Stankovic envisioned. It also serves as a space for community leaders and citizens to interact with researchers to collectively define a cyber future. Link Lab has been engaging communities around the area of smart cities since its inception.

Since 2017, Link Lab researchers have worked with Hampton Roads, Va., to investigate critical systems such as water management, transportation, energy and smart services. Link Lab also recently joined forces with its own community in Charlottesville, Va., to tackle shared issues using social innovation, civic technology and open data by co-launching the Center for Civic Innovation with citizen advocacy Smart Cville.

“As cyber technologies become pervasive, anticipating the impact these technologies have on society and addressing any ramifications before they emerge is critical,” said Stankovic. “A major focus of this new grant is to work with the community that will be served by the evolving cyber technologies.”

Stankovic and the research team plan to coordinate with Newark’s leaders and citizen stakeholders in developing a services dashboard, a mobile application that expands access to government information and public services, as well as offering training to administrators and end users.

“Professor Stankovic’s model of multidisciplinary collaboration is a cornerstone of UVA Engineering's cyber-physical systems research,” said Kevin Skadron, Harry Douglas Forsyth Professor and chair of the Department of Computer Science. “His collaboration with other researchers and the city of Newark demonstrates the Link Lab’s commitment to create smart systems that serve the collective good.”