Friday, October 14, 2011

#ALGORITHMS: "Smart Systems Standardized by Feds"

Standardizing smart systems is a newly announced goal of the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), the federal agency that has standardized everything from the yardstick to the atomic clock.

A $1 million award to the Institute for Systems Research will team University of Maryland at College Park researchers with scientists at the National Institute of Standards and Technology in a three-year program to create standards, testing methods and measurement tools to consistently rank the performance of smart systems.
Nearly every large system is getting smarter, from the largest nationwide networks to the smallest standalone devices, and even the underlying materials themselves are getting smart. At each level, these smart systems apply the same principles, according to NIST, since each layer includes the three elements of computation, communication and automation. From our household appliances to vehicles to buildings and even the utility grids themselves--all are getting smarter in similar ways.
"While we can expect an ever larger and more diverse range of smart systems and applications [in the future] they all share a basic set of requirements that should not be addressed in stovepipe fashion," said Shyam Sunder, director of NIST’s Engineering Laboratory. "We will take a broad view of these new technologies as we develop standards and measurement tools that apply to all."
NIST already keeps the U.S. "gold standards" for all types of measurements--from units-of-time to chemical-composition. NIST's newest effort will standardize smart systems that combine computers, communications and automation--what ISR calls a cyber-physical system (CPS).
"Investigating and understanding how the cyber-components can be synergistically interweaved with the diverse physical components in CPS pose foundational research challenges in science, engineering and computing," said former (founding) director of the Institute for Systems Research (ISR), principle investigator John Baras.
NIST and ISR aim to surmount the research challenges of smart systems by identifying obstacles, and ascertaining the need for measurement standards to surmount those obstacles. (ISR operates from the School of Engineering at the University of Maryland where more than 100 faculty researchers participate in what is one of six Engineering Research Centers established by the National Science Foundation). ISR will help design, integrate, test and manage a toolset that uses open-standards to enable subsystems from different U.S. manufacturers to interoperate. In addition, ISR will identify existing and anticipated markets as well as develop a framework to help guide U.S. investments in smart systems.
Besides comparing their performance, NIST also cited security as a major motivation, since smart systems need to be safe and reliable in order to fulfill NIST's mission to "enhance economic security and improve our quality of life." Smart systems called out by NIST as needing an extra measure of security included building control systems and remotely monitored medical implants, both of which were noted to be vulnerable to cyber threats.
"Smart vehicles, buildings, electric grids and manufactured products combine IT and physical technologies into interactive, self-repairing systems," said Sunder. "We want to help industry ensure that the systems are safe, secure and resilient."
According to NIST, by the end of the decade, more than 50 percent of the cost of cars, planes, machine tools, medical equipment and many other everyday items will be due to their computing, communication and automation capabilities. To create a level playing field against which innovation can be measured, NIST and ISR will create a suite of standards and measurement tools that can quantitatively distinguish the performance of smart systems.
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