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Cyber-physical systems (CPS)

[are] a diverse group of systems used to physically manipulate critical infrastructure such as power and water, industrial systems, transportation systems, medical devices, security systems, building automation, emergency management, and many other systems vital to our well-being.[1]
are smart systems that include co-engineered interacting networks of physical and computational components.[2]
integrate computation, communication, sensing and actuation with physical systems to fulfill time-sensitive functions with varying degrees of interaction with the environment, including human interaction.[3]
[are s]ystems that combine computer related and mechanical aspects. A smartphone for example combines software, hardware, etc. with a physical device. Overall, many mobile or embedded technologies or devices can be called Cyber-Physical Systems, thus applications are manifold. The systems often include some form of sensor which can transfer attributes from the real world to the digital sphere.[4]


Today, a pre-cursor generation of cyber-physical systems can be found in areas as diverse as aerospace, automotive, chemical processes, civil infrastructure, energy, healthcare, manufacturing, transportation, entertainment, and consumer appliances. This generation is often referred to as "embedded systems." In embedded systems the emphasis tends to be more on the computational elements, and less on an intense link between the computational and physical elements.

Unlike more traditional embedded systems, a full-fledged CPS is typically designed as a network of interacting elements instead of as standalone devices. The expectation is that in the coming years ongoing advances in science and engineering will improve the link between computational and physical elements, dramatically increasing the adaptability, autonomy, efficiency, functionality, reliability, safety, and usability of cyber-physical systems. The advances will broaden the potential of cyber-physical systems in several dimensions, including: intervention (e.g., collision avoidance); precision (e.g., robotic surgery and nano-level manufacturing); operation in dangerous or inaccessible environments (e.g., search and rescue, firefighting, and deep-sea exploration); coordination (e.g., air traffic control, war fighting); efficiency (e.g., zero-net energy buildings); and augmentation of human capabilities (e.g., healthcare monitoring and delivery).

"A device, such as a laptop, sensor, smartphone, MEMS or nanotechnology chip, may be viewed as a physical component of a cyber-physical system, but its utility derives from the digital entities that may be accessed from, associated with or embedded in the device. A simple device typically has a make/model/serial number associated with it that assists in identifying and locating it, while more complex devices may be capable of performing or executing more complex operations. A device, as well as the digital entities embedded therein, may be composite in form, i.e., made up of other devices or digital entities."[5]

"At an abstract level, cyber-physical systems may be deployed

  • To control the flow of energy (e.g. electric grid);
  • To control the flow of material (e.g. oil pipeline and freight transportation);
  • To control the transformation from material to objects to goods (e.g. mining, fabrication, chemical refinery and production, manufactory, farming, generic engineering, etc.);
  • To control the movement of objects (e.g. autonomous vehicle, robots, traffic control);
  • To control the conversion of energy (e.g. power generation).
  • To control the flow of signals (e.g., air traffic control).
  • To control the conversion of energy, material, and signals."[6]

Because of their potential benefits to society, CPS are now, according to The President's Council of Advisors on Sci­ence and Technology, a national priority for federal R&D and are considered a potential economic engine.[7] "Two major U.S. government agencies are promoting CPS: the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST). NSF is funding fundamental research in CPS through its Directorate for Computer and Information Science and Engineering. NIST is working on the measurements and standards associated with CPS through its internal research programs and the Smart America Challenge (SAC). SAC is promoting interconnection of CPS test beds and inter­operability through shared data and associated data analytics."[8]


  1. Designed-in Cyber Security for Cyber-Physical Systems, at 1.
  2. Framework for Cyber-Physical Systems, at 1.
  3. Id. at 23.
  4. Smartex: IoT Glossary of Terms and Standards (full-text).
  5. Id., at 9.
  6. Id., at 34.
  7. National Institute of Standards and Technology, Executive Roundtable on Cyber-physical Systems: Strategic Vision and Business Drivers for 21st Century Cyber Physical Systems (2013).
  8. Research Roadmap for Smart Fire Fighting, at 6-7.

See also[]

External resources[]

The following are papers presented at the NSF Workshop On Cyber-Physical Systems:

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