Table of Contents
The notion of CPS is closely related to the area of robotics and sensor networks using computational intelligence. Cyber physical Systems build the link between ‘abstract’ computational and ‘real’ physical components by using ‘smart’ systems, increasing the autonomy, adaptability, efficiency, reliability, and functionality of devices. This increases the potential of cyber-physical systems in many directions, for example:
Common and typical tasks of CPS are sensor-based communications implying autonomous systems. For instance, wireless sensor like live cams form a network that monitor some geographical area and send the processed data to a central system. Other types of CPS are the smart grids, the automotive systems (self-driving etc…), autonomous medical monitoring,systems that control other systems, distributed robots, and self-driving unmanned vehicles (drones…).
A striking example of a typical CPS is the Distributed Robot Garden built for educational and demonstration purposes featuring a hundred of robotic origami flowers using all sorts of sensors and connected devices.
Blockchain systems and tokens are also part of the CPS ecosystem. Many Blockchain systems seek to maintain and orchestrate an interconnection of devices which can compute routes, collect data and get traffic information for instance.
Here we list some typical CPS systems tasks:
In fact, anything which can be automatized, rationalized, computerized and connected can potentially fall under the CPS domain of application, even CPS can auto-rationalize itself, eg ‘rationalizing the rationalization’ of production for example!
That seemingly unlimited potential needs obviously a global control system, which is still to be found. For now, the restriction of such applications is to be found in a mixture of costs, business opportunities, local political decisions and social context.
Technically a majority of CPS fall under the embedded system category.
‘Embedded’ is a broad term which relates to ‘non-standard’ computers which have limited resources in terms of CPU, RAM, storage and/or energy consumption. Such systems typically are provided either without operating systems, either with a special compact operating system which may be also Real-Time Operating Systems. They use special CPUs, of different architectures for example such as the ARM processors like the Cortex CPUs. Some of these CPUs may be using secure and anti-tampering designs.
CPS embedded devices are usually programmed with various different languages such as C or C++ or even ‘portative’ languages like Java or C#. Java was initially developed for such purposes, eg to be a universal language for smart devices/Cyber-Physical Systems.
CPS embedded devices communicate using modern protocols, same as the PCs, e.g USB or Ethernet. Many of them, of course, implement specific and complex serial or wireless protocols, some of these protocols may even not be available publically.
Embedded systems are mostly the way and not the goal. They are considered as CPS because they belong to broader systems managed by different software and potentially higher-level communication protocols.
We could trace the origins of CPS with Norbert Wiener (see previous sections ) and his invention of the Cybernetic science.
Cybernetics is defined as the science of communications between automatic control systems in machines and humans and most of the philosophy behind CPS lies in Cybernetics.
Mechatronics is a multidisciplinary engineering area which focuses on the building of electro-mechanical devices which can be used in a cybernetic context. They are the ‘operational’ link between the physical world and the computer world. They allow machines – and devices in general – to move, twist, crawl, feel, see, transport etc…
CPS can be seen as the following equation :
We described CPS as a giant cooperative ecosystem between smart devices. The question remains to understand how that ecosystem will be maintained, managed or orchestrated, especially because humans must stay ‘in the loop’ and be in control of their creations. Now CPS are ruled by business process, involving costs reduction mainly and new markets. It is certainly not enough for a regulation and an orchestration of these devices.
On the other hand, governments try to stay on the top of the pyramid and this, unfortunately, involves most of the time slowing or stopping CPS projects for such or such reason (political, corruption, social opposition etc…)
In terms of design and engineering there is not any unified system or model that could allow to design CPS in a cooperative way between the actors. The practice for designing CPS varies over the world and involves a lot of heteroclites protocols and languages which can slow down its evolution.
CPS may need global governance but this fits badly in a market with distrusting and competing actors, however despite this, normalizing and international engineering and science organizations may push for more cooperation.
Blockchains which are appearing now everywhere are considered as a possible candidate for a ruling system between the devices forming the CPS ecosystem. Since they are neutral and decentralized they naturally ‘converge’ and self-adjust to an equilibrated solution in terms of security, speed, costs and organization.
CPS can be seen as ‘digital life’, that is to say, the quasi-biological transformation of technological devices into a ‘living’ system operated by algorithms. In such a way there would be like a ‘spirit’ animating various devices, cooperating, and interacting together.
Such phenomena could jeopardize many things in terms of Human development if not taken care of. Of course, there is always a risk of an ‘AI’ explosion taking domination against mankind through … interconnected and ruled CPS. This is the Sci-Fi theme of the ‘revolt of the machines’.
It appears less and less as a Sci-Fi theme and more and more like a real threat. Many scientists have warned publicly that an uncontrolled A.I together with the CPS could seriously threaten the very development of humanity.
A system of systems (SoS) consists of a higher meta-system formed with components that are themselves lesser systems. As mentioned in the previous section, CPS is acting as a system of systems and share a common background.
Digital computers and CPS may not be the universal panacea that everybody is thinking. There are very debatable aspects in Cyber-Physical Systems, especially the fact that they can become quite invasive and that, since they need silicon and semiconductors devices to operate as well as specialized code, they can be difficult to repair in a low-technological or degraded technological contexts such as the one found in situations of crisis or wars. Therefore they may not be robust enough to survive in a long-term period of time.
Additionally, the concept itself of CPS involves deep sociological and philosophical problems with the fusion man-machine, which may not be well-understood.
Economically Cyber-Physical systems leads to a strong automation and robotization of the society – in almost all the domains – where only a small amount of workers (or even no workers at all) are needed. Anything needing control, monitoring, etc… can be performed by CPS. This has of course formidable implication of the human population, which besides been numerous (7 billion people as of 2020) is at the risk of becoming extremely useless. This creates a gap between workers skilled in CPS and the rest of the other workers – and of the population – which has potentially no real role in a CPS driven society.
We are seeing the start of a possible replacement of men by machines at a global scale.
CPS may be only regarded as the first step (and even a wrong step as some may say) toward a higher technology which is still to invent and develop.
For instance, there are non-digital computers such as quantum computers or photonic computers. In their ‘pure’ form, they may not need semiconductors at all to operate, therefore achieving higher performances than the digital computers – without a cyber system behind.
Cyber-systems may already be regarded as ‘old’ from that point of view. After all, the concept of cyber systems was developed mainly … 70 years ago, in the 40’s.
We have described in the present article what are the main features and aspects of Cyber-Physical Systems. The subject is incredibly broad and rich and we only surfaced the topic. It may be a good exercise for the reader to observe how many CPS he/she interacts with on a daily basis and what are the implications on his/her daily life? CPS is there, we just do not pay attention to them. On the opposite, they do pay attention to us… that’s why they have been designed for.
It may be a good time – at the beginning of 2020- to start global thinking about the nature of CPS and how we intend to live with them and develop them because what appeared to be Science-Fiction when we were kids may be no more Science Fiction at all but our reality.
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