31Jan 2020

An Overview of Cyber-Physical Systems (CPS)

PART I – Introduction and main considerations about CPS

Introduction to Cyber-Physical Systems


In that article, we shall go through a complex and very important notion: the Cyber-Physical Systems (CPS).
CPS is not a very well known term but it is gaining more and more importance for all key players in I.T and technology in general.
In what follows we will explain what is CPS and describe what evolution could be expected regarding the systems which are described by this concept.

Definition of Cyber-Physical Systems

To understand what is meant by the Cyber-Physical Systems, it can be useful to imagine billions of various technological devices, interacting together inside a complex ecosystem and mostly connected and/or equipped with digital technology.

In other terms, CPS relates to a set of physical devices (‘hardware’) which are controlled by computer-based algorithms, mostly software.

Following that definition, personal computers are CPS devices and in fact, a physical device controlled by an algorithm could well be defined as a computer. In such a case, CPS would represent all the digital computers in the world, not just the ‘standard’ PCs but anything which is provided with an electronic system that uses digital algorithms – or can be an extension of such systems.

In Cyber-Physical Systems, physical ( aka ‘hardware’) and software components are deeply linked to each other, with the ability to operate on various spatial and temporal modes. They can demonstrate various behaviors and dynamically change with the context. Thus giving a ‘life-like’ feeling.

It is essential to understand that CPS represents an extremely broad range of devices. Mostly any engineered device which can be programmed in one way or another.

Let us here list some possible CPS devices:

  • A Laptop equipped with a Linux operating system
  • A printer using a serial port DB-25
  • A PCI card
  • A Lego ‘MindStorm’ programmable robot
  • Cell phone controlled water pump
  • A Hybrid digital-analog computer
  • The Jarvik-7 Artificial heart
  • A ‘Smart Grid’ power system
  • Smart Guns

A list of devices which could not (or should not) be considered as CPS:

  • A ‘pure’ quantum computer
  • A ‘pure’ electromechanical computer
  • A ‘pure’ photonic computer
  • A ‘pure’ Analog computer
  • A mechanical doll
  • The engine of a Ford Mustang First generation (70’s)
  • The US Army Artificial heart pump (1940)
  • The Z3 Computer
  • A Swiss railway clock
  • A ‘classical’ TV set
  • A mechanical crane
  • A ‘classical’ Radio Set
  • An analog rotary dial phone
  • A plastic ‘PVC’ bottle
  • A metallic sword

Note that most ( if not all ) non-CPS devices can be converted into CPS devices by adding one or more CPS controller(s).


ES6 Features

Technologies Implied in CPS

Technologies Implied in CPS

CPS involves trans-disciplinary, ranging from cybernetics, mechatronics to software programming and medical engineering. Here we list the key technologies that are needed for Cyber-Physical Systems:

Discipline/technology/areaRole in CPS
RoboticsDevelop robot workers, autonomous or not, which can have various tasks for repair, maintenance, control …
CyberneticsA key area which merge A.I/mechatronics/maths and artificial cognition
MechatronicsDevelop robotic arms, parts, sensors 
Electric engineeringDevelop the electromagnetic systems and circuits needed for CPS
ElectronicDevelop all analog parts, circuitry, and electronic boards, including the various electronic semic-conductors components, transistors, FPGA, etc…
Embedded systems programmingProgram all microprocessors, microcontrollers and embedded processors found in the CPS
Telecom engineerDevelop all communications protocol between the CPS devices: serial, ethernet, internet, wireless, etc…
Software programmerProgram – in general – the CPS using various programming languages, which can depend on one or more virtual machines and operating systems 
Cybersecurity expertProtect the CPS from various intrusion or malevolent hacking
Data scientistManage the data needed for the CPS to operate and their storage, and check how these data are used for Machine learning especially. 
MedicineProvide support for medical CPS 
BiologistProvide support for biotechnological  CPS 
ChemistProvide all the chemical materials needed by CPS, provide support for biochemical CPS
AgronomyProvide support for Agronomic  CPS 
ScientistProvide support for CPS operating in a scientific discipline
AerospaceBuild aerospace devices needed by a class of CPS (rockets, aircrafts) especially in the military
Car/Truck/Motor…Build devices needed for CPS operating in the Car/Truck/Motor industry…etc…
Accountant/Business/…Provide support for Accounting /Business/… software needed by a class of CPS
BankSupport bank CPS (terminals, payment cards,etc…)
Radar/Lidar/SonarProvide detection systems for CPS, especially in the military
‘A.I’/ Machine LearningProvide all self-cognition systems and automatic recognition/decision  for CPS
StatisticsSupport Data scientist and Machine Learning
cryptographySupport Cyber Specialists 
LaserProvide new ways of interaction for CPS

The list is far from being exhaustive. We can see the development of CPS been achieved by all the engineers equipped with computers and assisted by scientists and specialists.

What we listed is, in fact, what used to be called ‘new technologies’ in the 2000s.

Some Considerations About CPS


Generalities in CPS

As we mentioned Cyber-Physical Systems are the product of a technological change operated in 2000, the ‘extreme’ computerization of society. CPS has been created by the transformation of ‘inert’ devices – mostly analog – into ‘smart devices’ – provided with one or more microcontrollers and circuitry needed to communicate with the outside world.

Payment cards are a good example. At first a basic plastic card, they became equipped with a simple magnetic stripe then, suddenly, with a very complicated and powerful micro-chip (‘smart cards’).

The idea of ‘putting computers and code’ everywhere and connecting them all to each other has deep implications in terms of society and evolution and it is what has created the world of CPS. The primary reason for this is in terms of business, competitions, and performances.

CPS can also be seen as creating a ‘ghost’, a technological ‘spirit’ and bringing ‘life’ into inert things in some sort of ‘magical’ operation. One of the most complicated aspects of CPS is that they can have various degrees of self-assessment and autonomy, eg they can be ‘cognitive’.

CPS as a Social and Cultural System

The origin of the term Cyber comes from the ancient greek κῠβερν-ήτης or ‘kubernetes ‘ which means guide, governor and steerman or pilot.
The term has originally no connection with electronics or computers. It was introduced by the mathematician Norbert Wiener. Cyber is, therefore, more a form of governance and directed technology in which science can directly interact with the physical world. This relates in the Sci-Fi literature to the well-known paradigm of the ‘reign of the machines’ popularized by several films. The concept is deeply linked to the idea of Androids.

The term of Cyber-Space, Cyber-Culture, Cyber-Money, Cyber-War or Cyber-Fighters, for instance, are the social and cultural representation of Cyber-Physical Systems.

An author such as Philip K Dick, for example, represents very well, through his books, the Cyber-Culture and its implications in everyday life, where the dangers and difficulties of such systems – which can sometimes ‘mimic’ life itself, human beings or animals – are depicted.

Countries such as the USA or Japan live with clear dominant cyber-culture, where ‘traditional’ society has faded away and where CPS has a strong and increasing role. This leads to such cultural concepts as the ‘CyberPunk’ and ‘CypherPunks’ movements where hackers fight and interact with a tyrannic Cyber-Physical System (controlling all the CPS) either autonomous (like in the films ‘Matrix’) or ruled by a governing elite.

What Does CPS Typically Do?

What Does CPS Typically Do
  • Automatically Control and Monitor various types of industrial, scientific and business processes;
  • Act as a large scale system and distribute tasks and roles;
  • Require inter-disciplinary frameworks;
  • Are highly dependent on each other;
  • Are dependant on power supplies, information systems, etc…
  • Require important interaction with other CPS and various systems;
  • Improve their performance continuously;
  • Can self-adapt and change in ‘real-time’ ways;
  • Need for powerful decision systems;
  • Act as distributes connected systems of systems.

CPS as a Discipline

As a discipline, CPS can be viewed as technology-focused engineering requiring mathematical models. CPS merge abstract mathematical modeling (which have been developed for centuries) with recent advances in computer technology (which only age for a few dozens of years ).CPS involves abstraction regarding dynamical systems, linear algorithms, differential equations, etc… on one hand and data processing via computers on the other hand following the Turing-Church model.

CPS is, therefore, a hybrid discipline mixing maths, engineering, technology, and computer science.

Cognitive CPS/ Smart Devices

Cognitive CPS/ Smart Devices

Here is a list of possible scenarios involving cognitive CPS, e.g which are often ‘Smart-something’ :

  • Audio player that self-adjust the volume depending on various external conditions (‘Smart-audio player’)
  • A car that self-adjust speed depending on traffic conditions (“Smart car’)
  • Websites that decide additional security measures for identification because it detects potential abnormal and suspicious activity
  • House that auto-regulate temperature and adjust the consumption of energy (‘Smart House’/Domotics, ‘Smart Grid’,etc…)

Note that the concept of a self-regulating system is far from being new. There are a lot of non-CPS devices able to achieve self-regulation (thermostats …) without the need for digital processor or digital sensors.

These scenarios, however, can potentially lead to situations where machines ‘decide’ on behalf of users what is good/or bad for them. Such situations which could be good, funny or even dangerous have been widely and abundantly described in the ‘Sci-Fi’ literature.

CPS and IoT

CPS and IoT

IoT – the ‘internet of things’ – is obviously connected to the notion of CPS and they share a common intersection but IoT is much more restrictive than CPS in the sense that IoT ‘only’ care about the connections between devices while CPS acts more like a giant ecosystem where vaster interactions between the devices exists- not ‘just’ network connections.

CPS and the Internet of Things (IoT) have indeed very important overlaps. The IoT is a concept of the future where billions of (smart) devices interconnected through the internet collect information and distribute tasks and feedback.

IoT and CPS have many challenges in common, but there are some important differences as IoT is based only on internet-connected embedded systems acting as ‘smart’ devices while CPS engineering is based on the vast relationship between computers and computation in general (the ‘software’ part) and the rest of the world, e.g the ‘hardware’ part.

In that sense, CPS can be seen as a generalized and universal software/hardware conception of the world.

CPS and Modems or Non-digital/Digital Interaction

To communicate with the ‘outside’ physical world, Modems and UARTs which translate digital into analog and vice-versa are fundamental. Without them, there could not be any CPS.

To be continued in part II …

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Jamsheer K

Jamsheer K

Jamsheer K, is the Tech Lead at Acodez. With his rich and hands-on experience in various technologies, his writing normally comes from his research and experience in mobile & web application development niche.

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