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Cyber-physical systems

Our cities of the future will be ever more dependent on the complex relationship between computer systems, engineering, physics and human behaviour.

This relationship between people and the technology we use will increasingly impact all aspects of our everyday lives – from how we power our homes and businesses to how we produce our food.

Business, government and industry will rely on integrated technology which could deliver major improvements to our lives but which is also vulnerable to cyber attack and software failure.

The need to understand and bring these different elements closer together to work efficiently will be critically important if society is to prosper.

Newcastle University’s School of Computing Science is spearheading international research in this area called cyber physical systems.

The school and its 1,000 students, academics and research groups will move to a new state-of-the-art £58m home in autumn 2017 to take forward its pioneering work.

Based in the university’s Urban Sciences Research Centre on the Science Central site in the heart of Newcastle, the school will lead international understanding of how these different strands can be brought together to make cities safer and better places to live.

The Urban Sciences Research Centre will be a living laboratory, housing all the university’s academia heading research excellence into creating sustainable cities for the future.

Professor John Fitzgerald, Newcastle University Director of Research in Computing Sciences, said: “Our research is into trustworthy cyber physical systems, not ones that just emerge but ones that you engineer that will have the confidence to deliver a service at a certain level of safety and security, resilient to faults and attacks.“Cyber physical systems encompass large scale systems that have lots of different computing elements in them.

“They could be a mass of people with their individual smart phones, they could be all the devices in a smart electricity grid or agricultural logistics where harvests can be re-planned based on the quality of data taken from sensors on a combine harvester.

“Those systems generate a lot of information and we now have the capability to harness all of that information in cloud, large bases of data, and to exploit it.

“The scientific challenges we address are in engineering those systems which we come to rely on working together.

“In an emergency response like a train crash, you want the fire, police and ambulance to converge and offer a single service – if you are on that train you don’t care whether the computing systems run by the emergency services are independently managed, you just want one system getting you sorted out.”

The computing science school will site its cyber physical laboratory in the new centre and its two doctoral training centres in cloud and scalable computing and digital civics.

Prof Fitzgerald added: “We are concerned about how the city functions, how the city behaves, how people relate to it. I would hope that people will have confidence in the city, its functioning and its ability to adapt for the long term.
“It’s not just about getting us over the next economic crisis, it’s about making us more resilient as a community and technology has a part to play in that.”

Newcastle University has a proud history of advances in computing sciences.

Back in 1957 the first computer – a Ferranti Pegasus – was installed in the university’s original computing laboratory and later that year Newcastle became the first British university to teach a course in computer programming to undergraduates.

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