Assurance of Cyber-Physical Systems

I attended Seminar 11441 on Science and Engineering of Cyber-Physical Systems at the Leibniz Centre for Informatics at Schloss Dagstuhl in the Saarland on 1-4 November, 2011. It was organised by Holger Giese, Bernhard Rumpe, Bernhard Schätz and Janos Sztipanovits. There is huge interest in cyber-physical systems in the US at the moment, backed by plenty of research resources, and in Germany also, although on a lesser scale, somewhat more industrially-oriented and mostly concentrated in the South, it appears.

I attached myself to the subgroup concerned with the assurance and certification of such systems.

We all seemed to have a whale of a time figuring out what a cyber-physical system (CPS) is. Tom Maibaum and others wondered how they might differ from embedded systems. People said, well, it is important that there are lots of subsystems interacting more loosely than with a hierarchically-developed complex embedded system. So John Fitzgerald wondered whether they were mostly systems of systems. (Actually, the “so” is causally misplaced. John, being an “F”, had his one-minute say before Tom, being an “M”). Social systems of mostly artificial agents, of which many examples were given, seemed to fit the “cyber-physical” conception, so CPS includes at least those. Platooning road and rail vehicles, swarms of robotic aircraft or ground robots, coordinated flying or other motion, coordinated searching tasks, and so on. There are enough examples to point and say “that’s what we mean!”.

I also learnt, once again (strange how short one’s memory can be!) to avoid uttering the phrase “emergent behavior”, at the risk of inciting a riot, or at least the closest one can come to a riot at a Dagstuhl seminar.

So what about assurance of such systems? Sadly, as I was on my way back, having had a beautiful bike ride back over the Hunsrück to Trier and caught the train, there occurred a horrendous road accident in Britain on the M5. You can read commentary about it on the York safety-critical systems mailing list. Go to The 2011 collection, sort by date, read the contributions on Sunday 6 November through Tuesday 8 November including “M5 Road Accident” in the title, or go to Paul Cleary’s initiating query and follow the thread(s) through (there are two slightly different titles, but the thread-following links persist through). I also had some private correspondence with Gérard Le Lann, who now works on road-vehicle platooning algorithms and associated questions.

As a result of the Dagstuhl discussions, and the e-mail discussions of the accident, I was able more concretely to formulate what I think is a new assurance problem which arises with (this conception of) cyber-physical systems. It is a little too long for a blog post, so I wrote it in a note called The Assurance of Cyber-Physical Systems: Auffahr Accidents and Rational Cognitive Model Checking and put it on the RVS WWW site Publications page.

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