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News Release 16-102

NSF awards $13 million toward research in cyber-physical systems

Research to focus on mitigating noise pollution, improving manufacturing systems and autonomous vehicles


Learning how to program an industrial manipulator robot arm at the University of Michigan.

September 6, 2016

This material is available primarily for archival purposes. Telephone numbers or other contact information may be out of date; please see current contact information at media contacts.

Today, the National Science Foundation (NSF) announced three, five-year "Frontier" awards, totaling more than $13 million, to advance cyber-physical systems (CPS) -- engineered systems that integrate computational and physical components to improve productivity, efficiency and the quality of life.

The new NSF-funded projects will develop technologies to:

  • Monitor and mitigate noise pollution in cities.
  • Quickly identify and overcome problems in manufacturing environments.
  • Improve the capabilities of autonomous vehicles.

"NSF is a leader in supporting research in cyber-physical systems and has enabled and accelerated multidisciplinary research in a number of application domains," said Jim Kurose, head of NSF's Computer and Information Science and Engineering Directorate. "We look forward to the results of these three new awards that pursue foundational research. They will advance the frontiers of what is currently possible with cyber-physical systems and extend into areas of smart and connected communities, cyber-manufacturing and autonomous transportation."

A distinguishing feature of the CPS Frontier awards is their multidisciplinary nature. In the three awards announced today, researchers from the computer science and engineering fields will partner with scholars in urban planning, materials science, music and other non-traditional domains to design solutions that can be applied to new environments and tasks. Frontier projects address CPS challenges that cannot be achieved by smaller efforts.

The 2016 CPS Frontier awards include:

SONYC: A Cyber-Physical System for Monitoring, Analysis and Mitigation of Urban Noise Pollution

The $4.6 million, five-year Sounds of New York City (SONYC) project takes aim at New Yorkers' biggest civic complaint -- noise. A team of scientists from New York University (NYU), collaborating with a team at The Ohio State University, will launch a first-of-its-kind comprehensive research effort to understand and address noise pollution in New York City and other urban areas.

"SONYC is an innovative and high-impact application of cyber-physical systems to the realm of smart cities, and potentially a catalyst for new CPS research at the intersection of engineering, data science and the social sciences," said Juan Pablo Bello, director of the Music and Audio Research Lab (MARL) at the NYU Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development. Bello is a principal investigator on the SONYC project.

The project, which involves large-scale noise monitoring, leverages the latest in machine learning, big data analysis, and public participation in scientific research to more effectively monitor, analyze and mitigate urban noise pollution.

The project has the support of New York City's health and environmental agencies.

Software-Defined Control for Smart Manufacturing Systems

This $4 million, NSF-supported project aims to enhance the security and operations of manufacturing systems through a new method called "Software Defined Control." By making a computer model of a physical system, operators can better detect and address anomalies in the system, and adapt quickly to manufacturing changes with minimal disruption to operations or production.

The same algorithms can also be used to redefine the production routes when a new part is introduced, or the desired production volume is changed, to maximize the security and profitability of the manufacturing operation.

"The idea is you have both the physical manufacturing plant and a simulated model of the plant so that if there's a difference between the two, you can detect a fault or a cyber-intrusion," said the project's principal investigator, Dawn Tilbury, associate dean for research and professor of mechanical engineering at the University of Michigan College of Engineering. "The goal is to develop control systems for manufacturing systems that are secure and reconfigurable automatically."

Given that the manufacturing industry represents 12 percent of the U.S. Gross Domestic Product (GDP), any improvement in manufacturing systems operations has the potential to have a significant impact in the nation's overall economic competitiveness.

The team from the University of Michigan will collaborate with researchers from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and Cornell University on the project.

VeHICaL: Verified Human Interfaces, Control, and Learning for Semi-Autonomous Systems

NSF has awarded $4.6 million to a team exploring human cyber-physical systems (h-CPS) -- systems that operate in concert with human operators -- with the aim of improving the interaction between humans, computers and the physical world. The research outcome of the project, called Verified Human Interfaces, Control, and Learning for Semi-Autonomous Systems, or VeHICaL, will have applications in emerging technologies such as semi-autonomous cars and autonomous aerial vehicles (drones).

"Our project aims to significantly impact the way humans collaborate and interact with automation, an area vital to the nation's technological growth and societal well-being," said Sanjit Seshia, a professor of electrical engineering and computer sciences at the University of California, Berkeley, and principal investigator of VeHICaL. "As intelligent cyber-physical systems are deployed in critical sectors such as transportation, aerospace and healthcare, there is a pressing need to design for their interaction with humans so as to ensure that safety, security, privacy and performance objectives are met."

The VeHICaL project will combine research from several areas, including formal methods; control theory; robotics and perception; cognitive science; machine learning; security and privacy; and human-machine interfaces. It will generate theory and tools to create verified intelligent systems that collaborate with humans to perform complex tasks in a way that enhances safety, privacy and performance.

The team from the University of California, Berkeley will collaborate with researchers from Caltech and University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill on the project.

Building a foundation for cyber-physical systems

NSF works closely with multiple federal agencies, including the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the National Institutes of Health (NIH), NASA, and the Department of Transportation (US DOT), to advance CPS research across multiple application domains and to accelerate the transition of research innovations into practice.

Including the three CPS Frontier projects, NSF invested approximately $40 million to support over 40 new CPS projects in 2016. Since 2008, NSF has invested more than $300 million to build the foundational knowledge underlying all cyber-physical systems.

Cyber-physical systems research has the potential to improve citizens' productivity, efficiency and quality of life. CPS Frontier awards funded by NSF in recent years have supported the development of computational heart models, engineered living cells and time-keeping systems for CPS synchronization.


  • UC Berkeley graduate student introducing an unmodeled disturbance in the flight of a quadrotor UAV.
    Credit and Larger Version

  • The cycle of ubiquitous sensing, data analysis and noise mitigation proposed by the SONYC project.
    Credit and Larger Version

Media Contacts
Aaron Dubrow, National Science Foundation, (703) 292-4489, email:

Program Contacts
Gurdip Singh, National Science Foundation, (703) 292-8061, email:

Principal Investigators
Juan Bello, New York University, (212) 998-5736, email:
Dawn Tilbury, University of Michigan, (734) 936-2129, email:
Sanjit Seshia, University of California, Berkeley, (510) 643-6968, email:

The U.S. National Science Foundation propels the nation forward by advancing fundamental research in all fields of science and engineering. NSF supports research and people by providing facilities, instruments and funding to support their ingenuity and sustain the U.S. as a global leader in research and innovation. With a fiscal year 2023 budget of $9.5 billion, NSF funds reach all 50 states through grants to nearly 2,000 colleges, universities and institutions. Each year, NSF receives more than 40,000 competitive proposals and makes about 11,000 new awards. Those awards include support for cooperative research with industry, Arctic and Antarctic research and operations, and U.S. participation in international scientific efforts.

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