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NSF invests $13 million in smart, human-centered service systems

University of Washington prototype optical device being a used by the dean of the UW Dental School.

PFI:BIC awards to spur innovation for smart health, manufacturing and infrastructure

November 9, 2016

[Originally published September 7, 2016, and updated to correct broken link]

From healthcare to transportation to advanced manufacturing, service systems make our lives safer, easier and more productive on a daily basis.

New technologies that sense surroundings and learn from data are bringing intelligence to service systems, allowing them to center on people by incorporating individuals’ feedback and input. These systems create more value through adaptive and individualized interactions.

The National Science Foundation (NSF) has invested $13 million in such systems, supporting innovative new partnership projects to create service systems that are not only smart, but human-centric. By definition, a human-centered service system interacts with people -- end users, recipients, beneficiaries, providers and/or decision makers -- as it operates.

The interdisciplinary NSF Partnerships for Innovation projects will engage academia and the private sector -- for example, IBM Research, SolarCity, Microsoft Research, AVANGRID Inc. -- in highly interactive collaborations. Partners will advance, adapt and integrate novel smart technologies in service systems in ways that dramatically improve performance.

“The National Science Foundation fosters innovation and partnerships between academic researchers and industry, catalyzing interdisciplinary projects to understand and design smart systems and technologies of the future,” said Grace Wang, acting assistant director, NSF Directorate for Engineering. “These 13 projects are at the forefront of the human-technology frontier, driving innovation to solve problems to benefit society and improve life as we know it.”

“We use the word ‘service’ as a metaphor for value-added interactions of humans with technology,” said NSF Program Director Alexandra Medina-Borja. “These 13 smart service-system projects are actively using human factors research to inform the design of an engineered system by considering the potential interaction of the technology with humans to add unique value, helping or augmenting people’s capabilities, not replacing them.”

Several of these three-year, $1-million projects tie into NSF's investments in smart, connected communities, whether through transportation, cybermanufacturing, energy, healthcare, emergency response or other services.

For example, three of these projects will address challenges in advanced manufacturing technologies at different scales. Two of them will tackle challenges in the maker movement: the first project integrates state-of-the-art 3D mixed and augmented reality technologies with the cloud to bring easy to use and accessible design capabilities to the public; the second is a manufacturing service system based on the principles of the sharing economy that will enable relationships between consumers and producers, enabling the public to manufacture complex designs during machine idle time at the factory. Another project will research novel methods to improve human-robot workflow and productivity in assembly manufacturing.

The 13 new Partnerships for Innovation: Building Innovation Capacity (PFI:BIC) projects for smart, human-centered service systems will develop a variety of technologies, integrating them in eight different service application areas:

Advanced manufacturing

Intelligent spaces/ambient intelligence

Smart emergency warning systems

Smart energy services

Smart environmental services

Smart health services

Smart transportation

Smart water reclamation systems

NSF's fiscal year 2016 investment in PFI:BIC is a collaboration among the directorates for Engineering (ENG) and Computer and Information Science and Engineering (CISE). In previous years, NSF funded 21 PFI:BIC projects for smart service systems, including 10 PFI:BIC projects in fiscal year 2015.


Media Contact
Sarah Bates, NSF (703) 292-7738,  

Program Contact
Alexandra Medina-Borja, NSF (703) 292-7557,

Related Website
Partnerships for Innovation: Building Innovation Capacity:

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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