UVA researchers
UVA researchers

A $4.8 million investment in cyber-physical systems research funds a new lab and more researchers to develop safe Internet connectivity for everyday objects, improving productivity, health, and quality of life.

Last fall, the University of Virginia’s Board of Visitors approved $4.81 million over three years for the School of Engineering and Applied Science to launch a laboratory in Charlottesville, where researchers will develop technologies empowering everyday objects to sense and respond to their environments and improve human quality of life.

The new LINK LAB under construction will bring together researchers from across multiple disciplines who work in an emerging field called cyber-physical systems, which refers to technologies that bridge the gap between the cyber and physical worlds.

Examples include devices that monitor human activities and health, automated vehicles and “smart” highways, automated systems that detect and prevent cyber attacks and technologies that improve energy efficiency and travel safety.

“A smart planet is more than just a utopian vision,” said Kamin Whitehouse, UVA Commonwealth Associate Professor of computer science, Link Lab director and a developer of New Technologies To Reduce Home Energy Consumption. “It is already becoming reality through product innovation in the industry. But before this vision can be fully realized, many fundamental research questions must be answered.

“To build a truly smart world will require new devices that permeate all aspects of the physical world – on people, in buildings and incorporated into structures,” Whitehouse said.

The cyber-physical systems initiative was among the first and the largest to be funded from the university’s strategic investment fund, which the board of visitors established to support transformative projects aligning with priorities in UVA’s cornerstone plan.

UVA Engineering hired five new researchers in cyber-physical systems in 2016, with plans to hire another three. The new researchers join more than a dozen UVA engineering faculty who are making significant contributions to the field.

Projects underway include medical monitors powered by patients’ body heat, systems to prevent cyber attacks on emergency vehicles and mission-critical U.S. defense equipment, custom robots and new thermostats that educate homeowners about sustainability.

The cyber-physical systems initiative reflects Engineering Dean Craig Benson’s strategy of leveraging the School’s established research strengths to better address society’s most pressing challenges and ensure UVA Engineering remains competitive as a top institution for research and education.

The cyber-physical systems initiative will connect engineering, architecture, medicine and potentially many other fields.

“UVA is one of the best comprehensive universities in the world because our University’s leadership is committed to pioneering research, new technologies and excellent student academic experiences,” Benson said. “The Board of Visitors’ investment will help us target our resources, drive innovation and make a positive impact in a field that has tremendous potential for society.”

Executive Associate Dean for Research Pamela Norris said the cyber-physical system’s initiative is just one of several new, high-impact research thrusts for UVA Engineering.

“Some of the most difficult challenges our society faces, such as in healthcare, clean energy, and cyber security, languish in the gaps between traditional fields of engineering and science,” Norris said. “At UVA, we are shining a spotlight into those gaps, focusing our resources there, and gathering teams of researchers across multiple fields to work together and develop new solutions.”

The University of Virginia in Charlottesville, Virginia will launch its bicentennial celebration this October.

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