The Rise of Cyber-Physical Systems

Article by Chandrakant D. Patel: “Cyber-physical systems are a systemic integration of physical and cyber technologies. To name one example, a self-driving car is an integration of physical technologies, such as motors, batteries, actuators, and sensors, and cyber technologies, like communication, computation, inference, and closed-loop control. Data flow from physical to cyber technologies results in systemic integration and the desired driving experience. Cyber-physical systems are becoming prevalent in a range of sectors, such as power, water, waste, transportation, healthcare, agriculture, and manufacturing. We have entered the cyber-physical age. However, we stand unprepared for this moment due to systemic under-allocation in the physical sciences and the lack of a truly multidisciplinary engineering curriculum.  While there are many factors that contribute to the rise of cyber-physical systems, societal challenges stemming from imbalances between supply and demand are becoming a very prominent one. These imbalances are caused by social, economic, and ecological trends that hamper the delivery of basic goods and services. Examples of trends leading to imbalances between supply and demand are resource constraints, aging population, human capital constraints, a lack of subject matter experts in critical fields, physical security risks, supply-chain and supply-side resiliency, and externalities such as pandemics and environmental pollution. With respect to the lack of subject matter experts, consider the supply of cardiothoracic surgeons. The United States has about 4000 cardiothoracic surgeons, a sub-specialization that takes 20 years of education and hands-on training, for a population of 333 million. Similar imbalances in subject matter experts in healthcare, power, water, waste, and transport systems are occurring as a result of aging population. Compounding this challenge is the market-driven pay discrepancy that has attracted our youth to software jobs, such as those in social media, which pay much more relative to the salaries for a resident in general surgery or an early-career civil engineer. While it is possible that the market will shift to value infrastructure- and healthcare-related jobs, the time it takes to train “hands-on” contributors (e.g., engineers and technicians) in physical sciences and life sciences is substantial, ranging from 5 years (technicians requiring industry training) to 20 years (sub-specialized personnel like cardiothoracic surgeons)…(More)”.