Many objects in our world are controlled by computers: cars, buildings, manufacturing machines or even musical instruments. In these cases, computers interact directly with the physical world. That is why we call them “cyber-physical systems” (CPS).

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Cyber-physical systems are key infrastructures for our modern society. They can improve the quality of life of citizens and the competitiveness of European industry.

What is a cyber-physical system?

We interact with many complex objects and systems in our everyday life. Practically all of them are controlled by computers, which interact with the world not only through a touchscreen, but through direct actions performed in the physical world. The most common cyber-physical systems that we see every day are modern cars, in which computers control not only the engine, but also the braking, the vehicle stability, and often support the driver in her tasks. Therefore we see clearly how actions controlled through computers have an impact in the real world.

Cyber-physical systems are also present in many other elements of our daily lives, such as energy networks, factories, automated warehouses as well as planes or trains. All these physically-entangled systems are of crucial importance for the quality of life of the citizens and for the European economy.

Cyber-physical systems are very complex, especially when several CPS need to be combined. That is the case for example in an airport or a large factory, where many machines have to work together to achieve a common goal. In this case, we speak about “cyber-physical systems of systems”, or CPSoS.

What is the challenge?

Complex systems are difficult to build and to manage. If an application on your phone crashes the consequences are typically not very bad, but if the interface between two manufacturing machines breaks down, the production of a large manufacturing plant can be stopped. Even worse, in transport or medical systems, the physical safety of people can be jeopardized.

There are of course engineering techniques to manage this, but significant improvements are needed to manage the CPS of tomorrow, which will be even more sophisticated than today and very important both for our quality of life and for the competitiveness of European industry.

EU research and innovation

The European Commission supports research and innovation (R&I) in CPS and CPSoS, in order to improve the engineering techniques for the design and operation of dynamic CPSoS, and to exploit emerging technologies such as augmented reality and artificial intelligence. This effort complements the R&I on advanced computing, which tackles the technological challenges of the computing platforms powering CPS.

EU-supported R&I activities on CPS / CPSoS are also complementary to the activities funded by the ECSEL Joint Undertaking, in which the European Commission and Member States join forces to fund Research, Development and Innovation projects for world-class expertise in Electronic Components and Systems.

Since 2014, the EU has supported Research & Innovation projects in related areas such as Systems-of-Systems, Embedded Systems, and Monitoring and Control. Building on those results, the European R&I programme Horizon 2020 is currently supporting CPS through the following call: