$9M NSF grant to help Vanderbilt engineers expand frontier of cyber-physical systems

Vanderbilt University engineers are part of a multi-university project funded by a five-year $9 million National Science Foundation grant to help determine the most efficient approach to designing and operating cyber-physical systems that support national health, energy and transportation priorities.

FORCES is a key component of the NSF’s CPS technologies portfolio.

Teams from Vanderbilt, the University of California, Berkeley, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and the University of Michigan also will employ a rigorous economic approach to provide new tools for CPS designers and operators to make complex, interconnected networks more resilient in the face of unexpected disruptions, such as those caused by natural disasters or adversaries.

The project – Foundations of Resilient Cyber-Physical Systems (FORCES) – is headed by Shankar Sastry, dean of the College of Engineering at UC Berkeley. Collaborators are UC Berkeley  researchers Dawn Song, Claire Tomlin, Alexandre Bayen and Galina Schwartz; Vanderbilt researchers Xenofon Koutsoukos, Gabor Karsai and Janos Sztipanovits; MIT researchers Saurabh Amin, Hamsa Balakrishnan and Asuman Ozdaglar; and UM researchers Demosthenis Teneketzis and Ian Hiskens.


This project is a key component of NSF’s CPS technologies portfolio, for which investments have exceeded $150 million during the last four years.

CPS technologies employ sensors, processors and actuators to enable computers to perform dynamically in the physical world. They are used in cruise control mechanisms in passenger cars, auto-pilot systems in aircraft, control mechanisms in prosthetics, and futuristic robotic devices for search and rescue.

CPSs also are core to the functioning of medical devices, energy-efficient structures, advanced manufacturing and modern agriculture.

The researchers say even a marginal improvement in the design of these man-made technological systems could translate into a boon of billions of dollars for the economy.


The Vanderbilt team is leading the development of an open tool integration framework for resilient systems that can withstand a wide range of attacks and faults. The researchers also are focusing on model-based design to assure semantically consistent representations across all branches of the project.

Koutsoukos, associate professor of computer science and computer engineering; Sztipanovits, E. Bronson Ingram Professor of Engineering; and Karsai, professor of electrical and computer engineering and computer science; will focus on threat assessment and diagnostics, robust networked control, system-security co-design, and interdependent risk assessment.

The Vanderbilt researchers are part of the university’s Institute for Software Integrated Systems, led by Sztipanovits.


The ISIS team’s research efforts include development of courses of resilient cyber-physical systems and broad dissemination via Web portal of the Cyber- Physical System Virtual Organization (CPS-VO), built and operated by ISIS.

In recent years ISIS has become a national hub for cyber-physical systems research. ISIS is a major partner in an NSF Science and Technology Center on cyber-security – Team for Research in Ubiquitous Secure Technology (TRUST).

According to the NSF, it is expected that the findings of this project will be useful to federal, state and local agencies that regulate each type of CPS.