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What are cyber-physical systems?



Cyber-physical systems (CPS) are systems that are equipped with software and electronics and connected to the outside world by sensors and actuators. They are increasingly being networked with each other or with the internet. The systems use their sensors to process data from the physical (natural) world. They then make that information available to network services that can directly affect real-world processes via the CPS’s actuators. This kind of technology is blurring the dividing line between cyberspace and reality. Experts say that cyber-physical systems are creating an “Internet of Things” that will encompass both the real and the virtual world.

One type of cyber-physical system that already exists is navigation software. To help us get around better, the software uses mobile data on traffic movement to work out where tailbacks are likely to occur. Other examples of today’s CPS technology are traffic control systems of the kind used in rail networks and at airports, which actively intervene in real-life situations.

Cyber-physical systems of the future will serve a wide variety of purposes. As part of smart electricity grids, they will control our energy distribution infrastructure. They will also coordinate traffic to make road travel safer and reduce carbon emissions. New healthcare systems will link up patients and doctors, making it possible to diagnose and treat people remotely, so they do not need to leave their homes. Web-based solutions developed for industrial production will allow remote monitoring of autonomous systems.


Image: acatech

The German government is funding research into key aspects of cyber-physical systems through its High-Tech Strategy for Germany.

Further information is available from acatech – National Academy of Science and Engineering, in the brochure entitled Cyber-Physical Systems – Driving force for innovation in mobility, health, energy and production (in German only).