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UTA computer scientist to develop software engineering methods that ensure good upgrades

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Media Contact: Herb Booth, Office: 817-272-7075, Cell: 214-546-1082, hbooth@uta.edu

News Topics: computer science, engineering, research

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A UT Arlington computer scientist will work to ensure that cyber-physical systems are upgraded safely in both the cyber and physical domains from one version to the next.

Taylor T. Johnson

Taylor T. Johnson, UT Arlington assistant professor in the Computer Science and Engineering Department

Taylor T. Johnson, an assistant professor in the Computer Science and Engineering Department, will use a $174,634 grant from the National Science Foundation to develop novel software engineering methods that will enable safe upgrades of cyber-physical systems in the energy domain.

“This research will develop new software engineering techniques implemented in software tools to automatically detect if cyber-physical upgrades are unsafe, and then attempt to mitigate those unsafe effects at either design time or runtime if they are detected,” Johnson explained. “This may yield more reliable and safer cyber-physical systems, which in turn will allow software and systems engineers to design better, more efficient cyber-physical systems in the future, as it eases the verification and validation process.”

Johnson’s findings will be evaluated in an energy cyber-physical systems test bed, specifically an electrical distribution microgrid. Such microgrids are quickly becoming popular to interface with direct current-producing renewables like photovoltaics. Microgrids are becoming standard in the electrical distribution systems of aircraft, motor vehicles and many other cyber-physical systems.

An example of an unsafe cyber-physical upgrade occurred in 2010, when an automaker recalled 1.5 million vehicles in the United States and 2.5 million worldwide because a bearing in the transmission was upgraded, but an appropriate upgrade in the software running the vehicle was not. The resulting wear on the bearing caused it to fail faster than it was designed to because appropriate upgrades were not made in its control software.

In many cyber-physical systems industries such as automotive, power systems and industrial control, subsystems from previous versions of a system are reused in new versions. For instance, a new model year vehicle is not completely redesigned from scratch, but is designed and manufactured reusing many of the same subsystems and software as the prior model year vehicle. However, great care must be taken to ensure that the requirements on the interfaces between these subsystems are satisfied, which has proved challenging.

Khosrow Behbehani, dean of the College of Engineering, underscored the importance of Johnson’s research.

“Energy is a major issue worldwide, and advances in production, efficiency and storage of energy are no good if the systems that control those advances are compromised by software issues. Dr. Johnson’s research could save countless hours and have a positive financial impact on the energy industry,” Behbehani said.

About The University of Texas at Arlington

The University of Texas at Arlington is a comprehensive research institution of more than 51,000 students in campus-based and online degree programs and is the second largest institution in The University of Texas System. The Chronicle of Higher Education ranked UT Arlington as one of the 20 fastest-growing public research universities in the nation in 2014. U.S. News & World Report ranks UT Arlington fifth in the nation for undergraduate diversity. The University is a Hispanic-Serving Institution and is ranked as a “Best for Vets” college by Military Times magazine. Visit www.uta.edu to learn more, and find UT Arlington rankings and recognition at www.uta.edu/uta/about/rankings.php. 

-- Written by Jeremy Agor 

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The University of Texas at Arlington is an Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action employer.