UCSC engineers to participate in research center on autonomous systems

Professor Ricardo Sanfelice provides expertise in hybrid and cyber-physical systems to a consortium led by the University of Florida and funded by the U.S. Air Force Office of Scientific Research

Ricardo Sanfelice
Ricardo Sanfelice directs the Cyber-physical Systems Research Center and the Hybrid Systems Lab at UC Santa Cruz. (Photos by Lucid Sound and Picture)
Ricardo Sanfelice

Ricardo Sanfelice, a professor of electrical and computer engineering in the Baskin School of Engineering, will lead a team of researchers at UC Santa Cruz participating in a new Center of Excellence for Assured Autonomy in Contested Environments led by the University of Florida. Funded by the U.S. Air Force Office of Scientific Research (AFOSR), the center will focus on fundamental research to enable cyber-secure robotic systems with new capabilities.

The center, which also includes researchers at Duke University and the University of Texas at Austin, will collaborate with the Air Force Research Laboratory. AFOSR selected the team as the single winner of this prestigious Center of Excellence from among several elite groups competing across the nation. The sponsorship will cover an initial two-year period of $2 million, with optional extensions up to a total of six years and $6 million dollars.

Sanfelice's expertise is in the analysis and design of algorithms for cyber-physical systems, which depend on the seamless integration of computational algorithms and physical components, and hybrid dynamical systems, in which continuous and discrete variables interact. His work in this effort involves the Cyber-physical Systems Research Center (CPSRC), an interdisciplinary research and education center at UC Santa Cruz that fosters collaboration and disseminates research results with more than 30 faculty and their students working on a variety of topics pertaining to cyber-physical systems.

"This Center of Excellence is about autonomous systems operating in adversarial environments. Our work will focus on the formulation of mathematical models of these systems and creating algorithms with assured performance and robustness," Sanfelice said. "We want to develop algorithms that not only shield the system from efforts to disrupt communications or performance, but can also identify adversarial behavior and implement counter-measures."

The Center of Excellence will focus on the development of robotic systems that make the best possible decisions despite uncertainties that may occur as a result of denied or corrupted information caused by an adversarial environment. Research topics that members of the center will study include:

  • New mathematical theories and strategies that enable the integration of logic-based decisions with dynamic robotic vehicles;
  • New machine adaptation and learning development to enable real-time agility in the presence of complex adversarial environments;
  • New network methods that enable teams of robotic agents to collaborate over resilient networks and cloud computing while also compromising adversaries’ capabilities;
  • New methods that enable resiliency to cyber attacks, including designed resiliency, monitoring techniques, and flexible computation in the presence of an attack; and
  • New methods to protect safety and mission-critical information through privacy in computation, communication, and task execution.

The Center of Excellence will also be tasked to develop next-generation autonomous technologies with cyber resiliency and privacy engineered into the design, outcomes that will have widespread impact on commercial and industrial robotic systems, including automated systems in our homes and transportation systems. Privacy, security, guaranteed performance, and safety have become major concerns with regard to the rapid advancement of the Internet of Things (IoT), as well as the growing autonomous vehicle industry. Any advances for assured autonomy in contested environments will have a significant impact in other contexts, particularly in the areas of privacy and independence.

"We are developing the theoretical foundations for autonomous systems that will be broadly useful for the systems of the future," Sanfelice said.