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UCLA Engineering to Lead NSF Project to Improve Timekeeping for 'Internet of Things'

Matthew Chin | June 13, 2014

The National Science Foundation has announced a $4 million "Frontier" award to a UCLA-based team that will tackle the challenge of timekeeping in cyber-physical systems (CPS) — often called the "Internet of Things" — in which objects and devices are equipped with embedded software and are able to communicate with and be controlled by wireless digital networks.

roseline_clock_400pxlThe research team's Roseline project, headquartered at the UCLA Henry Samueli School of Engineering and Applied Science, will work to improve the accuracy, efficiency, robustness and security with which computers maintain their knowledge of physical time and synchronize it with these networked devices.

Timekeeping presents a particular challenge in this emerging field, which depends on precise knowledge of time in order to infer location, control communications and accurately coordinate activities in a broad and growing range of applications, from autonomous cars and aircraft autopilot systems to advanced robotic and medical devices, energy-efficient buildings and an array of other industrial initiatives.

Mani Srivastava, a professor of electrical engineering at UCLA's Henry Samueli School of Engineering and Applied Science, is the project's principal investigator. UCLA associate professor of electrical engineering Sudhakar Pamarti is also a member of the team, which will include electrical engineering and computer science faculty from UC San Diego, UC Santa Barbara, Carnegie Mellon University and the University of Utah.

"Through the Roseline project, we will drive cyber-physical systems research with a deeper understanding of time and its trade-offs, and advance the state-of-the-art in clocking circuits and platform architectures," Srivastava said.

Time has always been a critical issue for science and technology. From pendulums to atomic clocks, the accurate measurement of time has helped drive scientific discovery and engineering innovation. For example, advances in distributed clock synchronization technology enabled Global Positioning System (GPS) satellites to precisely measure distances. This, in turn, created new opportunities — and even entirely new industries — and led to the development of mobile navigation systems.

Still, many other areas of clock technology are still ripe for development, including CPS applications, which play a critical role in our physical and network infrastructure and need precise timekeeping to properly connect computers, communications technologies, sensors and actuators to objects.

Over the five-year span funded by NSF, the Roseline team will rethink and reengineer how the knowledge of time is handled across a computing system's hardware and software. The group seeks to develop new clocking technologies, synchronization protocols and operating system methods, as well as control and sensing algorithms.  

Project leaders also plan to integrate CPS and timing components into graduate and undergraduate course materials and engage in outreach efforts to pre-college students, including the Los Angeles Computing Circle, which focuses on teaching real-world applications of computer science to students from local high schools.

In addition to Srivastava and Pamarti, the Roseline team includes co-principal investigator Rajesh Gupta (UC San Diego) João Hespanha (UC Santa Barbara) Ragunathan Rajkumar and Anthony Rowe (Carnegie Mellon University), and Thomas Schmid (University of Utah).

Roseline is a key component in the NSF's longstanding support for CPS research and education, an area in which the agency has invested nearly $200 million over the last five years.

"The National Science Foundation has long supported research to integrate cyber and physical systems and has supported the experimentation and prototyping of these systems in a number of different sectors — from transportation and energy to medical systems," said Farnam Jahanian, head of the NSF directorate for computer and information science and engineering. "As the 'Internet of Things' becomes more pervasive in our lives, precise timing will be critical for these systems to be more responsive, reliable and efficient."

"As computation becomes embedded in physical systems around us, it becomes all the more important that computers be able to know time accurately, efficiently and reliably," said David Corman, NSF program director for CPS. "I am excited to see the Roseline team undertake this challenging and important task."

The NSF release about Roseline can be found here.