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Workshop on 21st Century Cyber-Physical Systems Education: Defining Needs and Identifying Challenges

April 30, 2014
National Academy of Sciences
2101 Constitution Avenue, N.W. Washington, DC

The Computer Science and Telecommunications Board (CSTB) of the National Academies is hosting a workshop on 21st Century Cyber-Physical Systems Education: Defining Needs and Identifying Challenges. The workshop will be held in Washington, DC on April 30, 2014.
The organizing committee has been tasked to examine how to better educate a workforce that increasingly designs, develops, and maintains cyber-physical systems. That is, how do education and training programs respond to the shift in which an increasingly fraction of functionality and value of products and services comes from software, and in which software systems are increasingly embedded in physical contexts. The work is supported by the National Science Foundation and additional information on the project as well as the members of the study committee can be found here.

Workshop Goals

The committee seeks to understand the need for cyber-physical systems workers, the impact of CPS on various sectors, views on what core skills and knowledge are needed, and educational barriers. Some of the questions to be explored at the workshop include:
  • What are CPS, and how do they relate to engineering, computer science, and other related disciplines?
  • What role do CPS play in sustaining innovation and supporting U.S. competitiveness and economic growth? How might that change going forward?
  • What sorts of jobs (exampled could include engineering design, test and evaluation, operations) require CPS knowledge and skills?
  • Where does one find CPS talent today?  How much of the needed knowledge and skills are covered in undergraduate degree programs or graduate education?  How much on-the-job training is required?
  • What are the core knowledge areas, capabilities, and skills that individuals working in CPS-intensive fields need? How do these map onto traditional undergraduate degree programs and courses in engineering and computer science?  What areas are covered in graduate programs and courses?
  • Where are there gaps with regard to CPS in courses, textbooks and other course materials, teaching tools, curricula, and degree programs?
  • What are the barriers in the educational pipeline to developing needed CPS knowledge, skills, and capabilities?

A draft agenda will be posted shortly.

Background Information

Cyber-physical systems have the potential to provide much richer functionality—including adaptability, autonomy, efficiency, functionality, reliability, safety, and usability—than those that are loosely coupled, discrete, or manually operated.   Advances in CPS could yield systems that can respond faster than humans (e.g., autonomous collision avoidance for automobiles) or more precisely (e.g., robotic surgery), could enable better control and coordination of large-scale systems such as the electrical grid or traffic controls, could improve the efficiency of systems (e.g., “smart buildings”), and could enable advances in many areas of science.To sustain innovation and support an industrial economy fueled by advanced cyber-physical systems technology, the U.S. will need to develop the requisite CPS researchers, educators, and a skilled scientific, engineering, and technical workforce. 
CPS has been a focus of federal research investment and faculty positions in CPS are now being created at a number of universities across the nation, but educational efforts have not been carried out in a broad or sustained fashion, which leads to concerns that the educational pipeline is neither teaching enough students the foundations for CPS studies nor preparing them for CPS careers.
To address these concerns, ensure a CPS-ready workforce, and sustain innovation in CPS and related areas, it will be important to understand the nature of current barriers and to develop strategies to overcome them. One challenge is the multidisciplinary character of educational foundations for CPS. Looking across computer science, electrical engineering, and other engineering disciplines will be critical. The challenges also include re-educating today's faculty, devising new preparation paths for university computer science and engineering students, upgrading K-12 teachers and the K-12 pipeline, as well as the existing workforce. New modalities for lab-centric, team-taught, and online education are emerging, which merit investigation as potential tools for accelerating progress toward a more CPS-capable workforce and society.

Anticipated Outcomes

The Committee on 21st Century Cyber-Physical Systems Education is considering the current and future needs in education for cyber-physical systems (CPS). This is the first of two workshops convened by the committee early in the study to gather input and foster dialogue. A brief interim report will highlight emerging themes and summarize related discussions from the workshops.  The committee will also produce a final report that will articulate a vision for a 2l-st century CPS-capable U.S. workforce and explore the corresponding educational requirements. The final report will examine efforts already under way, and propose strategies and programs to develop the needed faculty and teachers, materials, and curricula.