Prof. Atkinson participates in DFG Collaborative Research Center

Most devices and systems used by humans today, such as cars and production plants, are so-called “cyber-physical systems” (CPS), in which electronic and mechanical components are combined with software. To cope with their increasing size and complexity, the German Research Foundation (DFG) is funding a new Collaborative Research Center (CRC) to investigate how CPS can be built and evolved more effectively. Prof. Dr. Colin Atkinson, holder of the Chair of Software Engineering at the University of Mannheim, is involved in this new CRC entitled “Consistency in the View-Based Development of Cyber-Physical Systems”.

Software is taking on an increasingly important role in many areas of human life. Cars, trains, smart home technologies and intelligent power grids are just a small selection of the applications in which CPS are used. In the new CRC, computer scientists and engineers from the universities of Karlsruhe (KIT, host university), Dresden (TUD), Munich (TUM), and Mannheim are investigating how the software that drives such systems can be better developed, evolved and kept consistent.

The fundamental goal of the Collaborative Research Center is to enable engineers from all relevant disciplines to work seamlessly with different views of a CPS tailored to their role and expertise. To this end, the project is developing a new approach in which each engineer can use a view tailored to their specific needs, automatically generated from the central underlying version of the software. For example, requirements analysts will have a higher-level view that focuses on describing the desired properties and behaviour of the system, while implementation engineers will have a more concrete view that describes the internal structure and design of the system's components.

The Chair of Software Engineering at the University of Mannheim will contribute to this effort in two important subprojects. In the first subproject with KIT, the Mannheim chair will work on investigating different design alternatives for the single underlying model. “Based on this, we will develop languages and algorithms for generating optimal views for the different engineers and stakeholders, that automatically ensure that all information about a system is kept consistent,” explains Prof. Atkinson.

In the second subproject with TUM, the Mannheim researchers will develop suitable access control and rights management techniques that work across all views of the system. “Large CPS are usually developed through the collaboration of many companies through complex value chains. The implementation and management of appropriate access rights and intellectual property protection mechanisms is therefore essential. On the one hand, the companies in these value chains need to collaborate, and on the other hand, they need to protect their proprietary know-how,” explains Prof. Atkinson.

The Collaborative Research Center is scheduled to run for four years. The research at the University of Mannheim is being funded with 600,000 Euros.