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Carnegie Mellon researchers launch new Center to deliver Nervous Systems for critical infrastructures

Carnegie Mellon Universtity : 11 August, 2006  (Technical Article)
Carnegie Mellon University professors James H. Garrett Jr. and Jose M.F. Moura will head a new research center that will perform enabling research aimed at delivering cost-effective, sensor-based monitoring systems for a broad range of critical infrastructure applications. These monitoring systems could be used for decaying bridges, oil and gas pipelines, unstable electric power grids, leaking water distribution systems, and ensuring the security of a university campus.
To avoid costly failures and provide a 21st century infrastructure, the United States and other governments must build their critical infrastructures with a 'nervous system' that collects and feeds data to places in the system that interpret it and allow better decision making, according to Carnegie Mellon researchers.

The Center for Sensed Critical Infrastructure Research will bring together a multidisciplinary team of experts committed to creating new fast, reliable monitoring systems to collect and process data about a myriad of complex network systems critical to both the nation's security and daily commerce, according to Garrett, associate dean of the College of Engineering and a professor of civil and environmental engineering. 'CenSCIR will perform research that will clarify the need for, provide design guidance for, and justify providing critical infrastructure systems with sensor-based awareness of usage and condition, and proactive, intelligent decision support and control over a lifetime,' Garrett said.

'We are interested in dynamic networks where survivability, reliability and stability are a primary concern,' said Moura, a professor of electrical and computer engineering. 'We plan to study and develop mechanisms to help detect attacks or problematic conditions throughout complex and aging infrastructure networks that may lead to catastrophic behavior, such as the power blackout of August 2003 that affected more than 50 million people in the northeastern United States.'

America's trillion-dollar network of roads, bridges, water distribution systems, telecommunication systems and power distribution networks have varying amounts of automated monitoring and control. Some infrastructure systems already have significant monitoring in place, such as the electric power grid, while other infrastructures, like oil pipelines or highway bridges, use very little sensing and rely only on biannual visual inspections.

'Enabled by high levels of electronic integration, sensor technology has had major developments in the last few years that allow a quarter-size device to have the ability to sense temperature, humidity, take pictures, or measure the levels of a pollutant, extract useful information from this sensor data, and then radio it to other sensors or decision makers,' Moura said. 'Sensor networks provide the opportunity to be continuously alert. CenSCIR's activities will range from building the sensors to exploiting sensor networks in the context of large-scale critical infrastructures by developing the intelligence that can make the best use from this highly distributed information.'

To achieve these goals, CenSCIR will bring together faculty with a broad range of expertise from nanodevices to controls, biometrics, computer networks and various application domains.

What CenSCIR researchers envision for critical infrastructure systems is similar to the human nervous system, where various senses feed valuable data to be processed for instant use or future reference.

'We want our infrastructure systems to sense aches and pains due to attacks or deterioration, and proactively (or reactively) cause some form of response in a more timely manner than we currently see,' said Garrett.

The center's mission will be to better understand the needs and economic justifications for such data-driven decision support systems for critical infrastructure; to research the infrastructure-related issues for component technologies in sensing, data management, and decision support and control; to develop and validate prototype decision support systems for specific critical infrastructure applications; and to develop tools to help in creating these decision support tools. For example, Carnegie Mellon researchers are developing a new form of sensor that is able to both monitor material for anomalies and do self-diagnosis. The researchers are using these sensors to monitor the structural elements of Buffalo Creek Bridge, about 30 miles north of Pittsburgh.

CenSCIR will be administratively housed in Carnegie Mellon's Institute for Complex Engineered Systems, where researchers from the university and different departments within the College of Engineering collaborate on interdisciplinary research problems. Center funding will come from a mix of government grants and the private sector.

'This new center enables us to address a broad range of challenges by proactive monitoring, discovering and preventing critical behavior in complex infrastructure systems,' said Cristina H. Amon, ICES director and the Lane Distinguished Professor of Mechanical Engineering at Carnegie Mellon. 'CenSCIR will also focus the innovative talents of a larger number of university researchers and disciplines to give us an even stronger presence in the corporate and industrial world, where our problem-solving expertise and cutting-edge applied research is so essential.'

Burcu Akinci, an assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering, said the new center will help showcase research that leverages sensing, starting from the construction phase (cradle) all the way to the decommissioning phase (grave) of critical infrastructures.

CenSCIR will involve researchers from the departments of Civil and Environmental Engineering, Electrical and Computer Engineering, and Engineering and Public Policy, the schools of Architecture and Computer Science, and ICES. The center also will significantly interact with a number of important Carnegie Mellon labs and research centers.
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