By Joshua Baxt
Rajesh Gupta, a professor of computer science and engineering at University of California, San Diego, has been awarded the IEEE Computer Society 2019 W. Wallace McDowell Award for his “seminal contributions in design and implementation of microelectronic systems-on-chip and cyberphysical systems.”
The award puts Gupta in rarified company. Previous winners include Seymour Cray, Gordon Moore, Tim Berners-Lee and other academic and industry leaders.
“It’s kind of humbling for me,” says Gupta, who is founding director of the Halıcıoğlu Data Science Institute at UC San Diego. “I don’t know if I belong to that community.”
Gupta is being honored, in part, for his work on cyberphysical systems, which combine machines with computers and can encompass everything from vehicles to single buildings to entire cities.
“Your car is a cyberphysical system,” says Gupta. “When you press the gas pedal, you don’t actually release gas. You tell a computer to increase speed, and the computer decides how much gas to release.”
Making these disparate systems work well together can be challenging. Buildings are full of sensors for temperature, security, machine maintenance.
“If you look at real life systems, there is a deluge of data coming through,” says Gupta. “The question is, how do you organize that data to make meaningful decisions?”
Gupta has spent a significant part of his career trying to make sense of the sensory information in cyberphysical systems. Harnessing this information could offer many potential benefits: smarter buildings; smoother building evacuations during an emergency; more consistent and personalized environmental control; energy savings.
“My group has conceptualized the built environment as a distributed sensor and actuator system,” says Gupta. “A system where, for instance, the buildings talk to each other or to infrastructure for transportation, healthcare, etc. Now you can think of a building as having many resources, just like a computer has memory, storage and computing. Over time, you can write ‘programs’ that operate the building more efficiently, if we get the abstractions to address and discover resources and their capabilities right.”
But these concepts are hardly limited to buildings. Gupta and many colleagues have a vision for smart cities, in which electricity, water, transportation, telecommunications and other systems are precisely controlled and coordinated.
“The city has a digital twin, as if you’re running a SimCity kind of a game on a parallel plane,” says Gupta. “But the SimCity in this case isn’t just a hypothetical universe, instead it is connected causally to the actual city. You have sensory eyes on the city that are updating the models in real time. That allows you to have a much better environment for humans and a much more responsive system.”
Once again, harnessing this sensory data can have a huge impact on quality of life. Cities can use it to better manage traffic, power grids, water, homelessness and emergency services. The list is long.
“Conceptualizing our physical spaces as logically programmable places is a powerful paradigm,” says Gupta. “It means we can customize the spaces to what we need at any given time, as well as giving situational awareness to operators.”
By Josh Baxt