Critical Read

Connecting the cyber and the physical

Shutterstock image: internet of things, connectivity.

What: “Draft 6 Framework for Cyber-Physical Systems 7 Release 0.8,” from the National institute of Standards and Technology.

Why: If you’ve been living in a cabin in the woods off the grid, you might be unaware that the Internet of Things keeps escalating. For the rest of us, an ever-increasing list of everyday items ranging from the esoteric -- unmanned vehicles and intelligent buildings – to the mundane -- cell phones and fitness bracelets – are part of the IoT. But they’re also a special corner of that world called cyber-physical systems (CPS).

CPS integrates computational, networking, and physical processes to bridge the real world and the cyber world. CPS devices provide feedback on physical processes and vice versa. NIST wants to help manufacturers create new CPS for smart systems that allow more seamless interaction. The agency’s draft CPS framework document is a step in that direction.

CPS tightly integrates physical and computing devices—such as movement sensors that inform your fitness bracelet how far you have walked, or the computer controlling the transmission and antilock brakes in your car. Whatever the purpose of a given CPS, the draft framework outlines the common attributes that its subparts share with other CPS devices and systems, and indicates what it must do to interact successfully with the broader CPS environment.

NIST wants public comment within the next 45 days on the draft document, which was developed by NIST’s CPS Public Working Group, which includes members from industry, academia and government.

The draft document, said NIST, reflects more than a year’s effort by the public working group, adding that the framework is likely to undergo a second draft release for further public comment before a final version is published.

Verbatim: “The impacts of CPS will be revolutionary and pervasive; this is evident today in emerging autonomous vehicles, intelligent buildings, smart energy systems, robots, and smart medical devices. Realizing the full promise of CPS will require interoperability among heterogeneous components and systems, supported by new reference architectures using shared vocabularies and definitions.”

About the Author

Mark Rockwell is a senior staff writer at FCW, whose beat focuses on acquisition, the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Energy.

Before joining FCW, Rockwell was Washington correspondent for Government Security News, where he covered all aspects of homeland security from IT to detection dogs and border security. Over the last 25 years in Washington as a reporter, editor and correspondent, he has covered an increasingly wide array of high-tech issues for publications like Communications Week, Internet Week, Fiber Optics News, magazine and Wireless Week.

Rockwell received a Jesse H. Neal Award for his work covering telecommunications issues, and is a graduate of James Madison University.

Click here for previous articles by Rockwell. Contact him at or follow him on Twitter at @MRockwell4.


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