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Context, Foundations and Impact of Cyber-Physical Systems

How does CPS compare to related terms such as IoT, Industrie4.0, fog and swarm computing - is there a relevant difference?

martint Tuesday July 11, 2017

The increasing connectivity, software-defined functionalities and penetration of electronics and software into virtually all facets of our lives, results in a society which is becoming dependent on smart devices that are part of and form inter-connected systems. Combining advances in electronics and software together with advances in new materials and technologies such as 3D printing, sensors and augmented/virtual reality, moreover provides unprecedented opportunities for innovation including the adoption of non-traditional business models in industrial domains.

Different perspectives to these developments have led to the creation of many terms to represent the new types of systems that can be formed. Such terms include Cyber-Physical Systems (CPS), the Internet of Things (IoT), Industrie 4.0 (I4.0), the Fog and edge computing, and the Swarm.

How are these terms related? The terms have different origin and emphasis in what they intend to describe. CPS emphasizes the development of smart systems as co-engineered interacting networks of physical and computational components. IoT emphasizes sensing of the physical world and uniquely identifiable things with (Internet) connectivity to communicate data with limited or no human interaction. Communication is often considered the key aspect, often in conjunction with business models. CPS differs through a systems perspective, not necessarily requiring Internet connectivity. The Industrial IoT simply refers to industrial usages of IoT. IIoT comes very close to Industrie 4.0 which thus essentially represents the introduction of CPS and IoT in the manufacturing domain. Terms such as fog and edge computing, used in the context of IoT and CPS, represent the growth of internet and telecom networks to also encompass communication between things and machines. a perspective that emphasizes computing aspects. Finally, the concept of swarms has been used to describe large the deployment of a large number of sensors into the environment and their interconnection to the cloud.

All these terms share the same paradigm of immersive and distributed sensing and computing, and are typically motivated in terms of their potential to contribute to help to solve societal-scale problems. They also observe the same types of trends, although providing slightly different perspectives to them. As evident from this description there is a lot of overlap between the terms. Often they are used as umbrella terms; sometimes they are used in more specific contexts. In practice, many of them are used as synonyms. An even broader concept, often used by decision makers, is that of digitalization.

As a take away from this posting, I recommend that you describe your intended perspective when using any of these terms. Further clarification can be provided by use of a characterization of the types of systems you want to describe (see my previous post on this blog).