Department of Engineering / Research / Strategic Themes / Complex, Resilient and Intelligent Systems

Department of Engineering

Complex, Resilient and Intelligent Systems

Complex, Resilient and Intelligent Systems

Strategic Aim: Developing modelling, simulation and analytical methods for understanding large complex systems and ensuring their resilience through new approaches to optimisation, decision-making and control and human-like intelligence.

Challenge

Uncertainties have always existed in areas ranging from the nature of material bonding to the unpredictability of the weather. Humans in the loop have forever added to the uncertainty – what are they saying, what did they mean to say and what is their real intent? The challenge now is the increasingly constrained conditions under which these uncertainties must be managed, as we demand greater efficiency and performance from ever more complex and interconnected systems. For example, there are drives to reduce conservative structural safety factors, adopt leaner manufacturing, and reduce the levels of human supervision and control. All these initiatives can yield very positive results, but they also generally limit the ability of the associated systems to absorb variations naturally, which heightens the risk of these systems failing. There is a growing urgency to find a new understanding of uncertainty and risk, so that we can develop deliberate strategies for increasing resilience of the systems on which we depend. Solutions draw on the latest advances in signal processing, control and human-like computing to find the intelligent, adaptive, robust approaches needed.

Ambition

The theme ultimately aims to create a new understanding and a practical toolkit for engineering systems that can deliver solutions with assured levels of performance, reliability and resilience, while accommodating: uncertainty; incomplete knowledge; sparsity, or high volumes, of data; and humans in the loop.

Activities

The theme comprises three missions, which are detailed below with their challenges, ambitions and activities:

Dynamics and stability of complex systems

Understanding the fundamental dynamics of complex systems through mathematics, modelling and experiment, understanding the boundaries of their stability, then discovering new methods of control

Challenge

Engineering has long sought to understand and predict the response of systems to stimuli and the limits of their stability. The challenge is intensifying as systems are becoming ever larger and more interconnected, as they are pushed to achieve higher performances, and as control is decentralised. The ability to create complex systems is outrunning the ability to guarantee and optimise their behaviour. Engineers in almost all domains are facing this challenge whether designing engines, electricity grids, bridges, communication networks, supply chains or autonomous systems.

Ambition

The mission aims to take a world-lead in finding principled methods for modelling multi-physics systems that can enable robust predictions for optimal design. The methods will make efficient use of models of varying fidelity based on first principles and those that are data-driven. In the field of robotics and autonomous systems, the ambition is to achieve this control and optimisation through machine learning in real time.

Activities

Activities include:

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Strategy, management and design for resilience

Engineering resilience throughout an engineered operation from the shop floor to the board room

Challenge

Creating principled models of uncertainty and risk for a product, operation, service or business is a significant challenge. It is primarily addressed at the technical engineering level in the mission on the dynamics and stability of complex systems. Translating these new models and principles into a wider understanding of resilience is another and very difficult step. This is the challenge at the heart of this mission: creating a path from new theory and mathematics to practical decision-making and design at all levels of an operation. This involves addressing disparate uncertainties and risks in a single analysis ranging from competitive business threats to the effects of global climate change. The prize for success is much greater resilience for commercial or public sector operations.

Ambition

The ambition is to work with colleagues across the University to crack this problem with the Department gaining an international reputation connecting its work on engineering theory and modelling through to practical decision-making for resilience in engineered systems.

Activities

Activities include:

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Sensors, communications and human-like computing

Creating smart systems that link new sensors, communications technology and automated analysis to make quick intelligent decisions for safety and efficiency

Challenge

Engineers are fighting to find new techniques to grapple with every more data sets that suffer from a variety of problems, for example: too big to analyse with available resources using existing techniques; too sparse for normal inference methods to yield meaningful results; too messy in terms of formats, standards, and provenance to manage efficiently; or otherwise riddled with too much uncertainty. For instance, at one end of the spectrum, there may be doubt whether a particular instrument was calibrated correctly, while, at the other, there may be no reason to trust the veracity of a comment posted on social media. Engineers, business and government are crying out for solutions that can cut through the mess to highlight how best to gather data, identify what is relevant in data sets and provide reliable decision support.

Ambition

The mission aims to draw together developments on sensors, through communications, to analysis and interactive presentation at the human interface. It will rely on continued advances in sensor hardware, signal processing, communications protocols, hard analytics, and human-like computing. Ultimately, this will lead not only to useful component technologies, but a truly integrated approach to building smart systems that deliver assured levels of performance.

Activities

The activities include:

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