A team of UCLA electrical and computer engineering faculty has received nearly $4 million in research funding as part of a major Army Research Laboratory-funded initiative to develop an internet of things tailored to the specific challenges of the battlefield.

The team members –Suhas Diggavi, Mani Srivastava and Paulo Tabuada – specialize in cyber-physical systems, the technology that underpins how all the “things” are connected, how they work with each other, and the physical environment that they are embedded in. For this project, they will develop theoretical foundations for use in defense technologies, unmanned vehicles, sensors and systems, so they can carry out mission objectives by working autonomously, cooperatively with each other and with human soldiers, and make data-driven decisions during situations that can change quickly and are difficult to predict.

“Our objective is to equip the battlefield of the future with enough intelligence to have a reduced number of humans orchestrating hundreds of sensors, actuators, ground and air unmanned vehicles, towards the common goal of increasing situational awareness of soldiers and providing them with a tactical advantage,” said Tabuada, who holds the Vijay K. Dhir Chair in Engineering.

“The challenges in IoT are amplified by the uncertain physical environments, human agents, and adversaries that the edge devices interact with in Battlefields,” Srivastava said “UCLA research would lead to advances in embedded machine learning, computational modeling of human behavior, and secure and trustworthy IoT platforms.”

“To achieve our objectives despite significant heterogeneity, fast time-scales, presence of adversaries, and large numbers of ‘things’, we need to develop novel approaches that span across disciplines,” Diggavi added. “In our team, we bring together expertise ranging from from foundational principles of control, information theory, and embedded systems as well as learning and security.”

The advent of such systems creates a new paradigm, where humans and technology work seamlessly on the battlefield, giving soldiers an advantage while keeping them and civilians out of harm. In addition to new capabilities, these new systems must also be resilient and secure.

The UCLA Engineering effort is part of a larger five-year $25 million, multi-organization collaboration funded by ARL called the Alliance for Internet of Battlefield Things Research on Evolving Intelligent Goal-driven Networks (or IoBT REIGN). Other lead institutions include the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, which is coordinating the efforts among all the initiative partners, the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, and the University of Southern California. The collaboration could be extended an additional five years raising the total amount of funding to the consortium to $67.6 million.

This the third major government-funded research project for UCLA electrical and computer engineering faculty announced in the past few months. In August, the National Science Foundation announced a three-year, $977,000-grant to explore security and privacy in cyber-physical systems led by ECE professor Christina Fragouli, with Diggavi and Tabuada as co-principal investigators on the grant. In July, the NSF awarded a four-year, $850,000-grant, also on cyber-physical system security, to Srivastava, with Tabuada as a co-principal investigator.