NSF-backed program will allow Internet of Things to stand the test of time

Without a smarter way to measure time, the Internet of Things can only go so far. That’s the logic behind the Roseline project, which recently received a five-year, $4 million grant from the National Science Foundation, aimed at finding a better way for cyber-physical systems to accurately and securely interact with time.

The project, which includes work from six different universities, will focus on re-engineering clocking technologies, synchronization protocols and operating system methods, as well as control and sensing algorithms.

Currently, the way cyber-physical systems — a more formal title for the Internet of Things — interact with time is relatively simple. While hardware and software can communicate information related to time, the quality of that information is lacking, which can leave cyber-physical systems vulnerable to attacks or disruptions.

2014_06_roseline Principal and co-principal investigators of the Roseline project (clockwise from top left): UCLA’s Mani Srivastava and Sudhakar Pamarti; UCSD’s Rajesh Gupta; Carnegie Mellon’s Ragunathan Rajkumar and Anthony Rowe; UC Santa Barbara’s João Hespanha and Thomas Schmid from the University of Utah.
Credit: Doug Ramsey, UC San Diego

“The measurement, distribution and synchronization of time have always been critical in science and technology, and there is a long history of new time-related technologies revolutionizing society,” said David Corman, NSF program director for cyber-physical systems, in a release. “As computation becomes embedded in the physical systems around us, it becomes all the more important that computers be able to know time accurately, efficiently and reliably.”

Roseline projects will be implemented across a variety of sectors, including smart grids, aerospace systems, safety systems and autonomous vehicles.

“Time is not just simply a scale or quantity. It’s really a multi-dimensional quality that includes a set of attributes that are associated with it: the uncertainty associated with time, the stability of time and potentially the drift of time,” Corman told FedScoop Monday.  “By making systems all aware of time’s various qualities, we can enable better system design and design systems that are both more resilient to cyber attacks and [are] energy-aware.”

“Roseline will drive accurate timing information deep into the software system,” said Rajesh Gupta, University of California–San Diego computer science and engineering chair and co-principal investigator on the Roseline project. “It will enable robust distributed control of smart grids, precise localization of structural faults in bridges and ultra-low-power wireless sensors.”


Corman says the smart grid is a “great example” of what the project expects to accomplish.

“Time in the case of the smart grid has to be known very precisely,” Corman says. “What we want to be able to do is understand how the uncertainties associated with time translate into qualities for the controllers that are developed for the smart grid.”

The NSF grant comes as the foundation has spent more than $200 million in the past five years supporting research and education dedicated to cyber-physical systems.

Greg Otto

Written by Greg Otto

Greg Otto is Editor-in-Chief of CyberScoop, overseeing all editorial content for the website. Greg has led cybersecurity coverage that has won various awards, including accolades from the Society of Professional Journalists and the American Society of Business Publication Editors. Prior to joining Scoop News Group, Greg worked for the Washington Business Journal, U.S. News & World Report and WTOP Radio. He has a degree in broadcast journalism from Temple University.

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