ASCENS Project Blog

ASCENS in Quest of Awareness-Rich Technology

Posted by Nikola Serbedzija

The ASCENS project aims at bringing awareness into technical systems. Formalisms, linguistic constructs and programming tools should be developed featuring high level of autonomous and adaptive behavior. Rigorous and sound concepts will be used to reason and prove system properties, but how can we judge the project’s pragmatic significance?  The impact and practical value of the ASCENS project results will be evaluated on e-mobility, cloud computing and swarm robotics application domains. The three novel application domains look complex and fairly different and one may ask: isn’t each problem difficult enough? Why solving all three at once?

1.   What E-mobility, Cloud Computing and Swarm of Robots Have in Common?

E-mobility is a vision of future transportation by means of electric vehicles network allowing people to fulfill their individual mobility needs in an environmental friendly manner.

Cloud computing is an approach that delivers computing (resources) to users in a service-based manner, over the internet.

Swarm robotics deals with creation of multi-robot systems that through interaction among participating robots and their environment can accomplish a common goal, which would be impossible to achieve by a single robot.

At a first glance e-cars and transportation, distributed computing on demand and swarm robotics have nothing in common!

1.1 Sharing and Collectiveness

 In order to cover longer distances, an e-vehicle driver must interrupt the journey to either exchange or re-charge the battery. Energy consumption has been the major obstacle in a wider use of e-vehicles. Alternative strategy is to share e-vehicles in a way that optimizes the overall mobility of people and the spending of energy.  In other words: when my battery is empty – you will take me further if we go towards the same location and vice versa.

The processing statistics show that most of the time computers are idle – waiting for input to do some calculations.  Computers belong amongst fastest and at the same time most wasted devices man has ever made. And they dissipate energy too. Cloud computing overcomes that problem by sharing computer resources and making them better utilized. In another words if my computer is free – it can process your data and vice versa; or even better, let us have light devices and leave a heavy work for the cloud.

A swarm indicates a great number of things in motion. Swarm robots dynamically form different shapes in order to solve a collective assignment.  Swarm of robots can perform much more as a group than any single element can do on its own. In other words, what we cannot achieve alone, we may manage together.

At a closer look “sharing and collectiveness” are common characteristics of all three application domains!

 1.2 Awareness and Knowledge

E-mobility can support coordination only if e-vehicles know their own restrictions (battery state), destinations of users, re-charging possibilities, parking availabilities, the state of other e-vehicles nearby. With such knowledge collective behavior may take place, respecting   individual goals, energy consumption and environmental requirements.

Cloud computing deals with dynamic (re-)scheduling of available (not fully used) computing resources. Maximal utilization can only be achieved if the cloud is “aware” of the users’ processing needs and the states of the deployed cloud resources.  Only with such a knowledge a cloud can make a good utilization of computers while serving individual users needs.

Each robot in a swarm needs to know its own and the others’ location and capabilities as well as an overall assignment. Only then a swarm can achieve the common goal.

At a closer look “awareness” of own potentials, restrictions and goals as well as those of the others is a common characteristic. All three domains require self-aware, self-expressive and self-adaptive behavior.

 1.3 Dynamic and Distributed Optimization

 E-mobility is a distributed network that manages numerous independent and separate entities such as e-vehicles, parking slots, re-charge stations, drivers. Through collective and awareness-rich control strategy the system may dynamically re-organize and optimize the use of energy while satisfying users’ transportation needs.

Cloud computing actually behaves as a classical distributed operating system with a goal to maximize operation and throughput and minimize energy consumption, performing tasks of multiple users.

Swarm robotics deals with coordination of a collection of individual robots in order to optimize control strategy through interaction among the robots and the environment.

 At a closer look “dynamic and distributed optimization” is inherent characteristic of the control environment for all three application domains.  

2. Again, What E-mobility, Cloud Computing and Swarm of Robots Have in Common?

 Control systems for all the three domains have many common characteristics: they are highly collective, constructed of numerous independent entities that share common goals. Their elements are both autonomous and cooperative featuring a high level of self awareness and self expressiveness.  A complex control system built out of such entities must be robust and adaptive offering maximal utilization with minimal energy and resource use.

3. What the three domains have to do with ASCENS Project?

Formal definition, programming and controlling of complex massively parallel distributed system that feature awareness, autonomous and collective behavior, adaptive optimization and robust functioning are grand challenges of computer science.  These challenges are present in most of complex control systems and they are the motivation and inspiration for the ASCENS project. The consortium gathered scientists from different fields in effort to offer novel and scientifically sound concepts and approaches:

  • SCE - service–component ensembles as means to dynamically structure independent and distributed system entities
  • Modeling and formalization of the fundamental SCE properties as means to  rigorously   reason about autonomous behavior and aware-rich networking,  proving that important system requirements hold
  • linguistic support for programming SCEs, expressing awareness and exchanging knowledge among system entities
  • adaptive and knowledge-rich software environments and tools, expressing and deploying self-awareness and self-expression in technical systems

(see the ASCENS project goal []).  Consequently three different application domains are selected to test the pragmatic significance of the envisaged project concepts and results.

 4. What should be the impact of ASCENS Solutions?

 The ASCENS project calls for a new generation of technical solutions (techno-sphere) that would be better integrated into our biosphere by mimicking some natural phenomena like awareness, swarm behavior and adaptation. The ultimate rationale is: our resources are not endless thus our technical innovations need to be optimized and self- and energy-aware. We cannot for ever allow ourselves a luxury of driving own cars (on a global earth with increasing population and decreasing energy resources); we cannot for ever allow ourselves the luxury of switching on powerful computers that waste energy without doing much processing. We cannot neglect the usefulness of a swarm behavior (so much present in the nature) that teaches us how simple element can perform complex endeavor in a collective effort. The nature obviously achieves perfection through simplicity. Can we mimic that?

As you do not buy a cow when you need milk, you do not need to possess a car if you want to have free mobility; you do not require a powerful computer if you have processing necessities, you do not need a complex robot if you want automatic assistant. We should be oriented to hire and be charged per use rather than to buy and possess things as this may be a proper way to optimize the use of our precious resources.

To make such a mental and behavioral transition we need better control systems. We hope the ASCENS approach with its generic solutions for a wide class of applications, is a grand step in this direction.