The Penn Research in Embedded Computing and Integrated Systems Engineering, or PRECISE, Center was founded 15 years ago with the mission of bringing together experts from the computer science and the electrical and systems engineering ﬁelds to accelerate technological progress, expand capabilities and share knowledge about the way machines interact with the world through their computing systems.
The years since the founding of PRECISE have seen many pathbreaking advances and accomplishments, including addressing cyber-physical systems challenges in terms of safe autonomy, machine programming, formal verification and synthesis, real-time scheduling and compositional analysis, privacy and security for control systems, and human-in-the-loop autonomous systems.
Some of the notable systems developed are CHARON for hybrid system modeling and verification VitalCore for monitoring the Internet of Medical Things, F1TENTH for autonomous racing and Verisig for safety verification of neural network controllers.
PRECISE has become a leader in developing the next generation of embedded systems researchers, supporting more than 40 doctoral students and 12 postdoctoral fellows on average per year. The Center also launched a competitive master’s program in Embedded Systems, whose graduates are in high demand for careers in industry.
To date, PRECISE has sponsored over 250 research seminars, conferences and workshops, leading to invaluable engagements with the broader research community. Notably, one-third of the Center’s scientific publications highlight work done jointly with authors outside of PRECISE. Over the course of its tenure, PRECISE has also received over $60 million in external grants from the U.S. Departments of Defense, Transportation and Energy, the National Science Foundation and industry support.
Now, as the Internet of Things (IoT), artiﬁcial intelligence (AI), machine learning and other emerging technologies become more deeply entrenched in our daily lives, PRECISE is committed to developing cutting-edge approaches and algorithms to ensure the safety of autonomous systems.
“While AI and large language models are the rage today, PRECISE is focusing on AI-enabled safety-critical systems that might be used in autonomous systems and medical devices, and cyber physical systems that can truly have societal impact with guarantees on safety,” says Vijay Kumar, Nemirovsky Family Dean of Penn Engineering and former Director of Robotics and Cyberphysical Systems at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy.
“Solving complex problems requires bringing together diverse minds and resources collaboratively,” says Insup Lee, Cecilia Fitler Moore Professor in Computer and Information Science and Director of PRECISE. “This can be accomplished through building local and global connections with multidisciplinary domain experts and impacted communities to achieve technological advancement results with the inevitable and autonomous evolution of artiﬁcial cognition in complex, coupled and interconnected socio-technical systems.”
As PRECISE looks to the future, the Center has welcomed two new faculty members who will contribute to the goal of developing a new architecture for cyber-physical systems, the technology that connects devices or other objects to the internet.
Meet Benjamin C. Lee
Benjamin C. Lee, Professor in Electrical and Systems Engineering and in Computer and Information Science, joined Penn Engineering in 2020 from Duke University. After earning a B.S. from U.C. Berkeley and master’s and doctoral degrees from Harvard, Lee completed postdoctoral work at Stanford University and has held visiting research positions at Meta AI, Microsoft Research, Intel and Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory.
Benjamin Lee’s research focuses on computer architecture, including the coordinated design and management of hardware and software systems. His work addresses the challenge of developing environmentally sustainable computer systems that can also handle exponential growth in data volume as the demand for AI systems increases.
“First, we allocate server power by modeling strategic behavior and incentivizing participation,” he says. “We design games in which users selﬁshly draw power for performance boosts yet avoid oversubscribing the shared supply. Second, we understand and optimize system dynamics by constructing causal models that explain outcomes in distributed systems. Finally, we design novel processor and memory architectures to improve performance and energy efﬁciency.”
Together with Insup Lee and fellow new faculty member Mingmin Zhao, Benjamin Lee is working on a proposal that envisions a constellation of devices or platforms that communicate data and request action from human users.
“Wearable and mobile devices – phones, watches, and headsets, for example – may collect data and transmit notiﬁcations for varied applications such as health monitoring or augmented reality. Autonomous vehicles may further request attention and action from the human user,” says Benjamin Lee. “Today, these systems and their applications consume human attention independently and selﬁshly to achieve their respective performance and service objectives. But the human is often poorly equipped to triage notiﬁcations and prioritize actions. Multi-agent game theory can provide a framework for coordinating demands on human attention.”
Meet Mingmin Zhao
Mingmin Zhao, in Computer and Information Science and in Electrical and Systems Engineering, joined Penn Engineering in January after earning a Ph.D. from MIT. His research focuses on the innovative use of wireless signals for sensing, aiming to pioneer advancements in wireless sensor technologies and systems, with a focus on enabling new sensing capabilities.
The development of wireless systems that can monitor human activities without physical contact has signiﬁcant potential application in ﬁelds such as digital health. Zhao’s research has explored the use of such systems for contactless health monitoring. This includes a project enabling physicians to remotely monitor COVID-19 patients, as well as studies for a new digital biomarker.
He also aims to design robust sensing technologies that can help robots perceive the surrounding environment, even under challenging weather or lighting conditions.
“Ben and Mingmin are currently involved in writing a proposal, brainstorming a large funding proposal and starting a collaborative project on real-time sensing in autonomous driving with existing PRECISE faculty,” says Insup Lee. “We are excited to grow PRECISE to even greater levels of success and collaboration. And we look forward to many years of future contributions to science and research.”
Insup Lee notes that many researchers and partners across the globe have contributed to PRECISE’s growth over the past 15 years. On campus, he acknowledges the continuous support of the Departments of Computer and Information Science (CIS) and Electrical and Systems Engineering, along with Penn Medicine. He also recognized former Center faculty members Justin Gottschlich (who has since founded Merly.ai), Christian Murphy (now at Swarthmore College), and James Weimer (now at Vanderbilt University), along with past CIS Department Chairs Susan Davidson, Weiss Professor in CIS, and Sampath Kannan, Henry Salvatori Professor in CIS, for their contributions and support.
To learn more about the PRECISE Center, member faculty and their research, visit https://precise.seas.upenn.edu/. For the latest updates on the Center’s research, alumni and current students, sign up for the PRECISE Today newsletter here.