EPSRC Centre for Doctoral Training in High Performance Embedded and Distributed Systems

Lead Research Organisation: Imperial College London
Department Name: Computing


High Performance Embedded and Distributed Systems (HiPEDS), ranging from implantable smart sensors to secure cloud service providers, offer exciting benefits to society and great opportunities for wealth creation. Although currently UK is the world leader for many technologies underpinning such systems, there is a major threat which comes from the need not only to develop good solutions for sharply focused problems, but also to embed such solutions into complex systems with many diverse aspects, such as power minimisation, performance optimisation, digital and analogue circuitry, security, dependability, analysis and verification. The narrow focus of conventional UK PhD programmes cannot bridge the skills gap that would address this threat to the UK's leadership of HiPEDS.

The proposed Centre for Doctoral Training (CDT) aims to train a new generation of leaders with a systems perspective who can transform research and industry involving HiPEDS. The CDT provides a structured and vibrant training programme to train PhD students to gain expertise in a broad range of system issues, to integrate and innovate across multiple layers of the system development stack, to maximise the impact of their work, and to acquire creativity, communication, and entrepreneurial skills.

The taught programme comprises a series of modules that combine technical training with group projects addressing team skills and system integration issues. Additional courses and events are designed to cover students' personal development and career needs. Such a comprehensive programme is based on aligning the research-oriented elements of the training programme, an industrial internship, and rigorous doctoral research.

Our focus in this CDT is on applying two cross-layer research themes: design and optimisation, and analysis and verification, to three key application areas: healthcare systems, smart cities, and the information society. Healthcare systems cover implantable and wearable sensors and their operation as an on-body system, interactions with hospital and primary care systems and medical personnel, and medical imaging and robotic surgery systems. Smart cities cover infrastructure monitoring and actuation components, including smart utilities and smart grid at unprecedented scales. Information society covers technologies for extracting, processing and distributing information for societal benefits; they include many-core and reconfigurable systems targeting a wide range of applications, from vision-based domestic appliances to public and private cloud systems for finance, social networking, and various web services.

Graduates from this CDT will be aware of the challenges faced by industry and their impact. Through their broad and deep training, they will be able to address the disconnect between research prototypes and production environments, evaluate research results in realistic situations, assess design tradeoffs based on both practical constraints and theoretical models, and provide rapid translation of promising ideas into production environments. They will have the appropriate systems perspective as well as the vision and skills to become leaders in their field, capable of world-class research and its exploitation to become a global commercial success.

Planned Impact

The proposed CDT will have an impact on most industrial sectors and organisations whose strategic objectives are underpinned by High Performance Embedded and Distributed Systems. The UK has an acute shortage of professionals with the relevant skills and competence to cover cross-layer design, analysis, optimisation and verification of such systems, since current PhD research often involves an isolated, narrow area.

As an example, Dr. Khaled Benkrid, ARM's Worldwide University Programme Manager, says in his statement of support that: "The shortage of highly-skilled professionals with PhD qualification is a real problem for us. While we are still enjoying a commanding lead in supplying semiconductor intellectual property for the development of low power, high performance digital products, this lead cannot be sustained without the availability of highly-skilled professionals. The proposed centre would go a long way to address the skills problem."

There is growing adoption of heterogeneous systems, such as implantable biosensors communicating with cloud-based analysis and decision support services. Telecommunications, finance, transport, healthcare and government services are also increasingly incorporating complex functionality in computing systems while moving towards a mixture of pervasive and cloud computing to support key activities. There is a critical need for technical competencies and leadership skills that this CDT aims to provide. Many of our CDT research projects will be multidisciplinary, relating to applications in Healthcare Systems, Smart Cities, and the Information Society.

Our approach to maximising impact is to involve industry, alumni and external users in many aspects of the CDT: taking part in giving courses, providing internships and career advice, and contributing to student supervision, Masterclasses, and Advanced Study Institutes. In particular, every CDT student will undertake at least one internship with industry or a leading research institution during their studies. This will ensure foundational research is relevant to external users. The CDT students will be undertaking research projects relevant to the organisation sponsoring their studies, and to the wider industry. We anticipate that students will often be employed by these organisations on graduation, thereby facilitating the transfer of research to the sponsoring organisation. In addition, we will provide advice and support on entrepreneurship and funding to develop research into prototypes for subsequent commercialization where appropriate. Our Industrial and Alumni Liaison Officer will organise and manage these routes to impact.

The high-tech sector requires a breadth and depth of knowledge and training beyond the level of Masters, as illustrated by the large proportion of engineering and managerial staff with PhD degrees in leading companies in the US and continental Europe. We purposely design this CDT to produce future leaders in industry, academia, government, and SMEs. This CDT will be able to continue our success in training leaders for industry and research; examples of such Imperial graduates include:
Ian Foster, Director, Computation Institute, Argonne National Laboratory;
Nabeel Shirazi, Director, Xilinx;
Tyrone Grandison, Program Manager, IBM San Jose Research Lab;
Guido Jouret, General Manager and CTO, Emerging Technologies, Cisco;
Xeno Andriopoulos, Managing Director, Kinitron;
Constantine Goulimis, Founder and CEO, Greycon;
Alex Buckley, Java Specification Team leader, Oracle.

Both Departments of Computing and Electrical and Electronic Engineering have a strong record of start-up companies, such as CVIS, DNA Electronics, GeneOnyx, InforSense, IXICO, Nexeon and Toumaz. Students from this CDT will be able to tap into these start-up activities.

Imperial Innovations has an excellent track record of commercialising academic research. They will advise on the appropriate forms of licencing and investment.


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