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New SECSE project seeks to manage spatial connections


A new research project led by academics at the University of Southampton will look at how spatial connections can be managed and will use air traffic control as a model.

The ambitious £1.5m, three-year project is called ’Spatially Embedded Complex Systems Engineering’ (SECSE). It is funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) and has brought together experts in neuroscience, artificial intelligence, geography and complex systems, to understand the role of the spatial organisation and spatial processes in complex networks.

Dr Seth Bullock from the University’s School of Electronics & Computer Science (ECS), the principal investigator on the project, is working with academics at the Universities of Sussex and Leeds and University College London to look at the possibility of engineering large-scale IT networks based on natural systems.

The researchers will look, in particular, at applying their research to air traffic control systems to understand how to manage air-space so that efficiency, robustness and flexibility can be balanced.

They will also look at issues such as social and geographical networks to understand how academics work together, to identify academic hotspots around the country and to look at how the Internet has changed how individuals collaborate.

They will turn to the human brain and other natural systems for examples of how spatial connections are made. Dr Bullock commented: ’We are interested in the networks of connected neurons but also the space within which those networks are embedded: a chemical soup. The human brain can guide us as to how space and spatial processes can be exploited by a complex network.’

For today’s engineers, a key challenge is to manage the network transition from systems comprising many relatively isolated computational elements to large-scale, massively interconnected systems that are physically distributed and affected by local conditions, yet must remain robust and efficient.

Dr Bullock added: ’We are already surrounded by systems that are attempting to achieve this transition: from e-government, the digital NHS and virtual universities, to peer-to-peer communities, grid computing and e-science. Traditional, centralised approaches do not scale to cope with these systems, and as yet we have no established design methodology capable of guiding this type of transition. We believe that our research will change this state of affairs.’

Joyce Lewis | alfa
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