RA5a: Structure,environment and staffing policy
Overall Research Strategy
The past five years have witnessed a growth and diversification of research within the School of Computing, Information Systems and Mathematics. As a consequence, the School is making two submissions to this RAE: one under Computer Science and the other under Library and Information Management. An aim of the School, as stated in the 1996 RAE submission, was to increase the percentage of research active staff. This has been achieved, with 32 out of 57 members of staff being submitted within these two units of assessment.
The School research strategy for Computer Science has been to support two research groups: Systems and Software Engineering (SSE), also submitted in 1996, and Intelligent Systems (IS), a new group. To this end, the School embarked on a programme of key appointments and of measures to strengthen its research culture.
Key appointments in SSE were Abdallah, Bowen and Nissanke. Abdallah and Bowen came to join Josephs, with whom they had worked in the 1980's and early 1990's as members of the Programming Research Group, University of Oxford, under the direction of Sir Tony Hoare. Moreover, prior to their move to South Bank, Abdallah, Bowen and Nissanke worked together as a group at the University of Reading for more than five years. Bowen and Josephs now jointly manage the SSE research group.
Key appointments in IS were Fogarty and Hashim, each bringing to the School many years of experience in building and maintaining successful research groups. Hashim took on the role of Head of School, leaving management of the IS research group to Fogarty.
Since the last RAE, the School has taken a number of measures to strengthen its research culture:
1. A Research Committee was formed. Currently, Fogarty chairs the committee, which meets on a regular basis.
2. A School-wide research seminar series was instituted, aimed at all academic staff and postgraduate students. Research seminars in SSE have also been taking place since 1996. Researchers in IS initially met together for private discussion, but opened this out into a seminar series in 2001.
3. A School-wide PhD forum complemented the University's mechanism of team supervision of postgraduate research students.
4. The School continued to encourage contributions to its Technical Report series, with over 30 reports published during 2000 alone.
5. £50,000 p.a. were allocated to enable staff to present at conferences at home and abroad.
6. Junior academic members of staff were encouraged to become more actively involved in research by offering them two-hours per week relief from teaching.
7. Timetables were organised to provide staff with clear days on which to concentrate on their research.
8. PhD studentships were awarded, funded by the School.
9. The School sought to enter into a Memorandum of Understanding with suitable organisations worldwide that would like to send here high-calibre students for postgraduate research training. Such an agreement was reached with the United Nations University International Institute for Software Technology (UNU/IIST), Macau, and further agreements are planned.
The University has also taken appropriate measures in support of research:
10. It subscribed to the full on-line libraries of the IEEE/IEE, the ACM, Elsevier Science, etc.
11. The University has made funds readily available for staff development related to research.
12. It has expanded its own provision of training courses (e.g. in presenting at conferences and in PhD supervision).
13. HEFCE funds that were awarded as a result of our 1996 RAE rating were released to the School and used for the recruitment of research assistants.
14. PhD studentships were allocated to the School, funded by the University and under the Overseas Research Students Awards Scheme.
The School continues to encourage its research-active staff to teach modules both at undergraduate and at postgraduate levels in the areas of their research expertise. Expansion of the School's taught Master's provision in these areas is under active consideration.
Key Research Related Achievements, Current Research Activities and Future Research Strategy
Systems and Software Engineering:
A.E. Abdallah, J.P. Bowen, M.B. Josephs, N. Nissanke, T.P. Plaks, and R.W. Whitty.
Research in SSE, managed by Bowen and Josephs, spans both hardware and software. The main interests of this research group are: asynchronous circuit design; the development of computer-aided engineering tools; semantics of hardware description languages (HDL's) and hardware compilation; parallel algorithms and their mapping to hardware; the application of formal methods (specifically the Z notation and CSP); safety-critical and real-time systems (especially in conjunction with formal methods); software property measurement; software testing and fault tolerance.· four joint journal publications (e.g. [Jos-3]) and a joint patent application (PH-NL 000667 EPP);
Josephs has been involved in research co-ordination (leading to technology transfer) of asynchronous circuit design, especially in its application to low-power, low-noise digital CMOS circuits. He chairs the European Working Group on Asynchronous Circuit Design (ACiD-WG). ACiD-WG facilitated the first commercial exploitation of asynchronous circuit technology (by Philips Semiconductors in 1998). Europe's other two microelectronics giants, STMicroelectronics and Infineon Technologies (formerly Siemens Microelectronics), recently became active members of the Working Group, and ARM Ltd. and Cadence Design Systems became affiliates.
The research group has particularly close links with Philips Research Laboratories, Eindhoven, The Netherlands, in the area of asynchronous circuits, as evidenced by:
· two PhD students seconded to Philips Research on three-month contracts, one of whom was employed there as a Research Scientist upon completing his doctorate;
· a track record of solving design problems proposed by Philips Research (e.g. [Jos-1,Jos-4]) concerned with their hardware-compilation approach.
In the UK, Josephs works closely with Prof. S.B. Furber and Prof. A.V. Yakovlev of the Universities of Manchester and of Newcastle-upon-Tyne. Josephs and Dr. J.T. Yantchev (of the University of Adelaide, Australia) had proposed a low-latency arbiter circuit, which was subsequently optimised for CMOS technology [Jos-2]. Their design was of particular interest to Furber and Yakovlev, e.g. low-latency arbitration is of critical importance to Manchester's MARBLE bus for use in Systems-On-Chip.
A strategic research direction for Josephs is in the development of computer-aided engineering tools and their application to real-world design problems. There are two approaches currently being pursued by Josephs, assisted by his two post-doctoral researchers:
1. A user-friendly, semantically clean HDL and automated tool-support, that can be incorporated into a design flow for asynchronous circuits and systems. The language is tailored to the specification of delay-insensitive (DI) interfaces and is underpinned by a theory of DI processes (a variant of CSP, originally developed in collaboration with Dr. J.T. Udding of the University of Groningen, The Netherlands, and subsequently the subject of two PhD theses in his group). Recent work by Josephs in this area has been funded with a research grant from the EPSRC and has been presented at Design, Automation and Test in Europe (DATE) 2000. A research assistant has implemented a tool (di2pn) that translates DI specifications into Petri nets, that optimises those nets, and that can be used as a front-end to the Petrify asynchronous logic synthesis tool, developed by Prof. J. Cortadella of the Technical University of Barcelona, Spain. di2pn has been applied to Manchester's micropipeline latch control circuits.
2. A method and tool for the implementation of self-timed finite-state machines. The method is based on the use of an array of "D-elements" to implement a machine's state-vector. A highly optimised (and apparently inexplicable) stack implementation (by Prof. A.J. Martin of Caltech, USA, and Dr. S.M. Burns of Intel Strategic CAD Labs., USA) could have been routinely designed using it. The method compares most favourably with the more standard one that uses "C-elements", as has been adopted by Theseus Logic, Inc., USA, a company that is involved in the commercial exploitation of asynchronous circuit design. The method was illustrated at PATMOS '98. A research assistant is currently developing a tool to support it.
On the theory side, Bowen and Josephs are pursuing research into the semantics of HDL's and also have a common research interest in hardware compilation. Bowen collaborates with Prof. He Jifeng of UNU/IIST, Macau, where he was a Visiting Research Fellow in 1999. Joint work on a novel provably correct hardware compilation scheme, presented at an ESPRIT ProCoS-US funded workshop at Cornell University, USA, in 1997, is about to be published in a journal. Bowen also collaborated with Dr. P. Breuer of Politecnica de Madrid, Spain, and with researchers at the Florida Atlantic University, USA, with NATO travel sponsorship. This resulted in papers on industrial use of formal methods (at COMPSAC'97) and reasoning about VHDL using denotational semantics (at DATE'99).
More recent work in collaboration with UNU/IIST (following on from ESPRIT funding) has so far resulted in a tractable formalisation [Bow-3,Bow-4] of a significant subset of Verilog. In particular, Bowen encoded an operational semantics of Verilog as a logic program. The resulting animation tool can be used to explore the impact of changes to semantic clauses and to exhaustively simulate (small) nondeterministic Verilog descriptions. Bowen has recently taken on a PhD student (previously a lecturer in Shanghai, China) to continue this research into the semantics of Verilog.
Plaks, Abdallah and Josephs share a common research interest in parallel algorithms and their mapping to hardware, e.g., [Pla-1,Pla-2,Pla-3,Pla-4,Abd-1,Abd-3,Abd-4,Jos-4]. Plaks has been investigating the mapping of algorithms to regular (systolic) arrays. While at Chalmers University, Sweden, he developed the Iso-plane method [Pla-1,Pla-2] for manipulating the polytope model of an algorithm. (The method enables space-time trade-offs to be explored when reconfiguring algorithms for implementation in FPGA technology, for example.) This work was of particular interest to Prof. G.M. Megson (of the University of Reading) who obtained EPSRC support to fund its further development (e.g. [Pla-4]) and co-authored with Plaks four refereed conference papers in 1999-2000. Plaks has applied his work to a variety of problems, including template matching, string matching and matrix inversion, resulting in a journal article [Pla-3] and further refereed conference papers.
Abdallah integrates functional programming (and sometimes Z) with CSP in his approach to the derivation of parallel algorithms, based on transformation, refinement and design patterns. Five refereed conference papers, co-authored by Dr. T.A. Theoharis of the University of Athens, Greece, have shown how the approach can be applied in a variety of domains, including relational databases, computer graphics, and DNA matching. They have started to target the Handel-C language and FPGA technology, and have had an initial meeting with Prof. I. Page (Imperial College and co-founder of Celoxica) over future collaboration. Abdallah also supervises a PhD student in this area.
Besides their derivation, Abdallah (like Bowen) is also interested in the animation of parallel programs. The original version of Abdallah's VisualNets tool, which he had implemented in C++, was presented at Euro-Par'98. Recently, the tool has been re-implemented, partly in Java and partly in Haskell, by a PhD student [Abd-2], and will be of particular interest to users of CSP because of its support for visualisation, animation and performance prediction of networks.
Abdallah also collaborates with Dr. J. Barros and Prof. J. Oliviera of De Minho University, Portugal, on the application of transformational methods to the systematic development of correct prototypes from formal specifications. Abdallah supervised to successful completion a PhD student in this area.
Bowen and Nissanke have researched into and promoted the technology transfer of formal methods, especially in their application to safety-critical and real-time systems. Bowen was an early practitioner of the Z notation and, in 1996, published a book based on his original case studies. He chairs the Z User Group that organises regular international conferences and, until 1997, chaired the European Working Group on Provably Correct Systems (ProCoS-WG) of 25 academic and industrial partners. (ProCoS-WG was the inspiration behind the article [Bow-1].) Bowen has collaborated with Prof. M. Hinchey of the University of Queensland, Australia, authoring with him the book "High-Integrity Specification and Design" and editing with him the book "Industrial-Strength Formal Methods in Practice,“ both published by Springer-Verlag in 1999. Since 1994, Bowen has maintained the most widely used and referenced on-line repository of formal methods information in the world, the Virtual Library formal methods pages, recently moved from Oxford University to South Bank University (see under www.afm.sbu.ac.uk).
Bowen also collaborated [Bow-2] on an initiative led by Prof. H. Habrias of the University of Nantes, France, to investigate the process of producing a formal specification. A second PhD student for Bowen has extensive experience of the nuclear power industry and is working on formal methods for the assessment of safety-critical systems. A third PhD student is combining the use of formal methods and the Unified Modeling Language.
Nissanke has himself authored a research-oriented book on real-time systems, Prentice Hall Series in Computer Science, 1997, along with two textbooks on formal methods. His EPSRC ROPA project, "A Safety Executive for Soft Industrial Processes", conducted in collaboration with Prof. L. Pyle of the University of Reading, explored the development of a generic system for monitoring safety issues and taking appropriate recovery measures in real-time. This has led to research into the meaning of safety and how to aid design that relies on generic approaches. With a PhD student, he has published refereed conference papers on the modelling in Timed CSP of possible failure modes and recovery measures. With another PhD student, he has published refereed conference papers, e.g., [Nis-2], on Safecharts, a formal visual framework based on Statecharts that aids the design of safety-critical systems in a generic manner. A new direction in Nissanke's research into safety-critical systems concerns human factors contributing to failure and organisational maturity of safety-management infrastructure. Nissanke has also supervised to successful completion a PhD student in the area of boundary models for representation and manipulation of assembly tasks [Nis-1,Nis-3].
In order to address Quality of Service issues in real-time communications over large networks, such as the Internet, in a rigorous manner, Nissanke has been working on the development of a novel approach to probabilistic scheduling. This work will enable a) probabilistic analysis of real-time communications, and b) routing and scheduling real-time communications using statistical performance measures. Underlying this work are two probabilistic algorithms for 1) fixed-priority uni-processor static scheduling and 2) multi-processor dynamic scheduling. Nissanke collaborates with Prof. F. Cottet of the Laboratory of Applied Computer Science, Ecole Nationale Superieure de Mecanique et d'Aerotechnique, Poitiers, France, in applying this approach to jitter control in real-time systems. He has also taken on a PhD student to work in this area.
Whitty also has considerable research experience in safety-critical systems, including a project funded under the DTI/EPSRC special programme on safety-critical systems. The project, "Product Monitoring for Integrity and Safety Enhancement", in collaboration with Philips Medical Systems-Radiotherapy, investigated the role of software property measurement in the safety-critical domain [Whi-4] and developed some new methods for analysing software control flow [Whi-1]. Further research into software measurement included the development (by a PhD student and a research assistant) of two tools for use in software maintenance. This work was partially supported by BT Laboratories, Martlesham.
A second EPSRC project, "Modelling the Propagation of Faults in Computer Software", investigated how faults can interact and mask each other [Whi-3]. This work has also been reported at the workshop, Mutation 2000, in San Jose, USA, and the research assistant (formerly Whitty's PhD student) has been invited to contribute a chapter to a planned Handbook on Software Mutation Testing to be edited by E. Wong of Telcordia and published by Academic Press. Whitty's work on software testing and fault tolerance led to an invitation to spend the academic year 1996-97 on sabbatical at LAAS-CNRS, Toulouse, France, where he worked on measures of testability. The sabbatical was partially funded by the Royal Academy of Engineering, Whitty being the first recipient of an award under their Engineering Foresight Award scheme. On his return from France, Whitty supervised to successful completion a PhD student in this area, but decided to change the direction of his own research and is now associated with the IS research group.
T.C. Fogarty, A. Hashim, J.A. Long, R.S. Neville, J.M. Selig, and R.W. Whitty.
This group is interested in the research, development and application of systems for classification and control, including evolutionary algorithms, neuro-fuzzy systems and mathematical models. The group is able to benefit from Hashim's expertise in the area, e.g., [Has-1,Has-4], though Hashim is also active in Information Theory, e.g., [Has-2], and Distance Learning, e.g., [Has-3]. Whitty and a PhD student are looking at how artificial-life simulations can inform research into human memory: the work is based on the Sante Fe Institute's SWARM environment. Neville participated fully in the research activities of the School during 1999-2000 and made progress on his research into Artificial Neural Networks [Nev-1,Nev-2].
Research in IS is now managed by Fogarty. He previously led the Evolutionary Algorithms Research Group at Napier University for four years and was instrumental in building the Intelligent Computer Systems Centre at the University of the West of England (UWE) ten years before that. His expertise is in the research and development of genetic algorithms and classifier systems and their application to control problems. In this RAE period Fogarty supervised seven PhD students at UWE and Napier to successful completion, edited seven books, authored 5 book chapters, 4 journal articles and 24 refereed conference papers, and contributed 10 conference presentations. Since joining the School, Fogarty has taken on two research assistants to work on evolutionary algorithms. He has also taken on one writer to do the marketing of EvoNet (see below) over the next three years. He continues to supervise three PhD students at Napier and, so far, has one PhD student at South Bank.
One research collaboration showed that new paradigms gleaned from nature, such as symbiosis and the adaptation of evolutionary operators, can be used to improve the performance of the genetic algorithm [Fog-3]. Another collaborative project demonstrated that the application of the genetic algorithm to fuzzy rule based control (eg, of traffic on a packet switched network) can out-perform traditional techniques on benchmark problems [Fog-1, Fog-2]. A third collaboration resulted in three statistical measures that can be used to determine the structure of the search landscape during a run of the genetic algorithm [Fog-4]. These measures will be used in future for the on-line adaptation of genetic algorithm operators to the structure of the landscape being searched. Current research is on the interaction between members of a population and speciation amongst them to improve the performance of the genetic algorithm on larger problems than they have so far been successful. Work on the use of evolving populations to model social and economic phenomenon is being done in co-operation with five other leading European research groups in evolutionary computation in the Distributed Resource Evolutionary Algorithm Machine (DREAM) long term research project as part of the EU IST Future and Emerging Technologies (FET) initiative on Universal Information Ecosystems.
Over the past few years Fogarty has either led or been a partner in three major European research co-ordination, training and technology transfer projects in the area of Evolutionary Computation:
· He initiated and co-ordinated the European Network of Excellence in Evolutionary Computing (EvoNet), from 1996 to 2000. Its membership includes not only the main academic players in the field of evolutionary computing, but also about 50 companies doing business in that field. EvoNet has now received a further three years of funding from the IST FET initiative to market evolutionary computing to European users in particular and to society in general.
· He has participated, as one of just three European academic partners, in the, mainly industrial, BRITE EURAM project INGENET. This is a thematic network that carries out benchmark and comparison studies on the use of genetic algorithms for industrial problems mainly in aircraft design, but also in the design of communication and energy conservation systems.
· As a member of the four person executive of CoIL, he has led EvoNet in participating in this FP5 FET funded project, which is a cluster of networks of excellence covering machine learning, neural networks, fuzzy systems and evolutionary computing.
Long has supervised 3 PhD students to successful completion since 1996, and has recently taken on 4 new PhD students. He is also extremely active in the technology transfer of research being undertaken within the IS group, supervising Teaching Company Scheme projects, based at the following companies:· Accurate Business Solutions (data mining to support data warehousing consultancy)
· Finsoft (parallel, distributed computing for financial calculations)
· DPR Consulting (AI techniques for financial computation)
· MediaTel (Internet based contracting and financial negotiations)
· New Information Paradigms (integration of knowledge management systems and WAP devices)
Long also has an on-going relationship with HSBC, Decision Support Group, on debit-card fraud detection. Initially, HSBC supplied Long with a 'small' sample of transactions: there were 25 information fields and 5 million transactions in the sample. Drawing on the work (subsequently published) of a PhD student on feature-selection for large data sets, the data table was trimmed down to 5 key fields. Another of Long's PhD students, researching high-performance decision-tree architectures [Lon-4], was able to develop an SQL-based system that performed well in detecting fraud in the sample data. (It detected £1 million in fraudulent usage that was apparently missed by HSBC.) HSBC will be delivering a much larger data set to enable a proper evaluation of the system.
Selig's research can be summarised as the application of modern ideas from geometry to problems in robotics. In 1996 Selig published a research monograph [Sel-1] which was well received by the robotics community. As a result he organised a one day workshop at the 1999 IEEE International Conference on Robotics and Automation held in Leuven, Belgium, inviting eminent speakers from Harvard, NYU and Charles University, Prague. The talks given at this workshop were edited into a book [Sel-4].
Selig, in collaboration with Dr. R. McAree of the University of Oxford, was able to show how to derive equations of motion for complex robots such as walking machines and parallel manipulators. This was published in two parts in the Journal of Robotic Systems, the first part being [Sel-3]. Selig has also used Clifford algebra as a way of representing points, lines and planes [Sel-2] and hence performing geometric computations. This work has applications in computer vision and in graphics, as well as in robotics. During 1999, Selig was visited by Dr. X. Ding of the Robotics Research Institute, Beijing University of Aeronautics and Astronautics, China, to work on compliance in robots. This collaboration has so far resulted in a refereed conference paper, with several journal articles currently being under review.
Summary and Self-assessment
Since the arrival of Hashim as new Head of School, and the coincident arrival of HEFCE QR funding following the 1996 RAE, the School has acquired a lasting research culture that impacts upon all staff and students. Both of the research groups being returned have a significant number of new personnel, all of whom have undertaken research of international interest. This submission conveys the vitality of the two groups and the contribution that they make to the international research community of Computer Scientists. The School aims to continue to support these two groups and to expand their provision of postgraduate and postdoctoral research training in Computer Science.
Users of this website should note that the information is not intended to be a complete record of all research centres in the UK
Copyright 2002 - HEFCE, SHEFC, ELWa, DEL
Last updated 17 October 2003
| About the RAE2001
| Overview reports
| Guidance for panel members
| Guidance for institutions