ECE PhD Candidate Pritam Dash Named 2024 CPS Rising Star

Photo Credits: Jennifer Burman, Amanda Maglione
Photo Credits: Jennifer Burman, Amanda Maglione

Pritam Dash, 4th year PhD Candidate in UBC’s Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, supervised by Professor Karthik Pattabiraman, was named a 2024 Rising Star in Cyber-Physical Systems (CPS) research. On May 29th, 2024, Pritam was invited to participate in the CPS Rising Stars workshop at the University of Virginia (UVA), funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF) and ACM SIGBED.

Area of Research

My research focuses on making autonomous systems safe and secure. The advancements in robotics and AI have made autonomous systems, such as unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV), autonomous vehicles (AV), and robotic surgery, a reality. We are also seeing machines we use in our daily lives increasingly feature autonomous capabilities for convenience or improved safety such as emergency braking and lane-keeping assists in cars.

Autonomous systems like AVs and drones are essentially computer systems that rely on sensors to perceive the world and make decisions accordingly. The problem is sensors can fail, malfunction, or be subject to malicious intervention (security breach), which poses serious threats. Imagine you’re walking on a sidewalk, and a car suddenly veers off the road or a drone crash-lands on a busy street, causing chaos because its sensors have failed or are tampered with. Not good, right?

“My ultimate vision is to develop methods to ensure that autonomous systems can handle even the worst-case scenarios and uphold safety standards.”

My research focuses on identifying vulnerabilities and developing robust AI and control methods to mitigate the potential points of failure. To fully realize the socio-economic benefits and accelerate the adoption of autonomous technologies, it is crucial to address the safety and security concerns.

What was your process of developing your research and area of focus?

Early in my grad school, I was diving deep into AI and Control theory, learning about all the incredible research that made autonomous systems that were considered science fiction a reality. I had a background in computer security.

“I started asking – what happens when an AV or a drone encounters a system failure? Imagine a security breach taking over control of an AV; how do we respond to such a security breach? Are there methods to recover from such situations?”

Traditional computer security techniques are not enough to handle these threats. I realized that amidst the drive for advancements in autonomy and functional efficiency, some of the real-world challenges of deploying autonomous tech have largely been ignored, which motivated me to pursue research in this area and develop solutions to make autonomous systems safe and secure. 

Congratulations on being named a 2024 CPS Rising Star! How do you feel about this recognition?

I’m honoured to be named one of the 2024 CPS Rising Stars. It is incredibly rewarding to see our work recognized by the research community. I’d also like to express my gratitude to my advisor, Prof. Karthik Pattabiraman, for his guidance and to my collaborators, Dr. Guanpeng Li (University of Iowa), Dr. Mehdi Karimibiuki, and Ethan Chan, whose contributions have been instrumental.

Can you describe the CPS Rising Star workshop that occurred on May 29th?

Photo Credits: Jennifer Burman, Amanda Maglione

The University of Virginia (UVA) has hosted the CPS Rising Stars workshop for the past three years, and this year, they expanded the program to non-US candidates. There was an application process, and the organizing committee, consisting of senior Professors and researchers, selected 45 PhD students and Postdocs from around the world.

The workshop at UVA was a great opportunity to connect with rising stars and established senior researchers working on cyber-physical systems. It was inspiring to meet in person the researchers whose work I’ve admired and who I’ve previously only interacted with via email. Engaging with them, learning about their journey, and hearing firsthand about their career paths was an enriching experience. The workshop also had great panel discussions on establishing a research group, fostering collaborations, and how to write good grant proposals. Overall, fantastic blend of learning, networking and fun.

What are your future research and work plans?

I am currently working on safe reinforcement learning (RL) for autonomous systems. RL is widely used for control and decision making in many autonomous systems. However, a critical gap remains; we do not know how these algorithms perform under uncertainty and anomalies. After completing my PhD, my goal is to work in a research lab pursuing research in AI safety and autonomous systems.

Learn more about CPS Rising Stars and Pritam Dash’s research

For any questions, connect with Pritam on LinkedIn