IEEE P2660.1 Recommendation Practices on Industrial Agents: Integration of Software Agents and Low Level Automation Functions

By Paulo Leitao

Multi-Agent Systems (MAS) is a paradigm derived from the distributed artificial intelligence field that offers an alternative way to design complex large scale systems by decentralizing the control system by distributed, autonomous and cooperative entities. This approach is particularly differing from the conventional approaches due to its inherent capabilities to adapt to emergence without external intervention. Industrial agent-based solutions, aligned with the cyber-physical systems concept, expand the potential application domains of MAS and at the same time, adds the required flexibility, robustness, and responsiveness to industrial automation systems.

A key aspect in industrial agents is the interaction interface between the intelligent software agents (i.e. cyber part) and the low-level automation devices (i.e. physical part), like smart meters, programmable logic controllers (PLCs) or robots. Although significant efforts exist in industrial agents, the practices to integrate the software agent counterpart with the physical hardware device counterpart are not homogeneous. Different domains have focused on different practices, that pertain the usage of tools, integration consideration and approach.

In order to achieve full interoperability, a standardized way for information exchange between these two layers is necessary to allow reusability and transparency. For this purpose, the IEEE P2660.1 working group is developing the recommendations and practices on industrial agents, focusing on integration of software agents and low-level automation functions. This working group is sponsored by the IEEE Industrial Electronics Society (IES) and the IEEE Systems, Man, and Cybernetics Society (SMCS), as well as technically sponsored by the IEEE IES Technical Committee on Industrial Agents and the IEEE SMCS Technical Committee on Intelligent Industrial Systems. The proposed recommendation aiming standardization of the interface process to achieve reusability and transparency, which supports engineers to leverage the best practices of developing industrial agents for automation control problems and given application fields, in the emergent context of CPS. Internally, a structure of subs-groups was created to agile the development of activities. Three sub-groups are considered to collect and analyze the existing practices in different application domains, i.e. one for factory automation, another for power and energy systems and another one for building automation. A testing sub-group will be responsible to perform the testing and validation of the identified recommended practices.

The first survey results related to the analysis of the current practices on interfacing software agents and low-level automation functions (published in the recent annual conference of the IEEE Industrial Electronics Society - IES), shows that Java is mainly used as an agent technology (followed by C++) which usually use a kind of proprietary protocols for interfacing by following a coupled approach and the client/server interaction mode, as well as a focus on read/write operations on the digital I/O interaction. In addition, security is not usually considered in this kind of interfaces.

At this moment, IEEE P2660.1 WG is running on-going activities related to the generalization of the interface practices, and their assessment, seeking contributions coming from the automation and control engineers, software engineers, system integrators, and automation system vendors. The establishment of these recommendation practices may contribute to mitigate the current practices and procedures shortfalls and boost the adoption of MAS and CPS-based approaches by the industry.

This article was edited by Mehrdad Rostami.

For a downloadable copy of the February 2018 eNewsletterwhich includes this article, please visit the IEEE Smart Grid Resource Center



Paulo Leitao

Paulo Leitão is Chair of the IEEE Standards Association P2660.1 Working Group. He joined the Polytechnic Institute of Bragança in 1995, where he is a professor at the Department of Electrical Engineering. His research interests are in the field of intelligent and reconfigurable systems, cyber-physical systems, Internet of Things, multi-agent systems and self-organized systems. He participated in several R&D projects (e.g., EU GO0DMAN, PERFoRM, ARUM and GRACE) and Networks of Excellence (e.g. IMS and CONET), served as general co-chair of several international conferences, namely IFAC IMS’10, HoloMAS’11, IEEE ICARSC’16 and SOHOMA'16, and published more than 200 papers in international scientific journals and conference proceedings. He is co-author of three patents and received four paper awards at INCOM’06, BASYS’06, INDIN’10 and INFOCOMP’13 conferences. Dr. Leitão is Senior Member of the IEEE Industrial Electronics Society (IES) and the IEEE Systems, Man and Cybernetics Society (SMCS), past Chair of the IEEE IES Technical Committee on Industrial Agents and member at-large of the IEEE IES Administrative Committee (AdCom). He received MSc and PhD degrees in electrical and computer engineering, both from the University of Porto, Portugal, in 1997 and 2004, respectively. 

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