Press Release

Johns Hopkins APL Researchers Earn 2022 R&D 100 Awards

Teams honored for innovative work on cyber defense for industrial control systems and uncrewed aircraft collision avoidance system

Researchers from the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) in Laurel, Maryland, have captured 2022 R&D 100 Awards for their work on a comprehensive and automated cyber defense capability, known as More Situational Awareness for Industrial Control Systems (MOSAICS), and the Airborne Collision Avoidance System for Small Uncrewed Aircraft Systems (ACAS sXu). The winning projects included collaborating researchers from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), MIT Lincoln Laboratory, MITRE, and the Argonne, Idaho, Los Alamos, Oak Ridge and Sandia national laboratories.

“We are honored to be recognized for these accomplishments,” said APL Director Ralph Semmel. “As we consider current threats and future challenges for our nation, impactful solutions like MOSAICS and ACAS sXu are exactly the kinds of innovations needed to enhance our security and safety.”

The interior of a water treatment facility, one of the many industrial control systems MOSAICS can protect
The interior of a water treatment facility, one of the many industrial control systems MOSAICS can protect.

Credit: Bigstock

MOSAICS is the first comprehensive, integrated and automated cyber defense capability for industrial control systems. It allows system operators to quickly, easily and effectively detect and characterize cyberattacks against critical infrastructure systems in real time, and it will eventually support automated response actions.

ACAS X is an onboard flight safety system that is designed to replace the current Traffic Alert and Collision Avoidance System II. It is fully compatible with the airspace procedures and technologies of the FAA’s Next-Generation Air Transportation System, which aims to reduce gridlock in the sky and at airports with new surveillance and navigation technologies. ACAS sXu, a subset of the ACAS X program, is a detection and avoidance system designed specifically for novel small uncrewed aircraft.

“These 100 winning products and technologies are the disruptors that will change industries and make the world a better place in the coming years,” said Paul Heney, vice president and editorial director for R&D World magazine, of the 2022 R&D 100 Award winners.

The team behind MOSAICS is led by Harley Parkes, of APL’s Asymmetric Operations Sector, and includes Alex Beall, David Flanigan, Triton Pitassi, Daniel Thomas and Carol Vermilye. The APL team developed the technology in partnership with William Waugaman, Craig Rieger and Samuel Clements and their teams from Sandia, Idaho and Pacific Northwest national laboratories, respectively.

“MOSAICS represents a major step forward from existing solutions,” said Parkes, the project’s principal investigator and design lead. “Our incredible team of engineers was able to aggregate and apply technologies in ways that have not been accomplished before to improve detection and identification of cyber threats. As our adversaries’ tactics evolve, MOSAICS will evolve with them to detect and further protect industrial control systems across the country.”

In an August 2021 military utility assessment, the U.S. Navy deployed the system at Naval Facilities Southwest in San Diego. Over five days, MOSAICS surveilled a 3,000-node network, while 17 adversarial attacks were launched against a simulated control station on the base. While monitoring the entire network, MOSAICS successfully identified every attack, achieving a 100% success rate with fewer than 1% false positives. What’s more, when a contractor showed up at the base unannounced and began installing new components into the electrical system without obtaining proper authorization, MOSAICS flagged the installation as a possible cyberattack, demonstrating its real-world utility.

By the FAA’s estimate, more than two million commercial and recreational drones could be sharing airspace by 2024
By the FAA’s estimate, more than two million commercial and recreational drones could be sharing airspace by 2024.

Credit: Institute for Assured Autonomy

ACAS sXu is an offshoot of APL’s longstanding collaboration with the FAA on surveillance and collision-avoidance standards, which date back multiple decades, primarily in creating standards for large crewed aircraft. APL has led system verification and validation activities as well as flight test and integration efforts and chairs one of the standards committees in the Radio Technical Commission for Aeronautics, the organization that publishes avionics standards.

The Laboratory’s ACAS X project has been active for over 10 years and is currently led by project manager Josh Silbermann alongside a team of more than 20 APL researchers. The team developed the technology collaboratively with MIT Lincoln Laboratory, the FAA and MITRE. “Within the next couple years, the FAA predicts there will be millions of commercial and recreational drones flying in the National Airspace System,” said Silbermann. “That represents a huge opportunity to enable routine autonomous operations such as search and rescue, precision agriculture and medical delivery, but it also brings challenges. Thanks to the incredible work from our teams, we’re one step closer to ensuring the safe integration of uncrewed platforms into an airspace traditionally used by piloted aircraft.”

APL also earned a 2019 R&D 100 Award for its breakthrough lithium-ion battery technology. The 2022 winners will receive their awards during the R&D 100 gala on Nov. 17 in San Diego.