Volgenau School of Engineering
George Mason University
George Mason University Mason
George Mason University

Mason to unveil a new Cyber Living Innovation Lab as part of the CCI

December 12, 2019   /   by John Hollis

A Cyber Living Innovation Lab with robotic platforms to evaluate 5G performance and a fleet of driverless cars will provide experiential learning opportunities to students from universities across the region as the anchor of George Mason University’s cybersecurity research expansion, thanks to $2.5 million in funding as part of a statewide initiative.

Mason will use $500,000 in bond funds awarded by the Commonwealth of Virginia to establish the Cyber Living Innovation Lab, which will serve as an integral part of the Mason-led Northern Virginia Node of the Commonwealth Cyber Initiative (CCI) starting in fall 2020. The facility, which will be housed in Vernon Smith Hall on Mason’s Arlington Campus, adjacent to the future Institute for Digital InnovAtion, will feature 3,000 square feet dedicated to cybersecurity research, training and experiential learning. It will align with the CCI’s strategic aim of growing workforce-ready cybersecurity and cyberphysical system security talent need to meet today’s demands and tomorrow’s economy.

“The Cyber Living Innovation Lab is a fabulous example of shared innovation platform,” said Deborah Crawford, Mason’s vice president for research, innovation and economic impact. “The lab will support cutting-edge research to secure the vast internet of everything, as well as experiential learning opportunities for students across all of the Northern Virginia Node’s partner institutions.”

The lab is the crown jewel of the efforts of a consortium of more than 60 Northern Virginia-based universities, colleges, and private, nonprofit and government organizations all sharing a commitment to building innovation capacity by focusing academic research and development, supporting an entrepreneurial ecosystem and aligning education and training with industry needs.

CCI aims to leverage this collaboration of selected industry partners to build ecosystems, prototypes, and testbeds and be recognized as a global leader in cyber physical systems security.

“Our impact on research and development, talent cultivation and economic impact is magnified by our partnerships and our ability to leverage and combine efforts to achieve our mutual goals,” said Liza Wilson Durant, the associate dean for strategic initiatives and community engagement at Mason’s Volgenau School of Engineering and the director of the Northern Virginia Node of the CCI.

The commonwealth approved $2.5 million for each of the four regional nodes last year, as well as an additional $500,000 each in capital funding for the necessary equipment research that will help educate students through 11 distinct initiatives in the areas of research, talent development and entrepreneurial ecosystem.

The Cyber Living Innovation Lab will include autonomous vehicle sensor platforms to study 5G performance and security vulnerabilities. The platforms will support Lidar, radar, stereo and night vision cameras that will be deployed on the Northern Virginia Node’s fleet of vehicles to simulate autonomous driving. The vehicles will be deployed throughout the Northern Virginia Node and may remain in residence at partner institutions for periods of time to collect data.

The lab will facilitate further study of impact of 5G on the security of industry, smart manufacturing and the vulnerability of the supporting power grid. It will also include office space for Northern Virginia Node faculty, other partner visitors and graduate student researchers, while providing classroom instruction to cohorts of community college students and undergraduates so they can apply what they’ve learned to real-world cyber challenges.

“The Cyber Living Innovation Lab will enable research, as well as hands-on experiential learning and will be open to all Northern Virginia Node partners,” Wilson Durant said.

The CCI includes four regional nodes from across the state, each led by an institution of higher learning. The Northern Virginia-based CCI hub coordinates activities across the nodes, relying on the active collaboration of institutions of higher education across the state to contribute their experience, ideas and expertise.

Mason produces more graduates in the computing fields than any other university in the state, and is a key player in the Rosslyn-Ballston corridor.

Ten percent of the top Cybersecurity 500 global firms are concentrated in Northern Virginia. Fairfax County alone accounts for more than 350 cyber firms, ranging from startups to Fortune 500 companies.