Authors belonging to different institutions (‘schools’) of cyber-physical systems (CPSs) research and development report on largely different objectives, underpin their work with different theories and methodologies, and target characteristics which can actually better characterize other categories and families of engineered systems. This has resulted in an ontological chaos. Therefore, our research addressed the question: What exists in the form of past, current and future CPSs? Our hypothesis has been that we can have an ordered picture on the landscape of CPSs by introducing the notion of system generation. Generation is a structural term defined as a ‘technological/engineering cohort’ of different individual manifestation of systems that reflect genotypic features of ancestor systems belonging to the same category, but deviates from them with regards to their phenotypic features. Based on our literature findings, we have defined five generations of CPSs, which could be differentiated based on: (i) the level of self-intelligence, and (ii) the level of self-organization. The zeroth generation includes look-alikes and partial implementations of CPS. The 1G-CPSs include systems with self-regulation and self-tuning capabilities, while the 2G-CPSs are capable to operationalize self-awareness and self-adaptation. The 3G-CPSs are equipped with the capabilities of self-cognizance and self-evolution. According to our reasoning model, only the fourth generation of CPSs is supposed to achieve self-consciousness and self-reproduction in the form of system of systems. The paper analyses the major paradigmatic characteristics of these generations. It also provides an outlook to the trends that may have strong influence on the introduced generations of CPSs.

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