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Function in Device Representation

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We explore the meanings of the terms ‘structure’, ‘behaviour’, and, especially, ‘function’ in engineering practice. Computers provide great assistance in calculation tasks in engineering practice, but they also have great potential for helping with reasoning tasks. However, realising this vision requires precision in representing engineering knowledge, in which the terms mentioned above play a central role. We start with a simple ontology for representing objects and causal interactions between objects. Using this ontology, we investigate a range of meanings for the terms of interest. Specifically, we distinguish between function as effect on the environment, and a device-centred view of device function. In the former view, function is seen as an intended or desired role that an artifact plays in its environment. We identify an important concept called mode of deployment that is often left implicit, but whose explicit representation is necessary for correct and complete reasoning. We discuss the task of design and design verification in this framework. We end with a discussion that relates needs in the world to functions of artifacts created to satisfy the needs.

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Chandrasekaran, B., Josephson, J.R. Function in Device Representation. EWC 16, 162–177 (2000).

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