Combining skills is the path for excellence
INESC TEC’s exponential growth over the past years – the institution now integrates 12 R&D units and over 600 employees, including 200 PhD holders – has originated major challenges in terms of the efficient combination of expertise in the Associate Laboratory: could we use this diversity of skills to develop national and European multidisciplinary and added-value projects?
Multidisciplinary projects increase at INESC TEC
During their visit to INESC TEC in 2008, the members of the Scientific Advisory Board (SAB) stated synergies and multidisciplinary projects were a solution to increase efficiency and agility in the institution as a whole. That was the investment and here are the results: INESC TEC went from having three major national multidisciplinary projects in 2009 to four national and five European projects currently underway.
In this edition of BIP we highlight some of these projects that combine skills from different R&D units at INESC TEC. This is proof that we are all going in the same direction. This is the right track.
Combining skills is an "art form"
Over the last years, INESC TEC has expanded tremendously and has succeeded in creating a unique style by combining scientific expertise to address specific problems with direct application in the Portuguese society and economy. However, for the members of the SAB, who returned to INESC TEC in January 2012, what stood out at INESC TEC in recent years was that the R&D units are no longer 'silos'; they are now following a transversal approach where communication and joint work are privileged.
INESC TEC’s hybrid nature combines scientific excellence with intervention in industry and business, an aspect that is critical for competitiveness. By encouraging a dynamic and multidisciplinary collaboration between the different R&D units, INESC TEC strives to demonstrate that the objectives promoted by of each Unit contributes to the strategy of the institution as a whole.
According to the last visit of the SAB, INESC TEC has clearly managed to eliminate the 'silos', and promoting joint and transversal projects, INESC TEC has been able to increase its productivity rate and currently plays an increasingly important role in the Portuguese reality, with projects that have a practical application in society. According to the conclusions of the SAB, "combining all these skills is truly an art form." And the projects presented here are proof of that.
From robotics to electric mobility
One of the most relevant multidisciplinary projects, with high media coverage, is the RobVigil, an intelligent surveillance robot that promises to revolutionise the field of security. Pioneer in the world, this robot works as a support to human surveillance activities which may potentially be hazardous. This work relied on the expertise of three of INESC TEC’s core units - the Robotics and Intelligent Systems Unit (ROBIS), the Telecommunications and Multimedia Unit (UTM) and the Information and Computer Graphics Systems (USIG) - and the first experimental units will be on the market later this year.
Since ROBIS entered INESC TEC in 2009, there has been a clear investment in robotics. More recently, this area, along with telecommunications and industry, have also originated two important projects: the ICARUS (Integrated Components for Unmanned Assisted Search and Rescue operations) in the area of maritime safety, with the participation of ROBIS and USIG, and the SIIARI (System for Increased Artificial Intelligence in Industrial Robotics), where ROBIS is working together with the Manufacturing Systems Engineering Unit (UESP). SIIARI started in 2009 and its aim is to implement a robot cell that allows painting robots to be directly programmed by a skilled painter, without need for a programmer.
Electrical mobility is another key area at INESC TEC. The MOBILES (Sustained Electric Mobility) ended recently with good results and the future appears to be promising as this project provides support to electric vehicle users seeking for suitable locations to replace or recharge their car batteries. This project joined UTM, USIG, the Optoelectronics and Electronic Systems Unit (UOSE) and the Innovation and Technology Transfer Unit (UITT). The Power Systems Unit (USE) and UTM are also working on project REIVE (Smart Grids with Electric Vehicles), an ambitious project that aims to create conditions for the mass use of electric vehicles. The intention is to make Portugal a global leader in electric mobility and smart grids.
A combined effort
Music, tourism and new generation contents are examples of other areas where INESC TEC has been playing an important role. The Palco 3.0 (Intelligent Web System to Support the Management of a Social Network in the Music Area) gathered UTM, USIG, the Laboratory of Artificial Intelligence and Decision Support (LIAAD) and the Center for Research in Advanced Computing Systems (CRACS) to promote and maximise automation and innovation in various processes in an existing portal, such as content identification, automatic tags, selective search, and organising, sharing, recommending and treating any type of data, such as music, preferences, text, photos and posts. This site houses the largest Portuguese-speaking music community on the Web, gathering thousands of bands, songs and registered users.
The Douro Valley portal is another recent project that was completed early this year. With this project, INESC TEC strengthened its position in the fields of tourism promotion and heritage preservation. The first steps in this area were given with the Mosaica project. The Douro Valley was developed jointly by USIG and UTM and it promotes tourism in the Douro region, providing a wide range of points of interest and georeferenced itineraries, as well as descriptions of the region’s main attractions.
The project CNG – Next Generation Contents joins again the forces of UTM and USIG and its aim is to provide appealing contents which can be applied in the Education and Vocational Training fields, benefiting from audio and 3D video. This is a new way for users to experience spatial perceptions in various areas of knowledge, mainly in mathematics/geometry and music as these are the most appealing for the younger generations. The project will be concluded later this year and follows the El-nautilus, a work which has already been concluded and gathered UITT and USIG to develop management software for classrooms.
Synergies for the future
All these projects demonstrate the versatility, communication skills and the combination of competencies at INESC TEC. It is expected that this path of synergies will continue to grow to make INESC TEC a more complete institute that tries to follow a path of excellence. The combination of UESP’s skills with the competencies of the Management and Industrial Engineering Unit (UGEI) as part of the project Shoe-ID, and of the Research Centre in Real-Time and Embedded Computing Systems (CISTER) as part of a proposal for a European project (PRAGMATICS - PRoActive Green traffic MAnagement and control strategies using Cooperative Systems) submitted jointly by the two units, makes it possible to foresee a bright future for further synergies in the areas of manufacturing engineering, industrial management and reliable systems.
However, many other synergies can be promoted in the future. The work that UTM has been developing in the breast cancer area and the research that UESP is currently conducting on the kidney transplant field, combined with UOSE’s experience in the development of sensor technologies in optical fiber with high potential for applications in medicine and optical imaging techniques with spatial resolution (applicable in the diagnosis of biological tissues and three-dimensional non-invasive reconstruction) makes it possible to envision medicine as an area with great potential at INESC TEC.
The same applies to the competencies of UESP and UITT in the support to Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs), or even the work that UTM and HASLab (High Assurance Software Laboratory) have been developing in the music area. The remarkable results achieved so far with these synergies and with the results expected with future collaborations are proof that the INESC TEC community is starting to realise its potential as a whole and the potential that can come from combining skills and working together. We are, therefore, consolidating a path characterised not only by experience but also by innovation.
Photo Credits: Photo 8 - Douro Valley
BIP, June 2012