INESC Porto strengthened by ISEP prepares to export robotic technology
INESC Port and ISEP (Higher Engineering Institute in Porto) formalised the merger of their robotics groups - The Robotics and Intelligent Systems Unit (ROBIS) and the Autonomous Systems Laboratory (LSA) on 16th February 2011. Close to 50 collaborators will become part of the new Robotics Unit at INESC Porto which aims to take on a more international dimension and look to rapidly expanding markets. This is a strategic move from the group which is now the largest robotics unit in the north of Portugal. Highlights from the ceremony of the signing of the Memorandum of Understanding include the exhibition of robotics equipment with TriMARES, the underwater surveillance robot that will be exported to Brazil, as the centre piece.
The new Robotics Unit looks to rapidly expanding markets
The new Robotics Unit
The merging of the robotics groups at INESC Porto and ISEP, which has now been made official, aims to optimise resources, expand synergies and strengthen the scientific and technological capacities of both institutions. This is part of the strategy to reach rapidly expanding markets by exporting cutting-edge robotic technology. The initiative for this merger came from researchers from both institutions and the new unit will be consists of close to 50 collaborators. This new dimension will create critical mass that has the potential to offer innovative and marketable solutions in robotics and artificial intelligence.
The ceremony took place at ISEP on the morning of 16th February and included the signing of the Memorandum of Understanding by both institutions along with a technological exhibition displaying samples of equipment produced by the groups. The signing of the Acts of Accession of the Associate Laboratories also took place during this ceremony.
Over two decades of collaboration
The highlights of the ceremony included the speech by the president of INESC Porto, José Manuel Mendonça, and the president of ISEP João Rocha. Both speakers emphasised the longstanding link between the two institutions and how many of the professors at ISEP were originally researchers at INESC Porto. For 25 years these researchers have contributed to the merit of the institutions with their virtue and sacrifice, producing articles, dissertations and national and international projects. However, both speakers highlighted that the formal association between the two institutions in 2006 has now given them new direction. They both publicly confirmed their common vision stating the importance of shared synergies in promoting high-quality science and technology transfer through exportation, which seems unbelievable in the current financial climate.
Specially invited guests were also present including António Nogueira Leite, the president of Oceano XXI – the Association for Maritime Knowledge and the Maritime Economy who gave an inspirational speech. His presence was highly relevant considering the quantity of robotic equipment linked to the Maritime economy, including aquatic surveillance devices as well as other land models.
Gaining an international dimension
With the new INESC Porto Robotics Unit, it will now be possible to increase and improve the transfer and commercialisation of Portuguese technology. António Paulo Moreira, researcher from INESC Porto who, in partnership with Eduardo Silva will manage the new Unit, explained the reasons behind the merger of the two groups “the Unit will take on an international dimension” by exporting to rapidly expanding markets such as those in Brazil. Examples of this objective can be seen in the underwater monitoring robot MARES and TriMARES, the MARES upgrade.
The exportation of robotic technology to markets in countries such as Brazil is part of the strategy of the new Robotics Unit, which is now the largest in the North of Portugal. According to João Rocha, the president of ISEP, this Memorandum of Understanding "came from the realisation that it is possible to establish synergies between groups with common interests and thus create critical mass that can use technology transfer to be competitive in terms of scientific research and valorisation of knowledge and can reach business markets".
And a star was born…
In addition to the signing of the Memorandum of Understanding, the event saw the first public appearance of TriMARES, which was the centre piece of the exhibition of robotic equipment. TriMARES is able to perform real time monitoring of dam structures and silting in the basin with precision in the order of centimetres. This robot will shortly be ready to depart for Brazil where it will be used to inspect the bottom of lake Lajeado and collect data relating to the water quality and condition of the dam wall. The robot is part of a joint consulting project with the Federal University of Juiz de Fora for a concession holding company. Using this robot it is possible to detect anomalies in advance and asses the state of dams with more precision and at a lower cost than traditional processes. MARES is currently being used by the Aguas de Portugal Group to monitor water quality along the Portuguese coastline and TriMARES will be the first joint international consulting project for the unit.
The work being developed by the Robotics Unit will not be confined to the Maritime Economy. According to António Paulo Moreira, this sector is evolving rapidly and the practical applications cover many areas from environmental monitoring and surveillance to industry. In fact “industrial robotics is coming cleverer”, he confirms, and this means that more adaptive solutions are being developed for more specific activities that go much further than repetitive tasks. This new partnership also aims to promote greater integration of research into industry. This opinion is shared by Eduardo Silva who stated that “there is now a growing need for robots in industry”.
“A challenge for all of us”
According to the president of ISEP, both INESC Porto and the Institute have been developing activities that complement each other in the area of robotics and these activities will now be strengthened by the growth in manpower and given a significantly larger capacity. The challenges are now; to do more and to do it better, to continue to promote Portuguese science and technology on a national level, and above all, on an international level. Everyone is in agreement that this is a valid investment.
This idea was the focal point of the speech by António Nogueira Leite, the president of Oceano XXI, “with the creation of more critical masses and thus the improvement of our scientific and technological capacities we are making an investment in the future” he stated. This is what the new Unit proposes. Nevertheless, the biggest challenge “the challenge for all of us” he claims “is to transform this investment into results”. The foundations have been laid.
The partnership between INESC Porto and ISEP is not new. INESC Porto has been working with researchers who teach at ISEP for many years. Here is what they think about the merger.
“For me it was always clear that INESC Porto and ISEP working together would be beneficial for both parties. With twenty years of cooperation, these advantages are easily recognised. This collaboration will greatly increase the team and I do not doubt that the new collaborators will be just like the previous ones: a winning combination”. (Collaborator at the Manufacturing Systems Engineering Unit - UESP)
“I have been a lecturer at ISEP since 1986 and a researcher at INESC Porto since 1989. Initially this was not common practice. However, I believe that my example was then followed by various researchers at INESC Porto in the early 90s who opted to join the teaching staff at ISEP. Since then, this movement has been a constant follow. The number of colleagues holding this double status peaked at the end of the 90s and has remained constant since then.
I am greatly pleased to see that the option of taking part in scientific research with a great partner such as INESC Porto begin to be realised by some of the most active members of the teaching staff at ISEP. The stable group of researchers from ISEP have produced high quality work in their projects at INESC Porto and this led to a movement towards INESC Porto. I would like to welcome new and old colleagues and I hope that they can keep the standard of work high”. (Collaborator from the Information and Computer Graphic Systems Unit - USIG)
“The strength that this relationship with ISEP will bring has made me particularly happy as I have been linked to the Institution for many years. As both the presidents of ISEP and INESC Porto have stated, the first moves towards this partnership were taken over twenty years ago and began with small steps that involved people from the past and present Board of Directors. This process cumulated in the signing of the Memorandum of Understanding. United we are stronger!” (Collaborator from the Telecommunications and Multimedia Unit – UTM)
“I would like to highlight the importance of the integration of our students through internships in the applied research activities at INESC Porto as one of the most important aspects of this collaboration between the two institutions. For our students this is certainly a great opportunity to have contact with methodologies and different dynamics from the areas of knowledge in Information Systems such as Geographic Information Systems.” (Collaborator at the Information and Computer Graphics Systems Unit – USIG)