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The UOC set to participate in two consortia to develop wireless communications technologies for Industry 4.0 and smart cities

  Photo: Louis Reed / Unsplash

Photo: Louis Reed / Unsplash

Agustn Lpez
RIS3CAT projects, FEMIOT and Looming Factory, awarded €4 million in funding, aim to promote collaboration between research and innovation system agents

Distributed sensing, popularly known as the Internet of Things (IoT), refers to the digital interconnection of everyday objects with the internet for mutual interaction as well as monitoring and control purposes. We have recently seen the start of these emerging technologies' mass incorporation into applications for different sectors, such as industry, agriculture and services, in order to improve operation and efficiency. The Universitat Oberta de Catalunya (UOC), through the Wireless Networks (WiNe) research group, operating within the Internet Interdisciplinary Institute (IN3), and the Faculty of Computer Science, Multimedia and Telecommunications, is set to participate in two newly-established consortia focused on the development of this kind of advanced digital technology for application within the smart cities and Industry 4.0 movements.

The two initiatives are part of the R&I Strategy for Smart Specialization in Catalonia (RIS3CAT) and have each been awarded €4 million in funding from the Government of Catalonia and the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF). The purpose of this grants scheme is to explore and promote new forms of collaboration between government, research and innovation agents, businesses and civil society to provide more effective and innovative answers to the challenges we face as a society.

"Aside from the technology itself, these consortia represent an opportunity for collaboration across all areas," explained UOC professor and lead researcher at the WiNe group, Xavier Vilajosana. He went on to add that, "It allows groups working in the same field but within different entities to collaborate on the development of common technologies while at the same time enabling groups from different fields to collaborate and explore how different technologies can be combined and access new ideas and results. Finally, it serves to make companies in the region aware of new developments so that they can learn about and adopt them, in turn becoming more efficient and competitive."

As such, the two consortia have defined a series of work packages for the purpose of validating the technologies in real-world settings, in companies from the regional industrial framework that have volunteered to test them. As Vilajosana pointed out, this "generates advances in the field of research and development and also helps the companies involved to become more efficient and competitive. It can therefore be said that these projects ultimately stimulate the entire research and development value chain, which is particularly relevant when we consider that there is no way any of the individual agents would be able to carry out this work alone".


Smart management and control of urban services

The FEM IoT consortium, which is scheduled to run until 2023, aims to promote technologies that are the basis of the smart city concept, such as IoT communication systems, connected vehicles, mass data use and artificial intelligence, among others. The project involves a total of four Catalan universities and six research centres and is coordinated by I2CAT. The members of the WiNe group, headed up by Xavier Vilajosana, will mainly contribute to the "Emerging Devices and Technologies" subproject, which aims to evaluate and develop wireless communication technologies and protocols that offer operational guarantees in urban environments in order to enable distributed sensing.

In Vilajosana's words, "The use of wireless communication technologies in these environments is subject to physical constraints, such as interference, that limit its proper functioning. For example, the data sent by one sensor may not reach its destination due to a collision with another sensor, or it may be delayed due to congestion on the network itself. The work carried out by the group will focus on improving these systems through the use of applications as diverse as metering – smart power supply control – street lighting control and traffic and pollution control systems."

It will also contribute to the integration of these technologies within the corresponding management systems. Finally, this data will be stored in open repositories and processed using artificial intelligence mechanisms in order to characterize systems that are as complex as our cities.


More efficient factories

Faculty of Computer Science, Multimedia and Telecommunications researcher Pere Tuset is leading the UOC's participation in the Looming Factory consortium, which is focused on the promotion of Industry 4.0. The consortium, which brings together a total of four Catalan universities and five research centres, coordinated by the Universitat Politcnica de Catalunya (UPC), is involved in the development of a vertical industrial communications vision, from plant to company to internet, analysing, researching and developing technical solutions that address the fundamental problems associated with the integration of industrial communications.

As Tuset explained, "Advanced digital technologies, such as collaborative robotics, additive manufacturing and artificial intelligence, are beginning to be incorporated into the industrial framework in order to improve operations and efficiency. For example, the combination of distributed sensing and artificial intelligence serves to facilitate predictive maintenance, which anticipates machine failure, reduces downtime costs and improves product quality."

One of the challenges the project, scheduled to run until 2023, aims to address is the integration of these technologies with the communication protocols of each of the relevant industries in order to facilitate their adoption, ensure security and overcome any reticence on the part of companies regarding the use of this type of technology in an industrial context. To that end, the new consortium will facilitate deployments of the technology in real-world environments to validate its effective operation and demonstrate the viability of its integration.


A decade of research into low-power wireless communication

The professors and researchers at the WiNe group have been participating in RIS3CAT projects of this kind for more than ten years. During that time they have contributed to the development of embedded systems and low-power wireless communications, which form the basis of distributed sensing, in order to add new functionalities and make them more efficient and cost-effective. They have specifically contributed to the development and standardization of low-power wireless communication technologies and protocols, such as IEEE 802.15.4 and IETF 6TISCH.

In terms of teaching, they have spearheaded the development of the Industry 4.0 master's programme, the first course of its kind in Catalonia, which aims to train professionals with a hybrid range of skills that bridge the industrial and information and communications technology fields.


FEM IoT and Looming Factory are two of the nine emerging tech groups with accreditation from the Government of Catalonia. They have received co-financing from the EU's European Regional Development Fund as part of the ERDF Operational Programme 2014-2020. They were awarded €1,997,659 and €2,000,000, respectively.


Xavier Vilajosana

Full professor and Wireless Networks (WiNe) research group leader, IN3

Expert in:

Knowledge area:

Photograph of Pere Tuset

Pere Tuset Peir

Professor in the Faculty of Computer Science, Multimedia and Telecommunications
Director del mster d'Indstria 4.0

Expert in: Sensors, embedded systems, operating systems, communications networks, wireless communications

Knowledge area: Wireless communications.

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