Pierre Bourdin, the coordinator of the immersive technologies XR Lab, checks the new equipment (Image: Lina Vanesa Lopez Ortiz, UOC)
The university has 577 people working in research and innovation and 51 research groups
The eight labs provide services in areas such as virtual reality, neuroimaging and 3D printing technologies
They provide services in and outside the university
The UOC's Interdisciplinary R&I Hub was inaugurated on 28 October, and as UOC President Josep A. Planell said during the opening, “it is a cornerstone of the university's ecosystem for fostering "interdisciplinary, frontier and top-quality research to deliver solutions in the three main fields where we are known for our expertise: e-learning, e-health and the network society."
Located within the Can Jaumandreu complex, in Barcelona's 22@ technology and innovation district, this new hub has 2,700 square metres and is a shared workplace for the 577 people focused on research at the UOC, including researchers, technical staff and research managers. It is also the headquarters for the Internet Interdisciplinary Institute (IN3) and eHealth Center (eHC) research centres, and the eLearning research programme.
The Hub hosts the UOC Labs, eight research laboratories designed in a collaborative environment. Juanjo Martí, the UOC Labs coordinator, noted the importance of this new environment as a driver for interdisciplinary work. "If we want to foster interdisciplinary research, the laboratories, as a core component for facilitating research, must be available for use by the different research groups. This is also why each laboratory offers a catalogue of services that can be requested by researchers," he said. "At this initial stage, the labs' services are designed for UOC researchers, but, subsequently, some of them will also be offered to the rest of the UOC community and to other institutions and research staff," added Martí.
Of the Hub's eight laboratories, six are specialized, linked to specific fields of research: the Neuro Lab, the XR Lab, the Audiovisual & Sound Lab, the Social Networks & Gaming Lab, the Design & Maker Lab, and the Wireless Network Lab. The other two are general-purpose laboratories: the TechLab and the Data Science Lab.
Neuro Lab: the study of the brain
The Neuro Lab is a neuropsychology and neuroscience research facility linked to the Cognitive NeuroLab. It focuses on the study of human cognitive processes, their disorders and their recovery and rehabilitation. This lab concentrates on studying the effectiveness of non-pharmacological interventions in brain damage, neurodegenerative diseases and mental illnesses, principally through non-invasive brain stimulation techniques. It also carries out research on the search for neuroimaging-based biomarkers for these conditions and the application of artificial intelligence to better understand and diagnose pathologies, including the study of the normal functioning of the brain.
"We hope that, in addition to the Cognitive NeuroLab members, the new laboratory will get specialized staff to boost research in the field of neuropsychology and neuroscience", noted laboratory coordinator Elena Muñoz, a member of the UOC's Faculty of Health Sciences and principal investigator of the Cognitive NeuroLab research group.
XR Lab: immersive technologies
One of the UOC's newly-created laboratories is the XR Lab, dedicated to immersive technologies (virtual, augmented and mixed reality). Its chief lines of research focus on immersive technologies and their applications in the fields of health and education.
Officially, it came into existence alongside the Interdisciplinary R&I Hub, although the UOC has been researching immersive technologies for some time now. "I began researching this field at the UOC in 2015", explained Pierre Bourdin, XR Lab coordinator, computer engineer specializing in virtual reality and immersive technologies, and member of the UOC Faculty of Computer Science, Multimedia and Telecommunications. "We've published articles on immersive technologies in higher education on applications, challenges and good practices, on how an avatar's visual feedback can have an unconscious impact upon the range of movement and muscle activities of the person it embodies…" explained Bourdin, who hopes that, thanks to the creation of this laboratory, it will be possible to do "much more in the short and medium term".
In addition to Bourdin, the Lab's other members are Rubén Nieto, psychologist, researcher at the eHealth Lab, member of the UOC's Faculty of Psychology and Education Sciences and expert in immersive technologies for the treatment of pain, and David Merino, member of the Faculty of Computer Science, Multimedia and Telecommunications, researcher at the eHC's AIWELL group and physicist specializing in immersive technologies for vision problems and ophthalmology applications.
Audiovisual & Sound Lab: creativity and cultural experimentation
Of the newly-created UOC laboratories forming part of the new Interdisciplinary R&I Hub, there are three with much in common. These are the Audiovisual & Sound Lab, the Social Networks & Gaming Lab and the Design & Maker Lab. Coordinated by Daniel Aranda, associate dean for research at the UOC's Faculty of Information and Communication Sciences, and Efraín Foglia, researcher and member of the same faculty, these are laboratories open to cultural experimentation, concentrating on research and knowledge transfer, creativity and innovation.
"These laboratories have also been created with the aim of making a decisive contribution to the development of learning tools and resources for the UOC and for the university of the future. Additionally, they have the mission of university-society cooperative development, with experimental projects in the creative and audiovisual field," noted Aranda.
The Audiovisual & Sound Lab is a multidisciplinary sound and vision facility whose research team produces and experiments with the creation of audio and visual content adapted to new scenarios, leveraging the internet, taking advantage of new audiovisual formats and today's new audiences.
Social Networks & Gaming Lab: digital communication networks
The Social Networks & Gaming Lab carries out practical research into social networks and digital socialization environments. It is a place for interaction between researchers, with facilities for working with computers and microelectronic devices.
As with the Audiovisual & Sound Lab and the Design & Maker Lab, its mission is to produce innovative formats for the transfer and dissemination of knowledge, integrating aspects of communication and design, advanced storytelling, experimentation in the social media of the future, cutting-edge advertising creativity and innovative journalism (visualization, data, and fact checking). One of the main lines of research of these labs is to analyse the transformations in and specific forms of communication (film-making and audiovisual creation, journalism and advertising) within the framework of the digital society, to advance research and knowledge transfer in creativity and innovation in communication.
Design & Maker Lab: digital design and fabrication
The Design & Maker Lab provides space for experimentation in digital design and fabrication, providing instruments, software, machinery and technical advice with the goal of boosting research into the future of design and its new manufacturing and digital implementation processes. "Design has undergone enormous transformations in recent decades, associated with the impact of the internet on all professional activities. This laboratory carries out in-depth analyses to understand these changes, including the advantages of digital fabrication in the field of design. Always from a critical standpoint with regard to these new technological matrices," said Foglia.
Wireless Networks Lab: cyber-physical systems
The Wireless Networks Lab is designed to provide support for research and development in cyber-physical systems and aims to facilitate cutting-edge research while also enabling the prototyping, measurement and assessment of systems of this type.
Providing a technological creation space for the WiNe research group, it was founded in 2016 and has been accruing facilities and technological results from research projects and contracts with industry. They specialize in electronic systems and the design of antennae and communication and computer systems. Furthermore, their expertise in data science complements these activities.
"With the creation of the 22@ labs, young researchers and doctoral and master's degree students will be able to work on a more cooperative basis and benefit from the presence of more senior colleagues with experience in the same or other disciplines. The facilities will also allow other UOC researchers to see what the WiNe group does at first hand, thereby boosting synergies between the university's researchers", said Xavier Vilajosana, principal investigator of the IN3's WiNe group and coordinator of the Wireless Networks Lab.
TechLab: computer technology
The TechLab is a consolidated general-purpose laboratory. A place for experimentation, both physical and virtual, it provides services for the teaching, research and innovation work of the university's faculties and institutes. It offers instruments, software, machinery and technical advice for developing students' practical skills, and technological support for research and innovation for the university of the future. This portfolio of services is offered via a catalogue and a one-stop shop for receiving requests that prioritizes, budgets for and commissions different projects from the laboratory. This catalogue of services encompasses aspects of teaching, research and innovation, and experimentation.
"The TechLab is an evolution of our computer technology laboratories, created 25 years ago to offer the first completely online computer engineering degree", said its Academic Director Josep Prieto, member of the UOC Faculty of Computer Science, Multimedia and Telecommunications and of the IN3's KISON research group. In this new phase within the new hub's environment, Prieto affirmed that it was facing "a great challenge: that of consolidating the position of an interdisciplinary TechLab open to all, with the mission of providing services under a sustainable funding model".
Data Science Lab: analysing big data
The Data Science Lab is an established UOC lab for researchers, designed to provide them with support throughout the research process with quantitative data. In other words, it is a place for the management and extraction of knowledge from big data. To date, it has cooperated with studies involving quantitative data by research centres, providing them with coordination and a shared vision. These duties are performed by Claudia Malpica, of the IN3, and Noemi Robles, of the eHC.
"The Data Science Lab has been in existence for years", explained Juanjo Martí, who is also its coordinator, "and it's evolved over that time. The current concept is closely linked to the Data Office, taking advantage of its launch, which helps combine efforts to foster data quality, skills and analytical talent." He added that, "The idea is for it to be an interdisciplinary tool that provides support for all UOC researchers based on a catalogue of services, a subset of the overall catalogue prepared by the Data Office that offers services to the entire organization."
The UOC's research and innovation (R&I) is helping overcome pressing challenges faced by global societies in the 21st century by studying interactions between technology and human & social sciences with a specific focus on the network society, e-learning and e-health.
Over 500 researchers and 51 research groups work in the UOC's seven faculties, its eLearning Research programme and its two research centres: the Internet Interdisciplinary Institute (IN3) and the eHealth Center (eHC).
Open knowledge and the goals of the United Nations 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development serve as strategic pillars for the UOC's teaching, research and innovation. More information: research.uoc.edu.
The UOC Labs coordinator
Elena Muñoz Marrón
Professor in the Faculty of Health Sciences
Director of the Master's Degree in Neuropsychology
Expert in: Non-invasive brain stimulation techniques: transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) and transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS).
Knowledge area: Neuropsychology, neuroscience and non-invasive brain stimulation techniques.
Pierre Bourdin Kreitz
Professor in the Faculty of Computer Science, Multimedia and Telecommunications
Expert in: Virtual reality and immersive technologies as tools to carry out research both at the technological level and at the psychological level, studying for example the behaviour of people in virtual worlds, the contribution of immersive technologies in education or Health/eHealth.
Rubén Nieto Luna
Expert in: Chronic pain research (assessment, risk factors and secondary prevention); development of online interventions for health problems (especially problems involving pain).
Knowledge area: Personality, psychological assessment and treatments, and health and the Internet.
Member of the Faculty of Computer Science, Multimedia and Telecommunications and researcher at the eHC's AIWELL group
Member of the Faculty of Information and Communication Sciences
Principal investigator of the IN3's WiNe group and coordinator of the Wireless Networks Lab
Investigadora a l'IN3
Research and projects technician at eHC and dynamization coordinator of the Interdisciplinary R&I Hub