Taking deep-sea technology to new heights
Underwater sensing, robotics, communications - the scope for innovation in maritime technology is broad. An EU-funded project enabled research institute INESC TEC in Portugal to expand its capacity to devise new systems for marine environments, which could ultimately help to generate smart growth and jobs.
© INESC TEC, 2017
Updated on 3 September 2019
The EU-funded project STRONGMAR was dedicated to excellence in the development of maritime technology, in particular for the deep sea. It was launched by INESC TEC the Institute for Systems and Computer Engineering, Technology and Science in Porto as part of the institutes bid to hone its capacity for research at the forefront of innovation in this area.
We organised a wide variety of activities for this purpose, such as summer and winter schools, fieldwork, conferences and workshops, bringing in scientists to help us learn faster and develop our skills for research related to the seas, says Eduardo Silva, who coordinated the project on behalf of the institute.
The aim was to provide the institute with added insight for developing its technologies, thereby boosting its ability to devise solutions more closely aligned to the challenges of the settings where they will be deployed, he notes. Raising the profile of INESC TEC as a centre of excellence and increasing the visibility of its scientists was another objective.
Recapping on the projects activities three months after it ended in December 2018, Silva observes that this capacity-building exercise has already produced encouraging benefits across the board of INESC TECs maritime research activities. The institute now holds more patents related to the sea, the output of scientific papers has soared, and INESC TEC engages more actively with potential partners abroad for the submission of project proposals.
While Silva stresses that STRONGMARs full impact will take a few more years to unfold, he notes that another clear benefit is already apparent: interaction in the consortium has laid the groundwork for ongoing collaboration among the participating institutions.
INESC TEC has more than 30 years of engineering experience, usually with projects at higher levels of technology readiness, Silva says. STRONGMAR was an opportunity to delve deeper into the science side and hone expertise for work at the beginning of the technology development process, where the initial concepts are developed and validated, he explains.
It was funded as a twinning initiative, albeit one that involved more than just two siblings. Along with INESC TEC, the STRONGMAR consortium comprised three universities one in Spain, and two in the United Kingdom as well as another Portuguese research institute and an international science and technology organisation based in Belgium.
A win-win proposition
While STRONGMAR focused on INESC TECs objectives for its own growth, it was a win-win undertaking for all involved, Silva remarks. The project was also an opportunity for our partners to grow with us.
Collaboration in the project strengthened ties not just between INESC TEC and the other consortium members but also among these project partners themselves, says Silva. The projects events provided a platform for joint exploration of needs, possibilities and opportunities for innovation.
And INESC TEC, with its considerable experience of cooperation with industrial partners, had specialised expertise of its own to contribute, Silva adds. Viewed from industry, the work of academic institutions, which tends to focus on the initial stages of the technology development process, can seem a bit remote. INESC TEC can be a facilitator in such situations, helping to support industry with science, Silva points out.
Intriguingly, the interaction in STRONGMAR enabled the Institute to identify a number of technology gaps that it will be exploring in more depth. By way of an example, Silva points to the complexities of enabling underwater robots to factor in their surroundings, adding that one of the workshops had identified deep learning a specific machine-learning method as a possible solution to this problem.
The spirit of STRONGMAR will live on, Silva concludes, emphasising that the insight and connections built up through this three-year endeavour are already benefiting INESC TECs many, diverse maritime technology projects in a variety of ways. The Institute is keen to build on the momentum that has been generated, he adds, notably by seeking out more partnerships to further refine its skills.