Third Annual Carnegie Mellon Portugal Conference: Strong Engagement between Universities, Companies and End Users

Researchers, students, alumni, and entrepreneurs attended the 2011 Annual Carnegie Mellon Portugal Conference entitled “Universities, Companies and End Users: A Strong Coalition for Knowledge and Growth,” on October 3, 2011, at Reitoria of the Universidade Nova de Lisboa.

The Portuguese secretary of state for Science, Leonor Parreira, greeted all the participants in her speech at the opening session. She reinforced the importance of the expression ‘coalition’, which is a very powerful word that shows the strong engagement between the three key players: Universities, Companies and End Users.

João Barros, national director of the Carnegie Mellon Portugal Program, spoke about the five reasons to be proud of the Carnegie Mellon Portugal Program. In five years, the partnership carried out cutting-edge research and built world class research test beds. Several examples were point out by João Barros: “there are 500 taxi cabs in Porto, Portugal, participating in the DRIVE-In project; there are several firemen in Amarante and Vila Nova de Gaia testing the Vital Responder jackets; there are foreign students learning Portuguese through an interface developed by the REAP.PT project; there are twenty families in the Madeira Islands monitoring their energy consumption; among so many other examples.” The second reason appointed by Barros was “our dual degree programs train more than 200 students.” In fact, the master and doctoral students of the Carnegie Mellon Portugal Program receive at the end of their course a dual degree, i.e., two diplomas: one from a Portuguese university and the other from Carnegie Mellon University. The third reason mentioned was that “30 faculty experienced life in a top U.S. school.” Through the Faculty Exchange program, launched by the Carnegie Mellon Portugal program, 30 researchers from several Portuguese universities went to Carnegie Mellon to conduct research and to teach for at least one semester. The fourth reason was “82 companies are working closely with our universities.” These companies are participating actively in different ways: training their employees in the different dual degree programs or collaborating in the 25 research projects carried out within the Carnegie Mellon Portugal Program. The fifth reason stated by João Barros was “we have built a strong knowledge network in Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) that helps to connect our universities to the rest of the world.”

Jared Cohon, president of Carnegie Mellon University, emphasized the several benefits of this partnership to CMU during his speech at the opening session. He said that the university is committed to this program, and sees it as a positive model of collaboration. In his opinion, this program brought to CMU “great students, new faculty collaborators, among other things.” In his speech, Jared Cohon explained why CMU encourage faculty to work with companies, and to create their own. He feels that in this world crisis, small companies like startups, are the creators of new jobs. In the end of his speech, he highlighted that the collaboration with Portuguese universities and companies will continue after the partnership.

Rogério Carapuça, chairman of Novabase, presented several reasons why he considers that “it is crucial for the competitiveness of the Portuguese economy that these Portuguese / U.S. University collaboration programs continue.” He feels that it is not possible to innovate alone, and that “in times of economic turmoil you have to choose carefully where you spend your money; cut what is not needed of what you can afford to cut.” So in his opinion, “it is significantly easier to deal with these American universities that already have a track record of collaboration with Portuguese universities and industrial partners, then starting with someone unknown.”

The president of the Conselho de Reitores das Universidades Portuguesas (CRUP), António Rendas, ended the opening session congratulating the achievements of the Carnegie Mellon Portugal Program, and underlining that all partnerships with American universities should be renewed.

Different Topics in the field of Information and Communication Technologies (ICT)

Throughout the day were presented several demos and posters of the results obtained during the first five years of the partnership, which involves nine Portuguese universities (Aveiro, Católica Portuguesa, Coimbra, Lisboa, Madeira, Minho, Nova de Lisboa, Porto, Técnica de Lisboa), four associated laboratories (INESC ID, INESC Porto, Instituto de Telecomunicações, ISR), the Instituto de Soldadura e Qualidade (ISQ), Carnegie Mellon University, and more than 80 companies.

On the other hand, several managers from partner companies presented their views on the program and stressed the added value of increased collaboration with researchers. Companies such as Novabase, Portugal Telecom, OutSystems, Observit, Feedzai or Geolink demonstrated how the connection to the program enabled the development of research projects and created new services and products, essential components to the economic growth.

The conference has drawn attention to multiple areas of research and development in ICT, including vehicular networks communication, intelligent surveillance networks, and social networks with behavioral effects, smart grid systems or security of computer networks.

For example, the project Vital Responder gathered at the Annual Conference the End Users: the firemen. The Commander of the Amarante Firefighters was there to speak with all the participants about the importance of being part of this project. In his opinion, this project can give more security to the firefighters because it allows monitoring their health during an action. As part of this project it was shown an emergency evacuation system that combines the old static signals with real data. The research team explained that this kind of system is very helpful in case of an accident because it gives real information about where is the fire, for example, and sends people to the other side.

Another project of national and international impact, the DRIVE-IN, gathered at the conference a team of researchers from the Instituto de Telecomunicações and the Universities of Aveiro and Porto to show a prototype of vehicle communication. This equipment is currently tested in taxis and it can give origin to an attractive product to export. The president of Raditaxis was also there to explain the importance of this project to the taxi drivers in terms of traffic efficiency and security.

The research team of the INTERFACES project joined researchers with a member of the OutSystems to show the prototype that was already emplaced in this company. Other projects were also in demonstration, such as machine translation systems in classrooms, secure platforms for web applications, sensor networks for data centers, interactive technologies to raise environmental awareness, and crowdfunding or business systems.

The closing session started with the statement of João Sentieiro, president of the Portuguese Foundation for Science and Technology, which reinforced the importance of investing "in people, knowledge and ideas." José Marques dos Santos, rector of the Universidade do Porto, highlighted the distinctive advantages of the Carnegie Mellon Program Portugal compared to other partnerships, namely the dual degree master and doctoral programs. This was also reinforced by João Gabriel Silva, rector of the Universidade de Coimbra, who emphasized the true "culture of merit" that it is felt in the U.S., and that should be the way to go in Portugal, in order to succeed.

October 2011