“Knowledge Applied in Strategic Areas Can Help Companies to Go Further”

Susana Sargento 

Susana Sargento is involved in the Carnegie Mellon Portugal Program, funded by the Fundação para a Ciência e a Tecnologia (FCT), in several different ways. She is a Professor in the Universidade de Aveiro and a guest faculty of the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at Carnegie Mellon University (since August 2008), a faculty exchange member (spent one semester at Carnegie Mellon), a co-principal Investigator of the DRIVE-IN Project, and advisor of four dual degree Ph.D. students in the program. 

As a researcher and assistant professor, the most important message that she passes to her students is: “If we like what we do and if we work hard, we can do anything we want and make a good contribution in the world, not only in the academic field, but also in the environment and industry. Our country is in crisis and needs brilliant minds to help to recover. Only with knowledge applied in strategic areas we can help our companies and organizations to go further.”

Susana Sargento joined the Department of Computer Science of the Universidade do Porto in September 2002, and she has been a faculty in the Universidade de Aveiro and at the Instituto de Telecomunicações since February 2004. In an interview to the Carnegie Mellon Portugal website, Susana Sargento speaks about her research achievements and challenges.

Question [Q]: You returned from Carnegie Mellon University on April, 2011, after spending short periods there. Can you comment on your experience as a faculty exchange member?
Answer [A]:
It was a great experience, both from teaching and research point of views. The fact that I have been directly working with two outstanding colleagues, Ozan Tonguz and Peter Steenkiste, with a completely different way of approaching research was a great opportunity. The direct involvement in classes and with the students, and the closer contact with Portuguese colleagues and Portuguese students in this Program was also very important.

Q: You were exposed to new practices and approaches at CMU. What kind of experiences?
Coordinating and teaching a course is very different when comparing CMU and Portugal. In Portugal, a Professor is responsible for the course and for the classes he teaches, both theoretical and practical classes. In CMU, the involvement of Teaching Assistants in the overall coordination of homework’s, projects, quizzes and exams is very valuable. From one side, the number of students per Teaching Assistant is much reduced, enabling a good interaction between both. From the other side, the Professor is concentrated on only one course, and has significantly more time to work on research.

Q: You are involved in several research projects, and one of them is related with the Carnegie Mellon Portugal program, namely the Drive-In project. What is your role in this project?
I am Co-PI of the project, responsible for the work performed in Instituto de Telecomunicações – Pole of Aveiro. In Aveiro we are mainly dealing with communication aspects in vehicular-to-vehicular networks. In the research point of view, we are working on the enhancement of the vehicular-to-vehicular communication, either by evolving and optimizing the communication protocols, or by investigating how infrastructure network elements can enhance the communication in the vehicular-to-vehicular networks. In the experimental and testing point of view, we have implemented and prototyped the new standard for vehicular networks, the IEEE 802.11p, in wireless cards, that is able to perform communication between vehicles, both with emergency and entertainment services. We have also worked on extensive tests to evaluate the functionalities and limits of vehicular networks.

Q: Your team is developing a specific prototype for this project, which in the future can be deployed by industries. Could you explain the main advantages of the project?
We have implemented and developed a prototype of the wireless boards for vehicular communications, with its new standard IEEE 802.11p. This standard is able to cope with the hostile environments of vehicular networks, the large velocities and the envisioned transmission ranges. As an example, two vehicles driving in the same direction at around 50 Km/h are able to exchange a real-time video between themselves with several Mb/sec, with good quality, in a range of hundreds of meters. However, if a warning message of an accident arrives, this standard allows that the information of this message is reliably received while the video is running. To implement this standard, we had to face several challenges, since real testing and evaluation in such dynamic environments are challenging. However, we have overcome the challenges and we have a prototype working: we have been presenting our demos in the main conferences in the area, such as ACM MOBICOM in September 2011, and IEEE Vehicular Networking Conference in November 2011.

Q: What is the importance of this prototype?
The importance of this prototype is enormous, because this is an area that is just starting now and the number of available cards with IEEE 802.11p is very low [to the best of our knowledge only two companies are selling IEEE 802.11p compatible cards, NEC and Cohda Wireless] and they are very expensive, in the order of several thousands of Euros. These prices would be unbearable to deploy a large scale testbed. Our prototype will enable us to deploy a testbed of 500 taxis in the city of Porto in the next months, which at this stage, would be the largest one in the world. The set of large scale experiments and results that we will be able to deploy will be of enormous value not only to the scientific community, but also to the vehicular companies, to the environment and traffic coordination, to the health and safety, and also to application providers.

Drive In Prototype 

The major IT companies are already aware of the commercial impact that vehicular applications can provide, and they are trying to get a momentum into this area. This prototype, although originally developed through open source software, will be made available to companies, in the telecommunications and vehicular fields, and we are now addressing the knowledge transfer aspects. [videos about this prototype available at http://www.av.it.pt/ssargento/media.htm]

Q: You are co-advisor of four Ph.D. students in the scope of the Carnegie Mellon Portugal Program, two students started in the last academic year (2010/2011) and the other two started this year (2011/2012). How do you manage your time with them, and also with the other Carnegie Mellon advisors?
A Ph.D. student requires a strong support from the advisors and a deep coordination between advisors is very important. Although last year I have been in Carnegie Mellon for a long time due to sabbatical in Portugal, this year my availability will decrease. However, the Internet provides us great facilities, and we stay in very close touch at all times. With students [currently I have two students at CMU and 2 students in Portugal], we keep in touch every weeks through skype meetings. Some of these meetings are also between the 3 of us, student and both CMU and Portugal advisors.

Q: As a researcher and assistant professor, what is the most important message that you pass to your students?
The message is: If we like what we do and if we work hard, we can do anything we want and make a good contribution in the world, not only in the academic field, but also in the environment and industry. Our country is in crisis and needs brilliant minds to help to recover. Only with knowledge applied in strategic areas we can help our companies and organizations to go further.

October, 2011