Vítor M. Ferreira dos Santos

Dep. de Engenharia Mecânica/ IEETA

Universidade de Aveiro

3810-193 Aveiro, PORTUGAL



1. What are your personal perspectives as a researcher?

My long time dreams on technological achievements were concerned with the capabilities of computers doing many things better than humans, and this led my interests into engineering and ultimately framed my research interests into perception and robotics. Research in the fields of engineering, namely in highly automated and robotized environments, has been a very exciting and promising activity. Earlier machines and moving mechanisms have evolved tremendously with the appearance of automatic control since the time of James Watt (18th century) and even earlier, but it was the introduction of the digital computer in the 20th century that dramatically improved the abilities and performance of machines as imitators of some, or many, human skills. Locomotion of artificial devices is undoubtedly a field that excites both the general public and experts but, most certainly, the greatest breathtaking moment occurs when humans are faced with intelligent artificial systems that move, perceive and interact. So, this is actually the field that draws my major research perspectives, that is, the development of artificial systems with strong perception and reasoning capabilities allied with human coexistence and interaction by touch and contact.

2. In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges in your area of research?

There are scientific and technical challenges, but there are also operational and methodological challenges. And at some point, they intersect and interfere with each other. Engineering is very stimulating, and trying to make artificial systems succeed in imitating human skills is a never-ending venture with surprise and awe at every algorithm and device built and successfully tested. On the other hand, research in engineering can be restricting if restrained by immediate or manufacturing-oriented concerns. One of the main clients of engineering-grounded solutions are the industrial partners who not always share the same dead-lines and efficiency metrics as academic researchers. On the other hand, in the last years, and very likely in the near future, public funding is no longer the main supplier of the needed resources, and private companies, in industry or services, will become the major partners. At first glance, this is very positive since academia and companies will benefit from each other's virtues or means, but it has the occasional, or not so occasional, risk of the researchers developing solutions which are not for their preferred problems, but only for the companies' problems; this has the risk of reduced expression is terms of scientific content (such as scientific publication), which ultimately is used to assess the researchers' performance and defines their future fundings and progression in their careers. Furthermore, in some highly competitive areas of production, such as for example the automotive industry, advanced research from the academia has little chance of significant cooperations because companies have their research and development activities shielded or protected from external research institutions, most probably due to industrial property concerns.

3. Where are the strengths of the UA in your opinion?

The University of Aveiro has a strong commitment on research, which has been demonstrated by the administration policies and all the events promoted both centrally and locally by several labs and research-related units. Opening to internationalization and external cooperations are without question a strong point that makes the research at UA a very promising endeavor. Also, the matrix organization, that is, the philosophy of distributed and unrepeated competences or expertises among the several units, favors the creation of transversal efficient research groups. Although it may not have been fully accomplished for all cases in the past, this is potentially a huge strength that researchers can take advantage of.

4. Could you give one idea to improve research in the UA?

With globalization, modern research is hardly a solo activity, and the establishment of groups is a must. So, recruiting or hiring people and create the bonds and interdependencies of skills and competences is the key methodology to successfully set up a lab. One of the central elements in this structure are PhD students, who are required for a successful model of research, because they ensure both the majority of the specific research activities, plus they complete the liaisons with lab technicians and Masters' students with the Post-doc and lab managers. Unfortunately, in the current state of some labs, Masters' students may find themselves not always fully integrated in these research contexts, because of the lack of PhD and Post-docs researchers that it is now occurring due to the decrease of public funding for those positions. So we loose in all fronts: the current research levels decrease with the absence of PhD's and Post-Docs, and future research is compromised because Masters' students lack that entourage required to achieve some research-prone sensitivity. In some cases, even lab technicians are absent or scarce, which also concurs to this degradation of the conditions to perform research activity. For the sake of research in the near future, a comprehensive assessment of the labs could be carried out to identify and correct these situations.

It seems consensual that fund raising for research has now become a task more challenging than the research activity itself.  Therefore, it cannot be expected that everyone stands out in all fronts, like for example, professors that have to ensure so many tasks that little time and resources remain to perform intensive research. So, there should be groups of experts in fund raising and assistance in the preparation of applications for funding. This means that the fund raisers would not be the main spenders of those funds, which is something probably not very popular; therefore, some form of compensation should be devised from the institution to create such a sustainable system.

última atualização a 15-06-2015

Vitor M. F. Santos obtained a 5-year degree in Electronics Engineering and Telecommunications in 1989, at the University of Aveiro, Portugal, where he later obtained a PhD in Electrical Engineering in 1995. He was awarded fellowships to pursue research in mobile robotics during 1990-1994 at the Joint Research Center, Italy. He his currently Associate Professor at the Department of Mechanical Engineering and lectures courses related to advanced perception and robotics, and has managed research activity on mobile robotics, advanced perception and humanoid robotics, with the supervision or co-supervision of more than 60 graduate and post-graduate students, and more than 100 publications in conferences, books and journals, and has carried out collaboration with several national and international groups in the field. He has been in the program committee of several national and international conferences, and acts regularly as reviewer for several international conferences and journals. At the University of Aveiro he has coordinated the ATLAS project for mobile robot competition that achieved 6 first prizes in the annual Autonomous Driving competition and has coordinated the development of ATLASCAR, the first real car with autonomous navigation capabilities in Portugal that won the first prize in the Freebots competition in 2011. He is one of the founders of Portuguese Robotics Open in 2001 and co-founder of the Portuguese Society of Robotics, where he has participated in multiple times in the management since its foundation in 2006. He is currently researcher at the Institute of Electronics and Informatics Engineering of Aveiro, being one of the core CVs in the creation of the Intelligent Robotics and Systems Group, and focused mainly in autonomous driving and driver assistance. His current interests include humanoid robotics and the application of techniques from perception and mobile robotics to autonomy and safety in intelligent vehicles.

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