Spanish Food Industry: forced to improve the food composition

Spanish Food Industry: forced to improve the food composition

Food is a trending topic. It is known that a good diet is that which nutrients and food are properly combined, which allows a good state of health.

However, disorders in the diet are currently a real challenge for public health. The growing figures of obesity and diseases related to food in Spain and the rest of Europe, have promoted public administrations related to nutrition and health, develop agreements with the food industry.

Food and Beverage Industry, the first industrial sector of our country, with a turnover of more than 98 M € and with important growth expectations, is now facing new paradigms and challenges in food policy and nutrition.

Thus, new consumer demands and trends in health have promoted the generation of a strategy to improve the composition of food and beverages by the Spanish Ministry of Health through the Spanish Agency of Consumption, Food Security and Nutrition (AECOSAN) with the voluntary commitment of more than twenty sectorial organizations representing 500 companies of the food and beverages sector.

The so-called Collaboration plan for improving the composition of food and beverages and other measures 2017-2020, is aligned with the policy of reformulation promoted by the European Union through several frameworks created within the High Level Group on nutrition and physical activity with Member States, in which food groups and priority sectors were established.

The PLAN includes the reformulation commitments of the Manufacturing and Distribution sectors for more than 3,500 foods and drinks of habitual consumption in children, young people and families in relation to the reduction of added sugars, salt and saturated fats.

Food reformulation consists of improving the content of certain nutrients selected from food without this leading to an increase in energy content or other nutrients, maintaining food safety, flavor and texture so that the product continues to be accepted by consumers. Therefore, this entail a significant investment.

The most noteworthy commitments are, among others, the following measures that will be carried out on 13 food groups in a maximum period of 3 years:

  • Reduction of added sugars up to 18% in sauces such as ketchup and fried tomato, 10% in dairy products, soft drinks, meat products, breakfast cereals for children and fruit nectars and 5 % in pastries and cakes, cookies, ice cream and special breads
  • Reduction of salt up to 16% in meat products and sauces, up to 13,8% in salty snacks, 10% for ready-to-eat meals and 6,7% in vegetable creams.
  • Reduction of saturated fats; 10% in the case of for ready-to-eat meals and salty snacks and 5% in pastries, cakes and cookies

This voluntary commitment of the Food Industry to the reformulation of certain foods has been associated with an important effort on innovation for the identification of new raw materials and ingredients, reformulation and production processes in order to achieve food according to sensory specifications and quality that consumers expect, topics in which we have worked intensively in CARTIF with a large number of companies in the sector.

This PLAN also includes agreements with sectors such catering or retail industry, with which commitments have been made to increase the offer healthier menus and meals, with an increase in the offer of dishes that include vegetables, greater presence of lean meats and fish accompanied by garnishes of vegetables, vegetables and/or legumes and to minimize the offer of fried precooked dishes. Meals will be prepared with griddled, baking and oven and sauces or stir-fry dressings will be avoided. Olive oil will be promoted as the best dressing option. Bread will be whole grain and the main dessert option will be seasonal fruit.

Regarding the Modern Restoration or HORECA sector, commitments have been made related to the reduction of the amount of sugar contained in single-dose sachets to 50 % and 33 % in those of salt, as well as the use of low-fat milk in breakfast services.

Finally, vending or automatic distribution sector commits to reduce the maximum amount of sugar added in hot beverages and to increase the number of balanced foods, water and soft drinks without added sugars of the total of products and beverages included in the machine.

With this PLAN, is intended that the different sectors work synergistically to contribute to a more balanced diet with high nutritional quality. The PLAN also wants to promote R & D aimed at creating healthier products, strengthen the collaboration of companies and promote the coordination of these measures with the administrations, as well as impact, from the health and social point of view, the shopping basket and promote good practices to improve the diet from the nutritional point of view. Through all these measures, it is also intended to contribute to improving the scientific base and collect data that drives these initiatives and their monitoring at European level.

These actions, undoubtedly, represent an advance and we will find food products with a composition, in certain nutrients, improved compared to the current ones. However, it is necessary to continue taking steps on behalf of all the actors involved in promoting health and reducing the appearance of food-related diseases by creating new strategies.

RoboCup: the world’s largest robotic competition

RoboCup: the world’s largest robotic competition

The main interest of this event “Robocup” is the advances in development of service robots, whose goal is to help humans in their daily life

At the end of July it took place in Nagoya Japan RoboCup 2017, and for the first time, I had the great opportunity to participate in this competition which brings together roboticists from around the world. Currently, RoboCup is the world’s largest robotic competition (this year participated almost 500 teams from 50 different countries), looking at a proud history of 20 years, starting from one league of football-playing robots, to now also cover many application areas of robots, such as rescue, logistics, and also service robots in people’s homes (RoboCup@Home).

As part of the SQPReL team, a very international team  integrated by members of the L-CAS (University of Lincoln) and the LabRoCoCo (University of Rome “Sapienza”), I participated in the RoboCup at Home league. In that league the robots must be able to perform different housework in order to try to help humans in their daily life. Maybe one day in the future, most of the population will have one of these kinds of robots at home.

After 6 days of hard work in Nagoya added to the previous 2 months of preparation, the team was very proud to have achieved a good 3rd place in the RoboCup@Home Social Standard Platform League.

Nice but, what is actually the Robocup and what is it for?

RoboCup born as an international joint project to promote AI, robotics, and related fields. An attempt to foster AI and intelligent robotics research by providing standard problems. One of the effective ways to promote science and engineering research is to set  challenging goals and these kind of competitions promote to compare developments and collaboration between the research community. Focusing on the RoboCup@Home, this league aims to develop service and assistive robots with high relevance for future domestic applications.

And when is the future? Are there no robots able to perform these tasks yet?

These kinds of robots have had a major presence in research centers in the recent years, such as Sacarino, the robot designed by CARTIF. However, there are few applications where robots are part of our daily life activities due to the difficulty to evaluate service robot applications and to obtain feedback mechanisms aimed at improving the general performance of the robot. Benchmarking in robotics has emerged as a solution to evaluate the performance of robotic systems in a reproducible way and to allow comparison between different research approaches, and here is where appears RoboCup@Home providing benchmarking through scientific competitions.

RoboCup@Home use a set of benchmark tests to evaluate the robot abilities and performance in a realistic non-standardized home environment setting (it changes every year and is not known until the day before the competition). Focus lies on the following domains:

  • Navigation: path-planning and safely navigating avoiding (dynamic) obstacles.
  • Mapping: building a representation of a partially known or environment.
  • Person Recognition: detecting and recognizing a person.
  • Person Tracking: tracking the position of a person over time.
  • Object Recognition: detecting and recognizing objects in the environment.
  • Object Manipulation: the ability of grasping, moving or placing an object.
  • Speech Recognition: recognizing and interpreting spoken user commands.
  • Gesture Recognition: recognizing and interpreting human gestures.
  • Cognition: understanding and reasoning about the environment.

How are those ability evaluated?

The competition is organized in several tasks (host a cocktail party, act as a waiter in a restaurant, follow verbal commands given by a human) that must be accomplished by the robots autonomously. These tasks are integrated tests, thus each test comprises a set of functionalities that must be properly integrated to achieve good performance. However, the scoring system allows for giving partial credit if only a part of the test is achieved.

In a future post I will explain more in detail the tasks that were carried out this year during the competition and our team’s experiences.

With M of Microbiome

With M of Microbiome

In recent years the definition of the human microbiome has been postulated as an essential tool for medicine, pharmacy, nutrition and other disciplines in order to understand the role of microorganisms present in the body on health and immunity. In fact, the microbiome affects aging, digestion, immune system, mood and cognitive functions.

But, what is the microbiome?

There are different definitions for this term. Generally speaking, we can say that the human microbiome is the set of microorganisms in each person (microbiota)and the genes these cells harbour.

Microbiome research area comprises a field of science associated primarily with advances in DNA / RNA sequencing and computational biology. Thus, the microbiome can be defined as the genomic content of all microorganisms recovered from a habitat or ecosystem (eg saliva, feces or skin).

The study of the microbiome started in the 17th century with the development of the first microscopes and the beginnings of the science of microbiology. However, it has been in recent years when the development of rapid sequencing methods, the reduction of the costs associated with these techniques and the development of data management techniques have been developed which has enabled the microbiome and its constituents.

And why is it important?

Taking into account that the number of microorganisms that we harbour is between 10 and 100 billion (ten times higher than our number of cells), that we can have more than ten thousand different species and that the types of microorganism vary greatly among different people, we can think that the microbiome has a special role in our health. In fact, the knowledge of these microorganisms, the functions of their genes, their metabolic and regulatory pathways is already allowing them to develop strategies to prevent diseases and improve general health.

However, the microbiome of each person is not something static. Nutritional imbalances, lifestyle, use (and abuse) of antibiotics, low exposure to pathogens (or excess of hygiene) permanently modify our microbiome.

And what is your relationship with the diet?

There is a clear relationship between what we eat and the balance of our native flora that has a direct impact on our health status. Indeed, is interesting that changes in diet are always accompanied by changes in the microbiota and the enrichment of their corresponding genes.

Balanced diets can promote a proper and well-structured microbiota and conversely, alterations in the composition of our microbiota or reduction of some of the microorganisms that make up the diversity of the microbiota, increase the risk of suffering from diseases related to lifestyle such as allergies, diabetes, obesity and / or irritable bowel syndrome. In addition, a prolonged state of these situations has been related to metabolic alterations.

Recent studies have shown that there are notable differences in the microbiota of people who follow rich meat diets versus those who follow more ancestral life-styles and diets based mainly on vegetable consumption. There are studies that suggest that a type of diet rich in proteins and animal fat is associated with a particular kind of flora while carbohydrate-rich diets are associated with the prevalence of another type of flora. These differences have been linked to the risk of developing non-communicable diseases such as atherosclerosis.

Over and undernutrition malnutrition has a direct impact on the microbiota that favours alterations of the same that, finally, lead to problems associated with an increase in inflammation and metabolic problems. A strong influence has been observed in nutrient-poor diets, especially those deficient in certain amino acids, in the positive incidence of intestinal inflammation. Likewise, the pathogenesis of various diseases is associated with certain components of the diet that promote disorders in the microbiota.

Therefore, the better balanced the diet, the more diverse the microbiota. Thus, intervention through personalized diets improves the response in individuals with low microbiome richness.

And then, can it be improved?

Of course we can! The importance of food, nutritional balance and life-style have a direct influence on the composition of our microbiota and its activity and, therefore, directly on our health. From this relationship arises the interest to develop new strategies to personalize our diet.

With the M of microbioma and the M of malnutrition of which we spoke in our previous post, we have to say, also with M, that …we can do MORE: improve our diet and our way of life.

It is a robot and it has feelings (II)

It is a robot and it has feelings (II)

In an earlier post titled “It’s a robot and it has feelings” I discussed about the possibility of incorporating “feelings” into robots in a similar way as human emotions are displayed when facing external stimuli. Following that post, an obvious question arises: But what for? Or, being more pragmatic: What advantages can a robot obtain from emulating emotional responses?

Empathy is defined as the cognitive ability to perceive what another being can feel, and can be divided into two main components: affective empathy, also called emotional empathy which is the ability to emotionally respond with appropriately to the mental states of another being; And cognitive empathy, which is the ability to understand the point of view or mental state of another being.

What is the added value of this type of “empathic” communication? On the one hand, empathy improves the efficiency of interaction. Thus, as we perform actions we send signals that communicate our intentions (looks, movements of the hands, the body, etc.), which can allow other beings prepared to perceive these signals to identify them and to make a more efficient collaboration in order to achieve joint objectives. On the other hand, empathic interaction could help to lessen the apprehension that some users have when it comes to interacting with robotic devices, making them feel more comfortable with robots and other machines.

Endowing robots with a behavior that simulates human “emotional” behavior is one of the ultimate goals of robotics. Such emotional behavior could allow robots to show their mood (affective empathy) as well as perceive that of users interacting with them (cognitive empathy).

However, despite the impressive advances made in recent years in the fields of artificial intelligence, speech recognition and synthesis, computer vision and many other disciplines directly and indirectly related to emotional recognition and artificial emotional expressiveness, we are still far from being able to endow the robots with the empathic capacities similar to those a human being has.

Take as an example a person with a friend who just went to two job interviews but only one job was offered to him. Should that person show satisfaction or disappointment for his friend, or give that event any importance at all? Your response to this will obviously depend on what you know of your friend’s goals and aspirations. There are two components here that would be difficult to implement in a robot. In the first place, the robot would need to have a rich knowledge of itself, including personal motivations, weaknesses, strengths, history of successes and failures, etc. Second, its own identity should overlap with that of his human companion enough to provide a shared knowledge that is meaningful and genuine.

Since we are still far from being able to develop robots with such a human-like empathy, robotic system developers need to understand when to show empathy, at what level and in what contexts. For example, empathy may not be necessary in a washing machine, but it is clear that an empathic behavior can improve the performance of robotic applications in areas such as education or the home. On the other hand, pre-programmed empathic behaviors can become annoying and ineffective. For example, there are studies that indicate that drivers come to refuse (as an act of rebellion) to listen to a car that repeatedly says: “you seem to be tired and should stop.”

In this sense, one of the lines of research in which CARTIF participates is in the development of robots and social avatars with the capacity to recognize and express emotions, and to do so in a way that suits their operating environment and the services that they are offering. In this line, and as members of the European robotics platform euRobotics AISBL (Association Internationale Sans But Lucratif) we actively interact with other European centers of recognized prestige within the group “Natural Interaction with Social Robots”, which goal is the discussion and dissemination of cutting-edge advances at European level in the field of interaction between humans and social robots.

One of the recent activities carried out in this context has been the European Robotics Forum held last March in Edinburgh, where we had the opportunity to discuss with members of the group precisely the needs, recommendations and future lines in the development of robots with empathic capacity. From the discussions that took place in this forum, I would like to summarize the following notes which, although of a general nature, will surely mark the European trends in research on social robotics in the coming years:

  • It is necessary to continue researching what empathy means for different types of robots, such as exoskeletons, social robots, service robots, manufacturing robots, etc. And investigate how those robots can express empathy in their respective contexts of application.
  • Empathic interaction must be a dynamic process that evolves in order to build a relationship with the user over time. Preprogrammed repetitive behaviors are not perceived as empathic by the user, especially when the behavioral tips used to activate robot actions are known to the user.
  • Because robots do not possess the physiological processes that allow them to be empathic, the solution is to detect the socio-emotional signals transmitted by humans and have the robots mimic the empathic behavioral responses that would be displayed by humans.
  • During experimentation with empathic robots, we should make use of systems that are sufficiently complex and have the necessary capabilities to investigate the different aspects of empathic behavior and to quantitatively assess their impact. After studying the different aspects of empathic interaction, the most relevant aspects could be selected and realized in simple and low-cost systems for commercialization.

Smart, something more than your mobile phone

Smart, something more than your mobile phone

The SMART term has become part of our life. Thus, if we introduce it in Google about 1.8 million entries appear, which gives us an idea of how widespread it is. Now, not only phones are smart, we also find this term applied to watches, televisions, homes, cars or cities.

It is an emerging concept and its meaning is subject to constant revision. For example, for new products that are released to the market, the word Smart is related to advanced technologies. So it is now possible to answer calls or check whatsapp in a smartwatch. However, in more global areas such as cities, the term “Smart City” is closely linked to sustainability. As Miguel Ángel García Fuentes comments in his recent blog, a smart city is sustainable and efficient in its ecosystem. CARTIF is promoting these processes of urban regeneration in 16 cities, through our R2CITIES, CITyFiED, REMOURBAN and mySMARTLife projects, which include interventions in the fields of energy, mobility or Information and Communication Technologies.

Hospitals are like small towns. As an example, a medium-sized health center such as the Hospital Universitario Río Hortega in Valladolid receives more than 250,000 consultations per year or 25,000 admissions. Hospitals are also large consumers of natural resources (water and energy) and large generators of waste. As illustrative data, a medium-sized hospital consumes per year as much electricity as the city of Soria, generates around 9.000 tons of CO2, the equivalent of 7.000 cars and if we talk about waste, the figures increase to 3 million kg per year. In this way, the health sector contributes significantly to climate change (another term we are increasingly familiar with).

During the last 2 years, CARTIF has been deploying this Smart concept in the healthcare sector through the SMART Hospital project, funded by the European Commission’s LIFE call. The document “Healthy Hospitals Healthy Planet Healthy People. Addressing climate change in health care settings” identifies the 7 key elements of a sustainable hospital: energy efficiency, green building design, alternative energy generation, transportation, food, waste and water. Among these elements, LIFE Smart Hospital project has selected Energy Efficiency, Water and Waste. Thus, the demonstrative experience that is being carried out at the Hospital Universitario Río Hortega includes the application of best practices and available technologies and customized training in each of these three axes.

In the energy axis the actions that we have already implemented include the optimization of boilers, air conditioning and ventilation of the operating rooms, or improvements in lighting. In the water axis, we have identified the streams that were being discharged to the public sewage system without being sufficiently contaminated and different measures for their reuse were proposed. In this way, reject from the water plant of the hemodialysis unit has been taken to hospital cisterns. In addition, the outlet water from the evaporative panels has been recirculated to the toilet flushing network. Just as in the two previous axes, the concept “Smart” has meant optimizing engines, valves or pumps, in the case of waste, the concept involves people. Thus, training has been given to the 2,500 hospital workers for the proper classification, segregation and collection of waste.

Throughout the current year, we will quantify the effectiveness of measures implemented, not only in terms of saved kWh, liters of water, kg of waste or euros, but also in the form of environmental indicators such as carbon footprint or water footprint. In addition, we will publish a “Manual on sustainability in hospitals” that includes all these actions and favors the replication of the Smart Hospital project to other hospitals, at national and international level.

It is a very promising initiative and is attracting a great interest among the different stakeholders involved. Thus in October 2015, the project received the second prize of the OMARS awards, as the second best action in environmental sustainability in Spanish hospitals.

From CARTIF we encourage other hospitals and large areas (airports, supermarkets, shopping centers, thematic parks, etc.) to apply this “Smart” concept, making a smart use of its resources and thus achieve technical, economic and environmental improvements for a more sustainable future.

Augmented Reality and Health (II)

Augmented Reality and Health (II)

In a first approach to the world of Augmented Reality, we established the differences between technologies of mixed, augmented and virtual reality. In this second installment, we are going to review the applications that are already being made of these realities in the health sector.

Medical data visualization

Applications aiming at the agile viewing of patient data such as ultrasound, tomography images … obtaining a more accurate view of data improving diagnoses and facilitating the decision making for possible surgical interventions.

An example is the viewing of images of an ultrasound using AR, developed by the hacker Victor Skobov using an ultrasound that was to be discarded.

Ultrasonic viewing system by Victor Skobov

Simulation and training

RV does not need the human patient to be present, since it deals more with off-line simulation. This makes it very suitable for training.

The simulator called LapSim emulates a real surgery with the laparoscopic technique using a haptic device that allows reproducing the sensations of the realized movements.


Both AR and VR are able to improve the surgery by allowing the preparation of them with patient data and testing various techniques to choose the most convenient. At the same time, it is able to guide and mark relevant information during the development of the surgery obtaining more efficient and less invasive surgeries.

MEVIS system allows to prepare the surgery using 3D images of x-rays and tomographies to reconstruct the locations of blood vessels. In addition, during the development of them, is able to register the planning data and display blood vessels in different colours.

Diagnosis, therapy and rehabilitation

The AR and VR have a clear application in tests for diagnosis of diseases, treatment of phobias and support and incentive in the rehabilitation generating virtual and safe situations

An example is the system of treatment of spiders phobias using AR developed by Phobos Center where they are simulated in physical world situations with spiders in order to treat the patient’s fear to these insects.

Spiders Phobias Treatment System by Phobos Center

Rehabilitation system for the health platform Tratamiento 2.0 by CARTIF. The system allows managing rehabilitation exercises for the patients by the health personnel and the patients perform the exercises as a game at home with the use of a webcam. The system records the evolution of the treatment and the performance of the exercise.

Rehabilitation service (SER) by CARTIF for Tratamiento 2.0 platform

Emotional evaluation system developed by CARTIF. The system generates situations and emotions through an avatar of a person to identify them by people with schizophrenia. It can be used in diagnosis, treatment and evaluation of progress.

Emotional evaluation system developed by CARTIF


In this aspect, the AR provides a new channel that allows improving the learning providing other points of views on the knowledge. An example is the books that through mobile applications allow seeing parts of the anatomy in 3D.

Anatomy book with augmented reality

 The use of these technologies is based on a series of techniques that make possible its use. Any advance in these techniques greatly improves the technologies. The main techniques used are:

  • Registration of information and monitoring: It is very important to position the user to be able to correctly locate the contents in their environment even if the user or objects move or even partially cover. This is done through visual marks such as bidis that are identified by the system and allows accurate placement of the contents.
  • Display screens. It allows integration between the real and the virtual. The most striking technique is the use of head screens (smart glasses) that allows the user to see the physical world through the lens and superimpose graphic information in the user’s field of vision by reflecting it in their eyes. Other techniques are screen in hand (mobile or tablets) that capture the physical world with a camera and overlay graphic information on the video. Space projection uses digital projectors to display graphic information about physical objects.

El uso de estas tecnologías se sustenta en una serie de técnicas que hacen posible su utilización. Cualquier avance en estas técnicas mejora enormemente las tecnologías. Las principales técnicas usadas son:

  • Registration of information and monitoring. It is very important to position the user to be able to correctly locate the contents in their environment even if the user or objects move or even partially cover. This is done through visual marks such as bidis that are identified by the system and allows accurate placement of the contents.
  • Display screens. It allows integration between the real and the virtual. The most striking technique is the use of head screens (smart glasses) that allows the user to see the physical world through the lens and superimpose graphic information in the user’s field of vision by reflecting it in their eyes. Other techniques are screen in hand (mobile or tablets) that capture the physical world with a camera and overlay graphic information on the video. Space projection uses digital projectors to display graphic information about physical objects.Head screens
Screen in hand (mobile or tablets). Guidance System (STAR)
Space projection
  • In order to interact with these systems, typical interfaces such as touch screen, mouse, keyboard or more advanced and specific interfaces such as gloves, brain interfaces or simulation tools are used as surgical material …

As we have seen, AR and VR have promising potential for use in medical applications because it provides seamless integration of data visualization with the patient’s body. This allows for improved methods of medical diagnosis and treatment.

There are technological limitations especially on the screens and registration of data that make this technology have not yet a realistic clinical application in a regular medical environment, but the progress in several R&D projects and the interest shown by the researched ones is encouraging.

Finally, it is necessary to solve a great challenge that is often overlooked and is to improve the real usability of these systems, avoiding the sensory overload and making the viewing experience more controllable, simple, agile and transparent so that the only concern of the medical staff is the patient.