Robot training in virtual worlds?

Robot training in virtual worlds?

Have you ever tried a car racing game? An F1 race, a rally, or if you`ve tried driving Assestto Corsa, maybe you know where I am going with this little reflection.

If you have ever done so, you will have experienced a sense of “realism” of behaviour . In fact, if you have tried any driving simulator, you will have noticed the degree of detail and realism inthe behaviour of the simulation, being able to recreate to perfection, from different engine power and power delivery, weight distribution and vehicle dynamics. It is even able to recreate the type of surface on which the car is driving, which implies differences in behaviour, as is logical due to irregularities and different friction factors, etc. We could speak of digital twins, digital representations that are faithful to reality and that behave imitating the real case in the physical world.

Such is the degree of fidelity to reality, that the teams that spend the most moeny in the world to train their drivers, the F1 teams, train on virtual simulators (actually mixed, as the simulator is capable of transmitting dynamics to the driver).

The same could be said of airline pilots, who train for hundreds of hours on simulators that represent, with a very high degree of detail, the dynamics associated with flying an aircraft.

Figure 1. Image of a F1 simulator. Source: Fbrand

In industry, too, these virtual environments representing factories and their internal processes, known as digital twins, are being realised at an increasingly precise level of detail. And more and more companies, both on the customer side and on the side of the automation supplier, are implementing both the automation of a plant or process and simultaneously the digital twin. This is due to the benefits that can be obtained by having these tools available. For example, better decision making thanks to the possibility of prior simulation, flexibility and speed when implementing changes, more information in real time, improvements in maintenance.

If we train people on simulators and we emule processes and factories, can´not we do the smae with robots? Indeed, i think so.

If you have ever been involved in engineering in general, or in manufacturing processes, you will know that nowadays, the design of a product (service, building, road…) is done using specific design software, be it Autodesk, Blender or whatever, but it is done digitally.

Think of something you know perfectly well, a car. Because each and every one of its thousands of parts, whether they are in-house or supplied by suppliers, are correctly dimensioned (geothermally) and defined (properties, composition, materials…) digitally, both in 2D and 3D. If you integrate all the individual information in the concept, ‘car’, you would have there, the famous digital twin.

Now, extrapolating to a robot manufacturer (in this article, we are referring to service robots, not industrial robots), obviously although it is not as big an industry (as of today) and with as much baggage as the automotive industry, the design and manufacturing processes in the industry in general are very similar (in more incipient and modern industries, new trends are also integrated more quickly, primarily because of the size and culture), we can intuit that these companies may have or have a digital twin of their final product. With all the positive aspects that this entails for the company.

Figure 2. Virtual room for monitoring of assistive Robots

Well, at this point, you may ask, what does this have to do with Carlos Sainz training in a simulator? The answer is obvious, just as we train people to improve their skills using virtual environments, we are going to be able to train robot robots in such environments, with the great advantages that this entails. You will quickly see what I mean.

To train these robots, one of the techniques used is through the use of AI, putting the robot in a physical environment and trying to execute the tasks necessary to achieve the objective for which it has been programmed, and through deep learning, this robot learns to perform its mission better and better. For example: UNITED KINGDOM : Unveiling a robot that “learns on its own”.

Now, don’t just think of a simple robotic arm that performs simple tasks, and imagine more ‘futuristic’ robots, as in the illustration below (this is a commercial robot as of today).

Figure 3. Boston Dynamics robot.

If we have the digital twin (the most realistic and fully defined) of the robot, and we can recreate virtual environments that faithfully recreate physical environments, such as a city, a forest or the moon if you like. We will be able to train our robot in tasks and environments that could not be done otherwise (or would be more expensive, dangerous or outright impossible).

A couple of examples, a bit extreme, to make it easier to understand: We can recreate an area hit by a natural disaster and train these robots in rescue tasks. Or we can recreate Mars with its atmosphere, temperatures, gravity, terrain, etc., and see how the robot would behave in that environment.

Once the model is fully trained and satisfies the needs, the control model of the robot can be downloaded to the physical model. It can be trained as we have seen for events that have not yet happened. In this way, construction, material or design faults can be detected and fixed in the digital model, to check the effectiveness of the solution and subsequently improve the production process.

From the manufacturer’s side, the advantages of the digital twin and these training environments are clear. Flexibility, cost, time and risk savings, greater training capacity, greater customisation of the solution for the end customer, etc.

And for the end user, it would be very good, being able to train robots on specific tasks before they have to perform them, possibility of retraining on new policies, higher degree of personalisation, better training between unexpected agents.

I believe that this way of working could become a standard in the future. It is possible that tomorrow we will be training space miners to collect minerals on asteroids. Or we may be training robots to grow algae at depth.

Who knows what exciting missions we will send pre-trained robots on in the not-so-distant future.

Boosting innovation and digital sovereignty: the open source software Strategy of the European Commission

Boosting innovation and digital sovereignty: the open source software Strategy of the European Commission

In a world increasingly dependent on technology, the European Union has been embracing a focus on driving innovation, ensuring cyber security and strengthening its digital sovereignty. At the heart of this strategy is a commitment to open source software which is reflected in the Open source software Strategy 2020-2023.

In parallel, the European Union has also carried out numerous antitrust and trade practice investigations related to large technology companies. Thus, in 2018, the European Commission imposed a record fine of €4.34 billion on Google for abuse of dominance with android, in 2020 opened an investigation into Apple´s App Store practices, in 2021 Facebook was investigated for its use of the data it collected to gain an advantage over its competitors. And, in 2023 Microsoft has been accused by the EU of imposing Teams on Office users.

In this article, we will briefly explore the main points of the European Comission´s strategy to harness the power of open source software and identify some of the results and achievements that support this initiative.

The European Commission has recognised the value of open source software as a key handle for achieving its technological and digital goals. It has therefor focused the strategy on the following points:

  1. Promotion of open source software in Public Administration: the Commission launched the open source repository for the EU institutions: in order to, according to its IT General Director, Veronica Gaffey, “move from being an organisation that consumes software to one that builds its own solutions…”
  1. Investment on open source projects: the European Commission has asigned funds through the H2020 programme to support and encourage open source research and developmen projects.
  1. Improvement of the cibernetic security: the strategy includes security audits of open source project used in the EU´s technology infrastructure through the FOSSA (Free and Open Source Software Auditing) initiative. These audits have helped to identify and correct security vulnerabilities, thus strengthening cyber security in Europe.
  1. Promoting collaboration and community developer: one of the initiatives in this regard has been the European Commission´s collaboration with GitHub to provide students and teachers with free access to GitHub Education, which has fostered training in open source software development and thus European talent.
  1. Digital sovereignty: to reduce dependence on foreign technologies, strengthening the EU´s digital sovereignty.
  1. Interoperability and open standards: by promoting open standards and interoperability to ensure that EU systems are compatible and share data efficiently. An example of this has been the Joinup platform which fosters the exchange of open source solutions and offers reusable software components.

In short, the European Commission, through its open source software strategy aims to promote open source to boost innovation, cyber security and interoperability in the European Union, as well as to strengthen Europe´s digital sovereignty

Although, it is not easy to obtain concrete figures on the impact that theEuropean Commision´s open source software strategy is having, it is possible to list in general terms some of the achievements:

Significative economic savings: the adoption of open source software in public administration has led to considerable savings in software licensing costs estimated at several million euros per year.

Strengthening of the cyber security: FOSSA security audits have identified and addresses critical vulnerabilities in open source software projects used in the EU, improving cyber security in the region.

Better interoperability: the adoption of open source software has improved interoperability between systems across the EU public administration, facilitating collaboration and data exchange between member countries.

Fostering the innovation: investment in open source software projects through the Horizon 2020 programme has stimulated innovation in key areas, such as artificial intelligence, cyber security and cloud computing.

The strategies deployed for years by large technology companies – allowing the use of services for free without restrictions and based on increasingly closed ecosystems and even on the acquisition of emerging services with the possibility of competing or threatening their supremacy – continually creates users and companies dependent on their products that, due to resistance to change, try to avoid the use of other services that are more unknown to them, and that prevent other technology players with limited resources, but with great ideas, from competing on equal terms and offering interesting products.

At CARTIF, as an affiliated institution of RedIris, Spanish academic and research network that provides advanced communications services to the national scientific and university community and that also promotes the development of free software knowledge in the academic-scientific environment, we are convinced of the benefits of using open source software and therefore we try to use and support the technological tools and services that this institution offers. In addition, we also develop our own tools as a strategy to motivate, attract and maintain talent through the generation of knowledge, and we raise awareness and promote the use of open source software tools among our users over the services and platforms of large technology companies, something that is not always easy due to the resistance to change of organisations and users.

CARTIF, SMEs and Digital Transformation

CARTIF, SMEs and Digital Transformation

What is Digital Transformation?

The world nowadays is immersed in a deep digital transformation change, whether we like it or not. Moreover, it seems the logical order of human evolution, because human development, is linked to technological development, since the “discovery” of fire, or the first rudimentary tools, till the outbreak of Internet or the spatial exploration. This change process, or better said revolution, not only concerns individuals, but also involves companies, that are completely immersed in this revolution for years: the 4th industrial revolution.

“We are on the brink of a technological revolution that will fundamentally change the way we live, work and interact. In its scale, scope and complexity, the transformation will be unlike anything that humankind has ever experienced before”
– Klaus Schwab, author of “The fourth industrial revolution” –

Within this revolution there are several key aspects, one of them being digital transformation. A concept that many people associate with digitalisation, a fundamental part of digital transformation, but which doesn´t capture this new, broader and more complex reality.

This term is often associated with the integration of digital tools such as a CRM (Customer Relationship Management), an ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning) for production management,etc. But in reality, is a much broader concept, which can be defined as a process that consists of orienting business activities towards the application of emerging technologies, and for this it is necessary to go through a process of cultural and organisational change and, finally, the application of new technologies throughout the organisation.

Therefore, we could differentiate the concept of digitalisation (implementing digital tools in certain processes) from that of digital transformation, the latter being much broader, as it orients the company towards the implementation of new technologies and towards a change in the traditional way of working. Taking all of this into account, we can define Digital Transformation as the set of projects and tasks that allow the company to adapt to the new needs arising from the 4th industrial revolution. Tasks that must be orchestrated through a plan that encompasses the following aspects:

  • Change towards a digital culture.
  • Global training plan.
  • Organisational reorganisation plan.
  • Specific training plan.
  • Incorporation of new profiles.
  • Progressive technological plan.

Thanks to digital transformation companies achieve huge advantages proven to improve in a number of key business areas:

  • Generate new experiences for the client.
  • Improve the operative efficiency.
  • Generate new income sources.
  • Increase the quick response capacity in the face of changes in the market.
  • Create competitive advantages for the organisation.
  • Improve the internal collaboration.
  • Deepens the data analysis (Big Data).

One of the great revolutions of this digital transformation is Big Data and Artificial Intelligence. It should be borne in mind that in recent years, the amount of information available on the Internet has practically doubled every two years, and this trend will continue to rise. Thanks to this amount of information and new technologies such as artificial intelligence, machine learning, deep learning,etc. the world as we know it will change, as will the way we work, shop and relate to each other.

This new reality, which has become much more evident in the wake of the 2020 pandemic, has taught us that businesses that fail to cope with today´s rapid changes are doomed to disappear, just as species that failed to adapt to the melting of the last ice age did.

Today, digital transformation is not an option. Today, companies can no longer consider adapting to this new landscape, as there is no other way to renew themselves and increase competitiveness than by developing a digital transformation plan.

How can we help you from CARTIF?

At CARTIF we have committed ourselves to this task of helping companies, especially SMEs, which are the ones that have the most difficulties in this complex and changing world of digital transformation. Because we know first-hand that sometimes lack of time or lack of knowledge means that we do not make progress in these fundamental processes. That is why we have a plan to help you along the way. We have a Digital Transformation consultancy service that is completely free of charge for companies.

What this programme consists of?

After contact us for receiving information, we will send you a service request form, and once submitted:

  1. We will visit or meet with the person reponsible in the company to carry out a diagnosis of the current situation, work methodology and digital tools used.
  2. Based on this report, we will create a personalised action plan with different actions identified to improve the company´s competitiveness.
  3. Finally, we will carry out a period of mentoring to accompany the company during the process.

These actions will allow the company to start or continue the digital transformation process generating a roadmap in order to be able to address it.

Education for digitilazation

Education for digitilazation

The digital transformation seems to have become the lifeline of administrative, educational and business sectors in the face of the serious health and economic situation that we are going through. The urgency of incorporating more traditional activities into the digital world has revealed the existence of numerous gaps and deficiencies that are currently being addressed through the incorporation of technological tools and means.

However, are we prepared as a society to take this step? The problem is that it is not possible to digitize these activities overnight. Digitization is an evolutionary path that not only consists of implementing technology and making use of it, but also requires a cultural change that has to be people-centered and must be worked from the base.

If we search in Google introducing the words “education” and “digitization” all the results speak of “digitization of education”, “digital transformation of education”, “digitalization in the classroom”. As soon as we navigate through any of them, we will see that, in the educational field, all efforts are focusing on providing tools.

The clearest proof of this is that in June 2020 the Government of Spain approved the Educa en Digital Program, whose objective was to promote the technological transformation of education, nothing to do with its title, because, with a budget of 260 million euros, the main purpose has been the purchase of electronic devices.

A completely different approach is finally proposed in the Digital Education Action Plan (2021-2027) of the European Union, with two strategic priorities:

  1. Promote the development of a high-performance digital educational ecosystem.
  2. Perfect digital skills and abilities for digital transformation.

The first priority is not only to provide infrastructure, connectivity and digital equipment, but also to train teachers and educational staff in digital skills and confidence.

The second priority focuses on objectives such as digital literacy, computer education, knowledge and understanding of existing technologies, and effective and responsible use of digital media, all aimed at preparing and training in digital skills from early ages and to the generation of digital specialists in older ages.

There are many problems that demonstrate the need to replace the current approach, which only focuses on the provision of technological means, by one that proposes the incorporation of digitization as one of the priority objectives of the current educational model, and that the EU proposes for the next few years.

According to the EU Kids Online survey carried out between October and December 2018 on activities, mediation, opportunities and online risks of minors between the ages of 9 and 17:

  • More than 32% of minors see inappropriate and harmful content on the Internet.
  • 33% have experienced some form of harassment.
  • 26% have received sexual messages.
  • 40% have contacted strangers online.
  • 19% have met an Internet contact in person.

A study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) shows a significant statistical association in the increase from 4.6% to 11 % of cases of adolescent students with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder caused by hyperconnectivity and exposure to digital media.

These figures are undoubtedly the reflection of a deficient, inadequate or non-existent education in digitization of our children and young people who, at an early age and throughout their lives, make an increasingly intensive use of different devices, apps, social networks, etc., without receiving, in a standardized way, information and basic notions of access, good practices, recommendations and existing risks.

Another data that attests to the deficient or non-existent education in digitization is that only 35% of the people who study science and technology careers are women, according to UNESCO data (Deciphering the code: The education of girls and women in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM). UNESCO, 2019), which shows that the gender gap is a reality in a world in which technology transforms the way we learn, live and work.

Without any doubt, the incorporation of a study plan on education in digitization, in the different educational stages, would help to close the existing gender gap. The change of model in vocational and university training should encourage the development in our young people of advanced digital skills to generate more specialists as a result of the commitment to studies and digital careers.

One more fact that shows the lack of preparation of our society for the world of digitalization is that, according to the Internet User Safety Office (OSI), 93% of security breaches correspond to social engineering attacks. These types of attacks are based on the principle that “the user is the weakest link”; in Wikipedia they are defined as “attacks based on tricking a user into accessing their information”. And they are so successful because no one has made us aware of the dangers that accompany the digital world or prepared us to know the measures we must take in order to detect and protect ourselves.

In short, the absence of educational plans in digitization weighs down the preparation and adaptation of our young people to a society that demands and needs that their companies and businesses include digitization as something innate and not as a tool that is introduced by “force” and , at times, as a traumatic change and a threat.

According to Nelson Mandela, “Education is the most powerful weapon you can use to change the world”; but currently we are only using technology to make that change.

The regulation and inclusion of materials, resources and content on digitization in the educational curriculum of the different school stages (infant, primary, secondary) and pre-work (Vocational Training and University) would help prepare and train the society of the future. Make no mistake, if the generations of “digital natives” do not receive an adequate education in this sense, they will inherit many of the current problems and will suffer other different ones that will arise taking advantage of the poor preparation of these new generations.

Meanwhile, today’s companies and businesses trying to modernize must use the same principle, adding awareness, education and training of their employees and managers to their technological priorities, which will undoubtedly lead to a cultural change and the review of their productive processes and business models. All this to increase the chances of success of the transformation project, which will help companies respond to an increasingly digitized society and economy.

Covid Trackers

Covid Trackers

For a month, almost since the end of the confinement, we have received daily news about the cases of regrowth, which have not stopped increasing in number and incidence.

In Spain we are told, through the media, about how important the work of trackers is to keep outbreaks at bay, and how necessary it would be to increase the number of them to improve infection detection rates. community. But the truth is that cases continue to increase, to the point that there are already European countries that have begun to take measures against travelers from Spain because the incidence of the virus in our country does not stop growing, I repeat, only a few weeks after the end of confinement.

We all already know the ability of this virus to spread rapidly. We can say that the moment a person comes into contact with the virus, community transmission can be exponential, that is, one person can infect ten others, each of those ten to ten others and so on.

In addition, if we come into contact with the virus and have to provide a list of our contacts during the last 14 days, it is hard to believe that we are able to remember all the people we have been close to, even more so when depending on many of these people we do not know about our daily activities.

Responsibility, honesty or the personal circumstances of the respondents also play a role in the reliability of the answers obtained by the trackers.

Taking all this into account, it is clear the doubtful effectiveness of the work of a tracker who, through telephone calls, tries to locate and identify all the possible contacts of a contagion case.

It is at least curious than in the technological era in which we are, in which the tools that incorporate artificial intelligence, big data, blockchain, Internet of Things are multiplying … to make our lives easier, solve daily problems and help us in the decision making, these same tools are not being used to face the greatest health crisis of the 21st century and we are turning to manual tracking as the main measure to try to control outbreaks.

Contact Traceability Apps have already proven in other countries (China, Korea or Singapore) that they are an effective technological solution and it would only be necessary to establish the standards under which they should be used.

Existing contact-tracing systems offer resources for the development of apps to help identify contacts of those infected by Covid and to allow citizens to know if they have been close to Covid patients. These applications are exchanging identifiers (anonymized numbers) with all the phones of people who remain within reach of our phone’s bluetooth for a minimum of 15 minutes, and keep them for a maximum time of 14 days. In this way, when a citizen reflects in his App that he is positive for Covid19 or is reported in an official health system, the codes collected by the infected person’s phone will be uploaded to the cloud. Each smartphone is periodically downloaded and compared to these codes and, if there is a match, the notification is automatically generated informing that it has been in contact or near an infected person and what measures to take.

The implementation and operation of these apps is so simple and the result if all of us had them installed on our phone – in Spain more than 90% of Spaniards use a smartphone – so effective that it is difficult to understand why they are doing crawls manually.

One of the reasons offered by the authorities for not using this type of app is the protection of citizens’ data. But when can this type of application threaten privacy? Very simple; when they are designed to misuse or interested use of the information that they are capable of collecting.

In this type of apps there are two conceptions, centralization and decentralization:

  • Decentralized apps when the information that is collected is hosted in a distributed, analyzed and compared way only on the users’ phones and the servers that intervene only do so as points of dissemination. In this case, two large technological giants that are directly competitive in the world of technology and mobility and with very different business models, Apple and Google, have agreed to offer IOS and Android app developers the necessary tools to that can create contract-tracing apps based on the decentralized model. In addition, they require the authorities to bet on their APIs, a commitment to make use of them only for the pandemic and not for other purposes as a way to provide certainty and answer questions about privacy and other hidden purposes.
  • Centralized apps when the information that this type of app can capture is hosted on servers controlled by a company or body and the match or match analysis is carried out on those servers.

But, haven’t we pointed out that the data collected by Bluetooth is anonymized identifiers? There is one of the problems, that the information collected is not really anonymous and that the objective of its collection is not only to notify possible contacts of a positive case of Covid.

The problem of privacy and the lack of a standard means that European countries have not been able to agree to create and use a tool, so each one is waging war on their own. In Spain, in the middle of the second wave, nothing has been heard since on May 20, Nadia Calviño, Minister of Economic Affairs and Digital Transformation announced the testing phase in the Canary Islands of an app, based on the decentralized model, that used the resources and APIs provided by Apple and Google.

Improving our cities with ICTs

Improving our cities with ICTs

In the European Union 40% of the total final energy is consumed in residential and tertiary buildings. That is reason behind several European Directives established with the aim that the Member States develop long-term strategies encouraging the renovation of residential and commercial buildings applying specific energy efficiency criteria. In order to define efficient strategies they have to be established in a holistic way; beyond individual buildings and thinking in wider terms of districts and cities. For this reason, several research projects are nowadays exploring the best way to perform retrofitting activities with those results in mind.

Nonetheless, the definition of a retrofitting strategy for any neighbourhood or any city is a trivial issue. There are many factors that must be analysed before proceeding with such intervention. Although the objectives to be achieved are often clear (reduction of energy consumption, reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, including renewable energies, etc.), the method to achieve those objectives is variable and different measures can be applied to the same scenario with varying degrees of success. The analysis of the most effective measures in cost-benefit terms requires of a considerable amount of information about the considered area and carrying out a series of complex calculations that allow to obtain indicators associated with the several possible interventions that may take place.

So it is at this point that the use of ICT (Information and Communication Technologies) adds value: performing calculations through simulation tools (including energy, costs and environmental aspects among others) the analysis of the different scenarios is more accurate and also tedious manual processes prone to failures are automated. However, although different simulation tools are available in the market a single specific tool that fully automates retrofitting interventions just does not exist nowadays.

In this regard, CARTIF is currently working on several projects aimed at creating such tools for designing retrofitting projects in cities such as the new project Nature4Cities or OptEEmAL, started in 2015. Both projects are funded by the European Commission under the Horizon 2020 R&D programme.

Nature4Cities aim is the development of a tool to support design of energy retrofitting projects in urban environments by applying Nature Based Solutions (NBS). This type of solutions has already been covered by my colleagues in a previous post.

On the other hand, OptEEmAL project focuses on developing a design platform for energy retrofitting projects at district level. Working with input data provided by the user (BIM, CityGML and other type of data) the OptEEmAL platform automatically generates and evaluates possible retrofitting scenarios based on implementing a set of measures for energy conservation.

Such measures are contained in a catalogue according to a data model based on standards (such as IFC). The solutions included in this catalogue are both passive (envelope improvements, change of windows) and active (concerning energy generation systems, renewable energies or control strategies) and are applied both at building and district level. These measures may be generic solutions with default values or specific solutions provided by commercial entities.

In order to evaluate the various potential scenarios, a set of performance indicators are analysed and then categorised into different categories: energy, comfort, environmental, economic, social and urban. Once the optimisation has taken place, the OptEEmAL platform shows to the user the solution with better results in terms of indicators. As a result of the process OptEEmAL provides the user with very detailed information on the retrofitting project.

CARTIF will continue working in this area of knowledge with our strong commitment to support energy efficiency and ultimately improve the cities and places where we live.