The UPC leads artificial intelligence (AI) research and innovation in Catalonia

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The UPC is the most active Catalan entity in artificial intelligence research and innovation according to the report produced by the Government of Catalonia.

Exploring advanced technology projects

The study “Analysis of the specialisation in artificial intelligence in Catalonia” highlights the key actors in AI, Catalonia’s position among European regions and how artificial intelligence contributes to tackling societal and industry challenges. Conducted by the Directorate-General for Economic Promotion, Competition and Regulation of the Government of Catalonia in collaboration with SIRIS Academic, the document is complementary with the artificial intelligence module within the RIS3-MCAT platform. This platform enables users to explore AI projects funded by the European Union’s Horizon 2020 programme and RIS3CAT in Catalonia, and also the collaboration networks between Catalan entities.

The UPC is the most active Catalan entity in artificial intelligence research and innovation according to the report “Analysis of the specialisation in artificial intelligence in Catalonia”, produced by the Government of Catalonia.

Nov 08, 2021

In Catalonia, the Universitat Politècnica de Catalunya · BarcelonaTech (UPC) participates in the highest number of artificial intelligence projects (28) within the European Union’s Horizon 2020 programme and the Research and Innovation Strategy for the Smart Specialisation of Catalonia (RIS3CAT), followed by the Barcelona Supercomputing Center (25), a joint research centre of the UPC, the Government of Catalonia and the Spanish Ministry of Science, Innovation and Universities.

According to the study “Analysis of the specialisation in artificial intelligence in Catalonia”, Catalonia is the leading European region in artificial intelligence (AI), with an outstanding ability to raise competitive European funds, especially for projects related to innovation in SMEs and to the application of AI to tackle societal challenges. Catalonia participates in 2,704 Horizon 2020 projects, 228 of which are focused on AI, that is 8.43%, which is higher than the European average of 6.55% (2,010 AI projects out of 30,699 projects). The main subject area is machine learning, followed by computer vision and natural language processing.

The study highlights the large number of innovation projects for applying artificial intelligence in the priority areas of the RIS3CAT strategy: 45 out of 683 projects (6.66%) involve AI, with the main focus on health, industrial systems, energy and resources, sustainable mobility and cultural and experience-based industries. Many of these projects also contribute to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and are possible niches for sociotechnical transformation with the potential to be replicated and escalated.

AI knowledge ecosystem
It is estimated that artificial intelligence will add $15.7 trillion to global GDP by 2030. The UPC, with its longstanding experience in AI training and research, is helping Catalonia to become a motor in AI across Europe. The University has a knowledge and technology ecosystem that is composed of several research centres and groups participating in major national and international scientific and technological projects related to AI. One of them is the IDEAI-UPC, which is currently the largest AI centre in Catalonia, with almost 60 permanent researchers and about 150 doctoral students.

Some of the most significant AI projects developed at the UPC are the following:

  • Artificial Intelligence for the European Union (AI4EU): a European project that involves several UPC research groups and 60 other leading research centres. It will pave the way for research, development and innovation in this field in Europe for the coming ten years. The project aims to provide users with AI-based resources that support scientific research and innovation, to analyse the needs of future AI research and to create an ethics observatory that promotes person-centred AI.

  • Stairway to AI and Knowledge AI: also funded by the European Commission, these two initiatives emerged from the AI4EU project. They are led by professors and IDEAI-UPC researchers Javier Vázquez and Miquel Sánchez Marré respectively. These projects aim to improve the user experience of the AI4EU platform.

  • Cognitive Assistive Social Pet Robots for Hospitalized Children (CASPER): a project that studies the use of cognitive, care and social pet robots to reduce pain and anxiety in hospitalised children during clinical treatment. The idea is for the robot pet to help reduce pain and anxiety in children undergoing some surgical procedure; increase the involvement of children, parents and the hospital in very stressful situations (oncology unit, recovery unit, social conflicts); and engage children in educational treatments from several approaches (social skills in autistic children, healthy eating in anorexic children, eating recommendations and medication delivery in diabetic children).

    This initiative, with IDEAI researcher Cecilio Angulo, has been developed jointly with the Sant Joan de Déu Hospital in Barcelona, La Salle-Universitat Ramon Llull and PAL Robotics.

  • Lifelong UNiversal lAnguage Representation (LUNAR): an initiative to explore new methods of automatic speech and text translation. Led by IDEAI researcher Marta Ruiz Costa-Jussà, the project aims to provide a machine translation system that is more efficient than current ones and that provides high quality for both majority and minority languages. The researcher has received a Starting Grant from the European Research Council (ERC) to conduct the research.

  • DigiPatICS: a project to digitise pathological anatomy services using computer vision technologies in order to optimise hospital networks and improve patient care. The project is promoted by the Catalan Institute of Health and led by UPC professor and IDEAI researcher Ferran Marqués. DigiPatICS aims to optimise the anatomopathological diagnostic network process at hospitals in the Catalan Institute of Health through digitalisation and artificial intelligence. It includes all steps from managing anatomopathological sample requests to submitting clinical results.

  • Xartec Salut: a network made up of 47 Catalan research groups that belong to 17 institutions, with UPC groups among them. It aims to be a catalyst for R&D&I in healthtech by fostering the exchange of knowledge and technology transfer between research groups, institutions, hospitals and companies. The idea is to promote the creation and growth of new innovative companies and to offer more efficient instruments for technology transfer with a greater economic and social impact.

    Xartec Salut is led by the Biomedical Engineering Research Centre (CREB) with the participation of the IDEAI. The network also aims to create its own programme for the valorisation and transfer of technology in healthtech. The initiative involves five specific programmes (rehabilitation, clinical studies/diagnosis, treatment, training and sport) that include a wide variety of technologies: materials engineering, big data analysis, e-health, instrumentation and sensors, 2D and 3D biomedical imaging, medical robotics, medical radiophysics, simulation, serious games and gamification, etc. The network’s mission is to become a benchmark incubator for early-stage healthtech projects and start-ups in Mediterranean countries.

  • Smart Autonomous Robotic Assistant Surgeon (SARAS): a project that aims to develop the new generation of surgical robotic systems to allow a single surgeon to perform robotic minimally invasive surgery (R-MIS) without an assistant surgeon. CREB researcher Alícia Casals participates in this project. The idea is to develop a surgical robotic platform to increase the social and economic efficiency of hospitals while guaranteeing the same level of safety for patients. This platform is intended to become a solo surgery system, with two assistive robotic arms to hold surgical instruments.
  • Looming Factory: an alliance between R&D&I groups in academia and industry to facilitate and accelerate market introduction of emerging technologies aligned with the industry’s needs and new challenges resulting from digital transformation: connected smart factories and collaborative robotics in production environments, with demonstration in real environments.

    The Looming Factory project is coordinated by the UPC’s Motion Control and Industrial Applications Research Group (MCIA). It aims to develop and validate in pilot plants the digital technologies of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, characterised by the interconnection of machines and systems, the operational integration of workers with production environments and also the exchange of information with logistics and distribution systems. Further information.
  • CoCoUnit: an Energy-Efficient Processing Unit for Cognitive Computing: this project focuses on designing new smart computing systems inspired by the human brain. Led by researcher Antonio González, from the Department of Computer Architecture, the project is based on a disruptive approach: investigating unconventional, “dramatically different”—in the words of the researcher—architectures that can offer greater energy efficiency in terms of performance and cost for cognitive functions.

    Based on how the brain works, they aim to design new computer system architectures that perform cognitive functions with a high level of energy efficiency and at a reduced cost, so that they can be integrated into all types of devices. The project has received an Advanced Grant, the highest award granted by the ERC to research projects. Further information.

Additionally, the IDEAI and the Image Processing and Multimedia Technology Centre (CITM), a research institute affiliated to the UPC with a long history in digital creativity, are leading the AI and Music Festival.

Several UPC researchers advise the European Commission, the Government of Catalonia and the Barcelona City Council on AI.