A detailed assessment of LARSyS has been undertaken over the last months making use of extensive discussions with the External Review Boards of the four Centres incorporated in LARSyS.
This exercise has also been checked against the national efforts towards the Portuguese package of EU Structural funds for 2015-2021 and the EU efforts towards smart specialization, including H2020.
S1. High potential researchers, including world leading researchers and excellent students - LARSyS has succeeded in attracting highly qualified research faculty. The core team encompasses a group of young, dynamic and committed researchers with a high level potential and world-level leadership. Interdisciplinary and internationalization, together with a large networking potential in EU, US and South America are important strengths. The solid publication record of the core team is outstanding. In addition, LARSyS has been very successful in attracting high quality international and national students.
S2. Large diversity, complementary skills and unique experimental infrastructures - LARSyS develops interdisciplinary research in Robotics and Engineering Systems, covering dynamical cyber-physical systems, human computer interaction and social-technical systems, as well as policy research dealing with uncertainty and risk governance. Our activities consider new horizons for knowledge with impact in ocean, urban, aeronautic and space, biomedical, and future working environments, as well as to stimulate new industry-science relations. This considers multidisciplinary research and unique experimental infrastructures. For example, LARSYS hosts (through ISR) an experimental infrastructure that has been selected for the National Roadmap of Research Infrastructures consisting of a unique set of testbeds (the iCub, MOCAP systems, gaze trackers, etc) in the area of Robotics, Brain and Cognition. It should be noted that LARSyS draws faculty from different academic fields and departments at IST and the University of Madeira, together with researchers form other institutional setting (e.g., Univ. of Algarve, industry), thereby escaping the traditional academic silos and ensuring a unique interdisciplinary venue for research and graduate education.
S3. High quality graduate education - LARSyS has been very successful in leading the organization of new PhD programs and it should be emphasized that our groups are involved in five different FCT funded Doctoral Programs (recently approved, 2012-2013): “Networked Interactive Cyber Physical Systems” (ISR and MITI), “Digital Media” (MITI), “Robotics, Brain and Cognition” (ISR), “Sustainable Energy Systems (IN+), and “Engineering Design and Advanced Manufacturing Systems (IN+). All of them involve major international partnerships (respectively with CMU, UT Austin, EPFL and MIT). High quality international students have been continuously attracted.
S4. International connections - LARSyS is associated with most of institutional partnership developed in Portugal in the last years, including with MIT, Carnegie Mellon, UT Austin, Fraunhofer and EPFL. They involve student training, faculty exchange, and dual-degrees. Other international links in EU and with Brazil, India and China are an important strength.
S5. Cooperation with industry, industry, SMEs and spin-offs – innovation, technology transfer and entrepreneurship - LARSyS has an effective self-promoting strategy that has attracted several industry partners and facilitated technology transfer. These include long-term research collaborations with national and multinational companies (EMBARER, Zon 3 Multimedia, Portugal Telecom, Logica, Novabase), as well as projects with local companies and start-ups (UAVISON, SARPSEC, 3D Drivers, Innovisoft, Wow Systems). The ability to transition from the lab to the real world, often building our own prototypes that embody innovative concepts (e.g. air, ocean, and land robots) is an important strength.
W1. Low critical mass in some areas - Although existing skills and competencies at LARSyS are strong in many scientific fields, in particular in ICT and energy related areas, LARSyS still lacks critical mass in some key areas in both the technical domain (e.g., Physical Computing; Internet of Things; Aerospace; Bioengineering) and design domains (e.g., Design Research; Engineering Design). These are frontier areas, whose development is vital for a successful research strategy and integration in the challenges of the Horizon 2020 programmes.
W2. Weak industrial structure in Portugal, with weak local industrial demand – A continuous challenge over the last decades for developing high-level research in Portugal has been associated with a low-sophisticated industrial demand. The recent installation of EMBARER in Portugal, as well as a potential new centrality of Atlantic in energy-related geopolitics may help changing this environment in the coming decade. Nevertheless, the current financial situation in Europe represents a continuous threat.
W3. Lack of professional management structure - Management of research units and projects is mostly done by faculty members, who need to face heavy bureaucratic administrative procedures. LARSyS lacks support and management staff with experience in managing EU grant proposals and reaching out to entities in the European Research Area. Much could be gained by hiring professionals to take care of the management tasks, freeing up the minds of researchers for what they do best. Likewise, there is a clear need for technology transfer officers (TTOs) capable of bridging the gap between academia and the industry. The activities of these TTOs are instrumental towards identifying and pursuing opportunities for innovation with companies at national and European level.
W4. Lack of intellectual property management - LARSyS lacks an adequate intellectual property management structure. Again, there is a clear need for professional and experienced technology transfer officers (TTOs).
O1. Increasing relevance of multidisciplinary research portfolio, in close interaction with emerging ICT skills - Interdisciplinary research is reaching a tipping point with an increased interest from companies, students and society, at large. ICT is moving away from a technology-driven domain (focused on addressing market forces that may or may not satisfy the most important needs of society) to a design-driven innovation domain in which new meanings can lead to major improvements in the performance of technology by focusing on usefulness as well as utility. As a consequence of the widespread availability of ICT and the potential of design-driven innovation to generate radical social changes (e.g. social computing and crowdsourcing), LARSyS´s expertise is becoming highly relevant to promote innovative solutions for social challenges and understand the underlying psychological and social implications. The application domains of LARSyS are aligned with many of the research challenges of Horizon 2020, and our interdisciplinary team is particularly well placed to tackle current and future opportunities.
O2. Agility and empowerment of a young research team - LARSyS represents a novel and modern research initiative, with a large ambition to pursue cutting-edge interdisciplinary research. This means an opportunity to attract young, high-potential researchers that would otherwise struggle in more traditional academic environments. The relative importance of LARSyS in this context provide a unique opportunity for leveraging and empowering talented young researchers.
O3. Increasing relevance of Portuguese speaking engineering and science: new opportunities in Brazil, Africa and South Atlantic – The emergence of Portuguese engineering and science in Portuguese speaking countries represents a unique opportunity for LARSyS, in association with its increasing scientific cooperation with Brazil and Portuguese speaking countries in Africa and the recently established University of Macau (a Portuguese speaking University in South East Asia). In addition, the expected centrality of Atlantic in energy-related geopolitics may help creating new opportunities in the coming decade, in particular among technology-based Portuguese speaking industrial partners.
O4. Lower costs of research and availability of talent - The cost of human resources and services in Portugal is lower than in Central Europe, which allows us to carry out research projects in a very cost-effective manner. Portugal is also one of the EU countries with the highest percentage of graduates in science and technology, which provides a widely available talent market. Due to the economic downturn, it is now possible to find excellent specialists in the job market, from post-doctoral researchers to technicians and administrative personnel.
T1. Continuous reduction of national R&D budget since 2011, together with increasing international competition to hire talented researchers - Public investment in R&D has systematically decreased in Portugal since 2011. For example, In just two years, the funding for LARSyS that had been agreed by the FCT has been cut twice – first by approximately 40% then, and despite a written agreement stating that no further cuts would be made, funding was slashed another 15%. Although LARSyS aims at fostering new opportunities for innovation and job creation, it may be necessary for researchers to work harder at establishing and keeping ties with external entities. In addition, LARSyS is facing fierce competition from well-known research centres in industrialized countries, which have well-established professional recruiting mechanisms and provide very attractive working conditions. Difficulties to offer career perspectives to retain talented researchers are a threat.
T2. Increasing brain drain from Portugal since 2011 - Due to the economic stagnation of Southern Europe and the lack of promotions and competitive salaries and benefits in Portuguese Public Universities, it is becoming increasingly difficult to retain the best talent at LARSyS. In the past two years, LARSyS lost seven faculty to more competitive countries and in particular for higher positions in academia worldwide.
T3. Emerging geography of innovation, with Increasing concentration of technology-based industry in central and north of EU - As the economic crisis spreads across Europe and more countries face uncertainty and austerity measures, industrial production is being increasingly concentrated in Germany, The Netherlands and Nordic countries. In addition, public research funds are becoming increasingly hard to access in Southern Europe.