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INESC TEC with differentiating skills in the transportation and mobility sector

The transportation area is typically associated with civil engineering (namely in terms of planning and infrastructures), but over the past few years INESC TEC has managed to gain a relevant position in this area due to the Associate Laboratory’s multidisciplinary nature.

TEC4MOBILITY brings together INESC TEC Centres

Transportations, mobility and logistics are the foundation of TEC4MOBILITY, an initiative that is taking shape to combine and promote skills in this domain at INESC TEC, and to interface with companies. This initiative, which is now being conceptualised, will try to align INESC TEC’s activities in this sector, creating adequate conditions to conduct research of excellence, promoting advanced solutions for mobility and logistics, with a real impact on the community and companies.

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Transportation sector represents 5 percent of the European GDP

In an increasingly global world, the transportation sector is an important component in today’s society and represents a significant portion of the economy. Throughout the entire European Union, this sector employs about 10 million people, and is responsible for about 5 percent of the European GDP[1], involving thousands of companies, and for this reason it is vital for the citizens’ quality of life.

Scientifically and technologically, one of the greatest challenges that this sector will pose to research units over the next years is conciliating “the mobility needs of people and transportation of goods, with the strong associated environmental constraints (greenhouse gas emissions), in a context where the financial resources available to member states are lower,” explains José Correia, a researcher at INESC TEC’s Centre for Information Systems and Computer Graphics (CSIG) who has been participating in and promoting various networks and projects in this area, and is INESC TEC’s representative in the Associação ITS Portugal (Portuguese transportation association).

Therefore, there are clear opportunities to develop R&D projects that, for example, seek to efficiently combine means of transportation, and use the transportation infrastructure more effectively, supported by intelligent transportation and traffic optimisation systems. Moreover, the goal is to optimise the operation of multimodal logistic chains.

3   Jorge Pinho de Sousa

INESC TEC centres  work together on projects in this area

With this scenario as background, INESC TEC has long been participating in projects on transportations and mobility. The Centre for Enterprise Systems Engineering (CESE), particularly its coordinator,  Jorge Pinho de Sousa – who is also the director of the Doctoral Program in Transport Systems at FEUP – was the one that took the first steps in these areas. Several projects have been developed within this doctoral programme (as part of MIT Portugal), providing relevant research with a practical impact. However, in 2009, with the integration of the Centre for Industrial Engineering and Management (CEGI), where several researchers have long been working in the area of transportations, the competences in this area expanded significantly, mainly in terms of passenger mobility and logistic systems optimisation.

INESC TEC’s Laboratory of Artificial Intelligence and Decision Support (LIAAD) and Centre for Information Systems and Computer Graphics (combining information systems and planning and management systems) also play a relevant role in TEC4MOBILITY’s “equation for success.” Moreover, the Centre for Telecommunications and Multimedia (CTM – communications in transportations), the Centre for Applied Photonics (CAP), the Centre for Power and Energy Systems (CPES), the Centre for Biomedical Engineering Research (C-BER) or the Centre for Robotics and Intelligent Systems (CROB) also have played a fundamental role in this domain, in areas such as communication in transportations, electric mobility, or sensing road or train infrastructures.  

This convergence of skills and interests has also been leading to the use of more advanced techniques and approaches in areas such as optimisation, simulation, decision support systems, uncertainty and risk, logistics and operations management, operational  planning in transportations, information systems for the public, or route definition to distribute and collect products.

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TEC4MOBILITY: combining know-how to get to companies

TEC4MOBILITY is a result of a first attempt to structure and develop activities in a coherent way in long-term significant initiatives. “In the strategy that we are devising, we want to design and launch applied, multidisciplinary and integrating projects that result  in services or products that can be easily transferred to the community and companies,” explains the CESE coordinator and one of the researchers boosting this area.

These multidisciplinary and differentiating projects should combine specific skills, such as information systems, operations management and logistics, optimisation tools and decision support systems. “The complementary features of the different centres will be explored in these projects,” he adds. There will also be an effort to maintain contact with European groups that will bring a broader knowledge on the EU’s strategic lines in the transportation, mobility and logistics sectors.

“According to MIT, transportation systems are, in fact, complex ‘engineering systems’. Information technologies and systems, operations management, and planning and decision support tools, combined with specific skills in the area of transportations, will constitute the foundation for the success of this initiative,” concludes Jorge Pinho de Sousa.

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Technical, economic, management, social, and environmental skills

European project FOCUS, which brings together CESE and CROB, is one of the most successful examples of ongoing projects in this area. The goal with FOCUS, a project in the area of forestry exploitation, is to plan and control forest-to-factory applications in order to increase productivity, reduce operational costs, and improve the sustainability of forestry supply chains in Europe.

This is also a project that illustrates the biggest challenges facing the work in this area, not only due to the technical aptitudes required, but also because of the necessary know-how on economics, management, business models, and also the constraints resulting from social or environmental problems (such as the mobility of people or greenhouse gas emissions).

Another difficulty with these projects is the fact that they often involve multiple actors and stakeholders (for example, the mobility of people in urban areas) that should be taken into consideration and be involved in ambitious and integrating projects. “It’s not just about solving strictly technological problems, but about having systems projecting or managing as real ‘engineering systems’, in its different technical, economic and social components,” explains Jorge Pinho de Sousa.

“But in a sense it is precisely this that makes these challenges more interesting, particularly because of the visible impact on the mobility of people, on the environment, and on the quality of life in cities,” the CESE coordinator concludes.

The INESC TEC researchers mentioned in this article are associated with the following partner institutions: INESC Porto and FEUP.

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