The COVID-19 pandemic brought science closer to citizens, modifying their perception of the importance of scientific advances. In addition, misinformation and fake news associated with the pandemic demonstrated the consequences of not clearly communicating these scientific advances. For this reason, the Industrial Doctorates Plan considers it vitally important to make our collaborative research projects understandable.
During 2022, the Industrial Doctorates Plan wanted to start making visible the impact of some of its projects by preparing interviews and in-depth reports, some of which are also good examples of disruptive innovation. The goal is to expand the number of reports during 2023, reaching the maximum number of projects made visible by their social and economic impact. Making visible and communicating effectively this collaborative research, development and innovation has many advantages. On average, the projects that receive the best funding are those that sell best, those that explain their own business research and innovation best. The impact of the message will largely determine the credibility and importance of each project.
We invite you to discover this selection of Industrial Doctorates projects, good examples of knowledge transfer, the impact of research in the territory. In short, examples of how collaborative research can contribute to the competitiveness and internationalization of the Catalan industrial fabric.
According to the Boston Consulting Group, the economic impact of quantum technologies is estimated at tens of millions of euros in the coming years. Quantum computing will affect a number of areas, including health, finance, encryption, and security, to name a few. In fact, we are already using quantum physics in laser technology, magnetic resonance imaging and computer chips. It has the potential to revolutionize our world.
The company Qilimanjaro Quantum Tech, with seven Industrial Doctorate projects on computing and quantum algorithms, is trying to realize the potential of quantum computing by developing both software and hardware in this field. The development of these projects is carried out in a dual, business and academic environment, which generates two complementary lines of thought, and which the company knows how to take advantage of. The company has collaborated with the Institute of High Energy Physics, the University of Barcelona and the Polytechnic University of Catalonia.
Their main mission is to build a quantum computer, and doing it from the purely academic field was very complicated due to the funding of the project, so they opted for the collaborative research offered by Industrial Doctorates. Marta Pascual, senior quantum engineer in Qilimanjaro's theory team in Barcelona, explained in an interview that it is exactly a quantum computer: «it is a computing system that uses a different logic from conventional computers». The possibility of encoding information in this type of quantum states allows the manipulation of information to be much more efficient and, therefore, much faster when calculating certain types of problems.
New model of urban mobility of goods in Barcelona, the case of Barcelona City Council
Although the paradigm of urban mobility will not change immediately, its structure is currently changing in larger European cities. The 2030 Agenda has promoted the creation of a new urbanism in these cities. There are many objectives to be achieved to properly manage sustainable urban centres: traffic management, vehicle sharing, use of renewable energies in public transport, urban planning and design that promotes sustainable mobility, etc.
These challenges are a small example of what an industrial doctorate project, led by Barcelona City Council and the Polytechnic University of Catalonia, aims to address in order to find a solution. Specifically, the project comprehensively addresses the sustainability of Barcelona's current urban logistics, proposing harmonization measures between the logistics of e-commerce and goods with the use of public space for other citizen activities.
In order to cope with the exponential increase in online shopping that the team has detected, they suggest a new model of goods distribution with the aim of reducing the environmental impact, but also minimizing congestion and noise. According to the project team, it would also serve to achieve a reduction in the use of public space and, therefore, this space could be improved and made available to citizens.
Transporting drugs to the brain to treat currently incurable childhood cancers, the case of Gate2Brain
The collaboration between the Institut de Recerca Sant Joan de Déu (IRSJD – UB) and the company Gate2Brain will allow the use of technology to cross the blood-brain barrier in the brain and administer drugs. This applied research aims to deliver safe and transferable anticancer drugs for juvenile cancer, specifically those that are already lethal or cause permanent damage.
To take a step forward in therapeutic studies before applying them to the definitive clinic, and studying in depth the impact of drugs on the bodies of children affected by cancer, researchers at IRB Barcelona, the University of Barcelona (UB) and the Institut de Recerca Sant Joan de Déu – Hospital Sant Joan de Déu (SJD-UB) created the spin-off Gate2Brain in 2020, finalist in the Catalan Pitch Competition 2021.
The technology for transporting drugs to the brain is the innovation that Gate2Brain brings to biomedical research. The objective of this project is to find a solution to cases diagnosed with a very rare type of childhood brain cancer that currently have no treatment. Dr. Meritxell Teixidó, CEO of Gate2Brain, explains how, within the framework of the Industrial PhD, the project team aims to "improve the transport of a chemotherapeutic agent to fight paediatric brain tumours whose barrier is intact, making it difficult to cure".
Reducing CO₂ in the atmosphere to fight climate change, the case of Greennova Foundation
2021 was the sixth warmest year on record, with the 10 warmest years occurring between 2010 and 2021. If this trend continues, in 10 years we will reach the global warming ceiling established by the Paris Agreements, which specifies a maximum temperature increase of 1.5°C. Climate change is a reality and the consequences are already evident. When a temperature rise occurs, it is only the beginning of a complex process involving many possible scenarios. Drought and floods, fires and melting poles, atmospheric warming are just some of the possibilities.
Faced with this scenario, two Industrial Doctorates projects have set out to fight climate change by providing solutions based on the idea of removing carbon dioxide (CO₂) from the air. In fact, the increase in greenhouse gases in the atmosphere is one of the main causes of climate change. Both projects are part of a collaborative research between Greennova Foundation and Rovira i Virgili University and the University of Barcelona.
One of the researchers of the projects, Dr. Ricard Garcia-Valls (professor of Chemical Engineering at the Rovira i Virgili University) believes that if these projects work "we will be able to clean up the CO₂ already present in the atmosphere to leave it at correct values for the balance of the climate". One of the applications that they propose with the greatest domestic impact is to install a device in a home or an office to capture the CO₂ breathed by all the people who live in it.
Immersive technology to improve the lives of people with reduced mobility, the case of Vysion by the Mediapro Group
Vysion is a company that produces immersive content and experiences through creativity and technology, which has won numerous awards. His Industrial Doctorates project promotes the use of virtual, augmented and mixed reality technology to improve personal well-being and social interactions in groups of people with reduced mobility. In short, it seeks to improve accessibility to these devices and access to their content in order to contribute to increasing the autonomy and quality of life of the collective.
The project has been able to detect which are the most common accessibility problems of people with reduced mobility, since not all real physical spaces, in general, are fully fully adapted. Thanks to the use of immersive technologies, users with reduced mobility have the opportunity, as the doctoral student of the team Alicia Cañellas-Mayor tells us: "to be able to "teleport" digitally and immersively to spaces or places that are difficult to access that, perhaps otherwise, they would not be able to visit".
One of the secondary objectives of the research carried out by this project is precisely to raise awareness in the extended reality technology sector in aspects related to accessibility and universal design. The project has also served to detect other possible uses, from using these technologies to make visible the reality of the group to the rest of society in an immersive way, making 360° immersive videoconferences, controlling home automation environments, to being able to practice stimulation activities and learning or rehabilitation processes.
Artificial intelligence applied to labelling and indexing services of content and videos on the Internet, the case of Vilynx
Elisenda Bou-Balust is the co-founder and CTO of Vilynx, a start-up with four Industrial PhDs, leader in creating the first artificial intelligence system that offers tagging and indexing services for content and videos on the Internet, to be able to find them through searches. The company was Apple's first acquisition in Spain in 2020.
The projects led by Bou-Balust use technology to sort and classify the tons of audiovisual content accumulated on the Internet. The job is to teach artificial intelligence what's in the videos so that the next time they come across a concept they can recognize it. This means that, for example, the system understands when an unusual event is happening in some images that will be interesting for the viewer.
As he explained in an interview, Bou-Balust considers that one of the positive aspects of artificial intelligence is that it can go unnoticed: "in some way they humanize the interfaces of machines. A very clear example is car navigation, which many people may not use, but because it is a very simple voice system, everyone ends up using it".