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Xavier Vilajosana: "We're working on machine-to-machine communication"

Rubn Permuy
The Wireless Networks research group leader ensures UOC technology becomes an international standard

The Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF), an open community internet standards body, has recently published a standard developed by Xavier Vilajosana, the Wireless Networks (WiNe) research group leader. His project, which he has been working on over the last four years, provides a standard for a control plane for low-rate wireless networks, for use in industrial settings. "This standard lets us control communications between different machines used in industry, ie their data exchanges. For example, a device monitoring a water flow can tell another device to start doing something," Vilajosana explained. More information about it in the following link.

Interview with Xavier Vilajosana, WiNe research leader.

What is your academic background?

I studied Computer Engineering at the Universitat Politcnica de Catalunya (UPC) and got my PhD in Computer Science from the UOC. The subject of my thesis was the distributed management of networked contents and how they could be assigned to users as suppliers and distributed from suppliers to users using economic models.

What kind of research does your group carry out?

My group works on communications systems. It’s called Wireless Networks, so we work on computer networks and are largely focused on wireless communications networks. We work in different fields within the networks: developing new protocols, assessing technologies, optimizing those that already exist, and applying these technologies to different fields and different applications, above all in the industrial sector.

Which of your research projects would you highlight?

Right now we’re working with the automobile industry. One of its problems involves detecting when water enters a vehicle. Once assembled, they need to know if their vehicles are leak proof and so their resistance to water is tested, something that’s checked manually by company staff. For this purpose, we have designed a very low cost sensor, which automatically detects whether water has entered, allowing users on the production line, the operators, to verify this. It warns them without their having to get into the car.

What would you highlight about your international research stays?

I was at the University of California, Berkeley, from late 2011 to 2014. There, I worked for a research group in a lab called Berkeley Sensor & Actuator Center, in the University’s Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Sciences. We worked on industrial communications systems with low energy consumption. We developed loads of standard and open source protocols, which we still maintain today and which are a benchmark in the industry. We also got involved in the standardization of this technology, as a result of which we created a work group at the IETF (Internet Engineering Task Force), which is the body that regulates internet standards, and after five years we are now completing the specifications for the standards we started developing there.

The results of some of your research have been patented: to what extent is this protection important?

Our focus tends to be on applied research. We like being able to transfer knowledge to industry, and we understand that, as a research centre, one of the mechanisms that allows us to do this is, first, to protect it, and later licence or cede it to industry. Therefore, when we carry out more applied research, we try to obtain a patent or utility model.

What film would you recommend for a better understanding of your field?

Our research is very technical and films focusing on what we do are of little interest. But there are films that do present the context. One of them is The Imitation Game, about Alan Turing and his efforts to decipher a code, a communications system used by the German army in the Second World War. In a way, we work in this field because we deal with communications systems. The communications system used by the Germans in the war followed a protocol, which Mr Turing was able to decipher. He built a machine that could decipher this signal. We work in the opposite direction, creating communications systems that use the same principles as in the film. For fans of The Lord of the Rings, both the films and books, these works feature two artefacts called palantrs, which look like balls and are used for communication between people in different places. We work on the communication foundations of these balls, which are also wireless. In The Lord of the Rings there is no satellite that allows them to be connected. So there is a technology involved that would be of interest to my group.

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