Next up in our Behind The Scenes interview series is the Institute of Computer Science at the Foundation for Research and Technology Hellas (ICS-FORTH). We spoke to George Margetis, Postdoctoral Researcher at ICS-FORTH and the Technical Manager of the OPTIMAI project.
Hi George, thanks for speaking to us today. Could you start by introducing yourself and telling us where you are based?
Hi, I’m George Margetis, Postdoctoral Researcher at the Human Computer Interaction Laboratory of the Institute of Computer Science of FORTH (ICS-FORTH), which is located on the island of Crete, Greece. I’m a computer scientist specialising in interaction design, Ambient Intelligence Technologies and smart environments, Human-Centered Artificial Intelligence, X-Reality, as well as networks and telecommunications.
What does your typical working day in the OPTIMAI project involve?
Having the role of the Technical Manager of the project, I’m, on a daily basis, in close collaboration with all the Work Package leaders, and occasionally with all the partners, discussing horizontal and vertical technical issues with regard to the implementation of the envisaged OPTIMAI technologies and platform. I could say that my role in the project is to ensure that OPTIMAI’s endeavour to deliver a full-fledged platform that will help the materialization of zero-defect production lines will eventually be successful.
What is your main task in the OPTIMAI project?
Besides my role as the Technical Manager of the project, I’m the technical lead of the ICS-FORTH team participating in the project. We are aiming to devise a novel decision support system for the operators on the shop floor, engaging state-of-the-art technologies such as Augmented Reality (AR) and Artificial Intelligence (AI). The main objective of our work is to develop user-friendly “intelligent” AR applications that will provide the operators with the necessary information and recommendations regarding the optimal operation of the production line. Furthermore, through the developed technologies, we envision enabling the operators to interact with the factory environment, via their AR glasses, and imminently reconfigure the parts of the system that operate inaccurately, without needing to leave their location, thus easily preventing potential defects.
What do you like most about your role?
Having been involved in research and innovation projects funded by the EU for many years, I’m in a position to say that the most interesting and intriguing part is to try solving challenging technical problems and realize novel ideas in collaboration with other partners from around Europe. I’ve learned many new things and I hope that I’ve conveyed fragments of new knowledge to my partners as well.
Has working remotely affected your work on OPTIMAI in any way?
The coronavirus pandemic brought about big challenges regarding collaborative projects such as OPTIMAI. For example, since the beginning of the project, we have not been able to visit the pilot sites and understand in depth how the manufacturing processes are deployed. However, we managed to overcome such kinds of issues by organizing virtual workshops with all the partners, in the context of which we’ve succeeded to get the necessary information for moving forward. It is amazing how someone can be enlightened by asking the right questions.
How do your professional interests match the objectives of OPTIMAI?
I believe that OPTIMAI is the right venue for applying our research results to real-life circumstances. Working in the context of OPTIMAI, I’m in a pleasant position to investigate highly demanding real-life problems and foresee solutions that are capable of resolving them.
What is unique about OPTIMAI in your opinion?
Well, OPTIMAI envisions providing a closed loop between a zero-defect manufacturing and the on-the-fly factory environment reconfiguration, employing state-of-the-art technologies such as AI and AR. However, to accomplish this endeavour, OPTIMAI considers a human-centered approach, keeping the operator as the main actor in this loop.
What makes your organisation ideal for participating in the research/activities of OPTIMAI?
The Human Computer Interaction (HCI) Laboratory of ICS-FORTH, established in 1989, is an internationally recognized centre of excellence, with worldwide leading research activities rooted in the principles of Universal Access, that has proposed and elaborated the concept of an “Information Society for All” embraced in the Europe Lisbon 2000 agenda. Since its establishment, the HCI Lab has been participating in many research and innovation projects in close collaboration with industry in Greece, Europe, and internationally, providing research results that foster the human-machine symbiosis.
Has anything surprised you in the first 10 months of the project?
Although I was sceptical regarding the consequences that the pandemic could yield related to the implementation of the project, we’ve managed to make everything proceed very smoothly already.
What do you see as the biggest challenge for OPTIMAI?
A big challenge for OPTIMAI is to manage the employment of the envisioned disruptive technologies for achieving zero-defect production, in a smooth and unobtrusive manner so as not to disturb the existing well-established operation of the pilot sites’ production line.
What is one key thing you have learned from working on OPTIMAI so far?
Undoubtedly, being at the forefront of paving the terrain for the factories of the future is a big thing itself. Regarding OPTIMAI, I feel lucky to be participating in a project that aims to provide optimization technologies to such heterogeneous use cases, each of them entailing totally different requirements and challenges that must be tackled. In this respect, the knowledge that I have gained so far in the field is the widest that I could get.
Could you describe the overall expected impact of the OPTIMAI project in three words?
Intelligent Human-centric Manufacturing.
What would be your advice to anyone interested in getting involved with a Horizon Europe project?
Without a second thought, go for it. Horizon Europe projects give you the opportunity to collaborate with people from different backgrounds, share and widen your knowledge, and achieve important results that can improve many domains of our everyday life.
Thanks for taking the time to speak with us, George! We look forward to more updates from the team at ICS-FORTH.