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52: Machine Learning at the UTC-Heudiasyc lab

Professor Philippe Bonnifait, also Vice-Chairman of the scientific council of the University of Technology of Compiègne (UTC) former Director of a CNRS research group (GDR) in robotics between 2013 and 2017. Since January 2018, he has been Director of the UTC-Heudiasyc Laboratory, created in 1981. This state-of-the-art laboratory houses, in particular, the CID (Knowledge, Uncertainties, Data) team dedicated to research in artificial intelligence.

52: Machine Learning at the UTC-Heudiasyc lab

Machine Learning at the UTC-Heudiasyc lab

[UTC-Heudiasyc is a joint research unit (UMR) between UTC and the CNRS. It employs nearly 120 people – professors and lecturers, research-scientists, research engineers and technicians, doctoral students, post-docs, administrative staff, etc. In addition, there are about twenty Master's level trainees per year. This makes it, after UTC-Roberval, the university's second largest laboratory.

"Heudiasyc's scientific scope has not changed much since its creation, but the themes have evolved. We focus on computer sciences in the broadest sense, with two main branches: the training of computer engineers and research Master students," explains Philippe Bonnifait. This specificity explains the very strong link between the lab and the UTC's computer science department, since the majority of the lecturers involved in the training of computer engineers (but also in the framework of the research Master's degrees) report to UTC-Heudiasyc.

UTC-Heudiasyc is a cutting-edge laboratory that has seen "five of its research scientists seconded to the private sectors. Among them, two are at FAIR (Facebook AI Research), the firm's laboratory in Paris," he says. A laboratory whose lecturer-cum research scientists, with proven skills, provide quality training that is highly appreciated by students. The proof? “There are more than 700 matriculated computer engineering students. This is not insignificant. It is a highly valued generalist training that allows our students to easily adapt to the very rapid evolution of technologies in the sector. For Master's degree students, the training is more specialized, closer to what we do in research, in short. Currently, Heudiasyc has 55 PhD students, which proves the interest, in the eyes of the students, in the research themes tackled by the laboratory," he emphasises.

What are the major lines of research undertaken at UTC-Heudiasyc? "There are four priority themes: computer science, artificial intelligence (AI), a key word that has been around for 20 years, when it was not yet fashionable, and finally automation and robotics. All our teacher-researchers work in these disciplines," says Philippe Bonnifait.

Since the restructuring of the lab in January 2018, three teams have been working on these themes: the CID team (Knowledge, Uncertainties, Data), the SCOP team (Safety, Communication, Optimization) and, lastly, the SyRI team (Robotic Systems in Interaction). "The first team is dedicated to what we do in the foundation artificial intelligence studies, understanding that not all areas of artificial intelligence are addressed. We can mention machine learning, interactive learning, recommendation systems, etc." The second works in particular on the problems of scheduling, networks but also - and this is a novelty in the laboratory - on safe systems, in other words, systems that are failsafe and secure. As systems communicate increasingly, data exchanges are therefore important. “Hence the major challenge of securing them against an attack by hackers, for example. Finally, the last theme addresses those questions that revolve around the autonomy of machines, in particular the articulation between robotics and artificial intelligence, the first being in the physical world while the second, computational, virtual, is located in the "cloud" or in computers. We now speak of artificial intelligence embodied by robots," he explains.

The choice made by Heudiasyc in the vast field of artificial intelligence applied to robotics? "We chose to focus our research on mobile robotics, particularly those dedicated to transport and mobility. Today, we are talking about intelligent (“smart”) and autonomous vehicles. Vehicles designed to drive in shared environments. We were also one of the first labs to launch, in 1997, into UAVs," he explains.

A choice that allowed the lab to participate, as part of the Government Incentive Programme Investments for the Future (PIA), via Labex MS2T and EQUIPEX to Robotex and enabled Philippe Bonnifait to pilot everything related to land and air mobile robotics in France. A project launched in 2011 and running until the end of 2021 which also had the support of the Hauts-de-France Region to the tune of 3.5 million euros in scientific equipment.

This policy choice that naturally led to a large number of industrial partnerships, particularly in the field of transport. "With Renault, for example, within the framework of Sivalab, a joint Renault/UTC/CNRS laboratory, or a ten-year project, launched in September 2019, with the IRT Railenium consortium related to the concept of autonomous trains," concludes Philippe Bonnifait.