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How to grow up yet stay the same?

UTC-Compiegne, as a Founder Member of the Sorbonne Universities Cluster, has opened its local innovation ecosystem, its experimental territorial infrastructure, for its partners. We recall that UTC itself benefits from an experimental university status and is now spreading its academic model outside France as it has already done in France. The thrust covers two strong concepts, one of which consists of boosting technological research (with UTT-Troyes) on complex systems already under development in Shanghai. The other concept revolves round its cursus based on flexible pedagogy which enhances training and aims at closing the gap with the entrepreneurial world with long placements and workshop projects. This is now being exported to countries abroad, such as currently to Brazil.

How to grow up yet stay the same?

A Dual Partnership to boost R&D in Complex Systems

Two of the French universities of technology, viz., UTC-Compiegne and UTT-Troyes have agreed to unite their forces to develop co-operation with their industrial partners to work on a challenging thematic – complex technological systems. They have as their objective to propose a joint scientific and engineering expertise to the industrialists, underscoring the control of risk and human factors. Interactions zooms in on this strategic project which has just been certified as a Government approved ‘Institut Carnot’.

  

Sensor networks coupled to data processing equipment to ensure medical monitoring of senior citizens in their homes; a fleet of drones in formation exchanging information whilst on surveillance missions over forest-land under the threat of a fire outbreak; driverless vehicles, exchanging information with their immediate environment to ensure safe journeys on the road …

These few examples serve to illustrate the fact that the complexity inherent in today’s technologies stems from the heterogeneous nature of the component systems. The latter comprise numerous building-blocks obeying different logics and with different behaviours, all of which are increasing interconnected, and used to process a host of varying operations. It is this overarching situation that makes it difficult even to describe what is happening, not to mention designing and managing them correctly.

Mastering this complexity is one of the major challenges in engineering sciences. And it is for this reason that UTT-Troyes and UTC-Compiegne have chosen to associate their skills on this particular theme and to develop partnerships with the industrialists. “Here we have two engineering schools that focus strongly on technological research, that is looking closely at engineering as a science”, explains Professor Bruno Bachimont, Executive Director in charge of Research at UTC. “As we see it, complex systems are scientific in essence. But it also represents a priority axis for co-operation with industrialist partners. Enterprises are the first to be confronted with the issues raised by system complexity. And the best way we have currently to solve these questions is to share our skills and efforts to define and propose solutions on a joint basis”.

 

An intelligence-intensive approach to complex systems

The objective shared by the two universities does not include answering industrialists’ questions immediately they arise, on a customer/supplier line, but rather to build long-standing partnerships that will enable them to finance research and reinforce their expertise on complex systems, while favouring technology transfer operations and policies, innovation and hence help improve industrial competitiveness. So, how does their project stand? The short answer will consist of proposing a service offer to industrialists on the core theme of system intelligence, stressing in particular risk and human factor management.

In order to deploy and implement this strategy, both UTT-Troyes and UTC-Compiegne have a similar trump card – their pluridisciplinary approaches. “We are in a position to come up with global answers which essentially are transverse to all the issues we find in complex systems”, underlines Jérôme Plain, Director of Entrepreneurial Relationships at UTT-Troyes. “And this is all the more true that our skills here are complementary. By combining our strengths, we can tender to wider-ranging calls for projects”.

 

Risk management – a double-edged challenge

Mechanical engineering, acoustics, nanotechnologies, computer sciences and applications, biology ad bio-engineering …. if we consider “hard” sciences, then these two universities of technology (UTs) have the capacity to integrate their research findings from a variety of specialties in a single complex system. Thanks to this multidisciplinary approach, they have also developed a strongly based expertise in the field of risk management, which represents both one of the main applications of complex systems (medical monitoring at home, surveillance operations on sensitive sites) and a problem area that calls for attention if we wish to mater the systems.

And because of their inherent complexity, it proves more difficult to forecast system behaviour and/or to identify all the endogenous and exogenous risk factors involved, ad to ensure safer operational modes. … “For engineering scientists, we are faced here with a change in paradigm”, note Bruno Bachimont. “Earlier on, we used to start by building a model and then we expected the system to concur with the model. Today, our model long techniques are confronted with the sheer complexity of the real world which lies beyond our reach. Hence the need to develop new approaches to identify correctly and master the system’s uncertainties”.

At UTC-Compiegne, these questions lie at the heart of the research concerns of several teams and especially those with the French government incentive Labex (MS2T) Master’s degree ‘Control of Technological Systems of Systems’. At UTT-Troyes, science and technologies for risk control are one of the nine research themes explored at the Charles Delaunay Institute, a mixed research unit (UMR) that brings together all the research activities of the university. It is a transverse theme, involving all the research teams, on programmes that range from surveillance and safety in large-scale systems, to e-health programmes, and cybersecurity measures, eco-design or systems and network resilience and crisis management protocols.

 

Systems that integrate human factors

Moreover, both UTs have numerous social research scientists, over and above the hard-science specialists. “We therefore have the capacity to study complex themes, integrating both the technological and social aspects of the issues and that is a clearly advantageous asset for us”, underlines Jérôme Plain. Indeed, this specific feature enables the scientists to anticipate societal impacts of technological systems: what, for example, will be the consequences in terms of employment opportunities, protection of our private spheres, and with what degree of social acceptance? Questions like these are all the more important that a form of technophobia is gaining ground as rapidly as technophilia.

It also enables “human-inclusive” approaches (as opposed to “human-exclusive”). “Interactions with end-users is often regarded as the weak link in systems, as problems to be overcome and which generate risks and extra difficulties”, explains Bruno Bachimont. “Our approach consists of regarding humans not only as end-users but as an integral component of the milieu in which the system is called to operate and as an ingredient contributing to its resilience”.

 

An engineering pole to serve industry

Ton develop the co-operation agreements with the industrial world, the two universities rely on Uteam, the partnership research management subsidiary of UTC-Compiegne, in which TTT-Troyes will take a participative stake. As it had already done for UTC, Uteam has the remit to valorise the expertise of the laboratories for the associate enterprises, to negotiate and manage their research contracts. But Uteam will also set up a pole of skills in engineering sciences, to propose services complementary to those from the laboratories: expertise, test protocols and experiments, design, accompaniment for technological development …

For these engineering activities, Uteam will address the scientific and technological platforms of both UTC-Compiegne and UTT-Troyes and will engage PhD level or post doc) engineers. “Our platforms have the engineers, who have often been trained ion our own laboratories and, given their proximity with the research scientists, are consequently continuously updated in their scientific knowledge-bases”, explains Bruno Bachimont. “This personnel possess all the expertise need to make high level offers to the industrialists. But our universities do not have the financial means to keep them employed beyond, say two to three years. Hence the idea of recruiting them into the Uteam staff to keep their skills ‘on hand’ and to build up a self-renewing group of experts, who could also envisage reinforcing the R&D teams of the same industrialists. This vision is inspired from what happens with the Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft Institutes in Germany.”

With both universities sharing the multidisciplinary approach and the new Uteam organization, they intend to boost cooperative activities with the industrialists. Their objective is to double the number of research scientists engaged in contract research over the coming three years and to increase by some 10% per year the level of partnership resrecah projects and joint registration of associate patent claims, with the industrial partners.