Introduction

FrontSeat aims at increasing the research and academic prospects of Slovak University of Technology in Bratislava, Slovakia (STUBA), and at initiating the evolution of STUBA into a modern, reputed excellent institution that performs world-class research in advanced automatic control, educates top-quality scholars and industrial practitioners, and is successful in the active dissemination and exploitation of its research and innovation efforts to an international audience. For this purpose, STUBA teams up with two renowned research groups in automatic control from Ruhr University Bochum, Germany (RUB) and University of Pisa, Italy (UNIPI). The specific goals of the action are to reinforce the collaboration with the two research groups from Western Europe, to intensify research in advanced automatic control, to open up new collaboration channels through academic and industrial networking, to train excellent young/senior researchers and project managers, and to effectively disseminate and exploit the research results of STUBA.

FrontSeat Main Activities

  • Adoption/amendment of internal research project-related rules and procedures and development of project a management toolbox,
  • Research efforts aiming at the continued creation of high-quality research results and software tools,
  • Establishment of a series of guest scientific and academic lectures,
  • Exchanges and training of project managers and research (junior and senior) personnel,
  • Organization of conferences and invited sessions, seminars with industry, and annual summer schools,
  • Establishment of open access and open science practices, including use of the Zenodo repository, enforcing open access publication, and publication of research data according to the FAIR principles, 
  • Preparation and implementation of a new PhD curriculum at STUBA,
  • Establishment of an academic-industrial research and innovation cluster.

Research Plan: Background and Objectives

The project hinges on STUBA’s vast experience in optimization-based control software, which already has an international user base. The Center for the Engineering of Smart Product Service Systems with its aerial robotics labs (at RUB) and the Scientific Districts (at UNIPI)  with its numerous successful industrial-academic joint-ventures constitute the ideal background for the project, and both centers serve as  blueprints for future units at STUBA.

Aiming at efficient solutions to industrially relevant problems, the project will build on the state-of-the-art control methodologies such as model predictive control (MPC), which is one of today’s most promising advanced control technique, as corroborated by its widespread industrial use. Emphasis will be on the development of embedded control algorithms that are able to provide optimal control actions in an efficient and autonomous manner and that can be deployed on embedded computing hardware that is suitable for use on platforms with limited computational resources such as todays ubiquitous embedded devices.

FrontSeat will take advantage of the inter- and multi-disciplinary exchange and collaboration between specialists from all the partner groups. There exist multiple synergies between the partners in several areas of automatic control and in several engineering disciplines. These will be exploited to the maximum extent during the project such that the research collaborations will be sustained after the project end.

It is one of the central goals of the project to create a platform for long-term collaborative research activities that will combine the proven excellence in data-driven and model-based optimization of the three partners to create a new generation of algorithms and artificial intelligence for the automatic control of complex dynamical systems.

The algorithms to be developed will fully automate the design of optimal predictive controllers based on techniques and tools such as Koopman operators, artificial neural networks, and online and explicit model predictive control. The resulting controllers will be able to cope with a broad variety of user-specified performance targets (e.g., economic) and real-world conditions such as humans in the loop. For example, the partners set out to develop and implement algorithms for the autonomous and collaborative operation of unmanned mobile ground and aerial robots for use as inspection devices in production and supply systems.

Research Plan: Activities

The development of software tools is a core component of FrontSeat. Specifically, the partners seek to extend the capabilities and promote the Multi-Parametric Toolbox (MPT). MPT is an open-source Matlab-based toolbox (http://people.ee.ethz.ch/~mpt/3/) for design, analysis, and deployment of optimal controllers for constrained linear, non-linear and hybrid systems where the lead developer M. Kvasnica is from STUBA. Since its initial release in 2004, it has booked 35,000+ downloads and more than 1,300 citations worldwide. Theoretical advances achieved within the project will be implemented as extensions to the toolbox, such as extensions on data-based and model-based optimal control. The software implementations of the proposed solutions will be available at no charge to academic researchers and industrial control practitioners, and will in this way serve as an excellent platform for dissemination and exploitation of FrontSeat results.

The research objectives and collaborations translate into jointly advised  PhD thesis and postdoctoral project topics. The topics have direct implications for development of cutting-edge technologies that will stimulate attention of both industrial partners and external academic groups and communities. Some examples of such topics are:

  • Model predictive control on low-cost microcontrollers for ubiquitous use in mechatronic devices (STUBA and RUB)
  • Govenors for the integration of proprietrary devices into system wide control
    (STUBA and RUB)
  • Fast optimal path planning for unmanned robots with optimal control methods Early stage researcher D. Müller, supervised by M. Mönnigmann (RUB) and M. Fikar (STUBA)
  • Mixed and virtual reality for production line operation training
    (STUBA and RUB)
  • Hybrid modeling and real-time optimization of processes under uncertainty Early stage researcher R. Fáber, supervised by R. Paulen (STUBA) and G. Pannocchia (PISA)

Early stage researchers will be supported through joint PhD supervision by advisors from at least two of FrontSeat’s partner universities. Joint research will be promoted with frequent research exchanges. More than 45 in-person exchanges are scheduled, which amounts to more than one per project-month.

Fostering research through exchanges and conference participation

In addition, FrontSeat aims to create visibility for its efforts and results on at least three conferences in each project year. The specific conferences targeted are listed in Table 1.

# Conference  Project
Year 
Sponsors
(organizers) 
Location  Dates  Participation
and goals  
1 Process Control Conference 2023  IEEE  Štrbské Pleso, Slovak Republic  June 6-9, 2023  G. Pannocchia plenary speaker
STUBA Organizer 
Joint publications (planned)
Invited session organized by FrontSeat partnerns (planned) 
2 European Control Conference 2023  EUCA  Bucharest, Romania  June 13-16, 2023  Publications by the partners (submitted) 
3 IFAC World Congress 2023  IFAC  Yokohama, Japan  July 9-14, 2023  Joint publications (submitted) 
4 Conference on Decision and Control 2023  IEEE  Marina Bay Sands, Singapore  December 13-15, 2023  Joint publications (planned) 
5 Adchem 2024  IFAC  Toronto, Canada  July 14-17, 2023  Joint publications (planned) 
Invited session organized by FrontSeat partners (planned) 
G. Pannocchia plenary speaker 
M. Mönnigmann International Program Chair 
6 European Control Conference 2024  EUCA  Stockholm, Sweden  June 25-28,  2024  Joint publications (planned) 
7 Conference on Decision and Control 2024  IEEE  Milan, Italy  December 17-19, 2024  Joint publications (planned) 
8 Dycops 2025  IFAC  TBD  TBD  Joint publications (planned) 
9 Process Control Conference 2025  IEEE  Štrbské Pleso, Slovak Republic  June, 2025  Invited session organized by FrontSeat partners (planned) 

The International Conference on Process Control (PC, lines 1 and 9 in Table 1) is a binannual international conference organized by STUBA and sponsored by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE). PC brings together experts in control from academia and industry and, thus, is an ideal platform for increasing the visibility of STUBA as well as of the partners. Equally importantly, the PC conferences provide ideal opportunities for fostering joint work with industrial partners that may serve as project partners in future Horizon Europe projects. FrontSeat will contribute to PC in 2023 and in 2025.

The IFAC World Congress (line 3 in Table 1) , which takes place every three years, is the flagship conference of IFAC, the international umbrella organization for all national organizations of control professionals in the fields of Mechanical, Process, and Chemical Engineering. Since the World Congress is the most important and biggest event of IFAC, it provides a perfect opportunity for the FrontSeat team to keep in touch with the newest developments in their professional fields, and to present FrontSeat as a seed for future consortia in the field of automatic control.

The European Control Conference (ECC, lines 2 and 6 in Table 1) is an annual conference organized by the European Control Association (EUCA), which is sponsored by both worldwide professional organizations in the field of automatic control, the IEEE and IFAC. ECC is the largest European conference in the field and therefore provides similar opportunities as PC but with a wider scope of topics and broader audience and participants. FrontSeat aims to contribute to ECC 2023 and ECC 2024.

Finally, the IFAC Symposium on Advanced Control of Chemical Processes (Adchem, line 5 in Table 1), the IFAC Symposium on Dynamics and Control of Process Systems (Dycops, line 8 in Table 1), and the IEEE Conference on Decision and Control (lines 4 and 7 in Table 1) are specialized conferences in the particular research fields of the partners. These specialized conferences provide an opportunity to both keep up with the current developments in the field, and to present the state of the art achieved in FrontSeat to specialists from all over the world.