A prominent scientist in his research arena, a scientific coordinator of the prestigious RICAIP project, and the head of the Cybernetics in Material Science Research Group at CEITEC BUT, Prof. Pavel Václavek speaks about the future of automation, electric vehicles, and other exciting explorations
I pursued engineering in technical cybernetics. Right after my studies, I began working in the business of information technologies (IT), dealing with the management of IT in the corporate sphere. Later on, I pursued back to the university and began delving into the world of electrical engineering. In my present position, I was given an exciting opportunity to start my research group within CEITEC. I am now both a research group leader at CEITEC-BUT and a professor of faculty of electrical engineering and communications at the Brno University of Technology. I cherish the balance between teaching the future generations and conducting my research.
“I had no plans to become a scientist in the beginning. I knew that cybernetics is my calling, but the transformation to be a scientist was a gradual process.”
What is the primary focus of your research?
We are engaged in a myriad of projects in my research group, and most of them are directly related to the automotive industry. In this field, we are ensuing two main topics: electric vehicles and automotive driving. Electric vehicles [EVs] are already on the road, but they are not yet affordable for ordinary people. As well, the cars have issues with range and battery limits, so even those who can afford an EV may prefer a traditional vehicle because of their increased efficiency, regardless of their carbon footprint.
Our projects are trying to create new technologies and innovate old ones to increase efficiency and energy management of electric vehicles, and to promote the inevitable switch from gasoline to electricity in the market.
The other important topic is autonomous driving. Most people believe autonomous driving only means a combination of artificial intelligence [AI] and complex algorithms, but instead, there are many more facets to this upcoming service. The car itself has to be designed for AI, not a human, so the change in the design of these cars is another essential side of the research.
In the aero-space industry, it is widespread to have fail-operational systems – in other words, aircrafts can fly even after technical failures. However, in the automotive industry, this is not the case. As an essential brunch of research, we are trying to develop fail-operational perception systems for automotive vehicles.
Why do you think that the average person should care about energy conservation and management?
We currently depend on limited energy resources, and will eventually run out of those. We need to focus on making more efficient systems to produce renewable resources work as perfect as, or better, than existing systems involving fossil fuels and other limited resources. Therefore, it is necessary to conserve any kind of energy in our systems. In doing so, we can maximize the efficiency of energy being produced and limit the required energy consumption. Inside of EVs, we are focusing on the operations itself, particularly amplifying the energy output of our vehicles to eventually match traditional automobiles.
“The automotive industry is mainly focused on driver experience. You will need to be able to travel for longer distances and require fewer breaks for charging. Therefore, finding new and innovative ways to conserve energy in these vehicles is a must.”
What will be the future of urban systems as we enter this new age of electric vehicles and advanced cybernetics?
For electric vehicles, we will need equivalently efficient charging infrastructure and the navigation of cars to minimize energy consumption. We will also require support in cities that allow an automated vehicle to interact with the road and surroundings. It would be helpful to allow AI in cars to communicate with intersections, stoplights, merging zones, roundabouts, and other vehicles.
“As well, we need to look into the future of mobility as a service. Maybe in the future, you will not own a car, but you would rent one as a service. There are limitless possibilities for the future of this field.”
What is your plan to improve the automotive industrial system in Europe?
One of our projects, RICAIP, is related to highly automated production systems. In this project, we are setting up new infrastructure to increase production with new technologies for highly productive automated systems. We are trying to make our industry highly competitive by increasing the amount of automation.
Our attention revolves around advanced robotics and their interactions with humans. In the far future, there may be factories that are entirely automated. However, technology is not that advanced yet. There are still specific tasks that could be more efficiently done by humans over robots.
Another mechanism within our reach is new technologies to make predictions of the health of machines and robots. This would involve management of those machines’ maintenance. In many cases, maintenance is done at regular intervals on each tool for the prevention of failure. The current scheme unnecessarily compels perfectly functional systems to be inspected, which not only wastes time on the factory floor but also wastes money on maintenance itself. With this project, we can remove the useless checkups, and instead have them ongoing and automated.
“With RICAIP, we are constantly intertwining our automotive and technological research to improve the already available systems and utilize the gained knowledge in production technology.”
Could you tell us about your industrial cooperation?
In all of our projects at CEITEC, we are cooperating with the leaders of many major industries in Europe. We are collaborating with companies like Daimler, Siemens, Bosch, or Infineon technologies.
I can confirm that none of our projects are strictly considered basic research alone; on the horizon, are envisioned products that will be on the market. It feels wonderful to comprehend that our work is interlocking the fundamental and applied genre of research heading towards commercially accessible tangible solutions.
Outside of work, what are your interests and hobbies?
I enjoy traveling, but these days I travel mostly to attend project meetings!
It is not easy to find the time, but, still I reserve an exclusive period to hike in the mountains, travel to diverse places around the world. And of course, spending quality time with my family!
Interviewed by William Wyatt Warning and Somsuvro Basu
Photography by Emil Gallík