June 2020 OES Beacon

Who’s who in IEEE OES – Fausto Ferreira

Fausto Ferreira, IEEE Senior Member, OES AdCom Member

It’s always hard to write about yourself. It’s also hard to keep the reader’s attention through the whole article. So, I will start with the fun part and hopefully entice you to read until the end.

My relationship with the ocean starts in my childhood. At the age of 4, I was so convinced that I wanted to be a yacht builder that I sent a letter about it to a TV show. Looking at what I am doing now (marine robotics), I didn’t end up too far from it. My fascination with robotics also begins at an early age when my aunt gave me a toy robot. Since then, I wanted to study robotics. I ended up finishing a Master’s degree in Electrical and Computer Engineering at Instituto Superior Técnico in Lisbon, Portugal. My thesis was on autonomous docking for a search and rescue ground robot, which culminated in a patent. After graduating, I moved to Italy as a Marie Curie Early Stage Researcher (ESR) at the National Research Council (CNR) of Italy. What was supposed to be a one year contract but became a two-year contract, and after 12 years, I still work in Italy.

I can’t jump into what I did in my first job and the first few years of my research career without talking about the missing piece of the puzzle. Before I finished primary school, I discovered a sport that I still practice today, orienteering. In an orienteering competition, athletes are given only a map and a compass and must find their way from one point to another with no other information. It’s an individual sport that gives the freedom to choose your own path in the forest. I guess the orienteering mentality has been reflected in my career.

First, because in my first job I worked in vision-based Simultaneous Localization and Mapping (SLAM) for underwater vehicles. But also because I have chosen an unorthodox career path. In the first few years, I had a linear course. Following the end of my ESR position, I stayed at CNR as a Research Associate and enrolled in PhD studies at the University of Genoa. I worked in the same area, enlarging the scope of my research from underwater computer vision to sonars and Automatic Target Recognition (ATR). Throughout my PhD, I had the opportunity to spend six months as a Visiting Scientist at the NATO STO Centre for Maritime Research and Experimentation (CMRE) in Italy and three months at the University of Miami in the U.S., funded by the Office of Naval Research Global (ONRG). Close to the end of my PhD, in July 2014, I joined NATO STO CMRE as a Scientist. I became more involved with robotics competitions (both marine and multi-domain) and have been Deputy Director of our annual robotics competition ever since. I have also been strongly involved in the organization of UComms, an underwater acoustic conference organized by CMRE with the support of IEEE OES, among others.

By now you might be wondering at what point this story becomes unorthodox. Well, in late 2015, I enrolled in a Bachelor of Science in Political Sciences and International Relations. Confused? Being the son of an engineer and a language teacher, I always had a place in my heart for social sciences, so to me, exploring this new avenue seemed obvious. I graduated in late 2018 with a thesis on regulatory and liability issues of autonomous surface vehicles, which blended both of my backgrounds.

My fiancée and I ready for the UComms’18 Gala Dinner.

Currently, I am continuing my research in this area. Specifically, I’m interested in collision avoidance regulations for autonomous marine vehicles (surface and underwater) and their relation to the current laws for ships and submarines. I am spending some time as a Visiting Scholar at the Faculty of Law, University of Zagreb.

Volunteering for OES came naturally to me. As a teenager, I volunteered in my local cultural association, helping to organize theater and music festivals. Sometimes I would even participate as I’ve studied music for 11 years (my other hobbies include writing for newspapers, travel and reading). I have also helped my club organize foot and mountain bike orienteering events including World Cups. During my PhD, I collaborated with the School of Robotics in several robotics workshops for youngsters. Later, due to my involvement in marine robotics competitions and the interest of OES in this kind of activity, the two dots connected.

In 2018, I was selected as one of the two Young Professionals for the inaugural OES YP BOOST Program. I started contributing to the society as a judge in the Student Poster Competition and in the social media initiative. But it wasn’t until 2019 that I had the honor of being part of the Administrative Committee (AdCom), joining a great group of fellow scientists and engineers. It is a pleasure to volunteer and give back to the society that organizes OCEANS and so many other workshops and keeps the quality of scientific output high through the Journal of Oceanic Engineering.

In the past year, I became involved in the OCEANS Reconnaissance Committee (RECON) with a particular focus on finding potential European venues. I initiated contact with the University of Limerick to organize OCEANS’23 for which I will serve as OES Liaison. I recently also began a supervisory role of OCEANS tutorials. In this new position, I am guiding the local tutorials chairs in all the phases of organizing the tutorials. We are currently trying new models for the tutorials including free registration (for attendees already registered for OCEANS) and making sure that the content remains relevant and popular. Most recently, I volunteered to join the Membership Development Committee to help my colleagues keep up the excellent work done for attracting students and young professionals. I have some proposals for promoting early career professionals and keeping students engaged after graduation. At the same time, I am part of the Autonomous Marine Systems Technical Committee. Within this committee, I am mainly involved in marine robotics competitions around the world, such as the Singapore AUV Challenge, the European Robotics League, and RobotX. You can always find me at one of those challenges, at any OCEANS, UComms or at the annual Breaking the Surface workshop.

Breaking the Surface (BTS) is an interdisciplinary workshop that gathers practitioners in the field of marine robotics and applications (archeology, biology, security, and geology).  BTS is a very special workshop for me. Not only because I have attended every single edition (10 years in a row) or because I performed sea trials and demos several times. Nor just because since 2019, OES is a sponsor of this event, and there are plans to expand it soon to other geographic areas. But ultimately, because I met my fiancée there in the 2016 edition! We are now spending the quarantine together and trying to plan a wedding during these strange times of COVID-19. It’s not easy, but the most important thing is to be safe! My life has been an incredible journey and I hope it continues. I would be delighted to help you get more involved