March 2019 OES Beacon

Who’s Who in the OES – João Alves

João Alves, IEEE Senior Member, OES AdCom Member

When I was recently preparing a presentation on the topic of maritime unmanned systems, I came to the rather scary realization that I’ve been working on the topic for almost 25 years now.

It started with my studies in the Technical University of Lisbon (now simply University of Lisbon). I have been working with Autonomous Underwater Vehicles since my undergrad thesis. I worked as a researcher in the Dynamical Systems and Ocean Robotics Lab of the same university on control and navigation and then moved into real-time systems. We were developing our own AUVs and ASVs and testing at sea was something I got used to since the beginning. In 2003, together with some lab colleagues we set up a spin-off company called Blue Edge. It was a turning point to me: an absolutely amazing learning experience. I started drawing my interest into underwater communications when, through the company, we joined a European project where we were doing cooperative underwater robotics. Since all things come to an end, I decided to leave the company and started looking for a job. That’s when I moved to Italy to join the NURC, now called NATO’s Centre for Maritime Research and Experimentation or CMRE in short. I’ve been working at CMRE on underwater communications ever since. I’ve had incredible opportunities, took part in landmark initiatives like JANUS and led breakthrough studies and sea trials. It has been an absolutely amazing journey.

During a submarine rescue exercise, in Turkey, bringing JANUS as a new capability to the submarine rescue community with dear colleagues and friends from CMRE, Roberto Petroccia and Alberto Grati.
During a submarine rescue exercise, 100m below the surface, onboard NEMO: The NATO Submarine Rescue vehicle, with the head of the Spanish Submarine Flotilla.
Three views from my tiny loft “home studio”,including the subset of guitars I keep handy.

In 2018 I joined the OES AdCom. This has been another great opportunity to learn and to give something back to an institution that I have admired for a long time. This is the society that brings us the OCEANS conferences and the Journal of Oceanic Engineering! It is real a privilege to be associated with it. As of January 2019, I am also the OES Liaison for OCEANS 2021 Porto, which is the perfect excuse to work with people I’ve known for a very long time and whom I genuinely like and admire.

As you could probably tell, I just skimmed through my professional career. The truth is that whenever I read the who’s who articles I’m always drawn to the non-work part of the text. That’s usually where one learns something a bit unexpected about the people that we got used to interact with and see a couple of times a year but of whom sometimes we miss the essence.

On that topic I’ll talk to you about this old passion of mine: Music.

I started learning music through the regular school plan when I was about 10 years old with nothing particularly relevant to report. When adolescence came, I developed an interest for hard rock and inevitably I wanted to play the guitar. I took a few lessons but when I was 13 my sense of urgency was not compatible with the rate of my progress. Since I couldn’t play fast and shredding distorted guitar solos by the end of week one, guitar school was not the place for me. The deep fascination for music was still there and I figured I could actually learn a lot if I joined the local philharmonic (!!). I was right. I learned a lot of the basics and did way more solfège than anyone should. When the conductor told me that he thought I was tailored to play the oboe, I did the only reasonable thing: I left to never return. I learned the guitar pretty much by myself, playing along to my favorite songs. In my late teens and early twenties, I had my bands and played in bars to no more than a couple of drunk people. I was never particularly interested in playing cover songs. I always wanted to do my own music and channel my creativity that way. I started to take an interest in recording and developed the (rather rudimentary) ability to arrange and orchestrate. The discovery of Rimsky-Korsakov’s book “Principles of Orchestration” was a revelation for me. My biggest claim to glory was when I wrote, recorded and delivered a small 1-minute original piece for a campaign of a company back in Portugal. Was the owner of that company my friend? Absolutely. Still…

Taking a break after a hike in Yosemite NationalPark (CA) with my 3 ladies.

I have a tiny home studio in a little loft area in the apartment where we live. I have my equipment there including my guitars, amplifiers, mixer, piano, synths, effects processors, etc. I still practice my scales and play with other people whenever possible. In the meantime I developed a problem with guitars: I own 18, between electrics (15), a bass, an acoustic and a classical. I aim at making it 20 fairly soon. This condition even has a “technical” name: it’s called Guitar Acquisition Syndrome (GAS) and it’s a thing. You can look it up.

I’m also married and have 2 beautiful daughters. Whenever I’m not working nor playing I love to travel with my family. We did two road trips in the U.S. in the last five years, we have been to Africa, South America and we are planning a family trip to Japan this coming April. Really looking forward to that!