27/03/2020

Meet Luis Felipe da Cruz Figueredo, Brazilian MSCA researcher in the UK


Profile:

  • Name: Luis Felipe da Cruz Figueredo
  • Country of origin: Brazil
  • Host country and institution in Europe: United Kingdom, University of Leeds
  • Acronym (title) of MSCA project: Predict-Plan-Control (Integrating robotic control and planning with human activity prediction for efficient human robot collaboration)
  • Field of research: Physical Sciences & Engineering

Interview:

Could you tell us a bit about your experience within your research field?

Throughout my academic career, I always pursued to improve my skills and expand the horizons of my research through cross- and inter-disciplinary applications and collaborations. During my PhD, for instance, I explored my solid mathematical background obtained through a rather theoretical MS programme to design a unified framework integrating algebraic tools I developed with traditional applications to robotics, particularly to robotic arms manipulation. This allowed me to produce ground-breaking applications in cooperative manipulation and safe and reliable manipulation. For this work, I was granted the Best PhD-Thesis Award in Engineering (2016) at the University of Brasilia, UnB (https://noticias.unb.br/117-pesquisa/2594-premio-valoriza-producao-cient..., in Portuguese). My work also led to two distinguished research grants in Brazil for which I was one of the Co-Investigators being responsible for most of the technical writing.

In addition to writing skills which are crucial for academics, I have also always strived to transfer acquired theoretical knowledge to practical outputs. In this context, I was recognised for outstanding robotic demonstrations in different communities. For my research into cooperative robotics control, I was awarded as the winner of the Rethink Robotics’ IROS Contest for Best Demonstration and invited to present at the company’s booth with their Baxter robot life at the IEEE IROS 2014 (http://sdk.rethinkrobotics.com/wiki/IROS_2014)—the most important robotics conference. I also received an award at ICAPS 2014—the most prestigious conference on planning—in the context of a group project for the Boeing Company which aimed at enabling multi-robots to work alongside humans in an airplane factory (http://icaps14.icaps-conference.org/index/awards.html). Both projects were deployed simultaneously during my stay as a visiting PhD student at the CSAIL Laboratory at MIT. At this time, I also had significant joint publications with researchers from UnB and UFMG. This highlights my continuous efforts to work in different projects, both individually and in a team.

To develop teaching and mentoring skills, I have worked as a Lecturer in an undergraduate program at UnB from 2015 to 2016. During this period, I was responsible for important disciplines such as Automatic Control—which is the last discipline in the Mechatronics course at UnB—and Probabilistic Robotics. As a result of my teaching performance in these classes, I was honoured as a guest speaker at the Graduation ceremony. At UnB, I have also mentored 6 students to successfully finish their studies and start an academic career—one of whom completed the MS program at UnB and started a PhD program at MIT. I have over 10 refereed peer-reviewed papers published with those students in renowned venues.

Since I moved to the UK and was awarded the prestigious Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions–Individual Fellowship, I co-organized the 3rd UK Robot Manipulation Workshop (http://www.robot-manipulation.uk/) in Leeds, for the first time, with over 110 participants from roughly 32 UK research institutions (Universities and Industry), and headed an interdisciplinary collaboration with Dr. Chakrabarty, a specialist in sensory-motor neurophysiology to assess neurophysiology/biomechanics aspects during forceful human-robot collaboration.

I am currently working to address unanswered biological and engineering questions, e.g., what mechanisms define the human musculoskeletal response during human physical interaction? Results can guide further studies on improved rehabilitation techniques and, conversely, the design of human-centred robotic systems capable of shaping the musculoskeletal response towards more comfortable and fluid human-robot collaboration.

Why did you decide to apply to MSCA? How would you say the experience contributed to your personal and professional growth?

At the time of my application, I had already agreed to move to the UK to work with Dr. Mehmet Dogar. We were at the same institution in the US (MIT) during his postdoctoral research and my studies as a visiting PhD researcher. Nonetheless, this was our first collaborative effort and to make the most of our time, we designed a plan of activities and Dr. Dogar suggested turning that plan into an MSCA proposal. To make the project stronger, I extended the original plan including a strong training programme—in topics complementary to my skill set—and senior experts (Prof Anthony Cohn) to guide me throughout the project.

Being a Marie-Skłodowska Curie research fellow opens doors everywhere. It is a strong passport for the EU research community. You then have to make the most of the intense two-year project to make your mark in Europe, but the MSCA will give you all the resources needed. Personally, I can also say that having a good salary to establish myself and, most importantly, funds for traveling and training were crucial at this step of my academic career.

What would you say the biggest challenge in the application process was? How did you overcome it?

I must confess that the proposal witting process went better than I expected. I was not aware of just how prestigious was the MSCA at the time of the application. This was likely my main advantage. Taking a more easy-minded approach for the application allowed me to build a research project that related to my interests, rather than trying to adapt it to be more competitive. If you propose a project that you indeed want to pursue, then everything should be easier and your real interest and capacities to complete the project will be reflected in the proposal. Another crucial step for my application was to have a mentor who guided through the details of the process, for instance, describing the importance of a risk assessment and a backup plan.

From your experience, how does the research environment in Europe differ from that in Latin America, if at all? And, how do you think EURAXESS LAC can further promote research collaborations between Europe and Latin America & the Caribbean?

The research structure and environment in Europe are completely different from the one in Latin America. With shorter PhD programmes, students in Europe tend to start research almost immediately which in turn shapes the work towards very practical applications, whereas, in LAC, research is strongly oriented in building solid theoretical knowledge. The complementarity of methods is obvious and could be very well-explored to produce outputs relevant to real-world applications yet grounded on a solid theoretical background. Visiting programmes, internships, and exchange of academics could be one of the directions to strengthen and to turn potential collaborations into a reality.

What is your life in Europe like outside the office/lab?

This is my first long-stay in Europe. I wouldn't dare generalize my experience nor the lifestyle from different countries and cities throughout Europe.

My experience in the UK has been very pleasant. Leeds is an amazing, international city with friendly people. Yorkshire men and women are strong-minded and proud people, but they are also very open to new experiences, knowledge and to foreigners. Latin America is also very well-seen in the UK.

Nonetheless, regardless of where you go, try to experience life, the customs and meet locals.

Do you have any advice for young researchers from LAC who are considering applying for a Marie Skłodowska-Curie Fellowship?

Please, go for it! A good researcher in Brazil and Latin America is a good researcher anywhere in the world. In LAC, academy strongly focuses on the foundation rather than application, hence it is very likely that you have a solid theoretical background. In any case, the five-ish PhD programme forms excellent researchers capable of doing high-impact research in Europe. Make use of your strengths and seek for European academics who are doing excellent work that relates and complements your expertise.

Don't think small. Make an ambitious research plan together with your mentor. The MSCA is looking for innovative, ground-breaking research.

Time to grow. The European Commission takes very seriously your development as a researcher. You should look at your own research and figure what would take to place you as a leading researcher in your field. Make sure to include that as training in your proposal. Learn from others. Seek other alumni and academics who have successfully or unsuccessfully applied for the MSCA. Appreciate their advice and learn from their mistakes.

Finally, what’s next for you?

I am about to finish my fellowship tenure in the next couple of months. It is never an easy process to decide what to do next. The MSCA, however, opened many doors for me, which made the process easier (though, not less stressful!). Fortunately, I have a couple of Lecture position offers in the UK. I was also offered a prestigious research-oriented position in a leading European group in Germany. I should decide in the next couple of weeks. But, in the short- mid-term, I should stay and contribute to the European research community. In the long-term future, I picture myself back in Brazil, yet I still have to strengthen my position if I want to make a real difference back home.