We have visited examples of Digital Innovation Hubs (DIHs) from many European countries (Croatia, Hungary, Portugal, France, Italy…). It has arrived the time to visit Spain, which has one of the bigger DIH ecosystems in Europe, with 49 fully operational hubs.
Established in 2017 and coordinated by the Universidad Politécnica de Madrid (UPM – Polytechnic University of Madrid), one of the biggest and most prestigious universities in Spain, AIR4S focuses in Artificial Intelligence and Robotics based technologies and counts with a solid and steady support from the Regional Government of Madrid.
They operate in a network of 5 Research Institutes, 13 Research Centers, 3 Innovation Centers and 200 research groups in all areas of Engineering and Architecture and their coordinator, UPM, is the founding member of the Big Data Value Association (BDVA), member of the euRobotics Association, and is actively contributing to the European Artificial Intelligence Alliance and the EuroHPC Joint Undertaking.
Looks like a good example, right? Keep on reading the answers that Mr. Javier Valero (JV) has kindly provided us to know some more about them.
Explain your DIH in a couple of sentences…
JV: AIR4S is a one-stop-shop Digital Innovation Hub in Madrid Region (Spain), led by the Universidad Politécnica de Madrid, that provides innovative solutions and services to industry, especially SMEs and entrepreneurs, and public administrations, on Artificial Intelligence and Robotics based technologies.
AIR4S aims to connect communities and facilitate relationships within all stakeholders involved in the business and innovation value chain and bets for the accomplishment of Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) as a way to leverage growth on organizations in a sustainable way and to effectively return to the society their investment.
Can you tell us some figures of the support you provide?
JV:Based on services provided during the last two years, AIR4S has supported an average of 150 different customers each year, offering them all kind of services, from technological advice/ development/ training to non-technological support (IPR, I&E, …).
The profiles of our customers are very diverse. AIR4S gives services to a variety of organisations: SMEs, midcaps and big companies, coming from diverse vertical sectors: agriculture, energy, climate, manufacturing or health, as well as public administration bodies. These stakeholders have the opportunity to upgrade their services, processes and solutions and to improve their efficiency through the effective integration of AI and Robotics enablers and, at the same time, playing an important role in order to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals.
AIR4S in its strategic plan has estimated a progressive increase of customers in the forthcoming years, thanks to a more specific dissemination and awareness activities. In order to reach this objective, AIR4S counts on several strong players to attract potential customers, such AIR4S partner The Chamber of Commerce of Madrid.
In terms of measured impact of services provided to supported companies in the initial stage of the DIH, we don’t have available KPI’s yet. Gathering this sort of feedback is definitely a main asset to monitor in the next stage.
What specific services do you offer?
JV: AIR4S provided multidisciplinary services around five areas of activity, thanks to the background and expertise of its partners. These areas are:
- Business and Innovation Support: This area provides specific mentoring to assist SME’s and entrepreneurs in the process of innovation and business development. AIR4S offers guidance on connecting with professional services where necessary as, regulatory and legal issues, IPR license management, access to private and public finance, seeking of commercial or R&D potential partners, writing of successful project proposals, access to open innovation and acceleration programmes, co-working and co-creation spaces or support for internationalization and third countries soft-landing.
- Technology Assessment & Tech Services On-Demand: AIR4S provides technologies readiness assessment on product or services, including certification, as well as on organisational capacities of a company on applying technologies in market domains such as Transport, Climate, Health, Agriculture, Industry 4.0, Biomechanics or Health. Main AIR4S players performing this services are the Centre for Assistance to Technological Innovation of the UPM and the Joint Technological Centre in Artificial Intelligence “AI.nnovation” in collaboration between the UPM and Accenture.
The hub also offers support for building cooperative R&D&I projects in order to develop innovative products and services, or to improve market feasibility of existing ones and technology services on demand based on know-how and capacities of its partners. In this regards, there are two relevant joint centres: The Center for Automation and Robotics and the Centre for Plant Biotechnology and Genomics. Both centres complement the portfolio providing excellence expertise in their specific domains.
- Artificial Intelligence and Robotics Skills Training & Education: AIR4S provides access to training programmes on technical skills, including different MSc and PhD programmes in areas such as Artificial Intelligence, Data Science or Automation and Robotics, as well as business oriented programmes on international funding opportunities (specially H2020, Horizon Europe), business and entrepreneurship skills, exchange programmes of personnel and best practices among partners. In addition, ESCP Europe Business School (AIR4S partner) holds 6 Campuses in Europe and a higher in executive education training programs for industrial partners (mostly technology) on innovation projects and business model development.
- Awareness & Visibility: AIR4S network is at disposal of any company who wants to enhance their visibility in order to establish new business alliances, collaborate with other partners for innovation activities or participate in networking events.
- Testing & Demo-sites Access: AIR4S holds a large portfolio of lab facilities, platform technology infrastructures and testing facilities at disposal of AIR4S clients in order to run and perform evaluation and testing activities. One of the main assets made available by AIR4S is UPM’s Data i-Space, which has been recognized by the Big Data Value Association (BDVA) with the European quality i-Space Label, that certifies it as a Trusted Data Incubator targeted to accelerate take up of data driven innovation in commercial sectors. The Data i-Space provides different HPC services for data integration and homogenisation, text analysis, knowledge graph generation, big data analytics, data sharing and governance, management of data privacy and protection, deployment of open and closed data portals for large organisations, training on the data governance, etc. AIR4S provides also access to 13 Artificial Intelligence and 10 Robotics Labs, 5-Wall Virtual Reality Cave for advanced visualization techniques and 3 Living Labs for testing and experimentation in real conditions.
Did you receive any EU funds and, if so, how did you employ them?
JV: AIR4S partners have received funds through many H2020 projects to collaborate with a number of European private and public institutions. For instance, UPM research groups have participated actively in providing technical solutions in many European projects and we are a key partner in providing innovation, education and intelligent services to companies in the context of the four European Institute of Innovation and Technology (EIT) in which UPM participates: Digital, Health, Raw Materials and Climate. This active participation directly contributes into daily activity of AIR4S facilitating the connection with potential clients.
In addition, we have been selected as a member of the IA DIH Network that gathers the best 30 DIH’s in Artificial Intelligence domain. Such collaboration doesn’t provide AIR4S any financial support, but it means a very valuable recognition for our DIH to be considered one of the best prepared DIH in AI and Robotics domain and a strong candidate to be one of the selected groups of European DIHs (EDIH’s) to be supported by the forthcoming Digital Europe Programme.
It is important to mention that UPM receives financial support from the regional Public Administration of Madrid to carry out operational costs required for developing and implementing the University’s DIH’s strategy, which includes the participation in AIR4S. This aspect becomes crucial in a first stage of the DIH in order to drive a smooth transition towards a sustainable business model based mostly on private funding.
Can you provide a practical example of a case you supported?
JV: One of our most interesting cases is the Open data portal based on semantic technologies for the Spanish National Library.
Historically, libraries have been responsible for storing, preserving, cataloguing and making available to the public large collections of information resources. The Spanish National Library has a collection of information sources such as: authority records (these records contain metadata describing people, organizations, work titles, and subject headings) and bibliographic records. It is composed by more than 4 million MARC 21 bibliographic records, more than 3 million MARC 21 authority records (e.g., providing personal information, classification information), and to more than 100,000 digitized materials in RDF triples.
The Spanish National Library requested AIR4S for an on-demand technological service based on creating an open data portal based on semantic technologies that integrate all the data coming from the above heterogeneous sources and connect the Spanish library data with other data from relevant international libraries. Service was a combination of a technology service provision, software licensing and customized training delivery.
The solution provided is the development of the “datos.bne.es”, an open data portal for the Spanish National Library. The portal is in production 24*7, allowing the general public and librarians to access the catalogue using advanced features for searching over different types of entities (e.g., authors, works, translated works, or subjects), navigation across different types of connected entities (such as the author of a work) using advanced features for data indexing, ranking, retrieval and visualization. In addition to the portal itself, the following services are provided.
The solution also links the Spanish National Library data to the following library datasets: The Virtual International Authority File (VIAF), The Authority File of the German National Library (GND), The French National Library (DBpedia), The authority and bibliographic catalogues of the National Library of Sweden (Libris), and SUDOC.
The benefits gained as result of this on-demand technology solution are principally:
- Enhanced and more sophisticated navigation through information,
- Increase of the visibility of cultural data,
- Integration of cultural information and digital objects into research documents and bibliographies
- More durable and robust semantic model than metadata formats that rely on specific data structures,
- Re-use across cultural heritage datasets, thus enriching the description of materials with information coming from outside the organization’s local domain of expertise.
Interview by Almudena S. Escrich, DIHNET