Last month, representatives from the Escuela Superior Politécnica del Litoral (ESPOL) in Ecuador visited the Institute of Water and Environment in order to discuss the potential for a fruitful partnership. Luis Altamirano, professor of Oceanographic Engineering at ESPOL, and Douglas Plaza, automation expert in ESPOL’s Vision and Robotics Center, met with InWE’s International Program co-director, Maria Donoso, as well as some of our researchers within the Southeast Environmental Research Center, CREST Center for Aquatic Chemistry and Environment and FIU’s Applied Research Center. The group discussed future partnership opportunities, as well as the importance of knowledge transfer between the United States and Ecuador.
Ecuador faces several commonalities with the US when it comes to water and environmental challenges. Establishing a strong relationship between scientists and researchers in both countries working together towards developing and implementing solutions to some of these challenges is a critical step in overcoming some of our world’s most pressing environmental obstacles. This meeting between FIU InWE and ESPOL is a first step in that direction.
Institute of Water and Environment (InWE): Why have you come to visit FIU?
Luis Altamirano (LA): Well first of all, we are very pleased to be here and thank you, FIU, for the kind invitation to visit! Working at the Oceanographic Engineering Center at ESPOL is about combining oceanography with hardcore engineering, and about beginning to create low-cost solutions to environmental issues for our scientists and others to use. The objective of this visit is to identify tools and processes that exist in this field that FIU commonly uses and then identify projects that we may be able to use in Ecuador for the needs there. We are trying to pinpoint areas where we can work together to provide solutions for those needs. Our expectation for coming here was ultimately to learn from FIU – see what you are working on and figure out how we can implement some of these solutions-based practices and tools to our own issues back home. We hope to pinpoint those specific areas in which we can start working together.
InWE: During your visit you visited ARC and InWE’s CREST and met with various colleagues – what have you seen that you can take back home?
Douglas Plaza (DP): In general, we have a few lessons to take home from FIU. For instance, the structure of the university for performing research is great. This is something that at ESPOL we have just begun working on – it’s interesting how here you can interact with masters and PhD students with regards to research. We would really like to apply this back home. But I’ve also seen some commonalities between ESPOL and FIU – for instance, we are also just about 50 years old, we are also a public university, and are also in the world ranking! At ESPOL we also have great engineers with amazing skills, but engineers at FIU are working on projects that are applied and practical, working on research problems that will solve industry issues. This is something we hope to improve at ESPOL and for this reason a strategic agreement is very important and interesting between these two universities.
InWE: What will be the follow-up to your visit here?
LA: The first thing that we need to do is put all of the ideas we’ve discussed on paper and come up with an agreement between FIU and ESPOL that will lead the way to working together. The very first thing that I will do when I go back to Ecuador is begin drafting a technical document that will describe how we can begin working together on a specific project and once this is done, we will start developing this project that will allow us to work hand in hand. We are very excited for this partnership!
InWE: At one of our meetings we identified a possibility to initiate putting together a proposal to develop work in Ecuador within the context of an already ongoing project related to a hydropower station – could one of you explain this project and how you see us collaborating on this?
LA: One of the problems that Ecuador faces is that a lot of the energy that the country uses comes from hydroelectric power plants. These plants use water from rivers, which are contained into dams and these dams have a connection to turbines through tunnels, and these tunnels direct the water for the reservoir to the turbine. One of the needs is to inspect these sites but the sites have very low visibility so to do this it is necessary to stop production, which is not efficient. So we are trying to come up with a tool that will allow us to do the inspections without having to shut down production. Because of the zero visibility in the tunnels we are looking at sonar systems and underwater acoustics to successfully achieve this. Knowing that FIU has used these tools before, we’d like to partner together and begin to propose a project integrating FIU’s tools into our solutions for the inspection of these systems.
DP: I also see a future collaboration with CREST. We have experience at the robotics and vision center at ESPOL related to computer vision – for instance, there is a system that was developed from scratch which is able to automate the process of shrimp production (shrimp are an important export product in Ecuador). So we are hoping that we may be able to work with CREST to create a prototype for this product.
InWE: Thank you both so much for joining us – we hope to see you in the near future and look forward to working together!
For more information about this initiative and InWE’s international programs in Latin America and the Caribbean, please contact Dr. Maria Donoso.