“Light! More light!”

The last words that were supposedly spoken by one of the fathers of Romanticism, the German Goethe, could be used to describe one of the studies that I participated in as a researcher at the Biomedical Engineering Research Centre, Universitat Politècnica de Catalunya (CREB, CIT UPC).

Logically, lighting an operating theatre is no easy business. However, surgeons demand improvements not only in the instruments and techniques they use, but also in the spaces in which they work.

Retrat-Alicia-Casal

Alicia Casals, CREB UPC

In response to this need, Doctor Enric Laporte, a notable surgeon with an outstanding career spanning over twenty years in various hospitals in Catalonia, approached CREB researchers to propose a challenge: would we be able to create a system that could improve the current lighting of surgeries?

The aim was to work on a new, more efficient system based on certain requirements set out by the surgeon. Various kinds of lights were needed that could be focused on different points at different times and adapted to needs on the operating table so that the area of interest could be illuminated with the required light intensity. In addition, the system needed to be easy to use.

The first thing we did was create a platform comprised of a matrix of lamps. The initial prototype that we assessed in depth was a large ceiling platform full or halogen lamps, to control at all times the lamp or group of lamps that could be used to illuminate the area or areas of interest.

We then worked on a second prototype to improve the direction of all the lights. We built a smaller model, now with LED technology. This was a ceiling-mounted platform with rows of lights that could turn and illuminate areas from the head to the toes of the patient. To make it easier to control, we developed a pencil-type remote control that indicated the area, direction and intensity of light that could be used by the surgeon.

This work took several years, during which we collaborated very closely with the Consorcio Corporación Sanitaria Parc Taulí. The result was a new, industrial model with modules of various LEDs that could be turned and whose intensity could be regulated.

Prototip industrial

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We continued to make new improvements, with the participation of a consortium of specialized companies, such as Telstar and Luxiona. In this stage, we considered the suitability of making a lamp compatible with a laminar flow system that sweeps all of the impurities that are floating in the air towards the floor. This latest version of lighting is already available on the market and has been presented at international level.

This is a good example of collaboration between universities and companies. Technological innovation requires specialised staff, expensive resources and a lot of time. Many companies–in fact most of them–cannot meet these requirements, but they are precisely what we can provide.

Making science and technology available to the production sector is a challenge that encourages us to stretch ourselves, and provides the opportunity to collaborate to launch new products and services that generate wealth and jobs in the surrounding area.

Alícia Casals

Director of the Robotics and Vision Area
of the Biomedical Engineering Research Centre (CREB UPC)

Short biography

Alícia Casals is an industrial engineer and holds a PhD in Computer Science from the Universitat Politècnica de Catalunya (UPC). Since 1991, she has been professor of Computer Architecture and Technology in the Department of Automatic Control, Barcelona School of Informatics, UPC. She is head of the Robotics and Vision Area of the Biomedical Engineering Research Centre (CREB UPC), a member of CIT UPC.

Her research is mainly focused on smart robotics with medical applications. She has developed projects and prototypes of automated systems to assist people with disabilities and for surgical interventions. She has been head of the robotics programme at the Institute for Bioengineering of Catalonia (IBEC). She is also a member of the Institute for Catalan Studies (IEC) and vice-president of Science Section of this Institute.

In 1987, she received the Award for the Most Social Invention in the Electronics Field, in 1992 the International Technology Award Barcelona92, in 1996 the City of Barcelona Award, and in 1998 the Narcís Monturiol Medal for scientific and technological merit from the Government of Catalonia.

The real value of energy sustainability

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Andreas Sumper. Professor & Researcher. CITCEA UPC

All human activities are associated with the concept of sustainability. This concept is closely related with resources and our use of them; such resources could be natural, human, economic or social, among others. As we need to consume a certain amount of resources to carry out any activity, conflict inevitably arises if we do not replace the resources at the same speed as we consume them. In fact, an imbalance between the use of resources and their regeneration capacity is parallel to the history of humanity itself.

Energy sustainability requires the joint efforts of industry and political leaders, who must establish strategies and polices to bring about the shift needed in the energy system to support sustainable economic and social development. Energy sustainability evaluates how its three intrinsic goals are balanced: energy security, energy equity and environmental sustainability, which is what the World Energy Council (WEC) defines as the Energy Trilemma.

Sustainability, and energy sustainability in particular, has been addressed by industry in recent years as an environmental topic, relating to legislative pressure due to the political initiative of reducing environmental impact. Thus, sustainability is considered an essential framework to manufacture and create traditional products. However, industry is gradually realising that energy saving can increase the competitiveness of industrial processes. However, we need to go beyond this concept: the role of energy in the knowledge society needs to be redefined by sustainability. Digitalisation of operational processes provides a large amount of data and information so that all of those involved in a product’s life cycle can find out about the production processes. This traceability empowers consumers, who are interested in a product that not only meets their needs, but also respects their lifestyles. Thus, it is the individual who has the power to decide which product to purchase and may pay a premium for the product that best fits their philosophy of life. The legislator is no longer an intermediary creating environmental laws for the common good: the consumers themselves will select products that, in addition to meeting minimum standards, have the added bonus of being sustainable. Thus, a new ecosystem is created, with different new services and products that have a greater profit margin. This is what is behind the interest in a circular economy. Therefore, energy sustainability creates new business models, and the energy companies that can adapt to this new framework will be those that will succeed in the market.

Finally, a key factor to achieve energy sustainability will be the use of renewable energy resources that are available locally and then distributed. Electrical energy is an essential vector to achieve a shift to a low-carbon society, as most renewable technologies generate electricity.

Andreas Sumper, Professor & Researcher
CITCEA UPC

Article published in the journal “Automática e Instrumentación” of November-December 2016