Focus on research: Prof Luiz Da Silva, Connect
Prof Luiz Da Silva is Director of the Science Foundation Ireland-backed Connect centre for network and communication research based at Trinity College Dublin. In this interview he talks about his new position, how it has changed his view of the centre’s work, and the value of international collaborations.
You’ve been head of Connect for four months now. Has your perspective on the centre and its mission statement changed in that time or is it ‘business as usual’?
Our mission hasn’t changed: it is still to produce impactful research in communications and networks, between academics and industry partners. But taking on the position of Director has been an eye-opener. I keep finding out about new and exciting work going on in Connect, some of which I was not aware of before. This ranges from the work being done with smart sensors and wearables at the Tyndall National Institute to experiments using drones for search-and-rescue operations at UCC, just to give two examples. The level of research excellence is amazing, and part of the job of the Director is in finding ways to bring people together and make connections that may not be obvious to individual researchers, in order to maximise the impact of the centre.
Your work focusses on resource management in wireless networks. Could you go into detail on what that entails?
All networks are constrained by physical resources, such as the maximum power a base station can use for transmissions, or the width of the spectrum band available to a wireless technology. Resource management for wireless networks has to do with finding dynamic and clever ways to allocate these physical resources to the users (which can be people or machines) that need them the most, based on the services being supported, channel conditions, etc. We use techniques such as machine learning, stochastic geometry, and game theory, plus experiments in our reconfigurable radio testbed, to solve these types of problems.
The Futebol project you’ve been working on brings together researchers from the EU and Brazil. How important are such international partnerships?
One of the things that I have enjoyed the most since moving to Ireland has been how the culture here values international collaboration. In Connect, we have numerous partnerships with European countries, primarily supported by the European Commission, as well as with countries like the US and China, supported by the Science Foundation Ireland. These are all hugely important for the centre.
Futebol is a Horizon 2020 project that brings together five universities in Brazil and six institutions in Europe, led by us at Trinity College Dublin. It has been extremely successful in deploying telecommunications research infrastructures in Europe and Brazil and enabling networking experiments that establish physical links that can go from Ireland to Rio Grande do Sul, in Brazil, for example, to demonstrate the creation of a virtual network slice or to test the effect of latency on some Internet of Things application.
The dynamic of the partnership varies a lot according to the country. In Brazil, it is particularly nice to see how engaged and excited the many undergraduates involved in the project are. In addition to the research, I believe Futebol will have a lasting impact on ICT education in Brazil.
In looking at 5G networks, how close are projects like Orca to developing a unified standard for deployment?
To me, one big contribution of Orca is in exploring some of the technologies that are being considered for 5G, like millimetre wave, full duplex, or radio virtualisation, through testbed-based experiments, taking some of those topics from the realm of ideas into real implementation. In that project, and in Connect, we are also starting to look beyond 5G, to what fundamental changes in network and communications technology will be required to support new types of services that we can only imperfectly predict right now.
Connect has a strong connection to the Arts through the Orthogonal Methods Group. How important is it to have that link between disciplines?
This is such a unique thing in Connect, and it brings benefits to the artists, engineers, and computer scientists. It has resulted in collaborations between those groups, in training on technical and creative writing, for instance, and recently in a European project proposal focused on the impact of art on technology innovation. Also, how many communications research groups can brag that one of their students had his work shown in the National Gallery? We are working to build similar links with other disciplines as well, in particular in the social sciences.