Last Monday, Computer Engineering and Systems Group had the pleasure of hosting Joao Barros, Associate Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering at the University of Porto and the Chief Executive Officer of Veniam, which is an electronics company based in Porto, Portugal that specializes in wireless technology. Their goal consists of encompassing the entire city of 1.7 million people in a WiFi network. This WiFi network enables future “smart-cities” by creating new frontiers in the world of technology that yield endless possibilities and create much needed jobs for a struggling Portuguese economy.
Dr. Barros began his academic pursuits at the University of Porto, Portugal, and the University of Karlsruhe, Germany with a degree in Electrical and Computer Engineering. His academic career took an unusual step when he went on to study for a performing arts degree in flute from the Music Conservatory of Porto. This unique approach to education has made him well-rounded, which is easy to see in the rest of his career. He also holds Ph.D. degree in Electrical Engineering and Information Technology from the Technische Universitaet Muenchen, Germany.
At the University of Porto, Dr. Barros is an Associate Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering the Founding Director of the Institute for Telecommunications, and a teacher in the Porto Business School. On top of this, he was a Fullbright scholar at Cornell University, and has been a Visiting Professor with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology since 2008. All along the way, Dr. Barros has rounded up numerous awards and authored countless papers.
This exceedingly long resume has been put to great use, which contributes to Dr. Barros’ mindset overall. For him, the application of technology tied with social strategy is a formula that can generate the greatest impact for society as a whole. Within all of his ventures, he has found that having a research question is not simply enough. There must be a business case, user benefit, and political will as well to create a success.
This core belief led Dr. Barros to co-founding Veniam, which has connected over 500 vehicles to a mobile ad-hoc network. They do this by putting a device called the NetRider in select buses, taxis, and traffic lights. The NetRider sports connection management software, multi-hop vehicular mesh networking software, M2M data management software, and GPS/802.11p/Wifi/GPRS/3G/4G connections. What this essentially does is turn cars, trucks, buses, and traffic lights into Wifi hotspots. This will then build a mesh network among vehicles that can transfer data cheaply and reliably to and from the cloud.
The ultimate vision for Veniam is a world in which to all data would be collected and thoroughly analyzed, and then returned to those who could use it to send particular services. While they may be confined to only Porto at the moment, they have succeeded in creating the largest vehicular network in the world. With the leadership of Dr. Barros, Veniam has helped public services become more efficient. Policemen and firemen, armed with this network accessibility, have been able to respond more efficiently and accurately to calls around the city.
Devices that utilize the network have been created for taxi drivers to assign routes and keep track of business. This has led to a 10% decrease in the time from a cab call and arrival. Because of the bandwidth issues that have arose over these developments, Dr. Barros also founded StreamBolico, which focuses on using network coding to stream data more effectively in crowded Wifi hotspots.
Dr. Barros continues to work on many the many applications that this smart-city has allowed. While he has expressed that there are still many issues with this whole system, he believes that developments like this can come to any city that will combine research, user, business, and political interests. It is clear that this has been a recipe for success in Porto, and he expects it to be the same elsewhere in the future.