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“Science has the ability to ask questions and try to find answers. To make mistakes, to learn from mistakes, to do it again, to launch paths and, from time to time, to hit dead ends.”

“Science has the ability to ask questions and try to find answers. To make mistakes, to learn from mistakes, to do it again, to launch paths and, from time to time, to hit dead ends.”

One could say it was an obsession. The 7, 8 year old girl, who never liked dolls and who runs an electric train for her older brother, will become the pioneer of mobile robotics in our country. In this interview, Isabel Ribeiro, now 67 years old, tells in detail how her passion for robotics was born, from the moment she was chased by a cylinder with a sonar loop at Carnegie Mellon University, USA in 1986. Where he was doing his Ph.D. A long path of trial and error was followed, in several research and development projects, until a precision AGV (English abbreviation for Automatically Guided Vehicle) was reached, the size of a TIR truck, which would circulate inside the open spaces of a nuclear fusion reactor, ITER (International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor). ), which is being built in the south of France, a project involving many countries (including USA, Russia, China…). As if that weren’t enough, this distinguished professor at the Instituto Superior Técnico plunges 40 meters deep into the ocean.

Would you say you’ve been fascinated by science for as long as you can remember?
What I remember is when I was about seven or eight, we had a Marklin electric train at home, which was mounted on a huge table, which was shown to my brother, a little older than me. It contained several fixtures, level crossings, and traffic lights. I remember spending hours under the table making connections for needles, traffic lights, and making everything work.

Being so young, how could she do that?
By trial and error. And this is how we learn and do in science, as I later found out. For me, science has the power to ask questions and then try to find answers. Make mistakes, learn from mistakes, do it again, ask other questions, start down paths that look promising and, from time to time, hit a dead end. Then we go back, but we learn something.

Back to your childhood: where were the dolls?
I never liked dolls. I don’t even remember having dolls in the house.

What were they replaced with?
For a set of screwdrivers and pliers, for example. He loved screwing and making constructions with [brinquedos] Meccano. I like practical things, doing things, putting things into practice. And at the time, that was what was happening. But I also learned very early on swimming, figure skating, cycling, ice hockey, and ball hockey.

How was high school?
I really liked mathematics and physics, and this combination opened up horizons for me. My parents wanted me to take career guidance exams in seventh grade. There I did it and the result came out: He said he had several competencies in either mechanical or electrotechnical engineering. As for the mechanics, I thought at the time, with the naivety of a 16-year-old: “Oh, get your hands dirty, I don’t want to.” [Risos.] That left Electrotechnics, who didn’t know what it was. But this is where I went.

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Do you regret it?
no. I was and still do very well in electrotechnical engineering, where we also have to “get our hands dirty” and make them dirty. For example, you have to weld, which, by the way, I know how to do.

Is there a moment that marks the birth of your passion for robotics?
yes. I was in the United States at Carnegie Mellon University [Carnegie Mellon University], where his doctoral supervisor and “scientific father” was Professor José Manuel Fonseca de Moura. The simple bottle of wine was a reason for the Portuguese and Brazilian students to join in on a feast. On one of those occasions, my Brazilian colleague Alberto Ilves, now deceased, who was at the Robotics Institute finishing his doctoral dissertation, invited me into the laboratory where he worked. He told me, “We’re building robots over there.” I went, and when I entered the building of the CMU Robotics Institute, a robot followed me. It’s 1986, and what’s been haunting me is a cylinder with a sonar ring. My reaction was, “Wow!” I was doing a more theoretical PhD. Fonseca de Moura gave us a very robust training, but we only used simulated data. That’s when I said to myself: I can use this whole body of knowledge to make robots run.

What was the first project you participated in in Portugal?
When I returned, in 1988, to take my Ph.D. at Técnico, my colleague and Professor Carlos Alberto Pinto Ferreira and a group of fourth-year students set about building our first robotic guided vehicle. [AGV]🇧🇷 I also took part in this work, accompanied it and, thanks to my colleague, the result was an AGV with roller skates, wiper motors bought in Feira da Ladra, analog control, all full of wires.

He has been involved in many R&D projects, but as they say, “there is no love like the first.” What was yours
It was a system with four AGVs, developed and installed in 1991-1992, which I and a group of students and Efacec engineers did. It was intended for a transformer factory, with two automated warehouses and 120 jobs. This was the first project of its kind to be undertaken in the country.

Is it still working?
yes. Subsequently, Efacec sold similar AGV systems to Portuguese and foreign companies.

The expectation, for now, is that nuclear fusion plants will have capabilities similar to those of nuclear fission plants, and with similar or lower construction and operating costs.

How it works?
The workers demand the materials in the warehouses you mentioned. They do this with a button, ordering, for example, a pallet with cut sheet metal. The system is able to find out where this substance is in the warehouse, and then it is necessary to move pallets weighing up to 600 kilograms. Transportation takes place from the warehouse door to the workstation that ordered the materials. The four vehicles are traveling at the same time, they cannot collide with anything, the tracks we have set have straight lines, curves and intersections, and the stop is accurate in the right place. Then, from the top of each AGV, another vehicle is lifted, which travels to the workbench surface, leaves the pallet, picks it up and starts walking again. At the time, we said we were building an AGV system, and we heard: “AG what?” At the time, these vehicles were state of the art.

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In a world dominated by men, what is life like for a woman?
Very few times have I felt like I was treated differently because I was a woman. Once an episode occurred, which turned out to be a strange story. It was at the time of Efacec’s AGVs, which were assembled by them. They had very good technicians and I remember going to Porto one day to meet with the company’s management. Next, I wanted to go see the vehicles being assembled. I got to the workshop and there was mr. John Mechanic. Looking at me with dirty hands, in a skirt and jacket, he examined me from top to bottom and I read this reaction in his eyes and face: “Hello, man … woman, from Lisbon … with whom did we go? Meter!”

And the…?
I greeted him and squatted down and began: “Mr. João, the batteries are here, look, we need this space for the sensors, for this and that…” This icing lasted for about ten minutes. And we became friends.

He was twice Vice President of Técnico. Do you aspire to be president?
I had the chance to be, but I thought I didn’t have the profile. I hate a little diplomacy, and don’t appreciate croquettes, let’s say. I like to be comfortable and wear jeans. I have more than one executive profile.

When you took on administrative and financial management tasks, did you find yourself anxious to leave despite being the daughter of an economist?
I think my father died from knowing that his daughter didn’t know the difference between a credit and a debit. [Risos.] Pim tried to explain it to me, but I didn’t see any logic in it. After that, what remedy do I have but to know the difference between a credit and a debit. But I enjoyed doing what I did in those management roles, seeing things change and work out. I got really excited. But the real passion is robotics.

If “there is no love like the first”, then what is the “apple of his eye”?
It’s the mobile robot project of ITER [International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor]🇧🇷 At the final stage, it should be between 15 and 20 AGV, with the size of a TIR truck – eight and a half meters long, 2.6 meters wide and 3.2 meters high – and with a maximum payload of 100 tons. , which was built by European industry on the basis of an initial conceptual design developed in 1997-1998 by a team from Técnico that I led. It was the work that made it possible to assign this important component of ITER to Team Europeans, not the Japanese, as might have been expected.

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Are we far from Efacec’s AGV project?
The working principle of the drive is the same. Both are AGVs in the sense that they move along specific tracks on the ground, which can be conductive wire, coated tape or magnetic tape. But since the end of the 1990s until now, the technology has taken a big step forward and the safety requirements of a nuclear fusion power plant are more demanding than those of a plant. Therefore, there are significant differences in terms of actuators and sensors – Efacec’s AGV did not have laser sensors – and component redundancy and safety methodologies. These AGVs will travel within the free spaces of the nuclear fusion reactor. There can be no risk of deviation, for example. All electronic devices must be protected from radiation.

What will be your role?
There is a container in ITER AGVs that transports the materials and components that need to be transported from the reactor to the building where maintenance is performed. vice versa. I hope to be alive to see the first reactor ignite, which is estimated to happen between 2032 and 2035.

Is there an environmental advantage of fusion energy over nuclear energy?
In nuclear fission, heavy atoms are used to break them apart. That is when energy is generated, and the surrounding components and the entire environment become radioactive for thousands of years. Fusion uses light atoms of hydrogen – in this case, deuterium and tritium – heated to a very high temperature, about 100 million degrees Celsius, and ionized the gas to make a plasma. With these high temperatures, those atoms are separated and helium and energy are generated. There are still radioactive components, but they only pollute the surrounding material for a few hours. Therefore, nuclear debris from fusion energy does not have the problems of those from fission.

What is the business expectation?
According to scientists in the region, the expectation, at this moment, is that nuclear fusion plants will have capabilities similar to those of nuclear fission plants, and with similar or lower construction and operating costs.

she has hobbies Who frees it from the “capsule” robots?
yes. Nature walks – Gerês is my favorite – and diving. I have been certified since 2005 to go 40m deep in the ocean.

And did he go?
previously. Twice, in Graciosa, in the Azores, and I admire them both.

What is the feeling?
Peace and freedom…it’s great!