• Infrastructures

New, more sustainable material to create road surfaces

New waste- and byproduct-based components are being studied in Ecaryse project, which are more sustainable for the environment and more economically efficient. 

In the road-paving process, it is essential to stabilize any terrain that is unsuitable for use in the asphalt package. Typically lime is used as a stabilizing agent, but lime is costly and the calcination process can create significant CO2 emissions.  


Therefore, new waste- and byproduct-based components are being studied, which are more sustainable for the environment and more economically efficient. 


From this emerges the Ecaryse project. We are testing a series of nanopolymers, made from nanosilica, on a pilot section in Villacarrillo (Jaén). These products are designed for commercial use.


“At the Universidad de Córdoba, the project partner, these products are tested in the lab to create different working formulas; Sacyr then approves the use of these products and working formulas, designing and executing a series of test sections to assess their efficacy, in other countries as well,” explains Francisco Javier Mateos, Project Manager in the Innovation and Knowledge area of Sacyr’s Construction’s R+D department. 

 

 

Use of local materials


“Under the asphalt layer, there are soil packets with material that has been compacted, and any unsuitable terrain is treated with a stabilizing agent. Polymers are actually chemical products that are added to the soil to stabilize it, replacing lime,” says Mateos. “There are areas in the world where access to lime is difficult, like Colombia and Chile, where polymers are already in use,” he adds. 


“We want to understand the properties, determine if they truly stabilize the soil, and assess their economic viability. Certain polymers have worked, giving the terrain characteristics similar to lime,” Mateos explains.


Normally, local materials are used to avoid importing them from elsewhere, thus reducing costs and transport-related emissions. Through excavation and earthworks, the materials are extracted and used.   


“In these processes, we reuse materials to which we add the additive. The product is diluted in water, mixed into the soil, dispersed, and compacted. It provides good support capacity, swells less with water, and insulates from moisture,” adds Narciso Pulido, Head of Sacyr’s Construction’s R+D department.
 

  • Sustainability
  • Building
  • Polymers
  • Roads
  • IFridays

2050 targets: innovation for tomorrow’s power

From grey to green. From carbon to hydrogen. From Paris to the rest of the world. Renewable gases such as biomethane or green hydrogen will be the main characters in the following years. Clean energies that find in innovation the perfect ally to reach a common goal: to be carbon neutral by 2050.

In our March iFriday edition, we discussed innovation, energy, and sustainability. We had a chat with Marcelino Oreja, CEO of Enegás, one of the leading companies in natural gas infrastructures globally.  


Redefining the future of the power sector

 

The necessity to combat global warming is accelerating the transition to renewable energies. Great corporations and public institutions are bringing attention to the development of innovative projects that must, bit by bit, transform our energy model.  

Undoubtedly, the power sector, responsible for 80% of greenhouse gas emissions, will play a fundamental role in the fight against climate change in the following years.

“We are replacing some equipment and gas consumption with renewable, electric power. We are amid a decarbonization process in which we have committed ourselves to be carbon neutral by 2040. We have come from emitting half a million tonnes of CO2 in 2014 to under 200,000 this year. Furthermore, we will reduce these remains with new technologies from 2030 onwards. We apply innovation in this process, and we seek to invest in companies that pursue reducing the carbon footprint with new technologies”, points out Marcelino Oreja, CEO of Enagás.

 

 

In this more environmentally conscious future, green hydrogen will be a crucial alternative to energetic revolution towards a more sustainable model. Green hydrogen is an almost unlimited resource, with a high ability to be stored, and is likely to be the solution to most of the problems of the present power sources.

According to Enagás’ executive, “Hydrogen will become key. These days there is a lot of talk about green hydrogen, which comes from renewable energies, and blue hydrogen, created from natural gas, by storing the CO2 byproduct resulting from the hydrogen production process. I believe both will make their way in the coming years”. 

 

Innovation and sustainability, an indispensable binomial

 

Innovation and sustainability are closely related concepts. More and more great companies every day implement innovative projects, initiatives, and solutions in their roadmap with the goal in mind to improve and protect the environment and advance towards a more sustainable world. 
 
Enagás is placing a big bet on sustainability, contributing with its actions, projects, policies, and commitment to achieving the SDG. In this sense, the company has reduced its emissions by 63.2% between 2014 and 2020. Additionally, the company has more than 50 distinct projects for the improvement of energy efficiency.

Innovation has played a fundamental role in the group’s strategy to reach these goals and position itself as a global role model in sustainability. Like Sacyr, for years, Enagas has backed an open innovation model based on collaboration with external innovation agents and intrapreneurship.

“We seek to diversify ourselves and new activities, and to this end, innovation has been crucial. Entrepreneurship has been the lever that has allowed us to innovate in our processes. Now we combine our internal expertise with external talent, with those companies that can work with our employees and present new projects”, points out Marcelino Oreja, CEO of Enagás.

 


Energy transition, a priority for the ‘Next Generation’ funds

 

The energy transition is one of the integral pillars set by Europe in the Next Generation funds, the European incentive program to boost the development of the countries most affected by the pandemic. Experts point out that Spain will receive around 150,000 million euros from these funds as loans and grants.

Undoubtedly, a historic event for sector-leading companies, like Enagás. "It is a great opportunity, as long as we use it to remodel the economic fabric, to create stable employment, to industrialize the country, and to transform and reduce emissions", concludes Marcelino Oreja, CEO of Enagás.

  • Innovation
  • Green
  • Hydrogen
  • Renewable energy

Monitoring health parameters such as heart rate makes smartwatches essential tools for detecting and preventing disease. Credit: Kanut Photo.

  • Tungsteno

How smartwatches can save lives

A recent study shows that monitoring indicators such as heart rate by processing data from smartwatches can help detect diseases early. This paves the way for these devices to have a scientific and public health impact, beyond merely promoting a healthy lifestyle.

ISABEL RUBIO ARROYO | Tungsteno

Jorge Cox, 22, discovered that he was suffering from heart disease when his smartwatch showed his resting pulse to be 130 beats per minute. This is just one of many examples of the potential of smartwatches for the early detection of health problems. The monitoring of parameters such as heart rate, blood oxygen levels, sleep, and functions such as fall detection have the potential to save lives. Although today these devices are not medical products, they can be an effective tool for staying healthy and for public health.

In fact, 25% of adults currently own such a device, according to the report The future of devices published in 2020 by GSMA Intelligence. With increasing levels of adoption of smartwatches and fitness trackers in recent months, smartwatches could become key tools for the detection of illness, especially in health crises such as the coronavirus.

 

Can a smartwatch detect the coronavirus?

 

More and more smartwatches can, in theory, measure the level of oxygen in the blood, i.e. the percentage of oxygen present in the red blood cells that travel from the lungs to the rest of the body. Devices such as the Apple Watch Series 6, the Amazfit GTS 2, the Fitbit Sense or the Samsung Galaxy Watch 3 promise to be able to measure this parameter, which is used to detect respiratory problems such as pneumonia—associated with COVID-19—or sleep apnoea.

A blood oxygen level above 95% is generally considered OK and anything below that level could indicate a problem, according to Apple. But the Cupertino company acknowledges that "even under ideal conditions, your Apple Watch may not always get a reliable blood oxygen reading." Factors such as skin perfusion (the amount of blood flowing through the skin), tattoos, movement or heart rate could affect the measurement. Therefore, these results are not normally intended for medical use.

 

New features such as electrocardiograms or blood glucose monitoring are promising for the detection of diseases. Credit: Carlos González.

 

Doctor on the wrist

 

Researchers at GSMA Intelligence say that wearables have the potential to reduce in-person visits to medical centres or hospitals. In fact, 89% of users are very keen to share data from their wearables with their doctor, according to a report by Accenture. There are already T-shirts that correct posture, pyjamas that can track breathing and bibs to monitor people with heart problems. These are alongside smartwatches and sports wristbands that assess day-to-day sleep quality, track exercise, send alerts if one is inactive for too long and measure heart rate.

These devices can be very useful in detecting arrhythmias or coronary heart disease. Cardiologist Miguel Ángel Cobos knows this well. After giving his wife an Apple Watch, he discovered how to perform a complete electrocardiogram in two minutes by placing the watch on different parts of the body. At the moment, there is little point in doing the test if it cannot be interpreted by a healthcare professional. But Cobos is confident that there will soon be an artificial intelligence system capable of analysing the information.

 

From measuring blood glucose to detecting falls

 

Currently, this type of device makes all kinds of measurements thanks to sensors and lights that take data from our blood flow, our position and whether we are moving or not, functionalities that the big tech firms are trying to enrich with new ones focused on health. In fact, some unofficial reports indicate that Apple and Samsung are already working to enable their watches to measure blood sugar levels. This function would be particularly useful, for example, for people with diabetes, as they have to check their blood glucose levels frequently, but also to monitor excess glucose in the blood, which can damage the eyes, kidneys and nerves.

Beyond these indicators, some sensors included in watches such as the Amazfit Bip 2 or the Apple Watch go one step further and are able to detect sudden movements and falls. If the wearer suffers a "hard fall" while wearing it, the watch sounds an alarm and asks the wearer to confirm that they are okay. If no response is received and the wearer remains motionless for about a minute, it automatically calls emergency services. This feature can be particularly useful in the older population, as evidenced by the case of 92-year-old Jim Salsman, a farmer from Nebraska who, thanks to the Apple Watch's fall detection system, was quickly attended to by emergency services after falling down a ladder while doing maintenance work on his rooftop.

 

Although the data offered by these devices and apps is not intended for medical use, in the future the collection of this information could anticipate epidemics such as the coronavirus. Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

 

While smartwatches have already saved lives, it should not be forgotten that they are not yet considered health products and the data should not be used for self-diagnosis. Nevertheless, some studies highlight the usefulness of these devices not only for the individual, but collectively and for public health. This opens the door to wide-ranging possibilities. Indeed, a paper published in the Journal of Medical Internet Research notes that heart rate variability detected with a common smartwatch could be used to predict coronavirus infection.

Predicting future pandemics could be one of the most valuable functionalities of these devices. This is already being explored by researchers at the Scripps Translational Research Institute, who began a study in March 2020 to evaluate data shared by thousands of smartwatch users as part of a programme to improve the detection and containment of infectious disease outbreaks. In a paper published in Nature, they indicate that devices such as Fitbit can help identify cases of COVID-19 by assessing changes in heart rate, sleep and activity levels.

Data from millions of users could, therefore, be used by governments and health agencies to detect new outbreaks and set strategies to curb the spread of the pandemic. Already, hospitals around the world, tech giants and startups are using technology to shift from treating diseases to trying to prevent their onset. Smartwatches, along with other wearables and artificial intelligence systems, could lead to significant savings for the healthcare system in this area by improving disease prevention, diagnosis and treatment.

· — —
Tungsteno is a journalism laboratory to scan the essence of innovation. Devised by Materia Publicaciones Científicas for Sacyr’s blog.

  • Coronavirus
  • Artificial intelligence
  • Smart
  • telemedicine
  • Concessions

Portable purifier removes waste from water

Sacyr Mobile Hydroclean aims to develop a continuous water purification system capable of recycling the water used in pressurized hydrocarbon water operations.

Sacyr Mobile Hydroclean, (street cleaning with highly pressurized water) developed by Rubén Jover, Rafael Parias, Miguel Ángel Moreno, and Pablo Mochón, is one of the winners of our “Sacyr for the climate” environmental challenges program in the water footprint reduction category.

This initiative, applicable to road concession and conservation works, aims to develop a continuous water purification system capable of recycling the water used in pressurized hydrocarbon water operations. This technique improves the transverse friction coefficient (TFC), or the condition of the road surface, using pressurized water.

The road surface can be repaired with micro-roughing, micro-milling, or retexturing. Sacyr Concessions uses the latter because it is the least aggressive (pressurized water), but it is not without its drawbacks: the water picks up grime from the hydrocarbons, for example. To operate this system we have a cleaning unit, consisting of a truck equipped with crossbars on the bottom (with 96 nozzles each) that spray water against the asphalt, then rotate to collect and store the dirty fluid.

 

 

Water use

This system can circulate on public roads, towed by the hydro-milling or cleaning machine, which purifies the dirty water by separating the solids from the hydrocarbons, so it can be re-used at least 8-9 times, establishing a closed water circuit. This action consumes 10,000 liters of water for every kilometer of lane treated.

The dirty water is stored in the truck and the machine is stopped. The hydrocarbon water is emptied, treated, recycled, and the truck is refilled with clean water. Roughly 4-5 kilometers can be treated in a 12-hour period.

“We have invented a mobile purifier that cleans dirty water while moving in one hour. The purifier, which is towed, has allowed us to triple our performance,” explains Rubén Jover, head of R+D+i for Sacyr Concessions.

 

 

This initiative to continuously purify hydrocarbon water reduces water consumption by 8-9x.

The project will be submitted to a CDTI public financing program for implementation and could be up and running in 2021.

  • Water
  • Road maintenance

Straw-bale houses are capable of mantaining temperature, have great sound insulation and, also, are very resistant. Crédito: Studio 1984.

  • Tungsteno

Straw-bale houses re-emerge as an energy saving trend

The COVID-19 crisis has forced us to rethink the spaces we inhabit and sustainability seems to be the key ingredient for the future of housing. As the ultimate expression of this trend, passive houses use recyclable materials and optimise energy expenditure without sacrificing comfort, design or safety.

ANTONIO LÓPEZ | Tungsteno

The sudden economic crisis brought about by the pandemic has led to joblessness among many inhabitants of large cities, who are now looking for work and settling in rural areas. At this juncture, added to the climate emergency, new forms of construction take on relevance: energy consumption becomes a high priority as we all spend so much time at home due to lockdowns, restrictions and extreme weather events (such as the heavy snowfall in central Spain left by Storm Filomena in early 2021). We now demand that the spaces in which we live be more comfortable and, additionally, sufficiently resilient to cope with the climatic upheavals to come without financially ruining us.

In passive houses, without constraining the interior possibilities, the key lies in the design of the exterior. The term passive house or passivhaus (a phonetic translation from German) began to gain importance in the late 1970s in Germany. There, the Passivhaus Institute was founded in 1991 and official certificates began to be issued to passive houses, or nearly zero-energy houses, that met certain requirements. The control of thermal losses and gains is essential in these dwellings, as well as avoiding thermal bridges—the meeting points of two materials through which heat can escape or cold can enter. The location of the windows is also chosen strategically so as not to turn them into vulnerable points, and double-glazed insulating glass is used to seal them. In Spain alone, passive houses with passivhaus certification represent an annual savings of 4.16 million kWh and prevent the emission of 792 tons of CO2—an amount equivalent to what could be absorbed by a forest area more than five times the size of the most emblematic green space in the Spanish capital: the Retiro Park in Madrid. That area is equivalent to 620 hectares, or almost 900 football pitches.

 

With a minimum environmental impact and cost of materials, the straw house is one of the greatest exponents of passive houses. Credit: EarthCraft Construction.

 

The myth of 'The Three Little Pigs' and straw houses

Passive houses represent an opportunity in the midst of the COVID-19 economic crisis and a gesture of reconciliation with the environment. Straw-bale houses stand out as a trend due to the lower cost and environmental impact of the materials used. Although in the collective imagination we have the idea that straw is a fragile and combustible material, when arranged in the form of bales and with the air eliminated, its combustibility is minimal. Additionally, walls made with straw are covered with lime, clay or earth to protect them even more.

Straw-bale houses are much sturdier than the story of The Three Little Pigs would have one believe. In reality, constructions with these materials would withstand both the huffing and puffing of any wolf and, more importantly, climatic fluctuations. In fact, in the words of Mirco Zecchetto, an architect specialising in this type of housing: "A straw-bale house is more comfortable, has better thermal insulation, with walls that breathe and don’t trap moisture and with materials without toxic emissions. Not to mention that the carbon footprint is practically non-existent."

 

The production of straw bales and their transport for the construction of houses requires much less energy than other construction processes. Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

 

Saving energy in the construction and use of the house

Straw-bale houses seek to achieve an airtight space to maintain the temperature and regulate the air with a filtering and ventilation system that prevents heat loss. This airtightness also provides an excellent degree of acoustic insulation. The architect Eve Blanco, who builds this type of housing in Asturias, uses this material because it increases the thermal capacity of the house in a natural way, which makes it possible to dispense with heating and air conditioning. To optimise energy consumption, the homes she builds have a greenhouse that captures solar radiation, which translates into a savings of between 30% and 40%.

Straw is an abundant agricultural waste product, which makes it a very cheap material that is also available in most parts of the world. According to the specialised architectural studio Meta2020: "For the production of straw bales and their transport to the construction site, much less energy is needed than for the production of other insulating materials, up to 77 times less than for the production of mineral wool, for example."

 

The challenge of making their construction cheaper

The existence of specialised construction networks, such as the European Strawbale Network or the Spanish Strawbale Construction Network is evidence of the boom in the use of this material. And it is no wonder, because among its benefits, as explained by Meta2020, straw is a "breathable, healthy, moisture regulating, very versatile, easy to work with" material.

This trend revives one of the oldest methods for creating homes. Mankind has been building homes out of straw and mud for thousands of years, but baled straw as a modern building material emerged in the 19th century, with the invention of the baling machine. And its resurgence in recent decades as a more environmentally-friendly building technique is based on these advantages of energy efficiency, while also appealing to the sensation of returning to earlier times, not to mention the absence of toxic substances in the construction process.

However, despite its great potential, cost is the main barrier to the popularisation of the straw-bale home. Although they could be cheaper than conventional homes, in practice this is only true if one opts for the self-build option. Some future owners take courses to learn how to build straw-bale walls and thus reduce the cost of their home, because otherwise it is comparable in price to a house made of bricks and cement, or even more expensive. The reality of this promising sector is that, at present, it remains a niche market, with few professionals and few companies specialised in using straw as a building material.

· — —
Tungsteno is a journalism laboratory to scan the essence of innovation. Devised by Materia Publicaciones Científicas for Sacyr’s blog.

  • Households
  • Building
  • Sustainable

Los Hornillos Waste Treatment and Composting Plant (Quart de Poblet, Valencian Community)

  • Sustainability

Waste can be sustainable and create wealth

We innovate to find innovative projects underway that incorporate new waste treatment technologies.

The concept of the circular economy associated with waste treatment may seem relatively new, but in fact, it dates back some time.

Valoriza Medioambiente (Sacyr’s urban services division) has spent 37 years working on the concept, through the recovery of recycled materials and the generation of renewable energy, among other efforts.

Still, it is evident that the ambitious goals for the environmental management of our waste in the years to come mean that this more “traditional” model needs to evolve through the development and implementation of new treatment technologies that facilitate the better use of materials, preventing them from ending up in the landfill.

Ana Benavent, director of Valoriza’s Innovation department, and Rafael Sánchez Aparicio, director of Valoriza’s Waste Treatment department, discuss all the innovative projects underway that incorporate new waste treatment technologies. There are several highlights among them, including RARx and Microuwas, but today we focus specifically on three others. The three main types of waste are organic, petroleum-derived, and mineral (ferrous and nonferrous). To facilitate waste recovery, the material must be as uniform as possible.

 

Recycled glass and non-ferrous metals

“We have one related to glass. Before, this material, contained in garbage bags and that was not separated, was thrown all into the landfill. Now, using optical sorting at our plants, we can select and treat it, so it can be recycled for other uses,” explains Ana Benavent.

In October 2020, Ecovidrio included us in the Ecolatras awards, which recognize the work of all the players in Spain’s glass recycling chain, where Valoriza Medioambiente plays a key role. “Thanks to projects like this, Spain currently recycles more than 7 out of 10 glass containers,” she continues.

 

Insight, imaging non-ferrous particle detection

 

We have another project to detect non-ferrous metals contained in the slag of an incinerator. “When the waste leaves the incinerator, metal materials are selected and the rest is discarded. In slag residue, we know there is 11% recoverable material, roughly 2% of which are non-ferrous metals (copper, aluminum, nickel, precious metals) that can be valuable on the market if separated correctly. We are currently researching a system to determine which slag contains non-ferrous metals for recovery, thus reducing the material deposited in landfills,” Benavent points out.

 

Digitizing waste

The digitization process, so necessary in countless areas, is also being applied to waste management. “All the information generated in the management of plants, both analytical and environmental, is being digitized. This process streamlines decision-making to determine the best treatment possible,” says Rafael Sánchez. “We are using the Azure SQL program. Once we have digitized all the plant information, we can create big data with a further set of socio-economic information.

The idea is to digitize all of our operations in order to make the most of that information,” Sánchez says.

 

Biomethane: biogas treatment

Another project involves biogas treatment, converting it to organically-sourced natural gas. “At present, we are defining the Biomethane project and analyzing the viability of biogas treatment, or the viability of biomethane,” Sánchez explains. The Biomethane project can be synthesized by substituting a portion of natural gas consumption (from fossil fuels) for biomethane consumption (from renewable sources with practically the same characteristics). From biogas treatment we obtain biomethane, which is a technologically viable, energy-efficient, and sustainable alternative that can replace natural gas consumption in many homes and vehicles.

 

Gasometer plant

 

With its high methane content (50-70%), biogas is generated from the biodegradation of organic matter in anaerobic conditions (absence of oxygen). It is created intentionally (in the case of biomethanization) or naturally as a result of human activity (in the case of livestock or landfills).

“In the waste industry, we contribute to cutting emissions by reducing organic matter in landfills and preventing methane from being released into the atmosphere. We treat the methane we capture and convert it into biomethane. Through the process of anaerobic digestion, we can generate organic fertilizers that help make agriculture more sustainable. Once the biogas is treated, we can also use the biomethane in collection trucks,” Rafael Sánchez concludes.

 

  • Waste management

Overcoming the obstacles of teleworking leads to the adoption of technologies that strive for greater efficiency, but also strengthen ties between employees and facilitate communication. Credit: VSpatial.

  • Tungsteno

Tools that are transforming teleworking

In the wake of the pandemic, hybrid models that combine teleworking and in-person office work are here to stay. Teleworking requires new forms of organisation with more flexible processes and digital tools to manage teams, tasks and communication between employees remotely.

ANTONIO LÓPEZ | Tungsteno

The pandemic triggered a flood of new users in videoconferencing applications such as Zoom or Webex and collaborative work platforms like Slack or Microsoft Teams. One year into the pandemic and despite the uncertainty in the labour market it has brought about, the experience of telecommuting has confirmed the usefulness of these digital tools. They enable remote working and facilitate the mobility of many workers, and have strengthened the following trends in the management and organization of work teams:

 

Bridging distances: beyond Zoom

One of the main challenges of working remotely is maintaining worker morale in the midst of the pandemic, without sharing one’s day-to-day life with one’s colleagues, as reflected in a survey conducted by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM). While at the start of the pandemic, videoconferencing via Zoom or Skype was a great help, it is now necessary to move further in this direction.

In order to restore the feeling of belonging to the group in such a hostile social context, it is essential to facilitate the dynamics of collaboration and joint learning. These are the objectives of the online tool Miro, which allows brainstorming to be managed visually, using synchronised digital whiteboards, a timer and a real-time voting system:

The strengthening of teams that don’t work in the same physical space is one of the objectives of Miro, which introduces synchronised digital whiteboards to virtual meetings for managing proposals and ideas. Credit: Miro.

Tools such as Kahoot, TEAM MOOD or Dr. Clue tackle the same challenge and facilitate communication dynamics through alternatives to physical presence, such as virtual coffee rooms or gamification experiences. Virtual reality-based applications go one step further in bringing us literally closer to the office and our colleagues. By using virtual reality glasses, tools such as Arthur, vr on or MeetinVR recreate virtual workspaces that are even more practical than those in real life, since they can be optimised and customised according to the type of meeting and the preferences of each employee. In addition, the use of virtual reality avatars also makes it possible to take advantage of the benefits of non-verbal communication, making the "presence" of colleagues more tangible in processes such as team building dynamics.

 

Efficient communication: beyond WhatsApp in the workplace

Although group video calls were the first solution for bridging distances, they are not adequate for overcoming one of the main challenges of teleworking teams: fostering their cohesion and the collaboration of their members without having a physical space of reference.

WhatsApp is increasingly becoming a work tool, and in some cases it can be the most practical. However, it is a space where individual chats coexist with family and work groups. To avoid the chaos of multi-party chats, tools like Slack take advantage of the usability of the instant messaging concept to manage the workflow in a more private and secure environment that also permits all the communication of a work team (e-mails, documents...) to be centralised. The integration with other online tools to manage tasks or projects allows Slack notifications to be received whenever there are new developments in these other workspaces. And in the face of competition from Microsoft Teams, Slack has been incorporating new features such as the creation of workflows, which use the chat conversation itself to solve routine and repetitive tasks using templates:

Other tools seek synergy between instant messaging and workflow management in a secure and private way, as is the case with Slack. Credit: Slack.

Day-to-day operations also require different (virtual) meeting spaces where tasks can be distributed and progress can be tracked. Microsoft Teams also makes it possible to transfer the entire work universe of an office or a school administration team to the cloud and, in its latest versions, it also includes the option of transcribing all conversations, a feature that greatly facilitates access for people with hearing difficulties.

Slack and Microsoft Themes are the two great rivals in this type of conversation-based teleworking solution, and they compete fiercely with each other to be implemented into large companies. However, there are simpler alternatives to these two behemoths—and perhaps more appropriate for small workgroups and projects—which place special emphasis on usability and the design of a pleasant interface, both on the computer and on the tablet and mobile phone. Chanty and Flock are two fine examples of this simpler approach.

 

Managing the clutter: beyond email

The physical relocation of workers has established cloud storage as a meeting point to redesign project management and make it less reliant on e-mail, chats or phone conversations. With the pandemic and social distancing, the volume of information (personal and work) has multiplied in these channels, making it more difficult to assimilate and find specific assignments or attached documents when they are most needed: were they in an email or WhatsApp? In this context, organising the distribution and progress of tasks in detail has become inevitable, a functionality offered by tools such as Trello or Todoist—very useful for managing day-to-day work individually or with the work team itself.

When the organisation of work revolves around a specific project, for which a team is formed that includes staff from different companies and freelancers, tools such as Basecamp, one of the most veteran online work managers, are particularly useful. Launched in 2004, it is now re-emerging as a remote workspace where calm and organisation take precedence, in the face of delocalisation, dispersion and communication stress, which have increased since COVID-19 spread around the world.

But these project managers, just like task managers or chat tools, involve a great deal of design and conceptualisation of the virtual workspace, and entail a considerable learning curve for users. They also require an investment in training and an effort and willingness to reinvent daily routines. Over the last year, a less-demanding alternative has emerged: managing work around documents, which is something we have been doing for much longer.

To maintain efficiency in remote working, alternatives such as Dropbox Spaces, which manages the virtual workspace around documents, have emerged. Credit: Dropbox.

Google Docs was born in 2006 as an alternative to Word, accessible for free from any web browser. Beyond democratising access to a word processor, it got many people used to the collaborative editing of documents (also integrating comments and tasks) and the idea that the "good" version of the document is the one in the cloud for everybody with access to the document, avoiding the confusion generated by different versions of a file on different devices and in the folders of a variety of users.

Cloud storage service Dropbox launched the Paper tool in 2017, a more visual alternative to Google Docs and designed from the outset to integrate many work management features (including tasks and timelines) into documents. And the pandemic accelerated plans along these lines by Dropbox, which in late 2020 presented the second version of Spaces, its virtual workspace, an online evolution of the shared folder concept in the cloud (also popularised by Google with its Drive service).

Thus, confronted with the mental paradigm shifts required by many teleworking tools, Spaces proposes that the workspace should be organised in a natural way based on what for decades have already been the "objects" in which the work itself, as well as plans, procedures and doubts, are embodied: documents. Spaces is the latest big innovation in this type of tool, competing with other more veteran tools such as Slite, Kipwise, Confluence or Notion, which combine the clarity of folders with the flexibility of a wiki.

· — —
Tungsteno is a journalism laboratory to scan the essence of innovation. Devised by Materia Publicaciones Científicas for Sacyr’s blog.

 

  • New technologies
  • Cloud
  • HR

Desalination plant in Alicante (Spain)

  • Water

We create a more efficient and sustainable desalination technology 

Sacyr Water wants to highlight our commitment not just to sustainability, but to innovation. 

The protection, conservation, and restoration of natural resources are all part of our 2021-2025 Sustainable Sacyr action plan, with two fundamental targets: reduce the water footprint and improve management of water resources. 

As such, we are immersed in a process of transforming our desalination technology. Specifically, we are focused on reverse osmosis in an attempt to achieve more sustainable membranes. 

 


What is reverse osmosis?


Reverse osmosis is the process used at our desalination plants to purify brackish water and seawater, extracting salts and other pollutants. Osmosis is a naturally occurring phenomenon, exchanging salts and water in cell membranes or plant roots, for example. At industrial facilities, we reverse the process (reverse osmosis) by applying high pressure to the membranes, allowing water to pass but not salts or other pollutants. Though these membranes have an average life of 5-8 years and can be partially restored through cleaning, at the end of their useful lives they become waste, which is difficult and expensive to manage.


After the success of the LIFE Transfomem project carried out in recent years, Sacyr is now expanding the application of these technologies in an attempt to transform discarded reverse osmosis membranes into nanofiltration (NF), microfiltration (MF) and ultrafiltration (UF) membranes, developing several pilot programs to optimize the technology. 


Here to discuss the project are its lead researchers Elena Campos, Patricia Terrero and Mercedes Calzada, from the Innovation department of Sacyr Water.

 

 

“On the one hand, we are looking for a sustainable alternative to the manufacture and use of water treatment membranes. On the other, we want to promote ultrafiltration as a pre-treatment because it is highly effective in removing suspended solids and reducing SDI (Silt Density Index, a measure of the fouling capacity of water), bacteria, viruses, and other pathogens in feedwater to produce water of the highest purity,” explains Patricia Terrero.
In recent years, UF has been used to pre-treat seawater prior to the membrane process, although its main drawbacks include the technology’s high investment and operating costs.  


Optimizing energy and reducing the carbon footprint


“The technology allows the company to make the necessary amount available for human consumption, with the right quality for each use, without generating waste or pollutants. Its solutions target the development needs and opportunities of the 2030 Agenda, contributing to the achievement of SDG 6 “Clean Water and Sanitation” and SDG 14 “Life Below Water,” Elena Campos says.


“Sacyr Water continues working to optimize energy and reduce the carbon footprint of desalination. It has presented several Next Generation EU funding proposals in the fields of renewable energy, circular economy, and island sustainability, and joined other industry initiatives, like the AEDyR (Spanish Desalination and Reuse Association) proposal.”


The use of recycled membranes would reduce investment costs, increase sustainability, and promote the circular economy.  


What are the benefits of this process?


¬ Material: membrane recycling reduces the raw materials used in the manufacture of NF or UF membranes by 100%. 
¬ Emissions: the carbon footprint of the transformation module is 95-99% lower than its commercial counterparts.
¬ Waste: thanks to this technology, it is possible to recycle 70% of discarded membranes.
¬ Water: direct and indirect water consumption could be reduced by more than 90%.
Our desalination facilities, which are equipped with the latest technology, are able to incorporate more than 2 million m3 into the water cycle each day (equal to the consumption of a city of 10 million people), reducing energy consumption and substantially enhancing the existing natural resources.   

 


Sustainability above all else


“We aim to make our desalination projects as environmentally sustainable as possible by using renewable energy for their power supply (like at the Aguilas and Perth plants in Australia), protecting the marine environment through rigorous monitoring studies, embracing new technologies (underwater drones and digital twins), and being inspired by innovation. It is also worth noting a recent project that uses desalinated water for agriculture, LIFE Deseacrop , one of the largest users of desalinated water in Spain,” Mercedes Calzada points out.  


These new processes will allow us to contribute through the technological development of the membrane transformation and re-use project, by increasing the sustainability of water treatment systems, improving the durability of membranes, and reducing the environmental costs associated with this technology.   

  • Innovation and technology
  • Concessions

Smart tolls make life easier for drivers

Sacyr is implementing smart toll systems on the highways we manage, with the aim of making life easier for drivers, saving time, and facilitating transactions of higher added value for the company. In this effort, automation plays an essential role.   

Toll roads make routes faster, safer, and more accessible. Tollbooths, however, are often an inconvenience, because they require our time and are not always equipped with quick payment systems to facilitate passage. 


Aware of these inconveniences, Sacyr is implementing smart toll systems on the highways we manage, with the aim of making life easier for drivers, saving time, and facilitating transactions of higher added value for the company. In this effort, automation plays an essential role.   


“On a road with an automated toll, up to 500 vehicles/hour can pass, compared to only 225 for a manual system. In Spain, it is not uncommon to find tolls with automated terminals that accept various means of payment, such as contactless cards, chip cards, and cash. Therefore, we focused on making it possible for these machines to integrate all payment technologies, to work at the service of customers,” explains Santiago de Santiago Muñoz, head of the Facilities and Transport Systems department at Sacyr Concessions.


Sacyr has road concessions in Latin America (Chile, Colombia, Mexico, Paraguay, Peru, and Uruguay) and in Europe (Italy, Spain, Ireland).

 

 

Implementation in Europe


In Europe these systems are already in place:


Manual payment:  Tollbooth accepting payment in cash (local and foreign currency), payment cards, non-financial cards, and proprietary means of payment


Automatic payment:

 

  • Mobile payment through NFC technology
  • Automated toll based on DSRC technology. Via-T as an interoperable system in Spain
  • ATPM (Automatic Toll Payment Machine): This is Sacyr’s own innovation project, consisting of double-height totem hardware to accommodate vehicles of different heights and able to accept all available means of payment (payment cards, non-financial cards, NFC mobile, cash, loyalty cards). It also features control software to assist users remotely through a road camera and user intercom. This system has already been implemented on the Guadalmedina AP-46 (Malaga-Las Pedrizas) highway and among the advantages it provides users is the versatility of accepting all means of payment. Moreover, Sacyr has ample flexibility when modifying hardware and software components with zero dependence on external suppliers. 

“For 2021, we project the installation of 18 single-height ATPM machines for light vehicles and eight double-height machines for heavy vehicles. This is an improved version, currently installed on a test road,” Santiago explains.

In Chile, Sacyr has eight toll roads with attended tollbooths and automated tolls. 

 

New automated payment system


The latest automatic payment system is free flow, which is used on the urban highways of Santiago de Chile and in other countries, such as the United States, Sweden, Austria, Great Britain, Ireland, Norway, and Spain. It consists of a gantry equipped with classification systems, OCR (optical character recognition) cameras, and automated toll antennas that recognize passing vehicles without the need to stop or slow down; the system identifies the vehicle and manages the payment of the toll through the concessionaire. The drivers that use these roads are registered in the National Registry of Electronic Toll Users (RNUT), providing user identification data, license plate number, and payment method.  
Also using the free-flow system are the Américo Vespucio Oriente (AVO) highway and the Los Vilos-La Serena and Camino de la Fruta highways in Chile.


“Drivers can maintain their speed while passing through the gantries, which have antennas and cameras to record the passage of each vehicle and process the subsequent collection. Sacyr adapts to the specific technologies of each country based on their needs,” says Santiago. 


The automated toll system is also used at the Group’s channeled tolls in Chile. Another automated payment method is the use of prepaid cards that are managed directly by the concessionaires. 


In Peru, Colombia, and Paraguay toll collectors currently handle means of payment.

 

Application development 


As another notable development, Sacyr Concessions is working to create an app for mobile toll payment, a system through which a registered user (personal data, payment means, registration) can use tolls without having to resort to on-board devices or stop on the road. The research centers of partner universities are also studying alternatives, including the use of wireless technology to detect the presence of a mobile device and allow the transaction to be carried out.  

  • Innovation and technology
  • Roads
  • Smart Tolls
  • Con acento Sacyr

The silent blockchain revolution

Blockchain extends beyond digital assets like Bitcoin and Ethereum, so popular at the moment for their euro exchange values. It is establishing itself as a network of transparency that facilitates instantaneous global-market transactions that are traceable and immutable at minimal fees.

 

David Redondo / VALORIZA SERVICIOS MEDIOAMBIENTALES

 

It is a silent revolution that you’ve likely heard about in the past year, in part because of the interest in cryptocurrencies or cyptotokens (often speculative) on a market that moves $1.5 TRILLION.

The main idea behind blockchain is to facilitate transactions through decentralization and cross validation by using blockchain nodes to ensure that data can never be modified or falsified and that transactions are conducted between virtual wallets in a transparent way, while safeguarding the privacy of holders.

 

What do they contribute?

You may be wondering... apart from being able to speculate and profit from cryptocurrencies, what good are they to a company like Sacyr? There is no single answer: they can be adopted at many levels for various services.

For example, administration and accounting may adopt their own cryptocurrency backed by the company’s value and assets that can be used to move large sums of cash between the company’s many assets around the world, instantly and at a minimal financial cost (fees are very low), or on a contracting level to generate agreements with defined objective criteria that are automatically executed when the signed terms are met.

Another common thought associated with blockchain is the belief that if it arrives, it will be in the distant future, but nothing is further from the truth. Market value Since 2021, leading tech companies like Tesla, which has invested $1.5 billion in Bitcoin, are firmly committed to the future of this technology, paving the way for others and pushing the current price of Bitcoin up to roughly $50,000.

This corporate support means the ecosystem is not solely based on speculation, since these companies do not sell their assets in bitcoin; they accumulate and save them as haven assets with real use in the medium term. We have clear examples of the real use of this currency since it is accepted as a means of payment today by thousands of companies. In Spain specifically, Microsoft offers it as a form of payment, as does Xbox online, PlayStation Network, Destinia, Expedia, Rakuten, Greenpeace, Wikipedia, etc.

To learn more about the specific companies that accept cryptocurrency, visit: https://bitempresa.com/.

 

Did you know...?

• Madrid has become one of Europe’s main cryptocurrency hubs with more than 40 cryptocurrency-related projects.

• There are currently more than 300 cryptocurrencies, each one focused on a specific area.

• There is one called IOTA, which is based on allowing the secure exchange of data within the Internet of Things (IoT)

Sacyr engages with blockchain on several levels, evaluating whether projects are suitable for the company’s various lines of business. It is a member of the Alastria consortium, which anticipates society’s needs by working in collaboration to promote the digital economy through blockchain.

"This technology will revolutionize both the digital and the financial world"

"Personally, I think we are facing a technology that, in the near future, will revolutionize both the digital and the financial world as we know it today, on par with the advent of the internet. What do you think? Will it come to nothing? Deflate like a balloon or not?"

 

David Redondo began as an intern at Sacyr’s Valoriza Servicios Medioambientales in June 2015, focusing on green zones under the current contract for Madrid’s green zones and street cleaning.

 

In 2020 he joined the central services’ R+D+i team at Valoriza Servicios Medioambientales, undertaking the ongoing improvement, optimization, and digitization of the services in our portfolio.

  • Blockchaim

Thanks to a new rubbery semiconductor material, which functions as a "smart skin", the robotic hand can collect information about the patient for diagnosis. Credit: Advanced Manufacturing Institute.

  • Tungsteno

A hand that diagnoses remotely and other robots to conquer medicine

From surgical robots, present in countless operating rooms around the world, to nanorobots that perform biopsies or administer drugs to specific organs, medical robotics is advancing at breakneck pace. Technologies such as miniaturisation, artificial intelligence and 5G are now driving the automaton revolution in the field of health care and telemedicine.

ANTONIO LÓPEZ | Tungsteno

Robots will get increasingly more intelligent, cheaper and faster, a cocktail of characteristics that makes it inevitable that they will become the commonplace companions of healthcare workers. Moreover, it is expected that their prevalence will more than double in the first five years of this decade. Thanks to new technological advances, robotics will make it possible to complete tasks with greater precision and in less time, which will have a direct impact on patient health and the quality of the care they receive.

 

Robot surgeons: undeniable allies in the operating room

 

In the operating room, the use of robotics has countless possible applications, all of them aimed at facilitating the work of the surgeon and minimising the risks for the patient. Among the surgical robots there is a clear leader, the da Vinci system. Founded in Silicon Valley, in 2000 it became the first robotic system approved for surgery by the FDA (the U.S. Food and Drug Administration) and, since then, it has become the most widely used throughout the world —including Spain, where it made its debut 15 years ago. Da Vinci provides the surgeon with a 3D image of the inside of the patient's body and, using a console as an interface, prevents tremors and improves the doctor's comfort during long operations.

To date, robot-assisted surgery has proven to be effective in minimising the size of incisions and blood loss, which speeds up patient recovery. This is why there are already several companies focused on developing robots specialised in specific operations, for example in knee or hip replacement. Work is also being done on such crucial aspects as surgical decision-making, with some robotic systems incorporating artificial intelligence.

But surgical assistive robots require the participation of a medical professional at some point, which also limits the number of operations that can be performed. The implementation of 5G technology would make it possible to turn any operating room in the world into a remote one, allowing specialists to perform surgery wherever they want to be, under safe conditions. These surgical interventions have already proven effective, so the fifth mobile generation opens up numerous possibilities for telemedicine in the near future.

 

The incorporation of automatons in the operating rooms, such as the Da Vinci robot, allows more complex interventions to be carried out in less time, reducing risks for the patient. Credit: Intuitive Surgical.

 

Sensors and prostheses for remote diagnostics

 

These innovations are already redefining even the physical boundaries of the hospital, thanks to the development of telemedicine and telematic diagnostics. Several projects are already underway in this direction. One example is the Medical Tele-Diagnosis Robot (MTR), a robot equipped with sensors and an Internet connection that enables remote diagnoses to be made. In the same vein, researchers at the University of Houston have designed a robotic hand that, thanks to a new rubbery semiconductor nanofilm material, collects information about the patient through a "smart skin" and sends it to the doctor.

In parallel, bionic skins combined with neural implants, which interact directly with the nervous system, hold the promise of revolutionising rehabilitation in physiotherapy, traumatology and spinal cord injuries. The development of these intelligent interfaces makes it possible to collect and transmit information, as well as interconnect with other surfaces such as human skin, to the point that the MIT Biomechatronics Lab, for example, has even created a prosthesis that the user can control voluntarily, almost as if it were another limb.

 

Robotic disinfection, logistics and pharmacy work

 

Automatons are also evolving to perform more and more logistical or cleaning tasks that relieve the workload of healthcare workers while limiting their exposure to bacteria and microorganisms that pose a risk to their health. The Xenex robot, which uses pulsed xenon light to disinfect operating theatres and hospital rooms, or the TUG autonomous robot from Aethon, which can deliver samples, food and medicines within medical facilities, are both working towards this goal. In fact, in the context of the pandemic, unmanned vehicles have already been seen performing these functions to prevent human contact and protect medical professionals.

Outside the hospital, robots are also useful in pharmacies, where having the assistance of machines can help to minimise errors and save costs. For example, the ROBOT-Rx, developed by McKesson, is programmed to process, store and replenish medications. There are even projects already in operation that use technology together with electronics to prepare and track medication doses with the aim of improving patient safety, as is the case for the 100% robotic pharmacy prototype already in operation at the University of California.

 

The robots allow to optimize the processes in the dispensing of medicines and prescriptions, minimizing errors, saving costs and improving patient safety. Credit: McKesson.

 

Nanotechnology and precision medicine

 

The tag-team of robotics and nanotechnology is also working to minimise the invasive effects of diagnostic tests and treatments. This alliance is already being applied in the performance of biopsies or the removal of tumours, improving the precision and accuracy of the procedures, as well as in the repair of heart valves. The MURAB robotic-assisted biopsy system, for example, uses ultrasound to direct a transducer to the tissue to be biopsied.

The field of diagnostic tests in which the application of automatons can improve both the results and the performance and turnaround times, which in these cases can be critical, is becoming increasingly broad. For example, endoscopies are already being carried out using microrobots. These small devices travel through the blood vessels and, in addition, can administer treatment to specific sites in the body, thus reducing the undesired effects of broad-spectrum treatments.

The application of robotics in the medical and patient care industry continues to open up promising opportunities, but even so, there are still numerous challenges to be faced. These include the high costs involved in their development and the necessary training of medical professionals, but also other considerations arising from the use of these new technologies, such as data protection and cybersecurity or the definitive rollout of 5G connectivity.

· — —
Tungsteno is a journalism laboratory to scan the essence of innovation. Devised by Materia Publicaciones Científicas for Sacyr’s blog.

  • Robots
  • 5G

Flexible and semi-transparent, these CES award-winning EES plastic sheeting can reflect, direct, or inhibit radio frequency waves, such as 5G. Credit: E2IP Technologies.

  • Tungsteno

New gadgets that promise a greener future

The most amazing tech devices on the planet are showcased every January at CES in Las Vegas, the world's biggest technology extravaganza. This year, innovations such as solar cells that work indoors are among the highlights. They are the stars of a new generation of green gadgets.

ISABEL RUBIO ARROYO | Tungsteno

In the first-ever virtual edition, due to the coronavirus pandemic, CES organisers have awarded a prize for an autonomous ship that navigates without a captain, and for a plastic sheet capable of redirecting 5G waves. We round off this list with our own selection of other promising green technologies: from solar roof tiles to wooden planks that generate energy with our footsteps.

 

Indoor solar cells

 

In a context where renewables will be the leading global source of electricity by 2025, according to the International Energy Agency, photovoltaic energy is now the cheapest it has ever been in history. As a result, more and more devices are being developed to take advantage of the benefits of the sun's rays. For example, in the case of the tycoon Elon Musk, in addition to manufacturing electric cars with the company Tesla, he is now also creating solar roof tiles. The system is designed to help users recover the costs they have invested thanks to the energy they produce, but there are still major challenges ahead, such as the regulations on the self-consumption of energy in each country.

Also among the alternatives for harnessing solar energy, but without the need to install solar panels on roofs, is the Smartflower POP+. Like a flower, it unfurls early in the morning and follows the sun throughout the day to generate and store the energy needed to power a home or small business. If strong winds are detected, the device folds up immediately and moves into a safety position to prevent breakage.

While most panels capture sunlight to generate heat or electricity, they have a drawback: they do not work well indoors and in enclosed environments. One of the award-winning devices at CES in the sustainability, eco-design and smart energy category aims to overcome this drawback: the low-light indoor energy harvesting solar cells from Ambient Photonics. In other words, this tech could power devices entirely from the ambient light available indoors, without ever needing to be recharged.

 

Ambient Photonics sensors, awarded at CES, are capable of generating energy by capturing ambient light indoors. Credit: Ambient Photonics.

 

Flooring that generates energy from our footsteps

 

With energy optimisation in mind, the homes of the future will be built primarily with sustainable and smart materials, such as the wooden flooring developed by a team of engineers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. These floorboards use electromagnetic induction to generate electricity from footsteps. The researchers claim that the energy created could be used to power lights or charge batteries.

These smart homes are characterised, in particular, by the efficient management of resources such as water. To detect any anomalies that could lead to the loss of this valuable resource, the company D-Link has developed a Wi-Fi sensor. This system, which won an award in the smart home category from the CTA (the Consumer Technology Association in the US, which organises the CES), functions as a kind of brain that communicates with other remote units around the home. For example, it can provide alerts in the event of a leak in the system or a malfunction in washing appliances.

 

An autonomous ship captained by Artificial Intelligence

 

The path towards more eco-friendly cities also involves a rethink of transportation solutions, from autonomous vehicles to the construction of roads themselves. One of the most innovative solutions recognised in the smart vehicles and transport category at this year's CES was an autonomous ship called the Mayflower. The goal of this vessel is to sail across the Atlantic in 2021 without a crew. To achieve this, IBM and the marine research organisation ProMare have been conducting tests over the past few months to evaluate how the ship uses onboard cameras, artificial intelligence and edge computing systems to safely navigate around boats, buoys and other obstacles it may encounter in the ocean. In addition, the vessel is designed with a commitment to the environment, as it gathers environmental data to help safeguard the health of the ocean.

But not all green transport solutions travel by sea. The Swedish eRoadArlanda project aims to equip roads with rails that can charge vehicles on the go. "By building electrified roads, we can reduce carbon emissions by 80-90%," say the project's promoters. Some are also exploring other alternatives, such as gluing photovoltaic panels to the pavement. This is what the Wattway project is all about. Its creators point out that roads are occupied by vehicles only 10% of the time: "Imagine the solar resources of this surface, always facing the sky."

 

Recognized as one of CES's most innovative mobility solutions, the Mayflower is an autonomous ship that sets out to cross the Atlantic in 2021 without a crew. Credit: IBM.

 

Plastic sheeting to boost 5G without antennas

 

In the transition to smart cities, it is also essential to ensure connectivity, and all eyes are on 5G. There are currently 135 commercial networks worldwide, according to the CTA, but the full roll-out of 5G is still a long way off.

EES (electromagnetic engineered surfaces) could help drive its deployment. These thin, semi-transparent plastic surfaces reflect, redirect or block specific radio frequency waves. Winners in the smart cities category, these low-cost, flexible sheets can be used on buildings, signs or walls to augment, direct or inhibit specific telecom services.

Beyond 5G, there are many other proposals that we are likely to see in the green and smart cities of the future. For example, so-called living buildings, self-sufficient constructions that are constantly evolving with a strong natural presence in their structure. Wall and roof gardens have benefits such as absorbing heat, carbon dioxide or rainwater, as well as providing insulation. But also, in the face of population growth, another trend is vertical farming, i.e. growing plants and food inside multi-storey buildings or skyscrapers.

Proponents claim that this allows crops to be grown year round and, by dispensing with much of the machinery and processes of traditional agriculture, reduces the use of fossil fuels —a goal common to all the promising innovations on this list— although it is still too early to know to what extent they will be adopted on a mass scale in our society.

· — —
Tungsteno is a journalism laboratory to scan the essence of innovation. Devised by Materia Publicaciones Científicas for Sacyr’s blog.

 

  • Green
  • Artificial intelligence
  • Autonomous vehicles
  • Solar Energy
  • City

Trenes automáticos, digitales, multifuncionales, flexibles, autónomos… La revolución digital ha llegado al transporte ferroviario para quedarse.

  • Innovation

PASAJEROS AL TREN, INNOVACIÓN EN EL SECTOR FERROVIARIO

En el iFriday de mayo, descubrimos cómo es la innovación en el sector ferroviario a través de diferentes agentes claves de la industria. Nos acompañaron Valentín Alegría, Director de Innovación y Desarrollo de Red en Renfe, Jokin Lopetegi, New Business Manager en CAF, e Isabel Muñoz, Commercial Director en Limmat Group.

 

¿Cómo está cambiando el mundo ferroviario?

La incorporación de las nuevas tecnologías está revolucionando la forma de operar, gestionar y producir de empresas de todos los sectores. La industria ferroviaria no es ajena a estos cambios y está experimentando una evolución hacia un nuevo concepto de movilidad integral. Un modelo que pretende conectar el tren con otros modos de transporte. “La movilidad, las personas, todo está cambiando. Tenemos que adaptarnos a esos cambios, potenciar nuestras virtudes y ser más activos en lo que hacemos nosotros con otros. Tenemos que contextualizar donde se mueve el sector ferroviario y que rol ocupa dentro de la movilidad”, señala Jokin Lopetegi, New Business Manager en CAF.

La adopción de tecnologías disruptivas y las sinergias colaborativas entre agentes del sector están redefiniendo una industria que busca transformar sus procesos operativos, potenciar nuevos modelos de negocio y, lo más importante, mejorar la experiencia de sus clientes. Según Isabel Muñoz, Commercial Director en Limmat Group, “se están haciendo muchas cosas, no sólo a nivel predictivo, sino también en reconocimiento de imágenes o reconocimiento facial en estaciones. Tenemos que evolucionar porque la tecnología nos permite hacerlo”.

 

Innovación abierta para definir los trenes del futuro

Al igual que hacemos en Sacyr, las grandes corporaciones ferroviarias también apuestan por distintos modelos de innovación abierta que les permitan dar respuesta a sus retos de negocio. Renfe está potenciando sus relaciones con los diversos agentes del ecosistema innovador a través de su programa global de aceleración TrenLab. Una iniciativa, en colaboración con Telefónica-Wayra, que busca apoyar a startups y emprendedores a incorporar sus ideas y tecnologías a sus servicios para generar valor y reforzar su posición en el mercado. “TrenLab nos permite estar en contacto con compañías que tienen un carácter innovador enorme y que cuentan con grandes capacidades y conocimientos”, indica Valentín Alegría, Director de Desarrollo en Red de Renfe.

Agilidad y flexibilidad son algunos de los elementos más valorados por las grandes empresas a la hora de trabajar con startups y emprendedores. Compañías como Renfe o CAF están innovando en sus procesos a través de la colaboración con otros agentes del mercado. Por ejemplo, Limmat y Renfe trabajan de forma conjunta en dos innovadores proyectos con un enorme componente tecnológico: auscultación dinámica de vía y análisis de datos de flota. “Ofrecemos a las corporaciones la agilidad que tiene una startup. Incorporamos las nuevas tecnologías para ofrecerles un producto de forma más rápida y ayudarles a que sean mucho más competitivos”, indica Isabel Muñoz, Commercial Director en Limmat Group.

Por último, los tres ponentes coincidieron en que potenciar una cultura de innovación en las empresas del sector, mejorar la conectividad y accesibilidad de los sistemas de transporte o sacar el máximo rendimiento a los datos redefinirán la industria y serán elementos clave para las infraestructuras del futuro.

 

  • IFridays
  • Infraestructures
  • Train
  • Railway
  • AVE
  • IFridays

STEM Women: the female talent revolution

At February’s iFriday, dedicated to working women, we discussed innovation, technology, and leadership from a female perspective, and we did it from the standpoint of an innovative, different company that has shattered stereotypes. A company led by women and committed to female talent that has made Burgos the European capital of mobile robotics.

We had the pleasure of chatting with Lorena Gil, Digital Transformation Manager at ASTI Mobile Robotics, who shared some of the keys to her company’s success in the areas of female leadership, talent, and innovation.

 

From Burgos to the world

ASTI Mobile Robotics is an example of diversity, resilience, and talent. Throughout its existence, the company has known how to reinvent itself, empower female leadership in the professional world, debunk the myth of an “Emptied Spain,” and demonstrate that talent is everywhere. 

The company is part of the ASTI Tech Group, a diversified group specializing in automation technology and engineering. Focusing on mobile robotics, its expertise in Automated Guided Vehicles (AGV) has positioned the company at the forefront of robotics worldwide. 

In addition to having one of the widest ranges of AGVs on the market, the company—based in Madrigalejo del Monte, a small town in the province of Burgos—also works with different technologies, like augmented reality, for intuitive maintenance and remote assistance; virtual assistance, to improve decision-making; and IoT-powered platforms to connect and monitor its entire fleet of AGVs. 

Similarly, the outbreak of COVID-19 prompted the company to design and implement new solutions that help anticipate, minimize, and prevent the spread of the virus. “It dawned on us that we could help with what we know, which is robotics. So Zenzoe was born, a solution that enables us to disinfect with 99.99% reliability and thus help our clients continue working in absolute safety,” explains Lorena Gil, Digital Transformation Manager at ASTI Mobile Robotics.

 

Championing women and innovation

Experts predict that many jobs of the future will be STEM-related (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math). In Spain alone, more than one million STEM jobs will be created in the coming years.

Still, the presence of women in the fields of science and new technologies is concerning. Currently, women represent a mere 29% of the professionals in STEM disciplines, and if we look to the future, the situation remains unsettling: only 35% of students enrolled in STEM programs globally are women. 

This gender imbalance is alarming when we consider that, generally speaking, STEM careers are the driving force of innovation, social wellbeing, inclusive growth, sustainable development, and ultimately, the future.

Doubtless, education, empowerment, and opportunity will be critical in attracting new female talent to STEM careers and advocating the professional development of women. Initiatives like ASTI Mobile Robotics’ STEM Talent Girl fortify female corporate leadership and promote innovation and technical disciplines among women and girls. “The STEM Talent Girl project promotes STEM from an early age. We’ve found that we can influence girls around this age, and we can create models and references that help them see things much clearer,” concludes Lorena Gil, Digital Transformation Manager at ASTI Mobile Robotics.


 

  • Innovation and technology
  • Women
  • Robotic

Selected images from: http://elbichocurioso.blogspot.com.es/2014/03/juanelo-y-el-hombre-de-palo.html

  • Ingeniería

Juanelo Turriano, unknown 16th c. Innovator (II)

Essentially, the problem was that, although the waters rose from the Tagus to the Alcázar under military administration, the military—despite making use of the Artificio—refused to pay for it, claiming they had not commissioned the project. 

JOSE IGNACIO ANDOLZ MUNUERA
Financial Legal Counsel for the General Directorate of Administration and Finance, Sacyr. 


Turriano, burdened by the device’s maintenance costs he was forced to bear, welcomed an offer from Philip II to build a second mechanism, for which the Crown would pay, granting its creator and his heirs the exclusive rights to operate the machine. The second system was completed in 1581.

This time, beset by economic woes, Turriano stopped paying to maintain the first device, allowing the “Prudent” king to embody his nickname and demonstrate caution to such an extent that he simply stopped paying the inventor altogether. After this vile outrage, the engineer was destitute, though there are scholars who assert that, though the economic setback was significant, its consequences were not so dire.

One interpretation may be that Turriano experienced a kind of Spanish baptism, embellished with the many attributes of those countless antiheroes who have graced this land, including being lost to history Invention II: The Clockwork Prayer For some chroniclers, the second invention—the Clockwork Prayer—is a result of the harrowing economic consequences of the Artificio. References to Clockwork Prayers (hombres de palo), wooden automatons capable of carrying out certain tasks, were common in the literature of the Golden Age. In fact, the notion of a wise man capable of creating a device with human characteristics is a virtual archetype – think of the Golem in Jewish folklore.  

 

 

 

Invention II: The Clockwork Prayer

The legend surrounding Turriano’s invention dazzled my fantasies to such an extent as a child, that it led me to develop a kinship with the engineer from Cremona. That is why, as I mentioned at the outset, I would like to prevent the dominant figure of El Greco from totally eclipsing that of his prodigious contemporary.  


Turriano, an expert clockmaker and mechanic, was also a skilled automata craftsman. He made several such devices for Charles V and numerous museums worldwide house similar mechanisms attributed to him. Of the most famous, the Clockwork Prayer, only the legend and the street that bears its name in Toledo, remain.   


Installed on public roads, it is said that this automaton featured a slot where donors could deposit coins. Some claim that it moved along a rail, motioning with its arms and legs. Others say that upon being wound by Turriano, it strolled down the street. Truly the stuff of magic. Some maintain it thanked donors by bowing, genuflecting, or even uttering a sound or a word.


Though these stories certainly border on the fanciful, it would be imprudent to sneer. The technological advances already achieved in the Middle Ages in disciplines like optics and mechanics, which is what interests us here, were astounding.. In fact, some consider the 13th century Muslim scholar, Al-Jazari, to be the father of modern robotics. 


One theory asserts that the creation of the Clockwork Prayer was a means of survival for a poverty-stricken Juanelo in his old age, while another holds that the collections of this unique beggar went to a charity hospital.  

 

Plagued by ruin


Lastly, according to some, the automaton ended up in the flames of the Inquisition as an entity possessed by the devil. In my mind, I doubt this theory; because the Holy Office was extremely meticulous at the time about leaving written records of its procedures, it is likely that the details of such a unique case would survive to this day. There is also some speculation that Philip II intervened to protect the inventor from Inquisitorial zeal.


Juanelo Turriano died in Toledo in 1585, according to hospice reports, penniless. I have heard that the ashes of the Clockwork Prayer reside in a niche beside the grave of its creator. The remains of Turriano himself lay for centuries in the Carmelite temple in Toledo, but were lost when the French set fire to the building in 1812 during the Spanish War of Independence.


It seems as though history has a hand in leaving the least possible trace of the genius from Cremona. Perhaps that is why Turriano is such wonderful fodder for restless minds. In that no-man’s-land between the amazing and the impossible, it is inevitable that the life and exploits of this historic figure will lead  anyone familiar with him to affirm: si non è vero, è ben trovato.

 

  • Engineers

His scientific gaze has managed to anticipate future events. Applying mathematical models, like Peter Turchin, or through science fiction, like Isaac Asimov or Arthur C. Clarke. Credit: Lai Man Nung.

  • Tungsteno

Three visionary scientists who predicted today's world

Predicting the future has always been one of the great desires of human beings and, especially, of scientists. From fiction writers to biologists and mathematicians, great visionaries predicted the use of the smartphone, the rise of teleworking or the 2020 crisis many decades in advance.

ANTONIO LÓPEZ | Tungsteno

Looking to the past to understand what might happen in the future is a characteristic strategy of 'big history', a discipline that, in recent years, has been popularised by prominent communicators such as Noah Yuval Harari, Steve Pinker and Jared Diamond. Predictive history, which seeks to anticipate events, does not always use orthodox methods. In fact, throughout the ages, the most daring voices have been found, not among historians themselves, but among scientists who, from different perspectives, have approached it without prejudice and seeking to apply methods from biology or mathematics to predict the future. Science fiction literature is also an important field in terms of foreseeing what is to come. Even if there is no methodology behind its visions, we do find a prodigious imagination.

 

Biologist and history professor, Peter Turchin has created a mathematical model to detect patterns in long-term social-historical processes. Credit: Peter Turchin.

 

Peter Turchin and the mathematics of cliodynamics

 

Although the pandemic has taken millions of people by surprise, the same cannot be said for Peter Turchin (1957), who predicted ten years ago in the journal Nature that 2020 would be a horrible year. A biologist by training and professor of the history of civilisations at the University of Connecticut, Turchin has created a mathematical model to find patterns of human behaviour in data from the last 10,000 years of history.

This is the basis of 'cliodynamics', a scientific perspective christened by Turchin himself that, far removed from any sort of magical thinking, has a basis in applied science, as its creator argues. The same scientist who spent almost 30 years studying parasitic species, such as the dung beetle, shares his predictions about the collapse of the United States on Twitter and believes he has found, at the very least, a distinguishable pattern: every 50 years, a long period of instability and political violence occurs in the US. Although his forecasts were met with scepticism by the scientific community, time has proved him right and, unfortunately, his dire predictions do not end in 2021.

 

From the relevance of smartphones to the consolidation of renewable energy sources, Isaac Asimov's vision of the future was born from fiction, through Hari Seldon, the protagonist of the Foundation saga. Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

 

Beyond fiction: Asimov's psychohistory

 

A reflection of Peter Turchin can be seen in the science fiction character created by another of the great visionaries of recent history: the mathematician Hari Seldon, the protagonist of the Foundation saga by Isaac Asimov (1920-1992). Seldon drew on the life cycle of a biological organism to foretell the rise and fall of an empire, a brilliant fictional discipline for predicting large-scale human behaviour that Asimov dubbed psychohistory.

However, beyond the machinations of his characters, Asimov himself already forsaw in 1983 what the reality in which we live today would be like, when he published an article in the Canadian newspaper The Star in which he foretold of issues such as education based on "computer literacy" or the relevance of the smartphone in our society: "An essential side product, the mobile computerized object, or robot, is already flooding into industry and will, in the course of the next generation, penetrate the home." The former biochemistry professor, as well as being a prolific science fiction writer, also guessed correctly on the ubiquity of machines and their incorporation into the labour market. Although he did not focus on the pandemic, and aimed for 2019 rather than 2020, Asimov also predicted the rise of renewable energy sources: "The beginning of an era in which a significant part of the Earth's energy will come from the Sun."

 

He was able to anticipate the teleworking model that the coronavirus pandemic has imposed, in addition to concepts such as touch screens or voice assistants. Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

 

Arthur C. Clarke: 2021, a workplace odyssey

 

In line with Asimov's technological presages are those of Arthur C. Clarke (1917-2008), the scientist and writer who, convinced that instant communications and automation would completely change society, guessed in the 1970s what teleworking would be like today: "The day is coming when office workers and intellectuals will do their work without leaving their homes." What he did not foresee was that, in addition to technological progress, a pandemic would be partly to blame.

Author of the novel 2001: A Space Odyssey, he even imagined the concept of touch screens and voice assistants, and correctly predicted how the personal computer would be the key working tool: "you’ll be able to exchange any amount of tabular, visual or graphical information." In 1960, Clarke published A Vision of the Future, in which he painted a picture that was unthinkable and almost irrational at the time, and which, in his own words, increased the chances of his predictions coming true. The writer even went so far as to define the pathology that would trigger this irruption of technology in society: "infomaniacs," a term he coined to describe those addicted to knowing what is going on at all times or, in the parlance of today, being connected.

What do these visionaries have in common? According to journalist Graeme Wood, who recently interviewed Turchin himself, they all come from scientific disciplines other than history, which allows them to approach it "without prejudice, with a fresher perspective." It is an approach far removed from the more traditional analytical tools and can clash with those of orthodox historians. As Pablo Rodríguez-Sánchez, a specialist in scientific computing at the Netherlands eScience Center, explained in an article in The Conversation, the current situation arising from the COVID-19 pandemic has put the spotlight on the predictive capacity of mathematical models, something already explored by Peter Turchin. However, "contrary to popular belief, mathematical models do not answer the question ‘what will happen?’, but rather the question ‘what will happen if?’," something which, according to Rodríguez-Sánchez, is both the greatest strength and the greatest weakness of these analytical tools compared to those of historians.

· — —
Tungsteno is a journalism laboratory to scan the essence of innovation. Devised by Materia Publicaciones Científicas for Sacyr’s blog.

  • Energy efficiency
  • Renewable energy
  • Scientific Disclosure
  • We talk to science

Geographic analysis aims to boost renewable energy

Javier Domínguez Bravo, a researcher at the Center for Energy, Environmental and Technological Research (CIEMAT) and head of the Renewable Energy and Geographic Information Technologies Group (GTIGER), uses maps to find new energy models. 

He applies geographic information systems (GIS) to improve renewable energy integration qualitatively and quantitatively by optimizing resources and adapting to demand. 

“I am a doctor of geography, specializing in geographic information systems, cartography, and remote sensing. In my research group at CIEMAT, we fuse knowledge of the geographical area with renewable energy and the transverse, multidisciplinary vision of several experts in photovoltaic, wind, etc.,” Javier Domínguez explains.

 

gSolarRoof Model

One of Domínguez’s current endeavors is the gSolarRoof model, a project funded in part by the EU (0330_IDERCEXA_4_E) with cooperation from Portugal, in which industrial parks in Extremadura have been evaluated for the application of solar panels for photoelectric and thermal use; they also use data from the National Geographic Institute (LiDAR data). 

gSolarRoof aims to develop a geographic model to assess the possibility of applying photovoltaic solar energy sources on rooftops and in urban spaces. Several city councils are actively collaborating on this project, which is developed by CIEMAT and the Universidad Politécnica de Madrid (UPM),” says Domínguez. 


gSolarRoof relies on GIS tools and the use of high-resolution data to analyze the available surface area of each building. The hope is to master data capture using unmanned aircraft or drones, apply cloud computing to the model, and deliver the service of the results online by the end of the project.


In successive stages, action will be taken to expand the methodology to other energy characteristics of buildings, to provide “intelligence” (with regard to smart cities) and help with decision-making and urban planning from an energy perspective. 

 

Use of drones and satellite information


One of the technologies that Domínguez’s research group uses most involves drones as geographic analysis tools to collect information about the terrain through geo-positioning, with the help of satellite imagery. “By using satellites, we can determine where the potential for energy production is, whether the buildings or land are inhabited, etc. It makes the production of renewable energy remarkably efficient,” the researcher explains.


We have conducted drone flights with an approximate precision of 5-10 centimeters. We see the orientation of the roofs, how the sunlight hits, their inclination, which elements affect them. This provides the details necessary about the industrial warehouses to decide how many photovoltaic panels can be applied and calculate an annual energy generation assessment,” continues Domínguez.


He is also working on a CIEMAT wind farm project, funded by the EU. This is a hybridization project that aims to offer the industry the technology to combine solar and wind systems efficiently. 


“We create a map to see if the land is capable of hosting these farms, if we can estimate production, if there is sufficient wind, solar radiation, uneven terrain, etc. This data is added to the base information we already have from the National Geographic Institute. We then make climatological models, superimposing various layers of information and creating algorithms to determine the capacity of the different areas around the country to host these kinds of systems,” Domínguez concludes. 

 

 

Biomass and geothermal


In the field of biomass, CIEMAT relies on the Center for Renewable Energy Development in Almazán (Soria), where several technologies are put to the test. They work with geographic information systems to assess resources for use as biomass—agricultural waste, pruned limbs, etc.—and its possible use at power plants. 


Here they also use satellite information (topography, orography, climatic variables) to locate infrastructures. 


With regard to geothermal energy, they are focused on housing. “The hybridization plan that is being developed with the EU recovery plan includes the installation of several geothermal pumps in Soria, as well as participation in geothermal projects in northern Spain. This is mainly low-enthalpy geothermal energy, which applies to the heating/cooling of buildings.”
 

  • Geothermal
  • Solar Energy
  • Renewable energy
  • Satellites
  • Biomasa

With constantly evolving technology, smart cities must adopt flexible development to ensure safe connectivity in the future. Credit: NASA.

  • Tungsteno

Smart cities run the risk of being "hacked"

The technologies that underpin the very structures and identity of smart cities are still evolving. This poses the challenge of ensuring the flexible development of these cities and their digital infrastructure to adapt to new innovations as they emerge, but also to cope with other threats, such as digital security.

ISABEL RUBIO ARROYO | Tungsteno

Places like New York, London, Paris, Tokyo and Reykjavik are leading the transition towards smart cities. Based on an army of devices and sensors that interact with each other, these and many other cities around the world are seeking to respond to 21st century challenges such as the scarcity of resources, traffic jams, pollution and urban concentration. While the technologies to achieve this are constantly evolving, a number of challenges have arisen, from how to ensure the flexible development of these cities and their digital infrastructure to how to deal with cybersecurity threats.

Driven by the ever-increasing growth of the urban population, this transformation towards smarter models is already unstoppable. In Spain, in fact, it is hard to find a city that is not undertaking smart city initiatives: from Madrid and Santander to Barcelona, Valencia and Malaga. Among their projects, there are some to manage parking, streamline mobility in transport or manage public lighting, waste collection and water. Other initiatives aim to measure air quality, temperature or luminosity.

 

The design of smart cities must be carried out by a multidisciplinary team: from architects, experts in mobility, cybersecurity and even philosophers. Credit: ASME.

 

Who should design connected cities?

 

To ensure the flexible development of these cities, one of the issues to consider is who should be involved in their design. The deployment of technology requires architects to plan the future of these cities. Antoine Picon, Professor of the History of Architecture and Technology at Harvard Graduate School of Design, explained at a conference organised by IE University's School of Architecture and Design that there is a risk to believing that there is only one possible model for smart cities, "instead of thinking that they have to adapt to the context of each place and that, therefore, there will be as many models as there are places where they are implemented."

This is also the view of architect Simon Smithson, winner of the prestigious Pritzker Prize in 2007, who believes that the buildings of the future "should reflect the conditions of the city's environment." In an interview published in the magazine UNO from the consultancy firm Llorente & Cuenca, he states that the style of buildings is influenced by the raw materials used in their construction, the climate and accessibility. For him, "a good building captures the spirit of the city: In Madrid, people live more in the street; in London, more indoors."

In addition to architects, there are those who argue that mobility experts, communicators and even philosophers should participate in the development of smart cities. Llorente & Cuenca assert that a city is smart when the living conditions of its citizens are optimal. "Thus, within the field of study of smart cities, we would hear more concepts such as quality of life, resilience, degrowth and even happiness," they note. Some researchers have developed rankings of smart cities that already take this into account—for example, educational level or life expectancy—but "in most published analyses, technological indicators prevail."

 

With increasingly frequent cyber attacks, guaranteeing the benefits of smart city connectivity will only be possible if the technology behind it is secure. Credit: Hugh Han.

 

Technology as an ally and a threat to cities

 

If there is one thing that the advocates of smart city’s agree on, it is that cybersecurity experts must be included in the development process as these cities are exposed to multiple threats. On 7 April 2017, residents of Dallas (USA) were startled by more than 150 sirens that are only activated in the event of tornadoes or severe storms. Even though the skies were clear, concerned residents inundated emergency phonelines in response to the warning. The alarms sounded intermittently for an hour and a half until the system was completely shut down. Although emergency officials initially blamed the problem on a "system failure," the following day they confirmed that it had been "hacked."

In networked cities, the possibilities for attackers are endless. They can take control of security cameras, taximeters, cars and even yachts. Smart TVs, traffic lights, ovens, refrigerators, number plate readers and even medical devices are all at risk. If a single device lacks adequate security or its digital certificate has expired, the entire structure could become vulnerable to attack or suffer disruptions. This could affect critical services and infrastructure such as hospitals, offices, sewage treatment facilities or roads.

In 2014, a team of researchers hacked nearly 100 interconnected traffic lights in Michigan. "The vulnerabilities we discovered in the infrastructure are not the fault of any one device or design choice, but rather show a systemic lack of security awareness", they explained in a paper they wrote about it. In 2015, researchers Scott Erven and Mark Collao demonstrated at a conference how they were able to access dozens of medical devices such as MRI equipment and internet-connected defibrillators in different hospitals, as reported by the BBC. They explained that attackers could even obtain patient history data and know the location of machinery within a building.

Security and privacy incidents within smart cities will become more frequent unless manufacturers of these devices adopt proper security procedures and protocols. It is also essential that methods are in place to constantly monitor these security measures and act quickly in the event of an emergency, as the benefits of an internet-connected city can only be realised if the technological means that support it are secure. This lies at the heart of one of the major issues raised by smart cities. Technology is the fundamental pillar on which all these services are based, but we cannot define what this technology will look like in the future. What is certain is that it will evolve, and along with it cities will have to do the same.

· — —
Tungsteno is a journalism laboratory to scan the essence of innovation. Devised by Materia Publicaciones Científicas for Sacyr’s blog.

  • Smart cities
  • Cybersecurity
  • Smart Cities

Zaha Hadid promoted with her example the female figure within the sector and, especially, after being the first woman to win the Pritzker Prize in 1994. Credit: Wikimedia Commons / Zaha Hadid Architects.

  • Tungsteno

Women who broke the mould of architecture

From Julia Morgan, the world's first woman with a degree in architecture, to the more futuristic Zaha Hadid, on the occasion of International Women's Day we celebrate outstanding women in a field in which they were even more invisible than in technology, engineering or science.

ISABEL RUBIO ARROYO | Tungsteno

Overlooked in a profession mostly conceptualised and practiced by men, women have, however, been active participants in design and construction since the first dwellings were recorded. Gaining the visibility within architecture that was rightfully theirs has taken time and, also, the active role of prominent figures that have contributed to giving them a voice. Here we present a selection of great women architects whose work has shaped the history of the profession and has served as a benchmark to pave the way for future generations.

 

Julia Morgan: the struggle for academic recognition

 

The great earthquake that destroyed more than 80% of San Francisco's buildings in 1906 also took out the iconic Fairmont Hotel, which was gutted by flames just days before opening. The owners of the iconic establishment then turned to a young architect named Julia Morgan (1872-1957) to rebuild it, to the astonishment of journalists and the public alike, according to The New York Times. The American went down in history as the first woman to be admitted to the Ecole des Beaux-Arts de Paris, then the most prestigious architecture school in the world, and she was one of the first female architecture graduates in the world. Morgan dispelled the doubts of those who questioned her abilities by designing hundreds of buildings, including some widely known constructions such as the Asilomar conference venue and the Hearst Castle in San Simeon, California.

The path that the Californian architect embarked on at the beginning of the 20th century in the United States was already being laid in the old continent. In fact, Finland was the first European country where women were allowed to study architecture and receive academic qualifications. Signe Hornborg (1862-1916), a student at the Helsinki Polytechnic Institute, was one of the first female architects on record, receiving her diploma in 1890. It was not until 1898 that the famous Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) accepted the first woman architect, Ethel Charles (1871-1962), as a member of its institution, but it was only much later that the versatile Jane Drew (1911-1996) became the first woman to serve on its board.

 

 

Julia Morgan, the architect behind the renovation of San Francisco's legendary Fairmont Hotel, was the first woman to be admitted to the Ecole des Beaux-Arts de Paris. Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

 

Lina Bo Bardi: the foundations of the avant-garde

 

The list of undervalued pioneering women in architecture is long. Some of these professionals saw their influence grow in the shadow of great men in the sector. Over time, names such as Charlotte Perriand (1903-1999), a French architect and designer, managed to carve out a niche for herself on the fringes of Le Corbusier, with whom she collaborated for a long time as head of furniture and interiors, or Lilly Reich (1885-1947), whose work is closely linked to that of Mies Van der Rohe.

Other figures managed to stand out from the outset, apart from this male presence. This is the case of the Italian-Brazilian Achillina Bo, better known as Lina Bo Bardi (1914-1992). During the Second World War, her studio was destroyed by an aerial bombing. Bo had founded it after graduating from the Faculty of Architecture at the University of Rome and working with the architect and designer Giò Ponti. Shortly afterwards, she emigrated to Brazil, where she designed a building that is now considered a landmark in the world of architecture: the Sao Paulo Museum of Art (MASP), which has four lateral support pillars and is eight metres above the ground. But there are also other architectural gems such as the Glass House in Sao Paulo and the Solar do Unhão in Salvador de Bahia. She would thus lay the foundations of the Brazilian architectural avant-garde, without abandoning tradition, before the arrival of other leading figures of the continent's most iconic buildings such as Niemeyer.

 

Lina Bo Bardi designed one of the most significant buildings in the sector, the Sao Paulo Museum of Contemporary Art, and also laid the foundations for the Brazilian architectural avant-garde. Credit: Wikimedia Commons / MASP.

 

Zaha Hadid: the first woman to win the Pritzker Prize

 

If there is a key figure in avant-garde architecture, it is undoubtedly the Anglo-Iraqi Zaha Hadid (1950-2016). In 1994 she erected her first building: a fire station. Ten years later she became the first woman to win the Pritzker Architecture Prize, the world's most important award in the field of architecture.

Hadid, who was born in Baghdad and spent most of her life in London, is today one of the world's most famous architects and one of the leading contemporary exponents of the architectural movement known as deconstructivism. This style is characterised by the use of a non-linear, fragmented design process that distorts and dislocates some of the elementary principles of architecture, such as the structure and the building envelope. Among the most representative examples of her work are the Heydar Aliyev Cultural Centre in Azerbaijan, the Guangzhou Opera House in China, the London Aquatics Centre, the National Museum of 21st Century Art in Rome and the Rosenthal Center for Contemporary Art in Cincinnati.

 

Kazuyo Sejima added the second Pritzker Prize to a woman in 2010. Her work, within the SANAA studio, is a benchmark of the most experimental architecture. Credit: Wikimedia Commons / SANAA.

 

Kazuyo Sejima: the new paradigm of architecture

 

The contemporary Japanese architect Kazuyo Sejima (1956), who trained at Japan Women's University and is considered a point of reference in diagrammatic architecture, was the second woman to win the Pritzker Prize (2010). She received it together with her partner Ryue Nishizawa, with whom she founded the prestigious architecture studio SANAA, known for its experimental way of working and for questioning strategic aspects of architecture in its work.

If their structures are characterised by anything, it is simplicity, metallic lightness and spatial fluidity, following this architectural modality in which one seeks to reinterpret and experiment with graphic and iconographic mechanisms used in other periods and in other fields. This is shown in some of their most outstanding creations, such as the New Museum of Contemporary Art in New York, the Toledo Museum of Art Pavilion (Ohio), the House in a Plum Grove (Tokyo) or the Rolex Learning Centre (Lausanne).

 

Her work is an example of dialogue with the environment, but, in addition, Carme Pigem credits a Pritzker Prize with her studio RCR Arquitectes. Credit: RCR Arquitectes.

 

Carme Pigem: Interaction with the Landscape

 

This approach of questioning traditional structures and the basic principles of architecture has resulted in ground-breaking and unique works behind which there are also leading women architects, such as Carme Pigem. While the Oxford English dictionary defines the word lighthouse as a "tower or other building that contains a strong light to warn and guide ships near the coast," at the end of the 20th century, the architects Pigem, Ramon Vilalta and Rafael Aranda challenged this denomination by creating a horizontal lighthouse. This kind of tapered arm reaching out to the sea, which had a great impact, says a lot about the way of seeing architecture of the three founders of the RCR studio, who won a Pritzker Prize in 2017.

Trained at the Vallès School of Architecture at the Polytechnic University of Catalonia (UPC), Pigem (1962) argues that their work has a strong interaction with the surrounding landscape and a special fixation on nature. Proof of this is the Tussols-Basil Stadium in Olot (Gerona), an athletics track dotted with trees, the Sant Antoni-Joan Oliver library in Barcelona, the Les Cols Restaurant in Olot and the Soulages Museum in France.

Morgan, Bo Bardi, Hadid, Sejima and Pigem are just a few of the leading figures that have contributed to the visibility of women architects. But the list is long and, while it remains a sector where the proportion of female professionals is still low and the wage gap is an ongoing reality, their work is increasingly being recognised. Proof of this is the Pritzker prize that the Irishwomen Yvonne Farrell and Shelley McNamara received in 2020, the first time that two women have won what is considered the Nobel Prize for architecture.

· — —
Tungsteno is a journalism laboratory to scan the essence of innovation. Devised by Materia Publicaciones Científicas for Sacyr’s blog.

  • Architecture
  • Women
  • Infrastructures

Live onsite monitoring through digitization

Within the changing environment of the construction industry, innovative tools based on digitization are emerging to help optimize construction processes. 

At Sacyr, we have an innovative tool, Dalux, that not only allows us to adapt to digitization itself, but to establish an instant communication and traceability system onsite through BIM models and graphic representation.


“This facilitates monitoring of tasks through formulas and graphic data from the site,” explains Selmison Vera Cruz Pedronho, Quality Technician at Sacyr. 

 

 

3-D rendering


“Dalux allows us to see a 3-D rendering of what we aim to carry out. Once the project design is complete and we proceed to the execution phase, this type of software comes into play to connect everyone involved (the entire chain of subcontractors, specialists, and direct managers in the construction phase) using a general 3-D model of the project as a base,” says Cruz Pedronho.

“Those responsible use Dalux to report the progress of the work underway. For our part, we ensure that the work is executed to perfection and verify its compliance,” the Quality Technician points out.

This makes it possible to involve all of the project’s key players, while providing fully transparent and accessible information. 

 

 

Useful detection of defects and errors


Sacyr is using Dalux at its Ulster University (Northern Ireland) project. “With Dalux we can maintain direct contact with the onsite work team. It allows us to anticipate potential logistical errors and detect hidden defects that may appear during the different construction phases,” Cruz Pedronho says. Sacyr also performs quality controls of all construction processes.  

Hidden defects and errors may be the fault of loose materials or debris in the work area that prevent the execution of certain tasks or cause construction processes to be poorly executed, requiring revision or reworking.

 

Virtual reality view

Another noteworthy use of the technology is a tool that allows the site to be viewed in virtual reality through any mobile device. “This enables us to make comparisons between the current and future state of the project, providing progress reports and detecting any minor deviations that may occur,” Cruz Pedronho explains.


With Dalux we can create a history of all the tasks that have been completed over the course of the project since they are evident. This provides traceability (execution times, construction delays, incidents, etc.) in such a way that we know the status of the project and whether it will meet the established deadlines.
 

  • Virtual Reality
  • 3D
  • Digitization

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