IBM’s Brazil Research Labs Target Natural Resources, Data Analytics and Nanotechnology

IBM’s commitment to investing in innovation has not only helped position it as one of leading companies in the software and services market, but also ensured that is …

Nears Ulisses Mello, Associate Director, IBM Research - Brazil

IBM’s commitment to investing in innovation has not only helped position it as one of leading companies in the software and services market, but also ensured that is has led the patents ranking for the past 21 consecutive years.

Brazil has participated actively in this process, contributing to the development of new solutions in areas which it has solid expertise such as natural resources management.

In an exclusive interview, Nears Ulisses Mello, engineer and associate director at IBM Research – Brazil, told Nearshore Americas about the new technologies IBM has developed in Brazil and beyond. Since August 2010, Mello has led the Smarter Natural Resources & Discovery strategic focus area in Brazil. He has also been an IBM Global Research executive for the chemicals and petroleum industry sector.

Nearshore Americas: How has the Brazilian research lab contributed to developing new patents in the world?

Ulisses Mello: IBM has led the ranking of firms with the most patents for the last 21 years. Last year, 6,809 patents were registered.  IBM has 12 research labs in the world and, in Brazil, the IBM Research lab was established four years ago, with centers in Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro. Since then, almost 100 patents have been registered, although not all have been issued yet. The company invests almost US$6 billion per year in R&D worldwide.

NSAM: What are the priority areas for the IBM Research lab in Brazil?

Mello: IBM has four priority areas in Brazil. The main area is related to natural resources management, involving oil and gas, mining and agricultural sectors. The second is the social data analytics segment that comprises the analysis of data generated from social networking sites [such as Twitter or Facebook], which can be applied, for example, to financial analysis. The third strategic area is nanotechnology applied to the development of the smarter devices for the intermittent production industry. This technology can be applied to, for example, blood testing or recovering oil from existing fields. And the last one is smarter cities.

NSAM: How can natural resource management help in predicting natural disasters or in city planning?

Mello: IBM has invested in natural resources management focused on predicting natural disasters and the agricultural sector. The flood prediction technology, for example, can be used for the planning and management of smarter cities as well as planning the logistics for the sugarcane sector. In Brazil, Rio de Janeiro’s municipal authority, in partnership with IBM, has created an integrated operations center to help in the city’s management. The Rio Operations Center collects data from multiple government departments and public agencies, monitoring real time everything that happens in the city.

This data is incorporated into a global model that uses a high performance cloud-based solution, which makes it possible, for example, to predict various types of incidents, such as the amount of rainfall in certain regions up to 48 hours in advance, or the possibility of flash floods or landslides. This way, it is possible to identify risk areas and define the prioritization of people for them. The operations center can also be used for managing traffic in big cities. We already have a prototype for it in Brazil and we have made a simulation for the Rio de Janeiro city government.

NSAM: Does IBM intend to expand such partnerships to others cities in Brazil?

Mello: IBM has implemented Smarter Cities projects in more than 2,000 cities in the world and we intend to expand partnerships to others cities in Brazil.

NSAM: What are IBM’s main focuses in the innovation area worldwide?

Mello: The priority areas for IBM today, worldwide are: cloud, analytics, mobile, social and security. In the case of cloud, the focus is on developing infrastructures to be used by industries. The cloud platform is normally used in the retail sector. In Brazil, the IBM Research lab has invested in high performance computing for industrial applications, which is capable of storing data, such as seismic images, or Computational Fluid Dynamics (CFD) [which uses numerical methods and algorithms to analyze and solve problems that involve fluid flows]. Another area is business analytics, which involves the analysis of massive volumes of data, allowing the development, for example, of flood modeling. In Brazil, this technology can be applied to Smarter Cities, natural resource and financial segments.

In the mobile area, IBM focuses on developing systems of engagement related to the creation of new applications that rely on ‘people collaboration’. For example, in Brazil, IBM has a project with the AACD (Association of Assistance to Disabled Children) related to accessibility. The company developed an app that allows people with mobility problems to take pictures of public routes. This will help to map their quality and further suggest routes for this public. Finally, the last segment is related to security. No company will want to move their solutions to the cloud if this technology isn’t secure. For this, however, the security must be proactive. Today, when we discover something, it is too late, the computer is already infected.

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NSAM: How can these technologies be applied to society?

Mello: IBM has invested in cognitive computing applied to language in the areas of healthcare, education and finance. IBM created a new business line, the Watson Group [a cognitive technology that processes information by understanding natural language, generating hypotheses based on evidence and learning as it goes]. The Watson Health Advisor allows doctors and hospitals to access available medical information worldwide, assisting in diagnosis and treatment of the patient.

Another application of the Watson system is in the education area, which combines cognitive computing with analytic process. By means of this system, it is possible to identify the area in which students are having more difficulty and suggest personalized content for them, helping the learning process. Finally, the Watson system can be applied to financial advice. By analyzing the customer’s investment profile, the system can search for information in the market and suggest investments, helping professionals to compose the portfolio of financial products for their customers. The idea is to have it available globally and we will customize the solution according to the Brazil specifics.

NSAM: How does IBM encourage employees to seek innovation?

Mello: Innovation is part of IBM’s DNA. We have done research for more than 50 years.  IBM carries out annual studies to identify the technology trends and, from that, elaborate several projects and strategies. The development of patents is part of the targets, and the employees receive a financial compensation as an incentive to develop new patents. We also have partnerships with universities to develop research projects.