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Exploratory actions: opening up new lines of research

Exploratory actions aim to promote the emergence of new research themes. They give scientists the means to test out original ideas. These test runs can then be extended, leading to the creation of a fully-fledged Inria project-team. Presentation of the exploratory actions put in place by Inria.

Exploratory actions provide an opportunity to trust in researchers' intuition. The system allows Inria to mobilise resources to address very innovative, risky subjects that represent a departure from the institute's traditional approaches. It provides the means to examine a subject in detail and prove its scientific relevance: a vital stage before creating a project-team. It can also mean exploring unusual themes at the margins of Inria's sphere of action, such as subjects concerning social sciences or legal issues. This is the case with the ongoing LICIT and STEEP projects.

Exploratory actions provide an opportunity to trust in researchers' intuition

Exploratory actions provide an opportunity to trust in researchers' intuition. The project, which is financed for two years, is led by one heavily involved researcher, who is supported by a small number of teammates. The organisational structure is flexible, as is its assessment. The results are presented during an open day aimed at a wide audience. The first exploratory actions, FLOWERS and NANO-D, have led to the creation of project-teams. Pierre-Yves Oudeyer, head of the Flowers team, has also been recognised by the European Research Council and will receive a grant of 2 million euros for 5 years to launch his project. Stéphane Redon, head of the Nano-D team, was also shortlisted, which shows the quality of his project.

MUSE: Measuring networks for enhancing USer Experience

Muse stands for “Measuring networks for enhancing User Experience”. Our research is mostly in the area of network measurements. We focus on developing new algorithms and systems to improve user experience online. In particular, we are addressing two main problems of today's Internet users:

  1. Technology is too complex. Most Internet users are not tech-savvy and hence cannot fix performance problems and anomalous network behavior by themselves. The complexity of most Internet applications makes it hard even for networking experts to fully diagnose and fix problems. Users can't even know whether they are getting the Internet performance that they are paying their providers for.
  2. There is too much content. Users are often lost when deciding which articles to read or which movie to watch, for instance.

Exploratory actions completed

CAPPRIS: Protection of Privacy Rights in the Information Society

Cappris (Collaborative Action on the Protection of Privacy Rights in the Information Society) is an Inria Project Lab initiated in 2013. The general goal of Cappris is to foster the collaboration between research groups involved in privacy in France and the interaction between the computer science, law and social sciences communities in this area. In order to reach its goals, Cappris will carry out two kinds of actions:

  • Joint Research Actions to investigate specific research topics following a collaborative and interdisciplinary approach. Three Joint Research Actions have been launched: the first one is dedicated to the notion of consent, the second one aims to devise a privacy reference architecture and the third one focuses on privacy assessment.
  •  Networking actions to favour the emergence of a research community on privacy and enhance the interest of researchers and the public in this fast evolving domain.

The outputs of the first line of actions are research results whereas the networking actions will take the form of joint events (meetings, visits, workshops, etc.) as well as wider audience publications and events.

Even if its goal is to provide general techniques with a potentially broad impact, Cappris will consider different contexts and concrete case studies to ensure the relevance and significance of its results. To reach this aim, three classes of case studies have been selected: Online Social Networks (OSN), Location Based Services (LBS) and Electronic Health Record Systems (EHR), which correspond to application domains with great impact on society.

Ctrl-A: Control Techniques for Autonomic, Adaptive and Reconfigurable Computing systems

Computing systems are more and more ubiquitous, at scales from tiny embedded systems to large-scale cloud infrastructures. They are more and more adaptive and reconfigurable, for resource management, energy efficiency, or by functionality. Furthermore, these systems are increasingly complex and autonomous: their administration cannot any longer rely on a strong interaction with a human administrator. The correct design and implementation of automated control of the reconfigurations and/or their tuning is recognized as a key issue for the effectiveness of these adaptive systems.
Our objective is to build methods and tools for the design of safe controllers for autonomic, adaptive, reconfigurable computing systems. To attain this goal, we propose to combine Computer Science and Control Theory, followinf the axes corresponding to the different levels of of this co-design problem: adaptive systems infrastructures, programming support, and modeling and control techniques.

Our team groups complementary competences, from different laboratories, in order to contribute more efficiently to the topic of hardware/softxare interfaces, particularly active locally to Grenoble, and more widely nationally and internationally in the emerging community on Feedback Computing.

ESTASYS: developping brand new formal methods for Systems of Systems

Computer systems play a central role in modern societies and their errors can have dramatic consequences. Industry and academics thus invest a considerable amount of effort developing techniques to prove the correctness of these systems. Among such techniques, one finds (1) testing, the traditional approach to detect bugs with test cases, and (2) formal methods, e.g., model checking (Turing award), that can guarantee the absence of bugs. Both approaches have been largely deployed on static systems, whose behaviour is entirely known. ESTASYS focuses on developping
brand new formal methods for Systems of Systems.

FLOWERS: Baby robot learning

Can a robot learn like a baby and explore the world around it without being programmed by an engineer? This is the incredible proposition being explored by a team at Inria Bordeaux Sud-Ouest. Without imitating human intelligence in the same way as artificial intelligence, these researchers in behavioural and social robotics are trying to create a system capable of learning and developing by itself, in the same way that a child does.

Developmental psychologists have deciphered the logic behind these complex processes, based on spontaneous exploration. Implementing a "curiosity function" of this kind in robots' "brains" would allow them to learn for themselves. The team has already put this concept to the test. It is now attempting to pair this learning about the body and space with language learning, thus paving the way for autonomous social interaction of robots with humans. Such robots would be better able to cope with unknown spaces and situations. They could also be used to test the pertinence of psychologists' theories.

LICIT: An ethical approach to computer science

Information technology is everywhere: in a large number of devices, from washing machines to aeroplanes, in the RFID chips that control access to buildings, in car locking systems and, of course, in Internet systems, but also in transport cards, biometric passports and video surveillance. How can collective and individual freedoms be protected against this wave of new services and uses of information technology?

A team from Inria Grenoble - Rhône-Alpes has decided to tackle this challenge by opening up a new field of research, taking legal and ethical criteria into account when designing computer systems. Along with lawyers, they are revisiting the principles of privacy and inventing a formal framework for a data protection infrastructure. They are also proposing methods for establishing legal responsibilities in terms of software.

MULTICORE:  an approach based on virtualization and dynamicity

Multicore processors are becoming the norm in most computing systems. However supporting them in an efficient way is still a scientific challenge. This large-scale initiative introduces a novel approach based on virtualization and dynamicity, in order to mask hardware heterogeneity, and to let performance scale with the number and nature of cores.

It aims to build collaborative virtualization mechanisms that achieve essential tasks related to parallel execution and data management. We want to unify the analysis and transformation processes of programs and accompanying data into one unique virtual machine. We hope delivering a solution for compute-intensive applications running on general-purpose standard computers.

NANO-D: Virtual mock-ups on an atomic scale

Many manufactured goods, from cars to aeroplanes, are designed and tested using computers. This approach has undeniable advantages in terms of production costs and lead times. The aim of the researchers at Inria Grenoble - Rhône-Alpes is to design effective algorithmic methods to do the same on an atomic scale. Why? To model and simulate complex nanometric systems, be they natural nano-systems, such as proteins, or artificial ones, such as miniature mechanical structures.

The problem is difficult, given the large number of atoms involved as well as the duration and complexity of the phenomena to be simulated. All these barriers make such simulations too expensive. Efficient methods are therefore a very attractive proposition. In particular, researchers are developing new, adaptive approaches which automatically concentrate computing resources on the most relevant parts of the nano-systems under consideration.

STEEP:  Modelling sustainable development

Making decisions about the construction of a dam, estimating the impact of an urbanisation project, choosing a waste processing technology: all these technological choices will have repercussions in terms of sustainable development. Yet local and regional authorities are cruelly lacking in tools to help them make these choices.

To address this problem, researchers at Inria Grenoble - Rhône-Alpes are exploring two new types of decision aids. The first simulates complex systems in which numerous factors, particularly human factors, interact. The objective is to anticipate the impacts of such policy choices on biodiversity and local resources… based on a variety of scenarios in respect of climate change and global economic developments. The second tool developed aims to optimise choices in terms of costs, not only from an economic point of view but also from an environmental and social perspective.

Keywords: Interaction homme-machine Artificial intelligence Robotics Climat Sustainable development Biodiversité Nano-systèmes