Jose Filho wins international InnovateFPGA Design Contest for coral medicine project

15 August, 2022

- KAUST News

KAUST doctoral student Jose Filho is the world champion of the 2022 InnovateFPGA Design Contest, organized by Intel Corporation and Terasic Inc. and sponsored by high-profile companies Microsoft, Analog Devices, Arrow Electronics, Macnica, Mouser Electronics and Digi-Key Electronics. 

InnovateFPGA is a global design contest that seeks to inspire teams to develop sustainability-themed projects using Intel® FPGAs — field programmable gate arrays, a hardware circuit that a user can program to carry out one or more logical operations. Approximately 260 teams from around the world entered the contest to develop FPGA-based cloud-connected edge applications to find solutions for reducing environmental impact and the demand placed on the planet's resources.

Filho works with Dr. Khaled Nabil Salama, professor of electrical and computer engineering, on research involving instrumentation, prototyping and communication theory. His winning project, "Customized Medicine for Corals," employs an automatic feeder technology for corals, and is part of a successful collaboration with Dr. Raquel Piexoto, associate professor of marine science.

"We believe we won due to the ability to combine cloud connectivity, computer vision and FPGA to provide an elegant solution to tackle a real-world problem," Filho said.

The real-world problem addressed is that increasing ocean temperatures are causing some corals to bleach. The bleaching process occurs when the coral expels algae living in its tissues. The algae are critical to the survival of the coral.

The solution from Jose's group is an automatic system that can deliver coral probiotics in the marine environment and monitor its long-term efficacy. Laboratory studies show that certain beneficial microorganisms for coral (BMCs) can stop the bleaching process and help the coral to recover.

KAUST doctoral student Jose Filho and his award-winning coral reef feeder technology project. Photo: KAUST

Jose's FPGA unit gathers data from cameras, temperature sensors and sea luminosity data from an Ultralow Power Light Recognition System by Analog Devices. The FPGA uses artificial intelligence (AI) to accurately determine the bleaching stage and make a fast decision to deploy the BMC. The solar powered experiment is deployed near shore and able to send 4G data to Microsoft Azure to visualize and manage the rehabilitation process. The cloud solution will allow the control of the BMC release and the monitoring of its efficacy from anywhere in the world.

"Temperature is one factor that affects the bleaching process," Filho said. "By correlating the bleaching stage to the temperature, we can know, for example, at which temperature the coral bleached. Use of these devices and cloud-based solutions in our research may provide some understanding of when it is better to deploy BMCs, or at what temperature it is more beneficial."

A KAUST marine scientist manually administers probiotics to corals in the Red Sea. Photo: KAUST

Automating the coral bleaching identification process decreases the need for costly expeditions and trained marine researchers. The project can be scaled to fit different coral reefs environments around the world, creating a cloud-based worldwide coral reef recovery system.

The project was funded by KAUST Innovation through the Research Translation Funding Program under the category Near Term Grand Challenge.

Vice President for KAUST Innovation Kevin Cullens said, "At KAUST Innovation we work with researchers and scientists looking to develop translational solutions to some of our most pressing global challenges. Jose's customized hardware and software programs are important additions to Professor Peixoto's 'medicine for corals' and will help advance the technology so that it is ready to roll out at scale."

Jose's work for coral restoration is not the first award he has achieved while at KAUST. The most recent awards include a Dean's Award (2022) in the KAUST Electrical and Computer Engineering Program, given to selected students of each program for academic excellence. In 2021, he received first place for the PCB (Printed Circuit Board) design contest, organized by PCBWay, a world leader in PCB manufacturing.