Please describe your professional experience relating to water and space technologies

I am CEO & Founder at Business on Engineering and Technology (BE Tech). After several years of working at universities, together with a group of colleagues, we decided to become entrepreneurs, thinking that not only universities can do research, but also private companies. At the same time, I am the coordinator of the Image Processing Research Laboratory (INTI-Lab) at Universidad de Ciencias y Humanidades since 2016. At INTI-Lab, we have six research topics (electronics and communications, computer science and informatics, industrial applications, aerospace systems, and biomedical technology). We develop research projects in each of these thematic areas and publish results in form of scientific articles.

Since December 2018, I am a full professor at Universidad Nacional Tecnologica de Lima Sur. I teach at the professional school of electronic engineering and telecommunications. I was head of the school and head of the research institute.

My work experience related to space includes research at the French Space Agency (CNES), and at the German Aerospace Center (DLR). I had the opportunity to be at the Toulouse headquarters of the CNES and the Oberpfaffenhofen headquarters of the DLR. In both institutions, I worked on projects related to the quality of satellite images. One project concerning water that I lead used satellite images for post-disaster management after floods in Peru. For this project, both optical images and radar images were used.

How can space contribute to water resource management, hydrology, or any water related field?

Space is a privileged place and can provide images of our planet for different applications, among them some relate to water, for example, control of our water sources, disaster management, marine life monitoring, among others. For example, with satellite images, water bodies could be monitored and evaluated by calculating indices using the different spectral bands that an image like those of the LandSat satellites can give.

Clean water is a very critical issue because it affects entire ecosystems. In many cases, people are not aware of the effects of water pollution. Access to images or real signals that show these effects can be crucial to raise awareness on the levels of pollutions we have reached.

An example of how space technology can contribute to water resource management is water pollution monitoring using satellite images. I was part of a research team who studied pollution of Lake Titicaca located between the countries of Peru and Bolivia at the height of 3812 metres above sea level. It is the highest navigable lake in the world with a very diverse flora and fauna. Due to the mismanagement of waste from the cities surrounding the lake a green carpet of Lemna gibba, also known as duckweed, has been formed in the last 30 years. The factors that contribute to the growth of the duckweed are the bad collection and treatment of garbage, the formal and informal mining and the treatment of the drains.

With a spatiotemporal analysis using remote sensing images and geographic information systems scientists can obtain parameters such as the characteristics of absorption and retrospection and anomalies in the concentration of chlorophyll, that allow to detect the presence of harmful algae blooms. Our research of Lake Titicaca was based Landsat 8 satellite images of different months of the year 2018 and allowed to calculate the average area affected by the bloom of duckweed. Future research can identify and monitor the algal blooms in the lake, which will allow us to identify priority areas of attention and generate intervention and conservation maps for the lake.

Finally, space technology not only contributes satellite images, but also spin-off technology that can be derived from it, such as telecommunications, microgravity tests, and navigation systems, among others.

Could you tell us about your current work, your latest project or your proudest professional moment?

At BE Tech, we want to promote the scientific and technological development in Peru, promote the culture of publication, and contribute to young people's education on issues related to aerospace technology.

As the coordinator of INTI-Lab, I have the responsibility of coordinating all members of the INTI-Lab team and defining the research projects to be carried out. Some of these projects are:  

•    Analysis of earthquake affected areas using data compression.
•    Implementation of a low-cost station for NOAA image reception;
•    Deforestation analysis in areas of the Peruvian Amazon using satellite images;
•    Design of a ground station for communication with stratospheric balloons; and
•    Analysis of natural disaster via satellite images.

I also represent INTI-Lab in research-related events, together with the other members to publicize our research results. Likewise, I have the responsibility of managing the collaboration agreements with other institutions or agencies (Universidad de Malaga, Beihang University, CONIDA, etc.). Finally, I also carry out the experimental, research, development, and testing of the projects in my charge.

One project concerning water that I lead is related to use satellite images for post-disaster management after floods in Peru. In this project, we use radar satellite images from the Sentinel constellation to analyze the most-affected areas by floods in the cities of Chosica and Piura. The applied methodology was to analyze and compare two images (before and after the disaster) to identify the affected areas based on the images' differences. The analyzing process includes radiometric calibration, speckle filtering, terrain correction, histogram plotting, and image binarization. The results show maps of the analyzed cities and identify many areas flooded according to satellite images from March 2017.

Many young professionals dream of working at a space agency, are you willing to share some of your experiences and what you were working on during your time at the German Aerospace Centre and at the National Centre for Space Studies (CNES)?

During my doctorate development, I was involved in an inter-institutional project between the French Space Agency (CNES), the German Aerospace Center (DLR), and TELECOM ParisTech. This situation made it possible for me to work for approximately one year in each of these institutions.

A typical workday began with entering the headquarters passing the security controls, going to the office, turning on the computer equipment, getting to my main task which was the analysis of satellite images. At lunchtime, we all went to the dining room and exchanged details of our investigations. Exciting ideas to improve our work were almost always result of those conversations. Each image that had to be analysed transported us to the city from which it was captured.

Although my project was related to satellite image processing, being within CNES allowed me to meet people who worked in the French contribution to Curiosity. Curiosity is the rover sent to Mars in November 2011. It arrived on Mars in August 2012 to carry out exploration work.

At DLR, I had the opportunity to be in the Control Center from where commands are sent to the International Space Station and also the Galileo Space Operation Center. These experiences were very enriching, and perhaps as a child, I had never thought of having these opportunities.

Which role did space technologies play in your water-related studies within Peru and how did you get access to data?

The role of space technology in these projects was important, because satellite images were the primary source of information. Having signed an agreement with the Peruvian Space Agency (CONIDA), they provided free access to PeruSat-1 images. Public institutions entering such agreements as well as private institutions using the data for research purposes can be granted access rights to these satellite images.
To contrast our analysis, we had the opportunity to compare our space-based results with those of other institutions such as Petro Peru and MINSA who had access to in-situ data.

What do you need to innovate?

I think that to innovate, one needs to think about the problems that society has and devise creative solutions for all. One learns about the problems society has, because one is part of society, and one is part of those who feel the problem; one has to live the problem. Faced with these problems, one imagines how the situation could improve, the ideal process to get there, and how to avoid people's inconvenience. Once one has these ideas in mind, the next step is to identify which of the possible solutions can be implemented using your specialty's technical knowledge. These solutions can come at any time, at the office, at home, while traveling, even while sleeping, so in my opinion, there is not the ideal environment. One thing that comes in very handy is to always carry something to capture notes, either physically or virtually.

You hold a PhD in Signal and Image Processing, what do you think are the key skills to have to be able to apply machine learning on earth observation data?

Currently, the techniques of artificial intelligence, learning machines, and deep learning are essential in the processing of Earth observation data. Signal or image processing is basically done to extract information from the signal or image to take decisions. It is precisely in this process that machine learning techniques help us.

To be successful in the subject of learning machines, it is crucial to know how to program, not to focus on a specific programming language, but rather on programming logic, and thus it will be accessible regardless of the language in which one develops the tool.

How do you keep abreast the fast-paced developments in the diverse fields you are proficient in (image processing, telecommunications, space technologies, business administration, what did I miss)? Would you share your secret with other young professionals?

At the beginning of each working day, I always give myself an hour to find out what has happened in the world, for this I read both national and international news, information shared on my social networks, and suggestions I get on Google Scholar and ResearchGate. If there is an interesting topic that deserves to be delved into, I look for more information through SCOPUS, Google Scholar, Science Direct, or IEEE Xplore Digital Library.

Reading is essential, as well the execution of the daily tasks. Every day at work is different. There are days filled by meetings with team members in which we discuss the projects they are manging. I share contributions, provide ideas and monitor their progress. To fulfil my role, it is necessary to know about these projects, read what other research groups are doing, and identify what our contribution can look like.

On other days I disseminate the work of the team members, either with other team members or with the university's academic community. This task is done through what we call the INTI-Lab Scientific Tuesdays.

Yet another day is dedicated to the teaching students. Likewise, there are days left to plan future activities of our company and evaluate past activities. Finally, there are days to dedicate to the advancement of my projects.

  • As a researcher, it is vital to update your knowledge and keep abreast developments, to continuously study state of the art technology of the various topics your projects touch.  
  • As a teacher, it is essential to update oneself to provide lessons to students on current technology.
  • As coordinator of a research group, it is also necessary to carry out administrative and knowledge management activities so that as a team, the results are according to the expectations and goals set.

What do you see as key areas for capacity building in Peru with regards to space technologies for water management and in which areas do you see the greatest potential of the generation of young professionals in your country?

I think, in Peru, there is excellent potential to develop remote sensing and geographic information systems skills since Peru has an Earth observation satellite (PeruSat-1), and there is much interest in the different applications that can be given to images.
Likewise, the interest of students and young professionals in Peru has increased towards aerospace technology, which is why nano-satellite missions would be another area with great potential. In Peru, there are already three universities that launched nanosatellites into orbit. While these nanosatellites were primarily targeted at educative objectives, I hope that for future nanosatellite missions will have other objectives such as remote sensing tasks (cloud monitoring, monitoring deforestation, etc.), in-situ demonstrations (studying the effect of microgravity in some biological samples), communication issues, among others.

As a young professional, what do you feel is missing in the current scientific debate and management of water resources?

I think that what is lacking in the debate is to listen and consider the opinions of the inhabitants who live close to water resources, because they are the ones who know the problem and are affected by it. Often, the authorities who take decisions, propose political guidelines, and generate laws, have not had direct contact with the problem or the society that suffers the problem. It is essential that the authorities talk with the victims, that victims are given possibilities to express themselves and share their ideas.

Last, but not least, what is your favourite aggregate state of water?

The liquid state of aggregation, because it is nice to see the water moving on.