January 5, 2018
For him, a good day begins with a problem – and it ends the same way: Giuseppe Thadeu Freitas de Abreu loves to wake up with a question on his mind. Everything is noted down as soon as he gets up, even before toast and coffee. In his office the question is then endowed with form(ulae) on the board. Solved – in a best-case scenario. The first students soon find their way to him. And with a bit of luck, the circuit is completed in the evening, “A more advanced student often comes by and we fight it out on the whiteboard.” Giving him his problem for the next day.
The native-born Brazilian is professor for electrical engineering and computer science at Jacobs University. The main focus of his work is on information theory: on mathematical formulae, which describe a technical problem as precisely as possible and their deployment in technology. Just like a circus artist throwing balls into the air and catching them again, Abreu notes formulae on the board and moves them back and forth until there is code behind the equal sign – a formula describing a particular technical association. “I find an everyday technical problem and ask myself: what would a clever technical solution look like? Then I get an idea. And any idea can be translated into a code.”
His code is the foundation for the further development of clever, usually digital, things. One of his main areas of interest is wireless signal transmission and -conversion. Whether in the automotive industry, transport, visitor management or patients with dementia, who wander off disoriented – in each case, the question is: where is something at a particular time and how can it be located without a fixed cable connection?
One example for ultra-modern wireless location is the new tracking system developed by ZIGPOS in Dresden, which was founded by Abreu and for which he to this day acts as a technical consultant. This involves a wireless sensor network capable of determining the position of bearers of special chip cards and tracking them – with a precision of 5 cm and thereby far more precisely than GPS could. The system was presented to a wider public for the first time at the 2017 Hanover Fair. As part of the EU-wide project HIGHTS (High Precision Positioning for Cooperative), Abreu and his team have been working on getting cars, scooters, bicycles and perhaps even pedestrians to “talk to each other” automatically about their respective positions - likewise down to a precision of a few centimeters.
For Abreu, data is the new gold, but from his perspective it has not yet been used much. If it was up to him, the rain sensors, which in the meantime are fitted in many cars, would for example supply their data to a central system automatically. “This is valuable knowledge about local weather, perhaps for targeted storm warnings.”
Abreu studied science in Brazil; a period of work experience abroad brought him to the University of Oldenburg. Here for the first time he had practical experience of the fact that research does not just take place on the board. “My head was full of formula associations. And there were developers there who could implement them. Suddenly this resulted in more than just figures.”
Since there was no suitable fellowship programme for his master’s degree, Abreu went to Yokohama in Japan, where he also completed his doctorate and for a while worked for Sony. He speaks Japanese fluently and is also married to a Japanese woman. Together, they moved to Oulu in Finland, the northernmost city in Europe. Its university had a large department, whose staff was all to a greater or less extent occupied with wireless signal transmission, sponsored by Nokia. But when he received an invitation to Bremen in 2001, he did not hesitate long, “It was like coming home.”
The Jacobs University has precisely the right flair for Abreu and his family. “I love this university. It’s unique, a fantastic place,” he explains. He fully shares its guiding principle of internationality and interdisciplinary studies. Abreu and his family also embody precisely this spirit of internationality in private. Abreu speaks Portuguese and fluent Japanese and English and understands German well, while his wife became very proficient in Finnish. The children speak German to each other, Portuguese with him and Japanese with their mother - an impressive babble of scientific cosmopolitans.