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European researchers explore use of AI in critical infrastructure

by Mark Cantrell
A digital train

Research institutes across Europe are collaborating to develop the use of artificial intelligence (AI) to improve the security and sustainability of critical infrastructure.

AI for REAL-World Network Operation (AI4REALNET) – a Horizon Europe project – seeks to explore how AI can support human decisions, and improve the operations of infrastructure such as electricity grids, railways, and air traffic systems.

Led by the Portuguese research institute INESC TEC, it involves the Department of Electronics, Information & Bioengineering, and the Department of Management, Economics & Industrial Engineering of Politecnico di Milano, along with other partners from France, Germany, the Netherlands, Switzerland, Sweden, and Austria,

The project promotes collaboration between humans and artificial intelligence, with the goal to support the decisions of human operators, and to create the conditions for the decarbonisation of crucial sectors such as energy and transport.

It is not about replacing humans with AI, the researchers emphasise, but rather ensuring that AI emerges as a support for faster decisions, and even planning specific tasks autonomously.

Professor Marcello Restelli, project coordinator for Politecnico di Milano, said: “The ultimate goal is to improve the security and resilience of critical infrastructure, which is becoming increasingly complex due to the increase in information, and the challenges imposed by decarbonisation. The AI4REALNET consortium believes that AI can increase operational effectiveness and reduce errors.”

The project aims to reduce the operators’ workload in areas where human intervention prevails, offering opportunities to address critical infrastructure challenges. AI4REALNET developments are to be validated in six industrial use cases, which will – it is claimed – demonstrate tangible added value.

Industry involvement, meanwhile, will promote awareness of the benefits of reinforcement learning and explainable machine learning. The project will also use open-source AI-friendly digital environments such as Grid2Op, Flatland and BlueSky to foster and advance a global artificial intelligence community.

The project is funded with around €4m by the European Union through the Horizon Europe programme and €2m by the Swiss State Secretariat for Education, Research and Innovation (SERI).

Image: Vink Fan/Shutterstock

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