Reports of Past Activities

We are grateful to all organisers of completed activities who spent an enormous amount of their own time and effort without which these activities would not be possible. The financial sponsorship provided by IFAC is only a small part of the The reports serve as a repository to draw on when organising future events.

Pocket-Sized Portable Labs: Control Engineering Practice Made Easy

Activity Organiser

Paulo Moura Oliveira (University of Trás-os-montes and Alto Douro (UTAD), Vila Real, Portugal)


The best way to motivate students to enroll in control engineering is by showing and demonstrating that simple practical experiments may be easily accomplished using portable pocket-size laboratories. Portable kits based in Arduino and Raspberry Pi can be both used within presential classes by students and lecturers as well as at home. This portable feature has proved yet more important due to the Covid-19 pandemic times. An excellent example of a pocket-sized Arduino is called Temperature Control Laboratory (TCLab) [1]. This activity consisted (mostly) in demonstrating the TCLab kit to easily conduct simple practical temperature control experiments.

This project overall objectives are twofold:

  1. to promote automatic control as transversal scientific area to engineering courses
  2. to motivate secondary school students to pursuit their university studies with control engineering courses.

This activity was organized under the auspices of the Portuguese Association for Automatic Control (APCA) and executed during from January 2021 to the end of June 2021. The activity involved organizing:

  1. a workshop for secondary school teachers lecturing in engineering areas related to control engineering.
  2. demonstration sessions in secondary schools for both students and teachers. These sessions were initially planned to take place in selected schools and Universities in Portugal.

By introducing the TCLab and demonstrating how does it works. Due to the SARS-CoV 2 confinement in place in Portugal at the time of the project execution, it was not possible to organize an in-class workshop for teachers. Thus, the workshop was organized on-line, as a Webinar, on the 14th of May 2021 between 17h-18h. The overall workshop aim was to motivate teachers to include TCLab experiments in their classes. A call for this workshop participation was sent to a list of teachers working in secondary/professional schools. A TCLab kit was offered to each teacher which participated in the Workshop and a hands-on tutorial was provided afterwards, allowing them to test both the hardware and basic programs to control TClab transistors temperature. Showing where to find a repository of useful information, freely available, so they can support their own control experiences with TCLab. As some registered teachers could not attend the Webinar due to overlapped professional duties, the presentation was made available in YouTube in [2,3].

If teachers were successfully motivated in workshops, demonstration sessions can be organized in target secondary schools, with appropriate curricular units. These sessions objectives are: i) showing why feedback control systems are crucial by presenting motivating application examples ii) performing a TCLab hands-on demo. How? Provide a set of TCLab kits in each school and show students how to learn by playing with it. Three visits were performed to the following Portuguese schools:

  • Escola Secundária de Monserrate located in the city of Viana do Castelo. This visit took place on the 29th of April, 2021.
  • Escola Secundária de Avelar Brotero located in the city of Coimbra. This visit took place on the 4th of May, 2021.
  • Escola Secundária do Fundão located in the city of Fundão. This visit took place on the 20th of May, 2021.

[1] Hedengren J. D. (2019), Temperature Control Lab Kit,
[2] YouTube Webinar Presentation (In Portuguese):
[3] YouTube Webinar Presentation (English version in):

Pocket-Sized Portable Labs: Control Engineering Practice Made Easy Group picture

Pocket-Sized Portable Labs: Control Engineering Practice Made Easy - Leadership Team

Zoom Workshop Series on Control Systems and Data Science towards Industry 4.0


S. Joe Qin (School of Data Science, City University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong)


The workshop series intends to promote the importance and prevailing trend of data science, AI and control systems, in the angles of different expertise and prestigious scholars from different continents. It is also the HKIDS’s mission and vision to further promote data science and its related discipline so as to build a global network.

Owing to the travel restriction under the pandemic situation, the workshop series was conducted through ZOOM Video conferencing. The workshop series is open to public worldwide and free admission. Participants from local and different continents like Europe, South America, Asia and Africa attended the series, some are the faculty and students academic institutes, some are the practitioners of data science in industries. A key outcome of the workshop series is to bring control theory and principles into the context of machine learning towards Industry 4.0.

This workshop series is to be given by world-renowned scholars and industrial leaders in the intersection of control systems theory and data analytics. It has 3 modules; each module is with difference technology focus area. During the module, each invited speaker would give a speech in 30-35 minutes, then there would be a 30-minute panel discussion session for the host to interact with speakers, also questions raised by the participants from the public chatroom would be selected and discussed during the panel discussion. To promote the series, an event website ( has been built to upload the event information and allow the interested parties to register the event through the website. Also the series was also advertised through posters in campus, email database of IFAC, CityU, as well as public promotion through Facebook page and Google Display Network. For all the 3 modules of the workshop series, they were recorded and made available at Youtube at: ,such that, for those who missed the previous module of the series can watch the video to review the series.

Here are the recaps of the 3 modules being held:

Module 1 (Data Science and Automatic Control Systems)

The 1st Module of IFAC Workshop Series on “Control Systems and Data Science Towards Industry 4.0” was successfully held on 19 Mar, 2021 from 8:00pm – 10:30pm (HKT) via Zoom video conferencing. It is privileged to have renowned scholars and industrial leaders to co‐host the workshop in three different time zones, Prof Jie CHEN of CityU chaired the module and moderated the Panel discussions.

Invited speakers and panelists include Prof S. Joe QIN from the City University of Hong Kong (Hong Kong) presenting at the topic of “Predictive Analytics in Industrial IoT, Data, and Systems”; Prof Rolf FINDEISEN from the Ottovon‐Guericke‐University Magdeburg (Germany) presented at the topic of “Entangling Control and Machine Learning via Predictive Control - How to Achieve Flexibility and Safety” and Dr Hong ZHAO from the

Aspen Technology (United States) gave his speech on “An Industry Perspective on AI, Machine Learning and Data Science towards Industry 4.0”.

The event gained great enthusiasm and attracted more than 240 participants all

over the world

Module 2 (Chemical and Biological Engineering Systems)

The Module 2 of IFAC Workshop Series focused on Chemical Systems and

was successfully held on 21 May, 2021 from 9:00am – 11:30am (HKT) via Zoom video conferencing. Prof Li QIU of the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology chaired the module and moderated the Panel discussions.

Invited speakers and panelists include world renowned scholars, including

Prof Richard D. Braatz from MIT (U.S.A.) presented at the topic of “Pharma 4.0: Advanced Manufacturing of (Bio)Pharmaceutical Products”, Prof Furong Gao from the Hong

Kong University of Science and Technology (Hong Kong) gave his speech on “Batch Process Automation”,and Prof Jay H. Lee from KAIST (Korea) presented “Reinforcement Learning vs MPC – Alternative or Complementary?”

The Module II was actively participated by nearly 100 attendees from the world.

Module 3 (Electrical and Computer Engineering Systems)

The Module 3 of IFAC Workshop Series focused on Electronic and Computer Engineering Systems and was successfully held today on 9 July 2021 from 8:00pm – 10:30pm (HKT) via Zoom video conferencing. Prof S Joe Qin of the City University of Hong Kong chaired module and moderated the Panel discussions

Prof Li QIU of the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology gave a talk on Renaissance of Phase, which is eye‐opening on develop a phase theory on MIMO dynamic systems with or without feedback. The phase concept complements the concept of magnitude of a complex quantity. Prof Zhong‐ping JIANG of the New York University talked about Small‐Gain and Machine Learning Techniques for Autonomous Driving, which built a way to analyze stability of machine learning systems and applied to autonomous driving. Prof. Jie Chen of the City University of Hong Kong gave another interesting talk on Revisiting PID, which illustrated how low computing can achieve significant intelligence by exploring the PID control mechanism.

Data Science Workshop.jpg

Data Science Workshop.jpg

Teaching Analytics: a feedback control approach to aid student self-assessment in higher education.


Simone Formentin


Development of an open web-platform ( that has the following features:

  • Teachers-oriented features (aiming at helping to share assessment material with colleagues around the world):
    • Users can upload their own exams and questions (so far, only in .tex format) into the portal;
    • Users may also categorize these questions based on their type (e.g., multiple choice, numeric, open), which topics are addressed (i.e., their content units), and which public accessibility they will have (e.g., ‘only my students’, ‘everybody’, etc.);
    • Users may then search questions that are publicly accessible via the platform using suitable filters (e.g., question type and content units);
    • Users may then visualize the questions directly in the portal, select the ones they prefer, and download them in a .tex format;
  • Students-oriented features (aiming at making it possible for students to visualize their estimated knowledge status):
    • Registered users can select some available questions (either graphically or filtering them by Question Type, Course, Institution, Content Units, etc.) and answer them directly in the portal;
    • These answers are then stored and processed into an individualized estimated knowledge status defined over a teachers-defined contents unit logical relations graph;
    • These estimates can then be visualized on top of these concepts maps, so that the users can keep track of their progresses (and the teachers can retrieve information regarding the knowledge of the whole class);
  • Automatic control community-oriented features:
    • Every user can create a personalized graph of how the topics within automatic control are logically connected (a feature that is intended to be used in a ‘per-course’ fashion). The resulting graphs can be then used as the state for graphically superposing the estimated knowledge status of the student in relation to the course by displaying the graph nodes (typically representing a course topic, e.g., Rational Transfer Functions, Nyquist Diagram, etc.) with different colors.

Control Conference Africa (CCA) 2021 – Sponsorship of deserving academics and graduate students from Africa

Contact: Dr Kevin Brooks, University of the Witwatersrand, Sponsoring IFAC Body: South African Council for Automation and Control (SACAC)

As proposed in section 5 of the initial application, the Control Conference Africa 2021  (CCA2021) took place on the 7th and 8th of December in Muldersdrift, South Africa and virtually all around the world.  Professor Eric Kerrigan served as IPC  chair and the co-chair was  Dr Derik le Roux.  The editor was Dr Murray Bwalya, and the IPC Vice-chair for industry was Dr Loujtie Coetzee from Mintek.  The NOC was chaired by Dr Kevin Brooks, ably assisted by co-chairs Professor Sayed Hassen and Professor Steven Bradshaw of Stellenbosch University. The Vice-chair from Industry was Dr Laurentz Olivier, Dr Lidia Auret and Mr Anshu Murdan managed communications and hybrid arrangements.

The kind support from the IFAC Activity Fund allowed the organisers to offer six sponsorships, three to academics and three to students.  Eight applications were received and the sponsorships were awarded to the six authors whose papers were accepted on the recommendation of the associate editors.  SACAC waived the registration fees for these authors.  One condition of the sponsorship was that the author should present their paper in person.

The total registration for the conference was 49 people, with 33 being for physical attendance and 16 virtual attendees.  With exquisitely bad timing the Omicron variant was first reported in South Africa on the 24th of November.  The organisers had no choice but to allow delegates to modify their registration from physical to virtual.  Unfortunately, 5 of the 6 sponsorship recipients chose to do so.

The organisers had put plans in place for this situation and, using a popular modern term, pivoted their efforts into ensuring that the best possible hybrid event was delivered. All authors and plenary speakers had been requested to provide a video of their presentation, and the decision was made that all virtual presentations would consist of a broadcast of the recording, to avoid any bandwidth issues.  Despite this, authors were encouraged to be at the session in which their paper was presented, and all Q&A was conducted in person.  In this way, the conference retained the aspect of “confer” which is a vital part of such an event.

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prof taiwo and all.jpg


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Hybrid Conference Guide

After the sponsored activities of supporting African colleagues to come to the CCA 2021 the organisers Kevin Brooks, Lidia Auret and John Burchell put together a guide on how to organise hybrid conferences.