30 years of innovation with LIRMM

Founded in 1992, the Montpellier Computer Science, Robotics and Microelectronics Laboratory, better known as LIRMM, celebrated its 30th anniversary this year. Philippe Poignet, the laboratory's director, gives us the opportunity to look back at the countless innovations that, thanks to the commitment of our researchers, have gone beyond the walls of our labs to be put to good use in fields as diverse as they are astonishing.

" When I arrived in the early 2000s, LIRMM was already enjoying national and international renown. In our field, there weren't many laboratories as large as LIRMM, bringing together so many disciplines," recalls the man who would become its director 15 years later. At the time, Philippe Poignet was a young robotics researcher freshly arrived on the St Priest campus built in 1992 to house, among others, this new laboratory resulting from the merger between CRIM (Centre de Research en Informatique de Montpellier) and LAMM (Laboratoire d'automatique et de microélectronique de Montpellier).

Initiated by Christian Durante and his team, including Michel Chein, this new structure, named LIRMM, was headed up in 1992 by Gaston Cambon. Initially, four departments were set up, which soon became three: the computer science department with 15 research teams, including one shared with the robotics department; the robotics department, which now has 4 teams; and the microelectronics department with 3 teams. In all, more than 400 people, including 160 researchers, lecturers and teacher-researchers of 40 nationalities, all contribute to making this laboratory one of the outposts of innovation at the University of Montpellier.

Serving human beings

Iconic and fascinating, robotics is of course the stuff of dreams and fantasies for the general public. Several specialties coexist at LIRMM, starting with humanoid robotics and more particularly cobotics, i.e. human/robot interaction. A report in the podcast A l'UM la science gave Robin Passama and Benjamin Navarro the opportunity to present their work on collaborative robots capable of assisting humans with simple tasks. Another of the department's specialties is underwater robotics, and in particular the famous archaeology robots (Robots in deep waters) by Vincent Creuze, winner of the University of Montpellier's 2022 Innovation Prize.

Surgical robotics is also at the heart of the robotics department's work. Here, robots are making great strides in eye surgery with Acucurgical, the start-up that includes Philippe Poignet and Yassine Haddab; reconstructive surgery for burn victims with Dermarob and, more recently, a new robot developed with Lyon-based start-up LabSkinCreations; urology with Ily (Sterlab), an assistance robot for the treatment of kidney stones; and hip and knee surgery with MedTech (now Zimmer-Biomet).

Over the past 30 years, many LIRMM projects have come out of the laboratory's walls, and for Philippe Poignet, one of them has particularly marked its history: " In terms of valorization, it's the Quattro robot (ADEPT), a parallel robot designed by François Pierrot with the Spanish foundation Fatronik (now Technalia) ".

Reliability and energy come first

"On the electronics side, we are focusing on integrated circuit testing and reliability, and on the design of adaptive embedded systems. These systems need to be energy-efficient ", explains the LIRMM director. Laurent Latorre, head of the microelectronics department, was kind enough to introduce us to this lesser-known discipline in a report broadcast on A l'UM la science on September 22.

And here again, there's no shortage of examples of innovations that have been put to good use: Algodone, a start-up specializing in securing connected objects(Un pont sécurisé vers vos objets connectés) developed by Lionel Torres, researcher at LIRMM and director of Polytech; NinjaLab founded by Victor Lomné and Thomas Roche, the pros from starry-eyed cryptanalysis Néocéan and their technological wave that combines a love of the sea and micro-electronics, or Neurinnov's magicians David Andreux and David Guiraud, who we met again in the video series Décollage to talk about their implantable medical devices capable of restoring sensation to amputees...

Interdisciplinarity as the laboratory's DNA

With fifteen teams at work, the computer science department is undoubtedly the largest at LIRMM, where a wide range of specialties rub shoulders, as Alexandre Pinlou, computer science researcher and deputy head of the department, showed us in a report broadcast on October 6. "There are the big subjects around data science, artificial intelligence and learning, software engineering..." describes Philippe Poignet. Within these broad topics are countless specialties: bioinformatics, natural language processing, statistical and symbolic learning, knowledge representation, ontologies, reasoning, image analysis and processing...

LIRMM researchers have been constantly innovating in these fields for 30 years. "We are convinced that we have a real role to play in advancing biology, health and ecology, and the Montpellier environment is rich in this diversity. And there's no shortage of examples, from bioinformatician Eric Rivals' recent work on brain cancers to Popstar's tracking of bluefin tuna (De conserve avec le thon rouge) or tracking epidemics with PhyML(In the coronavirus family, I ask).

Open house

And it was to show the general public the diversity of this work and its fields of application that the LIRMM opened its doors to the public for the first time in 30 years at the recent Fête de la Science. With exhibitions, stands and demonstrations, several hundred people came to meet our researchers throughout the day. "It' s true that our disciplines nourish many dreams and fantasies, and this day was an opportunity for us to show the reality of our know-how and innovations. We all enjoyed the day very much, and to be honest, we didn't expect such success in return," concludes Philippe Poignet. See you next year!