CITRIS & ITESM Seed Fund Awards

CITRIS and ITESM announce four winning proposals for California-Mexico collaborative research

Building on a successful binational partnership launched in 2013, four new projects have been selected to receive seed funding from Tecnológico de Monterrey (ITESM) jointly with CITRIS and the Banatao Institute. This year’s awardees present innovative projects in the areas of intelligent transportation systems, robotic manipulation of soft objects, understanding the impact of social media on cross-border political issues, and implantable devices for disease treatment. The CITRIS-ITESM Seed Funding Awards support promising, early-stage research and position the investigators to apply for large-scale grants from public and private funders in each county.

A distinctive aspect of this seed funding program is the requirement for multi-campus participation, involving at least one researcher from an ITESM campus in Mexico and another from a CITRIS campus at UC Berkeley, Davis, Merced, or Santa Cruz. In addition to spanning two campuses and countries, these collaborative projects often cross multiple disciplines. For example, one of this year’s winning proposals is led by Assistant Professor Lilian Davila at the UC Merced School of Engineering. The project combines her expertise in computational materials science with that of co-investigators working in medicine at ITESM and biochemistry at UC Davis to design new implants for the treatment of eye diseases.

A binational workshop on March 22-23, 2017, brought eleven researchers from the ITESM campuses to CITRIS headquarters on the UC Berkeley campus, where faculty discussed research topics of interest to both countries and began forming joint proposal teams. “We are pleased to collaborate once again with Tecnológico de Monterrey to support such promising research proposals,” says CITRIS Deputy Director Camille Crittenden. “The joint Seed Funding Program continues to serve as a strong bridge between researchers in California and Mexico for the advancement of information technology research in a range of application areas with social impact.”

CITRIS and the Banatao Institute create information technology solutions for society’s most pressing challenges. Established in 2001 at the University of California, the Center for Information Technology Research in the Interest of Society (CITRIS) leverages the interdisciplinary strengths of multiple campuses to advance the university’s mission and the innovative spirit of California. The institute was created to shorten the pipeline between world-class laboratory research and the development of cutting-edge applications, platforms, companies, and even new industries.


The Tecnológico de Monterrey (ITESM) was founded in 1943 by Eugenio Garza Sada and a group of Mexican entrepreneurs who implemented their vision for a cutting-edge educational institution. ITESM is a private, non-profit institution, independent from political and religious affiliations. Tecnológico de Monterrey seeks to develop leaders who embrace an entrepreneurial spirit, a humanistic outlook, and are competitive on an international scale.

Channel modeling for intelligent transportation systems: Characterizing V2X links

Principal investigators:
Jose J. Garcia-Luna-Aceves (UC Santa Cruz, Computer Engineering)
Cesar Vargas-Rosales (ITESM, School of Engineering and Sciences)
Alberto Cerpa (UC Merced, Electrical Engineering and Computer Science)
Leyre Azpilicueta (ITESM, School of Engineering and Sciences)

Primary Research Initiative: CITRIS Sustainable Infrastructures
Secondary Research Initiative: CITRIS Connected Communities

Vehicular ad hoc Networks (VANETs) enable vehicles to communicate with each other as well as with roadside infrastructure. Although significant research efforts have focused on radio channel modelling for vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) communications, limited work has been done for vehicle-to-infrastructure (V2I) using 3D ray-tracing tools. Researchers will investigate the impact of spatial distance; link frequency; deployment of infrastructure; and factors such as roundabout, geometry, and relative position of obstacles in the V2I propagation channel. A detailed spatial path loss characterization of the V2I channel along streets and avenues will be formulated. These results will constitute a starting point for the design phase of Wireless Sensor Networks radio-planning for urban V2I deployment in terms of coverage and quality, and will form a foundation on which intelligent transportation systems can be supported for different scenarios.

Hybrid algorithms for real-time identification and manipulation of deformable soft tissues

Principal investigators:
Ricardo Sanfelice (UC Santa Cruz, Computer Engineering)
Rita Q. Fuentes-Aguilar (ITESM, Bioengineering)

Primary Research Initiative: CITRIS People and Robots
Secondary Research Initiative: CITRIS Health

The growing development and use of artificial tissue have motivated research in soft robotic manipulation. Despite decades of research, challenges persist in performing reliable, robust autonomous grasping and manipulation. Indeed, the soft object-manipulation problem has recently received a great deal of attention from robotics researchers because of its applications not only in tissue manipulation but also in home robots, medical robotics, manufacturing, and the food industry. When the grasped object is soft rather than rigid, manipulation is much more challenging since small uncertainty on the manipulator or the soft object dynamics may lead to unexpected deformations and rebounds after contact. In this project, we will develop hybrid algorithms for manipulation and grasping tasks involving multiple contacts with soft tissues whose characteristics and dynamical properties must be identified in real time.

Tweeting on the Border Wall: Twitter as a platform for shaping public opinion and policies on immigration reform in Mexico and the United States

Principal investigators:
Brandie Nonnecke (UC Berkeley, CITRIS and the Banatao Institute)
Maria Elena Meneses (ITESM, School of Information and Communication)

Primary Research Initiative: CITRIS Connected Communities

In January 2017, President Trump signed the Executive Order “Border Security and Immigration Enforcement Improvements” (hereafter “Border Wall”), ordering the immediate construction of a physical wall at the southern U.S. border for the prevention of illegal immigration, human trafficking, and acts of terrorism. The disagreement between President Peña Nieto and President Trump over who will finance the Border Wall has largely taken place on Twitter. A dispute between the two heads of state on the social media platform led to the cancellation of a formal meeting in Washington, DC. Such events demonstrate the centrality Twitter now plays as a platform for diplomacy between Mexico and the United States. We apply topic modeling, sentiment analysis, and social network analysis to 4 million captured tweets about immigration reform and the Border Wall. The use of bots in framing news posts has also been found to influence political discourse and civic action; thus we will conduct an exploratory analysis of the prevalence and impact of bots on shifting sentiment patterns on Twitter. This research will result in a peer-reviewed journal article and construction of a public website featuring data visualizations of sentiment development on Twitter and relationships to public perceptions and policy initiatives.

Efficient drug delivery devices for sustained eye disease treatment

Principal investigators:
Lilian Davila (UC Merced, School of Engineering)
Judith Zavala (ITESM, School of Medicine and Health)
Kit Lam (UC Davis, Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Medicine)

Primary Research Initiative: CITRIS Health

The goal in designing drug delivery devices (implants) is to attain predictable and sustained delivery rates. This research will further the understanding and design of efficient implants for eye disease treatment using 3D biocompatible micro-architectures. Investigators will develop models for computational microfluidics capable of predicting drug diffusion rates, and implement a prototype design through a novel visualization and computational system (IDEAS). The CITRIS Invention Lab and the Berkeley Marvell NanoLab will be used for onsite rapid prototyping and fabrication of selected implants. The study will allow researchers to easily design, evaluate, and share specific drug delivery solutions; better predict the behavior of biocompatible micro-architectures under different drug release conditions; and ultimately lead to more feasible and cost-efficient eye implant solutions.

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