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Oral-History:Gabriel Ferrate

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== About Gabriel Ferraté  ==
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== About Gabriel Ferraté  ==
  
Ferraté was born in Catalonia in 1932. He studied engineering in Barcelona, getting his degree in 1957. He began to develop electronic traffic control systems in the late 1950s, and his company sold them to the municipality of Barcelona and many other European and South American cities over the next two decades, before it went out of business in the late 1970s. He split his business work with teaching and researching in automatic control, eventually becoming in 1975 a full professor at Barcelona in the chair of Automatic Control. In 1979 he became director of the school of engineers; in 1982 he became the first director of the Polytechnic University, when the engineering school integrated into it. After a year working for the Spanish government as General Director of Universities and Research and General Director of Scientific Policy, he returned to Barcelona as a professor doing research in Cybernetics (automatic control, robotics, acitivisual vision, bioengineering), director of the Cybernetics Institute, and a second stint as director of the Polytechnic, where he remained till 1994.  
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Ferraté was born in Catalonia in 1932. He studied engineering in Barcelona, getting his degree in 1957. He began to develop electronic traffic control systems in the late 1950s, and his company sold them to the municipality of Barcelona and many other European and South American cities over the next two decades, before it went out of business in the late 1970s. He split his business work with teaching and researching in automatic control, eventually becoming in 1975 a full professor at Barcelona in the chair of Automatic Control. In 1979 he became director of the school of engineers; in 1982 he became the first director of the Polytechnic University, when the engineering school integrated into it. After a year working for the Spanish government as General Director of Universities and Research and General Director of Scientific Policy, he returned to Barcelona as a professor doing research in Cybernetics (automatic control, robotics, acitivisual vision, bioengineering), director of the Cybernetics Institute, and a second stint as director of the Polytechnic, where he remained till 1994. This interview provides an overview of Ferraté's career and research.  
  
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== About the Interview  ==
  
== About the Interview<br> ==
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GABRIEL FERRATE: An Interview Conducted by Frederik Nebeker, Center for the History of Electrical Engineering 1 July 2002
  
GABRIEL FERRATE: An Interview Conducted by Frederik Nebeker, Center for the History of Electrical Engineering<br>1 July 2002<br>
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Interview #422 for the IEEE History Center, The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineering, Inc.
  
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== Copyright Statement  ==
  
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This manuscript is being made available for research purposes only. All literary rights in the manuscript, including the right to publish, are reserved to the IEEE History Center. No part of the manuscript may be quoted for publication without the written permission of the Director of IEEE History Center.
  
Interview #422 for the IEEE History Center, The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineering, Inc., and Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey
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Request for permission to quote for publication should be addressed to the IEEE History Center Oral History Program, 39 Union Street, New Brunswick, NJ 08901-8538 USA. It should include identification of the specific passages to be quoted, anticipated use of the passages, and identification of the user.
  
== <br>Copyright Statement ==
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It is recommended that this oral history be cited as follows:
  
This manuscript is being made available for research purposes only. All literary rights in the manuscript, including the right to publish, are reserved to the IEEE History Center. No part of the manuscript may be quoted for publication without the written permission of the Director of IEEE History Center.<br>
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Gabriel Ferrate, an oral history conducted in 2002 by Frederik Nebeker, IEEE History Center, New Brunswick, NJ, USA.  
  
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== Interview  ==
  
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Interview: Gabriel Ferraté
  
Request for permission to quote for publication should be addressed to the IEEE History Center Oral History Program, Rutgers - the State University, 39 Union Street, New Brunswick, NJ 08901-8538 USA. It should include identification of the specific passages to be quoted, anticipated use of the passages, and identification of the user.<br>
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Interviewer: Frederik Nebeker
  
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Date: 1 July 2002
  
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Place: Barcelona, Spain
  
It is recommended that this oral history be cited as follows:<br>Gabriel Ferrate, an oral history conducted in 2002 by Frederik Nebeker, IEEE History Center, Rutgers University, New Brunswick, NJ, USA.<br>
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=== Family and educational background  ===
  
== Interview ==
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'''Nebeker:'''
  
Interview: Gabriel Ferrate<br>Interviewer: Frederik Nebeker<br>Date: 1 July 2002<br>Place: Barcelona, Spain<br>Nebeker:<br>I see that you were born in 1932<br>Ferrate:<br>Yes.<br>Nebeker:<br>What is your birth date actually?<br>Ferrate:<br>The third of March. The third of March.<br>Nebeker:<br>OK. And where were you born?<br>Ferrate:<br>In Reus. It’s a city, is a hundred kilometers south of Barcelona.<br>Nebeker:<br>I see. In Catalonia?<br>Ferrate:<br>In Catalonia. A hundred kilometers long. Near the sea. Six kilometers near the sea.<br>Nebeker:<br>What about the family you came from. What did your father do?<br>Ferrate:<br>My father came from a family of wine exporters. So when I was young, there was lots—how do you call that--<br>Nebeker:<br>Barrels?<br>Ferrate:<br>Barrels and pipes.<br>Nebeker:<br>Pipes? Bottles?<br>Ferrate:<br>No.<br>Nebeker:<br>Barrels?<br>Ferrate:<br>There is a different name.<br>Nebeker:<br>Kegs perhaps?<br>Ferrate:<br>Maybe I will remember the name afterwards. So we were wine exporters<br>sending a lot of wine to many different countries. England. Germany. France. And many different places. So that was the business that my grandfather started. And of course, following the tradition, my father continued it and I stopped it, because I went to the university of fertility.<br>Nebeker:<br>Were you interested in science and technology as a boy?<br>Ferrate:<br>Yes. When I was four I went to France during the Spanish civil war. So I stayed there during the war and so my- -<br>Nebeker:<br>Did your whole family go to France?<br>Ferrate:<br>My father and my mother. My father was ill from the back. He had back ill and the doctor told him to be sleeping flat in a bed. For three or fours years he was there. Near the mountains we played with a lot of sun and snow and Bionsen was the result. Not far from Switzerland. So my primary school was in France where I learned to speak and to write in French. And when I came back to Spain, to Catalonia, to Barcelona after the war I had to learn Spanish.<br>Nebeker:<br>In ’38, ’39?<br>Ferrate:<br>Yes, in ’39. I had to learn Spanish at the age of seven. So Spanish is my third language, because my home language is Catalon. My mother language.<br>Nebeker:<br>So you returned to school in Barcelona?<br>Ferrate:<br>No, to Reus.<br>Nebeker:<br>Did you go to a high school?<br>Ferrate:<br>There I went to the high school and so I started being fond of radios and things like that. Also I was playing was playing with the mechano. I remember I did many things. I still have the clock.<br>Nebeker:<br>A grandfather clock we call it.<br>Ferrate:<br>A wind?, a standing clock.<br>Nebeker:<br>You made that out of mechano?<br>Ferrate:<br>Yes. And other things. And I remember that once I also did a photo-copy machine. They were nothing better, yes, with a photo-electric cell and something—tambor—a drum, two drums, and sparks and photo-electric cells. It copied simple images from one drum to the other.<br>Nebeker:<br>That’s very advanced!<br>Ferrate:<br>That was in the ‘50’s.<br>So you got some photo-electric cells and set them up on a drum somehow?<br>Ferrate:<br>Yes, assembled and then a spark and a paper with a wet tweezer, kind of acid solution or a--<br>Nebeker:<br>So the spark caused a darkening of the paper?<br>Ferrate:<br>Yes, something like that.<br>Nebeker:<br>Very ingenious! So you decided to study to be an engineer?<br>Ferrate:<br>So than I finished my secondary school and the, what you call, the university. And then I decided to study engineering. So, finally I went to Barcelona to study what’s called infinero industrial; industrial engineer, which is a mixture of mechanical, electronic, and chemical engineer. But I specialized in the electric branch.<br>Nebeker:<br>Was that the Polytechnic University?<br>Ferrate:<br>The Polytechnic University did not exist at that moment. That was the Eschoolos Engineeros, the school of engineering, which was already at that<br>time, maybe 80-years-old or something like that. It had a long tradition. Then near the end of my studies, as somebody suggested to me, to develop electronic traffic control systems for the municipality of Barcelona. So even while I was studying in the residencia, where the students where living--<br>Nebeker:<br>The dormitories?<br>Ferrate:<br>Is that what it is? And they lent me a room so, with devices and--<br>Nebeker:<br>Equipment and tools?<br>Ferrate:<br>Tools and things. I started developing the initial prototypes.<br>Nebeker:<br>And this was in order to be able to adjust the traffic controls?<br>Ferrate:<br>To automatically control the traffic with feedback. So detecting cars and automatically controlling the green waves. But what we really developed was a centralized traffic control system. Computer controlled. And the beginning we had to develop our own computers.<br>Nebeker:<br>What years were these that you were--<br>Ferrate:<br>That was about ’57, ’58, ’59.<br>Nebeker:<br>So very early for computers.<br>Ferrate:<br>60’s. And those systems were installed in many cities in Europe. And also in South America.<br>Nebeker:<br>What company developed--<br>Ferrate:<br>We had our own company which was called--<br>Nebeker:<br>Which was Barcelona municipality?<br>Ferrate:<br>No, it was an existing company in Barcelona that was called Englanamientos Esienales.<br>Nebeker:<br>I can spell that I think.<br>Ferrate:<br>And while working for them I created my own company that was called Fiber, from cybernetics, Fiber. Industria Electronica Fiber. That was developing those prototypes and initial units for the big company in Reus itself.<br>Nebeker:<br>In Reus?<br>Ferrate:<br>Yes. And afterwards I was absorbed, or I merged with another company.<br>Nebeker:<br>Did you obtain a patent?<br>Ferrate:<br>Oh yes, there were patents. And finally the company was the one that was exporting all over the world.<br>Nebeker:<br>And this you say was, you say for a centralized traffic control?<br>Ferrate:<br>Centralized traffic control. And we had an agreement with Elliot Brothers in England. So we used Elliot computers. But Elliot finally disappeared. So we switched to the Hewlett Packard computers. I remember those initial six.<br>Nebeker:<br>I don’t know the Hewlett Packard computers I’m afraid.<br>Ferrate:<br>I think it was 2116, 2100 computers, with not much memory.<br>Nebeker:<br>Was the idea of these systems—did they involve feedback as well?<br>Ferrate:<br>Yes, they involved feedback and they involved the capability of changing the greenwaves and the coordination of the traffic lights according to the traffic itself. And you could also change the programs, and the coordination in different days of the week or different times of the day. Different hours of the day.<br>Nebeker:<br>That sounds very advanced for the ‘60’s.<br>Ferrate:<br>Yes, it was very advanced and it was not centralized. For instance Siemens,<br>Siemens in Germany was doing traffic control with computers. But it was a hundred percent centralized. That meant that they sent a line to each of the traffic lights, controlling it from the computer. But that was very dangerous. If something happened in the computer, the whole system stopped. So what we developed, that was the original method that we developed was a heretical system. In a sense it was a predecessor of a networked computer system, so in small areas there were the specialized computers we developed using the systems at that moment. And then all those area computers were coordinated between themselves from the central computer. So that was a computer system which was much more reliable.<br>Nebeker:<br>So if there was some failure at the central level the local controllers could continue to work.<br>Ferrate:<br>Also the feedback themselves. That was the main issue that we developed at that time.<br>Nebeker:<br>So a city like Barcelona would have many of these local controllers?<br>Ferrate:<br>Yes, maybe ten, 12 area controllers, area computers. And then a bigger centralized computer in a building of the municipality.<br>Nebeker:<br>I’m curious were the traffic lights also made so that if that local computer failed they would continue to function?<br>Ferrate:<br>Yes, the controllers themselves could function (affirmatively) or even coordinated. But we fixed programs like that.<br>Nebeker:<br>So if that computer fails, the system would still--<br>Ferrate:<br>At least three levels of security.<br>Nebeker:<br>That’s very interesting. And that was this company in Englanamientos Esienales?<br>Ferrate:<br>Esienales<br>Nebeker:<br>Ok. Esienales. And you say that was sold in many countries around the world?<br>Ferrate:<br>Yes. I remember having installing these in Italy, in Portugal, in Mexico.<br>Nebeker:<br>And also in Latin America?<br>Ferrate:<br>In Argentina. Several places. In Moscow.<br>Nebeker:<br>Is that right?<br>Ferrate:<br>Yes.<br>Nebeker:<br>Is there a name for this system that you’ve developed?<br>Ferrate:<br>Systema heircalcico de control de tansido<br>Ferrate:<br>I will show you something else. So this is a radio receiver I made when I was studying at the school of engineers in the fifties. Oh, what happened is that after the secondary school my family--no, before I finished at the age of 16, my family sent me to London to study English. So that was after the war and there were shops where they were selling what they called war surplus. So I went to the electronic war surplus shops and I discovered the miniature vials. So I bought a stock of vials that were war surplus, but went back to Barcelona, to Reus, to my home. Then I use those vials to develop and build radios. Personal radios.<br>Nebeker:<br>And what you’ve just shown me here is a very small--<br>Ferrate:<br>That’s a small pocket radio. That was a second edition, with the shape adequate for the pocket. And that one was already more elegant and with<br>miniature vials. Even with a—these are ink, ink--<br>Nebeker:<br>Dials?<br>Ferrate:<br>No. Dials—small ink bottles. Chinese ink. You know, you call that India ink--<br>Nebeker:<br>India ink!<br>Ferrate:<br>So I cut off, and poured into a vial and this is the variable condenser which I did myself with the favorite batteries. Batteries. Two batteries, 22 volts were they, and 115--<br>Nebeker:<br>Miniature tubes?<br>Ferrate:<br>Miniature tubes, (28). It did the work, yes. And then I had to make myself the block here and earpiece.<br>Nebeker:<br>It’s amazing! Is this is while you were a student?<br>Ferrate:<br>Yes, yes, yes. And that was while I was studying in Barcelona. I did all those prototypes and devices in that lab I had in the—where I lived. And there I bought two printer circuit boards that belonged to the traffic control systems. Or any with transistors. But that was in the ’70’s, ‘60’s or so. I remember that when I was in London for Christmas on the BBC I heard news saying that was on the eight-- that was on the ‘48 that the new development had been taking place in the United States that—my memory for the names—that Dow labs Shockley, Bardeen and Brittain, had developed a device called transistor. So I heard that news on the BBC for Christmas, ’48.<br>Nebeker:<br>You remember that?<br>Ferrate:<br>Yes, I remember that. Shockley, Bardeen and Brittain.<br>Nebeker:<br>Your one of the people who’d appreciate that advance.<br>Ferrate:<br>Yes. So one or two years afterwards when I went back there I developed or I built my own transistor, a very primitive one.<br>Nebeker:<br>And you went to England in order to learn English, you say?<br>Ferrate:<br>Just to learn English.<br>Nebeker:<br>Did you study at a--<br>Ferrate:<br>Well, I went there to—I was going to the City of London College on Morgan Street for three months or so. And then, not to waste my time, (my parents were terrible), in the afternoon I had to go to London—no to the friends, to the company that was importing the wine from my father’s, my parents. That was Gilbeys House, there were producing Gilbey’s ?.<br>Nebeker:<br>Oh yes, of course. Gilbeys.<br>Ferrate:<br>So it was into the lab every afternoon making analysis and things like that.<br>Nebeker:<br>For the wine importing or for Gilbeys in general?<br>Ferrate:<br>Just for learning and for when I help them in the lab.<br>Nebeker:<br>Was this a paid position?<br>Ferrate:<br>And on my way from the school to the place where Gilbeys near a park in London, London Hyde Park, Regents Park. I think it was in the upper Regents Park, I found those electronic surplus shops.<br>Nebeker:<br>That’s very interesting.<br>Ferrate:<br>That was the beginning.<br>Nebeker:<br>How long were you in England?<br>Ferrate:<br>Oh, for half a year. I went there in July, I think it was and came back in January.<br>Nebeker:<br>Was it your father’s idea that in knowing English it would help you in the exporting business?<br>Ferrate:<br>Yes. Yes, yes, yes. So my father had still the plan, the hope that I would continue the family business.<br>Nebeker:<br>And was it difficult for him when you decided to be an engineer?<br>Ferrate:<br>So I wish to study engineering, but, so we made an agreement, so I studied engineering plus agricultural engineering. Just for learning about wines and wine yards, and things like that.<br>Nebeker:<br>You obviously got involved in important work while you were studying. You got involved in this traffic control work, you said, while you were a student.<br>Ferrate:<br>Yes, yes. At the end of my studies, the last year.<br>Nebeker:<br>So it was clear that you were going to continue as an engineer. Was this developing--?<br>Ferrate:<br>I studied at a small company in Reus next to my father’s business still hoping that I would--<br>Nebeker:<br>You had no brothers or sisters who would carry on the business?<br>Ferrate:<br>No. No, no no. It was, how you call it the single--<br>Nebeker:<br>An only child.<br>Ferrate:<br>The only child. Yes.<br>Nebeker:<br>I see. So what happened then? You set up that company. You said it was merged with another company?<br>Ferrate:<br>Yes, so I was a technical director and developed different lines of the traffic control, the medical line, or just for detecting heart--<br>Nebeker:<br>Oh, electrocardiograms.<br>Ferrate:<br>Electrocardiograms and then the electroencephalograms and things like that.<br>Nebeker:<br>I see.<br>Ferrate:<br>Then traffic control and industrial controls.<br>Nebeker:<br>This is for the company in Englanamientos Esienales?<br>Ferrate:<br>In Englanamientos Esienales, yes.<br>Nebeker:<br>What sort of industrial controls were you involved with?<br>Ferrate:<br>Well, timers, photoelectric devices for different machines to detect different things.<br>Nebeker:<br>And this company--?<br>Ferrate:<br>Programmable controllers.<br>Nebeker:<br>And this company exported, had business in many countries?<br>Ferrate:<br>Yes. Finally, that company which expanded a lot and was studied, it was even studied as a case for different universities, finally it get into problems because the expansion was so fast, and so that we cannot have enough capital to sustain it. So finally it went out of business.<br>Nebeker:<br>When was that?<br>Ferrate:<br>Oh, maybe ’75.<br>Nebeker:<br>When did you complete your--<br>Ferrate:<br>Oh no—at the end of the ‘70’s.<br>Nebeker:<br>OK. When did you complete your engineering degree? What year was that?<br>Ferrate:<br>Nineteen—the ‘57.<br>Nebeker:<br>‘57? So you worked for them for many years then?<br>Ferrate:<br>Yes, but I being compatible with being a professor. So, the school of engineers asked me to participate in the teaching of a new subject that was automatic control. I was not yet a professor, I was just a lecturer. The first lecturer at that school. Even in Spain, on automatic control. So my research was in automatic control. Then I developed at the school of engineers a research lab on automatic control, working and making developments for several industries and companies. And then--<br>Nebeker:<br>Did you get contract work from companies?<br>Ferrate:<br>Yes.<br>Nebeker:<br>They would ask you to develop a certain type of control?<br>Ferrate:<br>Yes.<br>Nebeker:<br>Was that fairly unusual for Spain at the time?<br>Ferrate:<br>Completely unusual. It was the only lab doing that in, I would say in Barcelona. Of course, in the school of engineers. Because at that moment professors were part-time. They worked outside and came to the school of engineers just to lecture, and went back to their house. But I stood nearly all the time at the school making that research and going in the mornings, more or less, to the company. Finally, there was what is called a competition for providing the chair of Automatic Control. So I prepared myself that chair, and for that competition, and finally I won that chair, and then became a full professor at the school of engineers.<br>Nebeker:<br>OK, so the chair was established for Automatic Control. You were the first holder of that chair?<br>Ferrate:<br>Yes, in Spain. The first professor of Automatic Control, in first chair of Automatic Control in Spain.<br>Nebeker:<br>What year was that? Do you recall?<br>Ferrate:<br>‘75. That was ’75. Then a few years later, fours years later, I became director of the School of Engineers.<br>Nebeker:<br>The entire school?<br>Ferrate:<br>Of the entire school. That was very bad because--<br>Nebeker:<br>It took a lot of time.<br>Ferrate:<br>A lot of time, a lot of trouble. I mean that was during Franco’s regime and the students were, and we all were, against the regime. So there were many troubles and problems with the police and things like that. So it was difficult times but I managed to be a good friend of everybody including of course, the students. Then on the, no—I think it was ’82, but this I can confirm, the School of Engineers was integrated into the new, we called Polytechnical University. Until then the school of engineers depended directly from the Ministry of Education. But then they were merged, or they were integrated in what were called polytechnic universities. And then I was elected the first director of the Polytechnic University. And they were also very difficult times. That was the end of Franco’s regime with a lot of movements and problems.<br>Nebeker:<br>And I know of course of the movement or autonomy in Catalonia--?<br>Ferrate:<br>Then, when Franco died and the king became King of Spain, that was the start of democracy. And then the Minister of Education asked me to become General Director of Universities of the Spanish Government. So I went to<br>Madrid for about one year. First, the first half of the year, I was General Director of Universities and Research, and the second half of the year as the first General Director of Scientific Policy of the Spanish government. Also, very difficult times.<br>Nebeker:<br>This is the very beginning of the democracy.<br>Ferrate:<br>The very beginning of democracy, with also problems with the police. It was the same police as during Franco trying to introduce democracy into the system, allowing speakers to speak freely at the university, problems with the--<br>Nebeker:<br>Was there student unrest at the universities?<br>Ferrate:<br>Student unrest, yes, of course. They were asking for more democracy, for of the university.<br>Nebeker:<br>More freedom to choose courses--<br>Ferrate:<br>--issues and democratic statutes or bylaws for the universities.<br>Nebeker:<br>Obviously you became more involved with administration and with government with this government work. Was it difficult for you to have less time for your engineering? Was that--<br>Ferrate:<br>Well, the company did not exist at that moment already so--<br>Nebeker:<br>It had ended at the end of the seventies, you said?<br>Ferrate:<br>Yes. So finally, I, all my activity was centered around the university and the research.<br>Nebeker:<br>I see. But I wonder if you also felt, that is, were you very sorry to have changed your main activity from engineering to administration and policy.<br>Ferrate:<br>Well, I don’t know if it was my main activity. But I was very upset for the<br>feelings for that company. Maybe I refused myself into the university. But of course, that wasn’t important because when you corporate or you work for an industry, for a company, you get a kind of practical sense of life. You must do things that can function, that can be slow, that can be bought, that can, should be repairable, that should work efficiently. You work in an organization that works efficiently where these heirarchial structure of alignment. And I tried to adapt the existing years into those methods.<br>Nebeker:<br>Do you think that is was valuable to have your engineering experience in being an administrator?<br>Ferrate:<br>I think is was very valuable, yes, because as I was the first Director of the Polytechnic University I think that conditioned the way in which we organized the Polytechnic University which had a big expansion in a few years and was a new university became very well known and respected university.<br>Nebeker:<br>So the older Englanamientos Esienales, was that—became a part--<br>Ferrate:<br>Became a part of the school of the Polytechnic University. Together with the school of architects, with the school of engineers in Trussia (sic), it is not far from Barcelona. And several other schools that were independent technical schools at that moment.<br>Nebeker:<br>So it was much bigger than your earlier ENGLANAMIENTOS ESIENALES.<br>Ferrate:<br>Yes. Much bigger. And it expanded to a university when it was about 30,000 students. Technical studies. Engineering, conductor, computer science, agricultural engineering, mathematics, and telecommunications engineering.<br>Nebeker:<br>So that was in the mid ‘70’s that that school was established?<br>Ferrate:<br>The university?<br>Nebeker:<br>We can check the dates later.<br>Ferrate:<br>I have everything in the computer, so, everything is there.<br>Nebeker:<br>Good.<br>Ferrate:<br>My memory is very bad for dates.<br>Nebeker:<br>No problem. We can fix any of those.<br>Ferrate:<br>So after a year I came back to Barcelona. I could not stand more of the problems of—that affected the whole universities in Spain and I was ready get out. So I came back--<br>Nebeker:<br>Were you still rector of the polytechnic during that--?<br>Ferrate:<br>No, no. Just a normal professor and I was in charge of Automatic Control in the Cybernetics Institute. I was director of Cybernetics Institute.<br>Nebeker:<br>So you did continue to do research in these years?<br>Ferrate:<br>Cybernetics. Yes, yes.<br>Nebeker:<br>Can you tell me what it still in automatic control you were doing your work?<br>Ferrate:<br>Yes, yes. The institute of cybernetics was centered in automatic control, robotics, activisual (sic) vision. Bioengineering. That’s why we called it Cybernetics Institute. It was made in cooperation with the central national council. Higher council of scientific research.<br>Nebeker:<br>Did they provide funding for that institute?<br>Ferrate:<br>Not much. There has never been much funding for research, but we made also—well, we have budgets, Spanish budgets, international budgets. Projects for industries.<br>Nebeker:<br>Can you tell me a little more about some of those projects your people and your lab were working on?<br>Ferrate:<br>Well, we developed traffic control machines or devices for specific applications companies. We developed traffic controls. systems for controls, robotics.<br>Nebeker:<br>And these were ones that were actually being used in industry?<br>Ferrate:<br>In some cases, yes. Of course, we published in published papers and congresses, and made prototypes and made things that were used.<br>Nebeker:<br>So you continued as director of that institute, the Cybernetics Institute?<br>Ferrate:<br>I continued until I became, again, Director of the Polytechnic Institute university.<br>Nebeker:<br>So you were rector at first, the first rector of the Polytechnic--<br>Ferrate:<br>And the second rector, and the third rector. Yes. The first and the third, because when I was in Madrid there was another rector.<br>Nebeker:<br>There was another rector, yes.<br>Ferrate:<br>Then when I was back in Barcelona, something happened that that rector was de-missioned, was dismissed. So there were again elections. So I was a candidate and I was elected again. That was in ’78. I think it was ’78. And from then until the 1994.<br>Nebeker:<br>A very long time!<br>Ferrate:<br>Many years, many years.<br>Nebeker:<br>So you must have liked that work.<br>Ferrate:<br>Yes! It is what I liked. I say that is unusual for our jobs.<br>Nebeker:<br>But you must have gotten satisfaction.<br>Ferrate:<br>So as a whole, in the two periods, I think I have been rector of that Polytechnic Institute for about 20 years, nearly 20 years.<br>Nebeker:<br>I would think that’s very unusual for someone to be rector that long.<br>Ferrate:<br>It is very unusual. Even now it is not possible because there are limitations in the laws. But at that moment, the situation was very dynamic and we—there were new roles, we saw there were resets on the mandates and things like that.<br>Nebeker:<br>Well you must have done a very good job if you were kept for that many years.<br>Ferrate:<br>Oh, I don’t know. You see, you cannot ever run out of a sense of humor, otherwise life is very dull. Even though some people believe that humor is not compatible with the university.<br>Nebeker:<br>With the dignity of university teaching?<br>Ferrate:<br>Yes, but I think that is not true.<br>Nebeker:<br>So I take it that things became more peaceful and more normal in the late ‘80’s<br>Ferrate:<br>Yes, more normal. Yes. We could start talking of research at the university, in the university team--<br>Nebeker:<br>Community?<br>Ferrate:<br>No, the people, the university--<br>Nebeker:<br>Administration?<br>Ferrate:<br>Administration, we started talking about research, about organization, about teaching, about methods of education and things like that. About quality and the first period we were talking about the police and problems and students and riots and things like that.<br>Nebeker:<br>I see. You said there was some 30,000 students at the polytechnic?<br>Ferrate:<br>Yes, when I left it.<br>Nebeker:<br>I see. So growing throughout this period?<br>Ferrate:<br>Yes.<br>Nebeker:<br>You know what the number of students was at the beginning?<br>Ferrate:<br>Well, at the beginning as it started the students, maybe 5000 or 6000. The students at the school of engineers that merged into to the university at that moment.<br>Nebeker:<br>So it started at 5000 or so?<br>Ferrate:<br>Maybe 5000.<br>Nebeker:<br>So you must have been involved also in a lot of building for the university?<br>Ferrate:<br>Oh yes! And the second period we had to build the new campus. Yes, it took a lot, much effort to build that campus. Funding it. Building it.<br>Nebeker:<br>And this is a national university or is it Catalonian mainly?<br>Ferrate:<br>That was a national university, but when—at the democracy when the state of the university was developed, universities were transferred to the governments. So their universities now are all transferred to the governments of Spain.<br>Nebeker:<br>So it became Catalonian University?<br>Ferrate:<br>Yes, of course with a center coordination from the Ministry of Education in Spain and the Council of Rectors.<br>Nebeker:<br>Thank you for the interview..<br>
+
I see that you were born in 1932
 +
 
 +
'''Ferraté:'''
 +
 
 +
Yes.
 +
 
 +
'''Nebeker:'''
 +
 
 +
What is your birth date actually?
 +
 
 +
'''Ferraté:'''
 +
 
 +
The third of March. The third of March.
 +
 
 +
'''Nebeker:'''
 +
 
 +
OK. And where were you born?
 +
 
 +
'''Ferraté:'''
 +
 
 +
In Reus. It’s a city, is a hundred kilometers south of Barcelona.
 +
 
 +
'''Nebeker:'''
 +
 
 +
I see. In Catalonia?
 +
 
 +
'''Ferraté:'''
 +
 
 +
In Catalonia. A hundred kilometers long. Near the sea. Six kilometers near the sea.
 +
 
 +
'''Nebeker:'''
 +
 
 +
What about the family you came from. What did your father do?
 +
 
 +
'''Ferraté:'''
 +
 
 +
My father came from a family of wine exporters. So when I was young, there was lots—how do you call that--
 +
 
 +
'''Nebeker:'''
 +
 
 +
Barrels?
 +
 
 +
'''Ferraté:'''
 +
 
 +
Barrels and pipes.
 +
 
 +
'''Nebeker:'''
 +
 
 +
Pipes? Bottles?
 +
 
 +
'''Ferraté:'''
 +
 
 +
No.
 +
 
 +
'''Nebeker:'''
 +
 
 +
Barrels?
 +
 
 +
'''Ferraté:'''
 +
 
 +
There is a different name.
 +
 
 +
'''Nebeker:'''
 +
 
 +
Kegs perhaps?
 +
 
 +
'''Ferraté:'''
 +
 
 +
Maybe I will remember the name afterwards. So we were wine exporters sending a lot of wine to many different countries. England. Germany. France. And many different places. So that was the business that my grandfather started. And of course, following the tradition, my father continued it and I stopped it, because I went to the university of fertility.
 +
 
 +
'''Nebeker:'''
 +
 
 +
Were you interested in science and technology as a boy?
 +
 
 +
'''Ferraté:'''
 +
 
 +
Yes. When I was four I went to France during the Spanish civil war. So I stayed there during the war and so my- -
 +
 
 +
'''Nebeker:'''
 +
 
 +
Did your whole family go to France?
 +
 
 +
'''Ferraté:'''
 +
 
 +
My father and my mother. My father was ill from the back. He had back ill and the doctor told him to be sleeping flat in a bed. For three or fours years he was there. Near the mountains we played with a lot of sun and snow and Bionsen was the result. Not far from Switzerland. So my primary school was in France where I learned to speak and to write in French. And when I came back to Spain, to Catalonia, to Barcelona after the war I had to learn Spanish.
 +
 
 +
'''Nebeker:'''
 +
 
 +
In ’38, ’39?
 +
 
 +
'''Ferraté:'''
 +
 
 +
Yes, in ’39. I had to learn Spanish at the age of seven. So Spanish is my third language, because my home language is Catalan. My mother language.
 +
 
 +
'''Nebeker:'''
 +
 
 +
So you returned to school in Barcelona?
 +
 
 +
'''Ferraté:'''
 +
 
 +
No, to Reus.
 +
 
 +
'''Nebeker:'''
 +
 
 +
Did you go to a high school?
 +
 
 +
'''Ferraté:'''
 +
 
 +
There I went to the high school and so I started being fond of radios and things like that. Also I was playing was playing with the mechano. I remember I did many things. I still have the clock.
 +
 
 +
'''Nebeker:'''
 +
 
 +
A grandfather clock we call it.
 +
 
 +
'''Ferraté:'''
 +
 
 +
A wind?, a standing clock.
 +
 
 +
'''Nebeker:'''
 +
 
 +
You made that out of mechano?
 +
 
 +
'''Ferraté:'''
 +
 
 +
Yes. And other things. And I remember that once I also did a photo-copy machine. They were nothing better, yes, with a photo-electric cell and something—tambor—a drum, two drums, and sparks and photo-electric cells. It copied simple images from one drum to the other.
 +
 
 +
'''Nebeker:'''
 +
 
 +
That’s very advanced!
 +
 
 +
'''Ferraté:'''
 +
 
 +
That was in the ‘50’s.
 +
 
 +
'''Nebeker:'''
 +
 
 +
So you got some photo-electric cells and set them up on a drum somehow?
 +
 
 +
'''Ferraté:'''
 +
 
 +
Yes, assembled and then a spark and a paper with a wet tweezer, kind of acid solution or a--
 +
 
 +
'''Nebeker:'''
 +
 
 +
So the spark caused a darkening of the paper?
 +
 
 +
'''Ferraté:'''
 +
 
 +
Yes, something like that.
 +
 
 +
=== Engineering studies; development of computerized traffic control systems  ===
 +
 
 +
'''Nebeker:'''
 +
 
 +
Very ingenious! So you decided to study to be an engineer?
 +
 
 +
'''Ferraté:'''
 +
 
 +
So than I finished my secondary school and the, what you call, the university. And then I decided to study engineering. So, finally I went to Barcelona to study what’s called infinero industrial; industrial engineer, which is a mixture of mechanical, electronic, and chemical engineer. But I specialized in the electric branch.
 +
 
 +
'''Nebeker:'''
 +
 
 +
Was that the Polytechnic University?
 +
 
 +
'''Ferraté:'''
 +
 
 +
The Polytechnic University did not exist at that moment. That was the Eschoolos Engineeros, the school of engineering, which was already at that time, maybe 80-years-old or something like that. It had a long tradition. Then near the end of my studies, as somebody suggested to me, to develop electronic traffic control systems for the municipality of Barcelona. So even while I was studying in the residencia, where the students were living--
 +
 
 +
'''Nebeker:'''
 +
 
 +
The dormitories?
 +
 
 +
'''Ferraté:'''
 +
 
 +
Is that what it is? And they lent me a room so, with devices and--
 +
 
 +
'''Nebeker:'''
 +
 
 +
Equipment and tools?
 +
 
 +
'''Ferraté:'''
 +
 
 +
Tools and things. I started developing the initial prototypes.
 +
 
 +
'''Nebeker:'''
 +
 
 +
And this was in order to be able to adjust the traffic controls?
 +
 
 +
'''Ferraté:'''
 +
 
 +
To automatically control the traffic with feedback. So detecting cars and automatically controlling the green waves. But what we really developed was a centralized traffic control system. Computer controlled. And the beginning we had to develop our own computers.
 +
 
 +
'''Nebeker:'''
 +
 
 +
What years were these that you were--
 +
 
 +
'''Ferraté:'''
 +
 
 +
That was about ’57, ’58, ’59.
 +
 
 +
'''Nebeker:'''
 +
 
 +
So very early for computers.
 +
 
 +
'''Ferraté:'''
 +
 
 +
60’s. And those systems were installed in many cities in Europe. And also in South America.
 +
 
 +
'''Nebeker:'''
 +
 
 +
What company developed--
 +
 
 +
'''Ferraté:'''
 +
 
 +
We had our own company which was called--
 +
 
 +
'''Nebeker:'''
 +
 
 +
Which was Barcelona municipality?
 +
 
 +
'''Ferraté:'''
 +
 
 +
No, it was an existing company in Barcelona that was called Englanamientos Esienales.
 +
 
 +
'''Nebeker:'''
 +
 
 +
I can spell that I think.
 +
 
 +
'''Ferraté:'''
 +
 
 +
And while working for them I created my own company that was called Fiber, from cybernetics, Fiber. Industria Electronica Fiber. That was developing those prototypes and initial units for the big company in Reus itself.
 +
 
 +
'''Nebeker:'''
 +
 
 +
In Reus?
 +
 
 +
'''Ferraté:'''
 +
 
 +
Yes. And afterwards I was absorbed, or I merged with another company.
 +
 
 +
'''Nebeker:'''
 +
 
 +
Did you obtain a patent?
 +
 
 +
'''Ferraté:'''
 +
 
 +
Oh yes, there were patents. And finally the company was the one that was exporting all over the world.
 +
 
 +
'''Nebeker:'''
 +
 
 +
And this you say was, you say for a centralized traffic control?
 +
 
 +
'''Ferraté:'''
 +
 
 +
Centralized traffic control. And we had an agreement with Elliot Brothers in England. So we used Elliot computers. But Elliot finally disappeared. So we switched to the Hewlett Packard computers. I remember those initial six.
 +
 
 +
'''Nebeker:'''
 +
 
 +
I don’t know the Hewlett Packard computers I’m afraid.
 +
 
 +
'''Ferraté:'''
 +
 
 +
I think it was 2116, 2100 computers, with not much memory.
 +
 
 +
'''Nebeker:'''
 +
 
 +
Was the idea of these systems—did they involve feedback as well?
 +
 
 +
'''Ferraté:'''
 +
 
 +
Yes, they involved feedback and they involved the capability of changing the greenwaves and the coordination of the traffic lights according to the traffic itself. And you could also change the programs, and the coordination in different days of the week or different times of the day. Different hours of the day.
 +
 
 +
'''Nebeker:'''
 +
 
 +
That sounds very advanced for the ‘60’s.
 +
 
 +
'''Ferraté:'''
 +
 
 +
<flashmp3>422 - ferrate - clip 1.mp3</flashmp3>
 +
 
 +
Yes, it was very advanced and it was not centralized. For instance Siemens, Siemens in Germany was doing traffic control with computers. But it was a hundred percent centralized. That meant that they sent a line to each of the traffic lights, controlling it from the computer. But that was very dangerous. If something happened in the computer, the whole system stopped. So what we developed, that was the original method that we developed was a heretical system. In a sense it was a predecessor of a networked computer system, so in small areas there were the specialized computers we developed using the systems at that moment. And then all those area computers were coordinated between themselves from the central computer. So that was a computer system which was much more reliable.
 +
 
 +
'''Nebeker:'''
 +
 
 +
So if there was some failure at the central level the local controllers could continue to work.
 +
 
 +
'''Ferraté:'''
 +
 
 +
Also the feedback themselves. That was the main issue that we developed at that time.
 +
 
 +
'''Nebeker:'''
 +
 
 +
So a city like Barcelona would have many of these local controllers?
 +
 
 +
'''Ferraté:'''
 +
 
 +
Yes, maybe ten, 12 area controllers, area computers. And then a bigger centralized computer in a building of the municipality.
 +
 
 +
'''Nebeker:'''
 +
 
 +
I’m curious were the traffic lights also made so that if that local computer failed they would continue to function?
 +
 
 +
'''Ferraté:'''
 +
 
 +
Yes, the controllers themselves could function (affirmatively) or even coordinated. But we fixed programs like that.
 +
 
 +
'''Nebeker:'''
 +
 
 +
So if that computer fails, the system would still--
 +
 
 +
'''Ferraté:'''
 +
 
 +
At least three levels of security.
 +
 
 +
'''Nebeker:'''
 +
 
 +
That’s very interesting. And that was this company in Englanamientos Esienales?
 +
 
 +
'''Ferraté:'''
 +
 
 +
Esienales
 +
 
 +
'''Nebeker:'''
 +
 
 +
Ok. Esienales. And you say that was sold in many countries around the world?
 +
 
 +
'''Ferraté:'''
 +
 
 +
Yes. I remember having installing these in Italy, in Portugal, in Mexico.
 +
 
 +
'''Nebeker:'''
 +
 
 +
And also in Latin America?
 +
 
 +
'''Ferraté:'''
 +
 
 +
In Argentina. Several places. In Moscow.
 +
 
 +
'''Nebeker:'''
 +
 
 +
Is that right?
 +
 
 +
'''Ferraté:'''
 +
 
 +
Yes.
 +
 
 +
'''Nebeker:'''
 +
 
 +
Is there a name for this system that you’ve developed?
 +
 
 +
'''Ferraté:'''
 +
 
 +
Systema heircalcico de control de tansido.
 +
 
 +
=== Building transistors and personal radios as a student  ===
 +
 
 +
'''Ferraté:'''
 +
 
 +
I will show you something else. So this is a radio receiver I made when I was studying at the school of engineers in the fifties. Oh, what happened is that after the secondary school my family--no, before I finished at the age of 16, my family sent me to London to study English. So that was after the war and there were shops where they were selling what they called war surplus. So I went to the electronic war surplus shops and I discovered the miniature vials. So I bought a stock of vials that were war surplus, but went back to Barcelona, to Reus, to my home. Then I use those vials to develop and build radios. Personal radios.
 +
 
 +
'''Nebeker:'''
 +
 
 +
And what you’ve just shown me here is a very small--
 +
 
 +
'''Ferraté:'''
 +
 
 +
That’s a small pocket radio. That was a second edition, with the shape adequate for the pocket. And that one was already more elegant and with miniature vials. Even with a—these are ink, ink--
 +
 
 +
'''Nebeker:'''
 +
 
 +
Dials?
 +
 
 +
'''Ferraté:'''
 +
 
 +
No. Vials—small ink bottles. Chinese ink. You know, you call that India ink--
 +
 
 +
'''Nebeker:'''
 +
 
 +
India ink!
 +
 
 +
'''Ferraté:'''
 +
 
 +
So I cut off, and poured into a vial and this is the variable condenser which I did myself with the favorite batteries. Batteries. Two batteries, 22 volts were they, and 115--
 +
 
 +
'''Nebeker:'''
 +
 
 +
Miniature tubes?
 +
 
 +
'''Ferraté:'''
 +
 
 +
Miniature tubes, (28). It did the work, yes. And then I had to make myself the block here and earpiece.
 +
 
 +
'''Nebeker:'''
 +
 
 +
It’s amazing! Is this is while you were a student?
 +
 
 +
'''Ferraté:'''
 +
 
 +
Yes, yes, yes. And that was while I was studying in Barcelona. I did all those prototypes and devices in that lab I had in the—where I lived. And there I bought two printer circuit boards that belonged to the traffic control systems. Or any with transistors. But that was in the ’70’s, ‘60’s or so. I remember that when I was in London for Christmas on the BBC I heard news saying that was on the eight-- that was on the ‘48 that the new development had been taking place in the United States that—my memory for the names—that Dow labs [[William Shockley|Shockley]], [[John Bardeen|Bardeen]] and [[Walter H. Brattain|Brittain]], had developed a device called transistor. So I heard that news on the BBC for Christmas, ’48.
 +
 
 +
'''Nebeker:'''
 +
 
 +
You remember that?
 +
 
 +
'''Ferraté:'''
 +
 
 +
Yes, I remember that. [[William Shockley|Shockley]], [[John Bardeen|Bardeen]] and [[Walter H. Brattain|Brittain]].
 +
 
 +
'''Nebeker:'''
 +
 
 +
You're one of the people who’d appreciate that advance.
 +
 
 +
'''Ferraté:'''
 +
 
 +
Yes. So one or two years afterwards when I went back there I developed or I built my own [[Transistors|transistor]], a very primitive one.
 +
 
 +
=== Studies in England; selecting engineering career  ===
 +
 
 +
'''Nebeker:'''
 +
 
 +
And you went to England in order to learn English, you say?
 +
 
 +
'''Ferraté:'''
 +
 
 +
Just to learn English.
 +
 
 +
'''Nebeker:'''
 +
 
 +
Did you study at a--
 +
 
 +
'''Ferraté:'''
 +
 
 +
Well, I went there to—I was going to the City of London College on Morgan Street for three months or so. And then, not to waste my time, (my parents were terrible), in the afternoon I had to go to London—no to the friends, to the company that was importing the wine from my father’s, my parents. That was Gilbeys House, there were producing Gilbey’s.
 +
 
 +
'''Nebeker:'''
 +
 
 +
Oh yes, of course. Gilbeys.
 +
 
 +
'''Ferraté:'''
 +
 
 +
So it was into the lab every afternoon making analysis and things like that.
 +
 
 +
'''Nebeker:'''
 +
 
 +
For the wine importing or for Gilbeys in general?
 +
 
 +
'''Ferraté:'''
 +
 
 +
Just for learning and for when I help them in the lab.
 +
 
 +
'''Nebeker:'''
 +
 
 +
Was this a paid position?
 +
 
 +
'''Ferraté:'''
 +
 
 +
And on my way from the school to the place where Gilbeys near a park in London, London Hyde Park, Regents Park. I think it was in the upper Regents Park, I found those electronic surplus shops.
 +
 
 +
'''Nebeker:'''
 +
 
 +
That’s very interesting.
 +
 
 +
'''Ferraté:'''
 +
 
 +
That was the beginning.
 +
 
 +
'''Nebeker:'''
 +
 
 +
How long were you in England?
 +
 
 +
'''Ferraté:'''
 +
 
 +
Oh, for half a year. I went there in July, I think it was and came back in January.
 +
 
 +
'''Nebeker:'''
 +
 
 +
Was it your father’s idea that in knowing English it would help you in the exporting business?
 +
 
 +
'''Ferraté:'''
 +
 
 +
Yes. Yes, yes, yes. So my father had still the plan, the hope that I would continue the family business.
 +
 
 +
'''Nebeker:'''
 +
 
 +
And was it difficult for him when you decided to be an engineer?
 +
 
 +
'''Ferraté:'''
 +
 
 +
So I wish to study engineering, but, so we made an agreement, so I studied engineering plus agricultural engineering. Just for learning about wines and wine yards, and things like that.
 +
 
 +
'''Nebeker:'''
 +
 
 +
You obviously got involved in important work while you were studying. You got involved in this traffic control work, you said, while you were a student.
 +
 
 +
'''Ferraté:'''
 +
 
 +
Yes, yes. At the end of my studies, the last year.
 +
 
 +
'''Nebeker:'''
 +
 
 +
So it was clear that you were going to continue as an engineer. Was this developing--?
 +
 
 +
'''Ferraté:'''
 +
 
 +
I studied at a small company in Reus next to my father’s business still hoping that I would--
 +
 
 +
'''Nebeker:'''
 +
 
 +
You had no brothers or sisters who would carry on the business?
 +
 
 +
'''Ferraté:'''
 +
 
 +
No. No, no no. It was, how you call it the single--
 +
 
 +
'''Nebeker:'''
 +
 
 +
An only child.
 +
 
 +
'''Ferraté:'''
 +
 
 +
The only child. Yes.
 +
 
 +
=== Englanamientos Esienales, traffic control systems and industrial control business  ===
 +
 
 +
'''Nebeker:'''
 +
 
 +
I see. So what happened then? You set up that company. You said it was merged with another company?
 +
 
 +
'''Ferraté:'''
 +
 
 +
Yes, so I was a technical director and developed different lines of the traffic control, the medical line, or just for detecting heart--
 +
 
 +
'''Nebeker:'''
 +
 
 +
Oh, [[EKGs and EEGs|electrocardiograms]].
 +
 
 +
'''Ferraté:'''
 +
 
 +
[[EKGs and EEGs|Electrocardiograms]] and then the [[EKGs and EEGs|electroencephalograms]] and things like that.
 +
 
 +
'''Nebeker:'''
 +
 
 +
I see.
 +
 
 +
'''Ferraté:'''
 +
 
 +
Then traffic control and industrial controls.
 +
 
 +
'''Nebeker:'''
 +
 
 +
This is for the company in Englanamientos Esienales?
 +
 
 +
'''Ferraté:'''
 +
 
 +
In Englanamientos Esienales, yes.
 +
 
 +
'''Nebeker:'''
 +
 
 +
What sort of industrial controls were you involved with?
 +
 
 +
'''Ferraté:'''
 +
 
 +
Well, timers, photoelectric devices for different machines to detect different things.
 +
 
 +
'''Nebeker:'''
 +
 
 +
And this company--?
 +
 
 +
'''Ferraté:'''
 +
 
 +
Programmable controllers.
 +
 
 +
'''Nebeker:'''
 +
 
 +
And this company exported, had business in many countries?
 +
 
 +
'''Ferraté:'''
 +
 
 +
Yes. Finally, that company which expanded a lot and was studied, it was even studied as a case for different universities, finally it get into problems because the expansion was so fast, and so that we cannot have enough capital to sustain it. So finally it went out of business.
 +
 
 +
'''Nebeker:'''
 +
 
 +
When was that?
 +
 
 +
'''Ferraté:'''
 +
 
 +
Oh, maybe ’75.
 +
 
 +
'''Nebeker:'''
 +
 
 +
When did you complete your--
 +
 
 +
'''Ferraté:'''
 +
 
 +
Oh no—at the end of the ‘70’s.
 +
 
 +
'''Nebeker:'''
 +
 
 +
OK. When did you complete your engineering degree? What year was that?
 +
 
 +
'''Ferraté:'''
 +
 
 +
Nineteen—the ‘57.
 +
 
 +
'''Nebeker:'''
 +
 
 +
‘57? So you worked for them for many years then?
 +
 
 +
=== Lecturing and research in automatic control  ===
 +
 
 +
'''Ferraté:'''
 +
 
 +
Yes, but I being compatible with being a professor. So, the school of engineers asked me to participate in the teaching of a new subject that was automatic control. I was not yet a professor, I was just a lecturer. The first lecturer at that school. Even in Spain, on automatic control. So my research was in automatic control. Then I developed at the school of engineers a research lab on automatic control, working and making developments for several industries and companies. And then--
 +
 
 +
'''Nebeker:'''
 +
 
 +
Did you get contract work from companies?
 +
 
 +
'''Ferraté:'''
 +
 
 +
Yes.
 +
 
 +
'''Nebeker:'''
 +
 
 +
They would ask you to develop a certain type of control?
 +
 
 +
'''Ferraté:'''
 +
 
 +
Yes.
 +
 
 +
'''Nebeker:'''
 +
 
 +
Was that fairly unusual for Spain at the time?
 +
 
 +
'''Ferraté:'''
 +
 
 +
Completely unusual. It was the only lab doing that in, I would say in Barcelona. Of course, in the school of engineers. Because at that moment professors were part-time. They worked outside and came to the school of engineers just to lecture, and went back to their house. But I stood nearly all the time at the school making that research and going in the mornings, more or less, to the company. Finally, there was what is called a competition for providing the chair of Automatic Control. So I prepared myself that chair, and for that competition, and finally I won that chair, and then became a full professor at the school of engineers.
 +
 
 +
=== Became first professor of automatic control, director of School of Engineers, and first director of Polytechnic University  ===
 +
 
 +
'''Nebeker:'''
 +
 
 +
OK, so the chair was established for Automatic Control. You were the first holder of that chair?
 +
 
 +
'''Ferraté:'''
 +
 
 +
Yes, in Spain. The first professor of Automatic Control, in first chair of Automatic Control in Spain.
 +
 
 +
'''Nebeker:'''
 +
 
 +
What year was that? Do you recall?
 +
 
 +
'''Ferraté:'''
 +
 
 +
‘75. That was ’75. Then a few years later, fours years later, I became director of the School of Engineers.
 +
 
 +
'''Nebeker:'''
 +
 
 +
The entire school?
 +
 
 +
'''Ferraté:'''
 +
 
 +
Of the entire school. That was very bad because--
 +
 
 +
'''Nebeker:'''
 +
 
 +
It took a lot of time.
 +
 
 +
'''Ferraté:'''
 +
 
 +
<flashmp3>422 - ferrate - clip 2.mp3</flashmp3>
 +
 
 +
A lot of time, a lot of trouble. I mean that was during Franco’s regime and the students were, and we all were, against the regime. So there were many troubles and problems with the police and things like that. So it was difficult times but I managed to be a good friend of everybody including of course, the students. Then on the, no—I think it was ’82, but this I can confirm, the School of Engineers was integrated into the new, we called Polytechnical University. Until then the school of engineers depended directly from the Ministry of Education. But then they were merged, or they were integrated in what were called polytechnic universities. And then I was elected the first director of the Polytechnic University. And they were also very difficult times. That was the end of Franco’s regime with a lot of movements and problems.
 +
 
 +
=== Service to democratic Spanish government as General Director of Universities  ===
 +
 
 +
'''Nebeker:'''
 +
 
 +
And I know of course of the movement or autonomy in Catalonia--?
 +
 
 +
'''Ferraté:'''
 +
 
 +
Then, when Franco died and the king became King of Spain, that was the start of democracy. And then the Minister of Education asked me to become General Director of Universities of the Spanish Government. So I went to Madrid for about one year. First, the first half of the year, I was General Director of Universities and Research, and the second half of the year as the first General Director of Scientific Policy of the Spanish government. Also, very difficult times.
 +
 
 +
'''Nebeker:'''
 +
 
 +
This is the very beginning of the democracy.
 +
 
 +
'''Ferraté:'''
 +
 
 +
The very beginning of democracy, with also problems with the police. It was the same police as during Franco trying to introduce democracy into the system, allowing speakers to speak freely at the university, problems with the--
 +
 
 +
'''Nebeker:'''
 +
 
 +
Was there student unrest at the universities?
 +
 
 +
'''Ferraté:'''
 +
 
 +
Student unrest, yes, of course. They were asking for more democracy, for of the university.
 +
 
 +
'''Nebeker:'''
 +
 
 +
More freedom to choose courses--
 +
 
 +
'''Ferraté:'''
 +
 
 +
--issues and democratic statutes or bylaws for the universities.
 +
 
 +
=== Engineering and administrative careers  ===
 +
 
 +
'''Nebeker:'''
 +
 
 +
Obviously you became more involved with administration and with government with this government work. Was it difficult for you to have less time for your engineering? Was that--
 +
 
 +
'''Ferraté:'''
 +
 
 +
Well, the company did not exist at that moment already so--
 +
 
 +
'''Nebeker:'''
 +
 
 +
It had ended at the end of the seventies, you said?
 +
 
 +
'''Ferraté:'''
 +
 
 +
Yes. So finally, I, all my activity was centered around the university and the research.
 +
 
 +
'''Nebeker:'''
 +
 
 +
I see. But I wonder if you also felt, that is, were you very sorry to have changed your main activity from engineering to administration and policy.
 +
 
 +
'''Ferraté:'''
 +
 
 +
<flashmp3>422 - ferrate - clip 3.mp3</flashmp3>
 +
 
 +
Well, I don’t know if it was my main activity. But I was very upset for the feelings for that company. Maybe I refused myself into the university. But of course, that wasn’t important because when you corporate or you work for an industry, for a company, you get a kind of practical sense of life. You must do things that can function, that can be slow, that can be bought, that can, should be repairable, that should work efficiently. You work in an organization that works efficiently where these heirarchial structure of alignment. And I tried to adapt the existing years into those methods.
 +
 
 +
'''Nebeker:'''
 +
 
 +
Do you think that is was valuable to have your engineering experience in being an administrator?
 +
 
 +
'''Ferraté:'''
 +
 
 +
I think is was very valuable, yes, because as I was the first Director of the Polytechnic University I think that conditioned the way in which we organized the Polytechnic University which had a big expansion in a few years and was a new university became very well known and respected university.
 +
 
 +
=== Expansion of Polytechnic University  ===
 +
 
 +
'''Nebeker:'''
 +
 
 +
So the older Englanamientos Esienales, was that—became a part--
 +
 
 +
'''Ferraté:'''
 +
 
 +
Became a part of the school of the Polytechnic University. Together with the school of architects, with the school of engineers in Trussia [sic], it is not far from Barcelona. And several other schools that were independent technical schools at that moment.
 +
 
 +
'''Nebeker:'''
 +
 
 +
So it was much bigger than your earlier Englanamientos Esienales.
 +
 
 +
'''Ferraté:'''
 +
 
 +
Yes. Much bigger. And it expanded to a university when it was about 30,000 students. Technical studies. Engineering, conductor, computer science, agricultural engineering, mathematics, and telecommunications engineering.
 +
 
 +
'''Nebeker:'''
 +
 
 +
So that was in the mid ‘70’s that that school was established?
 +
 
 +
'''Ferraté:'''
 +
 
 +
The university?
 +
 
 +
'''Nebeker:'''
 +
 
 +
We can check the dates later.
 +
 
 +
'''Ferraté:'''
 +
 
 +
I have everything in the computer, so, everything is there.
 +
 
 +
'''Nebeker:'''
 +
 
 +
Good.
 +
 
 +
'''Ferraté:'''
 +
 
 +
My memory is very bad for dates.
 +
 
 +
'''Nebeker:'''
 +
 
 +
No problem. We can fix any of those.
 +
 
 +
=== Cybernetics and automatic control research; directing the Cybernetics Institute  ===
 +
 
 +
'''Ferraté:'''
 +
 
 +
So after a year I came back to Barcelona. I could not stand more of the problems of—that affected the whole universities in Spain and I was ready get out. So I came back--
 +
 
 +
'''Nebeker:'''
 +
 
 +
Were you still rector of the polytechnic during that--?
 +
 
 +
'''Ferraté:'''
 +
 
 +
No, no. Just a normal professor and I was in charge of Automatic Control in the Cybernetics Institute. I was director of Cybernetics Institute.
 +
 
 +
'''Nebeker:'''
 +
 
 +
So you did continue to do research in these years?
 +
 
 +
'''Ferraté:'''
 +
 
 +
Cybernetics. Yes, yes.
 +
 
 +
'''Nebeker:'''
 +
 
 +
Can you tell me was it still in automatic control you were doing your work?
 +
 
 +
'''Ferraté:'''
 +
 
 +
Yes, yes. The institute of cybernetics was centered in automatic control, robotics, activisual vision. Bioengineering. That’s why we called it Cybernetics Institute. It was made in cooperation with the central national council. Higher council of scientific research.
 +
 
 +
'''Nebeker:'''
 +
 
 +
Did they provide funding for that institute?
 +
 
 +
'''Ferraté:'''
 +
 
 +
Not much. There has never been much funding for research, but we made also—well, we have budgets, Spanish budgets, international budgets. Projects for industries.
 +
 
 +
'''Nebeker:'''
 +
 
 +
Can you tell me a little more about some of those projects your people and your lab were working on?
 +
 
 +
'''Ferraté:'''
 +
 
 +
Well, we developed traffic control machines or devices for specific applications companies. We developed traffic controls. systems for controls, robotics.
 +
 
 +
'''Nebeker:'''
 +
 
 +
And these were ones that were actually being used in industry?
 +
 
 +
'''Ferraté:'''
 +
 
 +
In some cases, yes. Of course, we published in published papers and congresses, and made prototypes and made things that were used.
 +
 
 +
'''Nebeker:'''
 +
 
 +
So you continued as director of that institute, the Cybernetics Institute?
 +
 
 +
=== Rector position at Polytechnic  ===
 +
 
 +
'''Ferraté:'''
 +
 
 +
I continued until I became, again, Director of the Polytechnic Institute university.
 +
 
 +
'''Nebeker:'''
 +
 
 +
So you were rector at first, the first rector of the Polytechnic--
 +
 
 +
'''Ferraté:'''
 +
 
 +
And the second rector, and the third rector. Yes. The first and the third, because when I was in Madrid there was another rector.
 +
 
 +
'''Nebeker:'''
 +
 
 +
There was another rector, yes.
 +
 
 +
'''Ferraté:'''
 +
 
 +
Then when I was back in Barcelona, something happened that that rector was de-missioned, was dismissed. So there were again elections. So I was a candidate and I was elected again. That was in ’78. I think it was ’78. And from then until the 1994.
 +
 
 +
'''Nebeker:'''
 +
 
 +
A very long time!
 +
 
 +
'''Ferraté:'''
 +
 
 +
Many years, many years.
 +
 
 +
'''Nebeker:'''
 +
 
 +
So you must have liked that work.
 +
 
 +
'''Ferraté:'''
 +
 
 +
Yes! It is what I liked. I say that is unusual for our jobs.
 +
 
 +
'''Nebeker:'''
 +
 
 +
But you must have gotten satisfaction.
 +
 
 +
'''Ferraté:'''
 +
 
 +
So as a whole, in the two periods, I think I have been rector of that Polytechnic Institute for about 20 years, nearly 20 years.
 +
 
 +
'''Nebeker:'''
 +
 
 +
I would think that’s very unusual for someone to be rector that long.
 +
 
 +
'''Ferraté:'''
 +
 
 +
It is very unusual. Even now it is not possible because there are limitations in the laws. But at that moment, the situation was very dynamic and we—there were new roles, we saw there were resets on the mandates and things like that.
 +
 
 +
'''Nebeker:'''
 +
 
 +
Well you must have done a very good job if you were kept for that many years.
 +
 
 +
'''Ferraté:'''
 +
 
 +
Oh, I don’t know. You see, you cannot ever run out of a sense of humor, otherwise life is very dull. Even though some people believe that humor is not compatible with the university.
 +
 
 +
'''Nebeker:'''
 +
 
 +
With the dignity of university teaching?
 +
 
 +
'''Ferraté:'''
 +
 
 +
Yes, but I think that is not true.
 +
 
 +
'''Nebeker:'''
 +
 
 +
So I take it that things became more peaceful and more normal in the late ‘80’s
 +
 
 +
'''Ferraté:'''
 +
 
 +
Yes, more normal. Yes. We could start talking of research at the university, in the university team--
 +
 
 +
'''Nebeker:'''
 +
 
 +
Community?
 +
 
 +
'''Ferraté:'''
 +
 
 +
No, the people, the university--
 +
 
 +
'''Nebeker:'''
 +
 
 +
Administration?
 +
 
 +
'''Ferraté:'''
 +
 
 +
Administration, we started talking about research, about organization, about teaching, about methods of education and things like that. About quality and the first period we were talking about the police and problems and students and riots and things like that.
 +
 
 +
'''Nebeker:'''
 +
 
 +
I see. You said there was some 30,000 students at the polytechnic?
 +
 
 +
'''Ferraté:'''
 +
 
 +
Yes, when I left it.
 +
 
 +
'''Nebeker:'''
 +
 
 +
I see. So growing throughout this period?
 +
 
 +
'''Ferraté:'''
 +
 
 +
Yes.
 +
 
 +
'''Nebeker:'''
 +
 
 +
You know what the number of students was at the beginning?
 +
 
 +
'''Ferraté:'''
 +
 
 +
Well, at the beginning as it started the students, maybe 5000 or 6000. The students at the school of engineers that merged into to the university at that moment.
 +
 
 +
'''Nebeker:'''
 +
 
 +
So it started at 5000 or so?
 +
 
 +
'''Ferraté:'''
 +
 
 +
Maybe 5000.
 +
 
 +
'''Nebeker:'''
 +
 
 +
So you must have been involved also in a lot of building for the university?
 +
 
 +
'''Ferraté:'''
 +
 
 +
Oh yes! And the second period we had to build the new campus. Yes, it took a lot, much effort to build that campus. Funding it. Building it.
 +
 
 +
'''Nebeker:'''
 +
 
 +
And this is a national university or is it Catalonian mainly?
 +
 
 +
'''Ferraté:'''
 +
 
 +
That was a national university, but when—at the democracy when the state of the university was developed, universities were transferred to the governments. So their universities now are all transferred to the governments of Spain.
 +
 
 +
'''Nebeker:'''
 +
 
 +
So it became Catalonian University?
 +
 
 +
'''Ferraté:'''
 +
 
 +
Yes, of course with a center coordination from the Ministry of Education in Spain and the Council of Rectors.
 +
 
 +
'''Nebeker:'''
 +
 
 +
Thank you for the interview.
 +
 
 +
[[Category:People and organizations|Ferrate]] [[Category:Engineers|Ferrate]] [[Category:Universities|Ferrate]] [[Category:Automation|Ferrate]] [[Category:Control systems|Ferrate]] [[Category:Automatic control|Ferrate]] [[Category:Cybernetics|Ferrate]] [[Category:Computers and information processing|Ferrate]] [[Category:Computing|Ferrate]] [[Category:Traffic control|Ferrate]] [[Category:Components, circuits, devices & systems|Ferrate]] [[Category:Solid state circuits|Ferrate]] [[Category:Transistors|Ferrate]] [[Category:News|Ferrate]]

Revision as of 19:47, 26 March 2012

Contents

About Gabriel Ferraté

Ferraté was born in Catalonia in 1932. He studied engineering in Barcelona, getting his degree in 1957. He began to develop electronic traffic control systems in the late 1950s, and his company sold them to the municipality of Barcelona and many other European and South American cities over the next two decades, before it went out of business in the late 1970s. He split his business work with teaching and researching in automatic control, eventually becoming in 1975 a full professor at Barcelona in the chair of Automatic Control. In 1979 he became director of the school of engineers; in 1982 he became the first director of the Polytechnic University, when the engineering school integrated into it. After a year working for the Spanish government as General Director of Universities and Research and General Director of Scientific Policy, he returned to Barcelona as a professor doing research in Cybernetics (automatic control, robotics, acitivisual vision, bioengineering), director of the Cybernetics Institute, and a second stint as director of the Polytechnic, where he remained till 1994. This interview provides an overview of Ferraté's career and research.

About the Interview

GABRIEL FERRATE: An Interview Conducted by Frederik Nebeker, Center for the History of Electrical Engineering 1 July 2002

Interview #422 for the IEEE History Center, The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineering, Inc.

Copyright Statement

This manuscript is being made available for research purposes only. All literary rights in the manuscript, including the right to publish, are reserved to the IEEE History Center. No part of the manuscript may be quoted for publication without the written permission of the Director of IEEE History Center.

Request for permission to quote for publication should be addressed to the IEEE History Center Oral History Program, 39 Union Street, New Brunswick, NJ 08901-8538 USA. It should include identification of the specific passages to be quoted, anticipated use of the passages, and identification of the user.

It is recommended that this oral history be cited as follows:

Gabriel Ferrate, an oral history conducted in 2002 by Frederik Nebeker, IEEE History Center, New Brunswick, NJ, USA.

Interview

Interview: Gabriel Ferraté

Interviewer: Frederik Nebeker

Date: 1 July 2002

Place: Barcelona, Spain

Family and educational background

Nebeker:

I see that you were born in 1932

Ferraté:

Yes.

Nebeker:

What is your birth date actually?

Ferraté:

The third of March. The third of March.

Nebeker:

OK. And where were you born?

Ferraté:

In Reus. It’s a city, is a hundred kilometers south of Barcelona.

Nebeker:

I see. In Catalonia?

Ferraté:

In Catalonia. A hundred kilometers long. Near the sea. Six kilometers near the sea.

Nebeker:

What about the family you came from. What did your father do?

Ferraté:

My father came from a family of wine exporters. So when I was young, there was lots—how do you call that--

Nebeker:

Barrels?

Ferraté:

Barrels and pipes.

Nebeker:

Pipes? Bottles?

Ferraté:

No.

Nebeker:

Barrels?

Ferraté:

There is a different name.

Nebeker:

Kegs perhaps?

Ferraté:

Maybe I will remember the name afterwards. So we were wine exporters sending a lot of wine to many different countries. England. Germany. France. And many different places. So that was the business that my grandfather started. And of course, following the tradition, my father continued it and I stopped it, because I went to the university of fertility.

Nebeker:

Were you interested in science and technology as a boy?

Ferraté:

Yes. When I was four I went to France during the Spanish civil war. So I stayed there during the war and so my- -

Nebeker:

Did your whole family go to France?

Ferraté:

My father and my mother. My father was ill from the back. He had back ill and the doctor told him to be sleeping flat in a bed. For three or fours years he was there. Near the mountains we played with a lot of sun and snow and Bionsen was the result. Not far from Switzerland. So my primary school was in France where I learned to speak and to write in French. And when I came back to Spain, to Catalonia, to Barcelona after the war I had to learn Spanish.

Nebeker:

In ’38, ’39?

Ferraté:

Yes, in ’39. I had to learn Spanish at the age of seven. So Spanish is my third language, because my home language is Catalan. My mother language.

Nebeker:

So you returned to school in Barcelona?

Ferraté:

No, to Reus.

Nebeker:

Did you go to a high school?

Ferraté:

There I went to the high school and so I started being fond of radios and things like that. Also I was playing was playing with the mechano. I remember I did many things. I still have the clock.

Nebeker:

A grandfather clock we call it.

Ferraté:

A wind?, a standing clock.

Nebeker:

You made that out of mechano?

Ferraté:

Yes. And other things. And I remember that once I also did a photo-copy machine. They were nothing better, yes, with a photo-electric cell and something—tambor—a drum, two drums, and sparks and photo-electric cells. It copied simple images from one drum to the other.

Nebeker:

That’s very advanced!

Ferraté:

That was in the ‘50’s.

Nebeker:

So you got some photo-electric cells and set them up on a drum somehow?

Ferraté:

Yes, assembled and then a spark and a paper with a wet tweezer, kind of acid solution or a--

Nebeker:

So the spark caused a darkening of the paper?

Ferraté:

Yes, something like that.

Engineering studies; development of computerized traffic control systems

Nebeker:

Very ingenious! So you decided to study to be an engineer?

Ferraté:

So than I finished my secondary school and the, what you call, the university. And then I decided to study engineering. So, finally I went to Barcelona to study what’s called infinero industrial; industrial engineer, which is a mixture of mechanical, electronic, and chemical engineer. But I specialized in the electric branch.

Nebeker:

Was that the Polytechnic University?

Ferraté:

The Polytechnic University did not exist at that moment. That was the Eschoolos Engineeros, the school of engineering, which was already at that time, maybe 80-years-old or something like that. It had a long tradition. Then near the end of my studies, as somebody suggested to me, to develop electronic traffic control systems for the municipality of Barcelona. So even while I was studying in the residencia, where the students were living--

Nebeker:

The dormitories?

Ferraté:

Is that what it is? And they lent me a room so, with devices and--

Nebeker:

Equipment and tools?

Ferraté:

Tools and things. I started developing the initial prototypes.

Nebeker:

And this was in order to be able to adjust the traffic controls?

Ferraté:

To automatically control the traffic with feedback. So detecting cars and automatically controlling the green waves. But what we really developed was a centralized traffic control system. Computer controlled. And the beginning we had to develop our own computers.

Nebeker:

What years were these that you were--

Ferraté:

That was about ’57, ’58, ’59.

Nebeker:

So very early for computers.

Ferraté:

60’s. And those systems were installed in many cities in Europe. And also in South America.

Nebeker:

What company developed--

Ferraté:

We had our own company which was called--

Nebeker:

Which was Barcelona municipality?

Ferraté:

No, it was an existing company in Barcelona that was called Englanamientos Esienales.

Nebeker:

I can spell that I think.

Ferraté:

And while working for them I created my own company that was called Fiber, from cybernetics, Fiber. Industria Electronica Fiber. That was developing those prototypes and initial units for the big company in Reus itself.

Nebeker:

In Reus?

Ferraté:

Yes. And afterwards I was absorbed, or I merged with another company.

Nebeker:

Did you obtain a patent?

Ferraté:

Oh yes, there were patents. And finally the company was the one that was exporting all over the world.

Nebeker:

And this you say was, you say for a centralized traffic control?

Ferraté:

Centralized traffic control. And we had an agreement with Elliot Brothers in England. So we used Elliot computers. But Elliot finally disappeared. So we switched to the Hewlett Packard computers. I remember those initial six.

Nebeker:

I don’t know the Hewlett Packard computers I’m afraid.

Ferraté:

I think it was 2116, 2100 computers, with not much memory.

Nebeker:

Was the idea of these systems—did they involve feedback as well?

Ferraté:

Yes, they involved feedback and they involved the capability of changing the greenwaves and the coordination of the traffic lights according to the traffic itself. And you could also change the programs, and the coordination in different days of the week or different times of the day. Different hours of the day.

Nebeker:

That sounds very advanced for the ‘60’s.

Ferraté:

Yes, it was very advanced and it was not centralized. For instance Siemens, Siemens in Germany was doing traffic control with computers. But it was a hundred percent centralized. That meant that they sent a line to each of the traffic lights, controlling it from the computer. But that was very dangerous. If something happened in the computer, the whole system stopped. So what we developed, that was the original method that we developed was a heretical system. In a sense it was a predecessor of a networked computer system, so in small areas there were the specialized computers we developed using the systems at that moment. And then all those area computers were coordinated between themselves from the central computer. So that was a computer system which was much more reliable.

Nebeker:

So if there was some failure at the central level the local controllers could continue to work.

Ferraté:

Also the feedback themselves. That was the main issue that we developed at that time.

Nebeker:

So a city like Barcelona would have many of these local controllers?

Ferraté:

Yes, maybe ten, 12 area controllers, area computers. And then a bigger centralized computer in a building of the municipality.

Nebeker:

I’m curious were the traffic lights also made so that if that local computer failed they would continue to function?

Ferraté:

Yes, the controllers themselves could function (affirmatively) or even coordinated. But we fixed programs like that.

Nebeker:

So if that computer fails, the system would still--

Ferraté:

At least three levels of security.

Nebeker:

That’s very interesting. And that was this company in Englanamientos Esienales?

Ferraté:

Esienales

Nebeker:

Ok. Esienales. And you say that was sold in many countries around the world?

Ferraté:

Yes. I remember having installing these in Italy, in Portugal, in Mexico.

Nebeker:

And also in Latin America?

Ferraté:

In Argentina. Several places. In Moscow.

Nebeker:

Is that right?

Ferraté:

Yes.

Nebeker:

Is there a name for this system that you’ve developed?

Ferraté:

Systema heircalcico de control de tansido.

Building transistors and personal radios as a student

Ferraté:

I will show you something else. So this is a radio receiver I made when I was studying at the school of engineers in the fifties. Oh, what happened is that after the secondary school my family--no, before I finished at the age of 16, my family sent me to London to study English. So that was after the war and there were shops where they were selling what they called war surplus. So I went to the electronic war surplus shops and I discovered the miniature vials. So I bought a stock of vials that were war surplus, but went back to Barcelona, to Reus, to my home. Then I use those vials to develop and build radios. Personal radios.

Nebeker:

And what you’ve just shown me here is a very small--

Ferraté:

That’s a small pocket radio. That was a second edition, with the shape adequate for the pocket. And that one was already more elegant and with miniature vials. Even with a—these are ink, ink--

Nebeker:

Dials?

Ferraté:

No. Vials—small ink bottles. Chinese ink. You know, you call that India ink--

Nebeker:

India ink!

Ferraté:

So I cut off, and poured into a vial and this is the variable condenser which I did myself with the favorite batteries. Batteries. Two batteries, 22 volts were they, and 115--

Nebeker:

Miniature tubes?

Ferraté:

Miniature tubes, (28). It did the work, yes. And then I had to make myself the block here and earpiece.

Nebeker:

It’s amazing! Is this is while you were a student?

Ferraté:

Yes, yes, yes. And that was while I was studying in Barcelona. I did all those prototypes and devices in that lab I had in the—where I lived. And there I bought two printer circuit boards that belonged to the traffic control systems. Or any with transistors. But that was in the ’70’s, ‘60’s or so. I remember that when I was in London for Christmas on the BBC I heard news saying that was on the eight-- that was on the ‘48 that the new development had been taking place in the United States that—my memory for the names—that Dow labs Shockley, Bardeen and Brittain, had developed a device called transistor. So I heard that news on the BBC for Christmas, ’48.

Nebeker:

You remember that?

Ferraté:

Yes, I remember that. Shockley, Bardeen and Brittain.

Nebeker:

You're one of the people who’d appreciate that advance.

Ferraté:

Yes. So one or two years afterwards when I went back there I developed or I built my own transistor, a very primitive one.

Studies in England; selecting engineering career

Nebeker:

And you went to England in order to learn English, you say?

Ferraté:

Just to learn English.

Nebeker:

Did you study at a--

Ferraté:

Well, I went there to—I was going to the City of London College on Morgan Street for three months or so. And then, not to waste my time, (my parents were terrible), in the afternoon I had to go to London—no to the friends, to the company that was importing the wine from my father’s, my parents. That was Gilbeys House, there were producing Gilbey’s.

Nebeker:

Oh yes, of course. Gilbeys.

Ferraté:

So it was into the lab every afternoon making analysis and things like that.

Nebeker:

For the wine importing or for Gilbeys in general?

Ferraté:

Just for learning and for when I help them in the lab.

Nebeker:

Was this a paid position?

Ferraté:

And on my way from the school to the place where Gilbeys near a park in London, London Hyde Park, Regents Park. I think it was in the upper Regents Park, I found those electronic surplus shops.

Nebeker:

That’s very interesting.

Ferraté:

That was the beginning.

Nebeker:

How long were you in England?

Ferraté:

Oh, for half a year. I went there in July, I think it was and came back in January.

Nebeker:

Was it your father’s idea that in knowing English it would help you in the exporting business?

Ferraté:

Yes. Yes, yes, yes. So my father had still the plan, the hope that I would continue the family business.

Nebeker:

And was it difficult for him when you decided to be an engineer?

Ferraté:

So I wish to study engineering, but, so we made an agreement, so I studied engineering plus agricultural engineering. Just for learning about wines and wine yards, and things like that.

Nebeker:

You obviously got involved in important work while you were studying. You got involved in this traffic control work, you said, while you were a student.

Ferraté:

Yes, yes. At the end of my studies, the last year.

Nebeker:

So it was clear that you were going to continue as an engineer. Was this developing--?

Ferraté:

I studied at a small company in Reus next to my father’s business still hoping that I would--

Nebeker:

You had no brothers or sisters who would carry on the business?

Ferraté:

No. No, no no. It was, how you call it the single--

Nebeker:

An only child.

Ferraté:

The only child. Yes.

Englanamientos Esienales, traffic control systems and industrial control business

Nebeker:

I see. So what happened then? You set up that company. You said it was merged with another company?

Ferraté:

Yes, so I was a technical director and developed different lines of the traffic control, the medical line, or just for detecting heart--

Nebeker:

Oh, electrocardiograms.

Ferraté:

Electrocardiograms and then the electroencephalograms and things like that.

Nebeker:

I see.

Ferraté:

Then traffic control and industrial controls.

Nebeker:

This is for the company in Englanamientos Esienales?

Ferraté:

In Englanamientos Esienales, yes.

Nebeker:

What sort of industrial controls were you involved with?

Ferraté:

Well, timers, photoelectric devices for different machines to detect different things.

Nebeker:

And this company--?

Ferraté:

Programmable controllers.

Nebeker:

And this company exported, had business in many countries?

Ferraté:

Yes. Finally, that company which expanded a lot and was studied, it was even studied as a case for different universities, finally it get into problems because the expansion was so fast, and so that we cannot have enough capital to sustain it. So finally it went out of business.

Nebeker:

When was that?

Ferraté:

Oh, maybe ’75.

Nebeker:

When did you complete your--

Ferraté:

Oh no—at the end of the ‘70’s.

Nebeker:

OK. When did you complete your engineering degree? What year was that?

Ferraté:

Nineteen—the ‘57.

Nebeker:

‘57? So you worked for them for many years then?

Lecturing and research in automatic control

Ferraté:

Yes, but I being compatible with being a professor. So, the school of engineers asked me to participate in the teaching of a new subject that was automatic control. I was not yet a professor, I was just a lecturer. The first lecturer at that school. Even in Spain, on automatic control. So my research was in automatic control. Then I developed at the school of engineers a research lab on automatic control, working and making developments for several industries and companies. And then--

Nebeker:

Did you get contract work from companies?

Ferraté:

Yes.

Nebeker:

They would ask you to develop a certain type of control?

Ferraté:

Yes.

Nebeker:

Was that fairly unusual for Spain at the time?

Ferraté:

Completely unusual. It was the only lab doing that in, I would say in Barcelona. Of course, in the school of engineers. Because at that moment professors were part-time. They worked outside and came to the school of engineers just to lecture, and went back to their house. But I stood nearly all the time at the school making that research and going in the mornings, more or less, to the company. Finally, there was what is called a competition for providing the chair of Automatic Control. So I prepared myself that chair, and for that competition, and finally I won that chair, and then became a full professor at the school of engineers.

Became first professor of automatic control, director of School of Engineers, and first director of Polytechnic University

Nebeker:

OK, so the chair was established for Automatic Control. You were the first holder of that chair?

Ferraté:

Yes, in Spain. The first professor of Automatic Control, in first chair of Automatic Control in Spain.

Nebeker:

What year was that? Do you recall?

Ferraté:

‘75. That was ’75. Then a few years later, fours years later, I became director of the School of Engineers.

Nebeker:

The entire school?

Ferraté:

Of the entire school. That was very bad because--

Nebeker:

It took a lot of time.

Ferraté:

A lot of time, a lot of trouble. I mean that was during Franco’s regime and the students were, and we all were, against the regime. So there were many troubles and problems with the police and things like that. So it was difficult times but I managed to be a good friend of everybody including of course, the students. Then on the, no—I think it was ’82, but this I can confirm, the School of Engineers was integrated into the new, we called Polytechnical University. Until then the school of engineers depended directly from the Ministry of Education. But then they were merged, or they were integrated in what were called polytechnic universities. And then I was elected the first director of the Polytechnic University. And they were also very difficult times. That was the end of Franco’s regime with a lot of movements and problems.

Service to democratic Spanish government as General Director of Universities

Nebeker:

And I know of course of the movement or autonomy in Catalonia--?

Ferraté:

Then, when Franco died and the king became King of Spain, that was the start of democracy. And then the Minister of Education asked me to become General Director of Universities of the Spanish Government. So I went to Madrid for about one year. First, the first half of the year, I was General Director of Universities and Research, and the second half of the year as the first General Director of Scientific Policy of the Spanish government. Also, very difficult times.

Nebeker:

This is the very beginning of the democracy.

Ferraté:

The very beginning of democracy, with also problems with the police. It was the same police as during Franco trying to introduce democracy into the system, allowing speakers to speak freely at the university, problems with the--

Nebeker:

Was there student unrest at the universities?

Ferraté:

Student unrest, yes, of course. They were asking for more democracy, for of the university.

Nebeker:

More freedom to choose courses--

Ferraté:

--issues and democratic statutes or bylaws for the universities.

Engineering and administrative careers

Nebeker:

Obviously you became more involved with administration and with government with this government work. Was it difficult for you to have less time for your engineering? Was that--

Ferraté:

Well, the company did not exist at that moment already so--

Nebeker:

It had ended at the end of the seventies, you said?

Ferraté:

Yes. So finally, I, all my activity was centered around the university and the research.

Nebeker:

I see. But I wonder if you also felt, that is, were you very sorry to have changed your main activity from engineering to administration and policy.

Ferraté:

Well, I don’t know if it was my main activity. But I was very upset for the feelings for that company. Maybe I refused myself into the university. But of course, that wasn’t important because when you corporate or you work for an industry, for a company, you get a kind of practical sense of life. You must do things that can function, that can be slow, that can be bought, that can, should be repairable, that should work efficiently. You work in an organization that works efficiently where these heirarchial structure of alignment. And I tried to adapt the existing years into those methods.

Nebeker:

Do you think that is was valuable to have your engineering experience in being an administrator?

Ferraté:

I think is was very valuable, yes, because as I was the first Director of the Polytechnic University I think that conditioned the way in which we organized the Polytechnic University which had a big expansion in a few years and was a new university became very well known and respected university.

Expansion of Polytechnic University

Nebeker:

So the older Englanamientos Esienales, was that—became a part--

Ferraté:

Became a part of the school of the Polytechnic University. Together with the school of architects, with the school of engineers in Trussia [sic], it is not far from Barcelona. And several other schools that were independent technical schools at that moment.

Nebeker:

So it was much bigger than your earlier Englanamientos Esienales.

Ferraté:

Yes. Much bigger. And it expanded to a university when it was about 30,000 students. Technical studies. Engineering, conductor, computer science, agricultural engineering, mathematics, and telecommunications engineering.

Nebeker:

So that was in the mid ‘70’s that that school was established?

Ferraté:

The university?

Nebeker:

We can check the dates later.

Ferraté:

I have everything in the computer, so, everything is there.

Nebeker:

Good.

Ferraté:

My memory is very bad for dates.

Nebeker:

No problem. We can fix any of those.

Cybernetics and automatic control research; directing the Cybernetics Institute

Ferraté:

So after a year I came back to Barcelona. I could not stand more of the problems of—that affected the whole universities in Spain and I was ready get out. So I came back--

Nebeker:

Were you still rector of the polytechnic during that--?

Ferraté:

No, no. Just a normal professor and I was in charge of Automatic Control in the Cybernetics Institute. I was director of Cybernetics Institute.

Nebeker:

So you did continue to do research in these years?

Ferraté:

Cybernetics. Yes, yes.

Nebeker:

Can you tell me was it still in automatic control you were doing your work?

Ferraté:

Yes, yes. The institute of cybernetics was centered in automatic control, robotics, activisual vision. Bioengineering. That’s why we called it Cybernetics Institute. It was made in cooperation with the central national council. Higher council of scientific research.

Nebeker:

Did they provide funding for that institute?

Ferraté:

Not much. There has never been much funding for research, but we made also—well, we have budgets, Spanish budgets, international budgets. Projects for industries.

Nebeker:

Can you tell me a little more about some of those projects your people and your lab were working on?

Ferraté:

Well, we developed traffic control machines or devices for specific applications companies. We developed traffic controls. systems for controls, robotics.

Nebeker:

And these were ones that were actually being used in industry?

Ferraté:

In some cases, yes. Of course, we published in published papers and congresses, and made prototypes and made things that were used.

Nebeker:

So you continued as director of that institute, the Cybernetics Institute?

Rector position at Polytechnic

Ferraté:

I continued until I became, again, Director of the Polytechnic Institute university.

Nebeker:

So you were rector at first, the first rector of the Polytechnic--

Ferraté:

And the second rector, and the third rector. Yes. The first and the third, because when I was in Madrid there was another rector.

Nebeker:

There was another rector, yes.

Ferraté:

Then when I was back in Barcelona, something happened that that rector was de-missioned, was dismissed. So there were again elections. So I was a candidate and I was elected again. That was in ’78. I think it was ’78. And from then until the 1994.

Nebeker:

A very long time!

Ferraté:

Many years, many years.

Nebeker:

So you must have liked that work.

Ferraté:

Yes! It is what I liked. I say that is unusual for our jobs.

Nebeker:

But you must have gotten satisfaction.

Ferraté:

So as a whole, in the two periods, I think I have been rector of that Polytechnic Institute for about 20 years, nearly 20 years.

Nebeker:

I would think that’s very unusual for someone to be rector that long.

Ferraté:

It is very unusual. Even now it is not possible because there are limitations in the laws. But at that moment, the situation was very dynamic and we—there were new roles, we saw there were resets on the mandates and things like that.

Nebeker:

Well you must have done a very good job if you were kept for that many years.

Ferraté:

Oh, I don’t know. You see, you cannot ever run out of a sense of humor, otherwise life is very dull. Even though some people believe that humor is not compatible with the university.

Nebeker:

With the dignity of university teaching?

Ferraté:

Yes, but I think that is not true.

Nebeker:

So I take it that things became more peaceful and more normal in the late ‘80’s

Ferraté:

Yes, more normal. Yes. We could start talking of research at the university, in the university team--

Nebeker:

Community?

Ferraté:

No, the people, the university--

Nebeker:

Administration?

Ferraté:

Administration, we started talking about research, about organization, about teaching, about methods of education and things like that. About quality and the first period we were talking about the police and problems and students and riots and things like that.

Nebeker:

I see. You said there was some 30,000 students at the polytechnic?

Ferraté:

Yes, when I left it.

Nebeker:

I see. So growing throughout this period?

Ferraté:

Yes.

Nebeker:

You know what the number of students was at the beginning?

Ferraté:

Well, at the beginning as it started the students, maybe 5000 or 6000. The students at the school of engineers that merged into to the university at that moment.

Nebeker:

So it started at 5000 or so?

Ferraté:

Maybe 5000.

Nebeker:

So you must have been involved also in a lot of building for the university?

Ferraté:

Oh yes! And the second period we had to build the new campus. Yes, it took a lot, much effort to build that campus. Funding it. Building it.

Nebeker:

And this is a national university or is it Catalonian mainly?

Ferraté:

That was a national university, but when—at the democracy when the state of the university was developed, universities were transferred to the governments. So their universities now are all transferred to the governments of Spain.

Nebeker:

So it became Catalonian University?

Ferraté:

Yes, of course with a center coordination from the Ministry of Education in Spain and the Council of Rectors.

Nebeker:

Thank you for the interview.