Research and new technologies – especially digital technologies such as cloud computing and artificial intelligence – are keys to development in the modern world. The crisis caused by the pandemic is a unique opportunity to give the sector a decisive boost, with the relationship between the public and private sectors playing a decisive role.
This was the topic discussed during ‘Italian Research in the World Day’ – part of the Festival of Science – held on 15 April. Speaking on the subject was Pierpaolo Gambini, Head of Innovation and IP at Leonardo, a company at the very forefront of the sector, both in terms of investments and human resources.
Gambini explains: “Leonardo’s mission is to push the boundaries of innovation and bring forward emerging technologies that can meet customers’ potential needs. We invest more than 10% of our revenue in R&D. This year, we’ve invested nearly €1.6 billion, that’s €100 million more than last year, which, as we all know, was a difficult year. Nevertheless, it didn’t slow us down in the pursuit of our aforementioned mission.
“However, we’ve realised that this is not enough to ensure our role as technological leaders in the coming years, so we’ve decided to significantly increase our investment in research and technology. Across our business, we’ve identified a series of technologies that are essential to Leonardo continuing to play a leading role in aerospace and defence in areas that, by their very nature, are high risk, yet high return if we succeed. Subjects such as quantum energy, electrification, the world of advanced simulation, digital twins, high performance computing, digital technologies and innovative materials are all areas that Leonardo is firmly focused on, in order to introduce new technologies into our products by 2030.”
This project, explains Gambini, led to the creation of Leonardo Labs: “Last year, we set up a series of research labs in Italy and abroad (California) – and we scoured the world for excellent researchers who hold at least a Ph.D. We received over 900 applications. We are now choosing over 70 researchers who will be given access to our best technical resources to lead us in a new technological direction, which is crucial to our business. Leonardo Labs are a network open to the vital energies of the scientific community and to collaboration with the outside world through ‘Joint Labs’. We have recently launched a Lab with Solvay on materials, and three with the Italian Institute of Technology – on robotics, supercomputing and artificial intelligence.”
In this mission, collaboration between the government and business is essential. Gambini continues: “The relationship between the public and private spheres is extremely important. For example, we have a division dedicated to cyber security. We work extensively with all public bodies in the field, offering our support and investing heavily by making all our resources available. The public and private sectors must find new ways to collaborate that bring out each other’s strengths. As part of this, recently we’ve carried out various initiatives aimed at increasing synergy between public and private research.”
Gambini also emphasises the importance of collaboration with the academic research world: “It’s one of the areas that we are placing great focus on, encouraging our universities to offer young people better preparation in line with the needs of the market in which, as an industry, we see a need for specialist skills to grow alongside systemic skills in the near future. In order to share ideas already present in our universities and make them systematic, we have recently started a technology network project within our Aircraft division that universities, research centres, innovative SMEs and select large companies can participate in. Alongside them, we have launched a collegial, organic and continuous exploration of future ideas and technologies. The process began with the selection of a panel of universities – each highly specialised in the topic at hand – alongside which we started down our path. Beginning by generating a pool of ideas and selecting the best ones, we proved their value and technical feasibility through proof of concept, development and testing phases. So far, the programme has involved nearly 20 university faculties, two research centres, over 40 departments and approximately 100 professors and researchers, alongside which we are working to establish 10 concrete collaborations for technological development.”