Robotics and automation: Italian excellence

Robotics and automation: Italian excellence


From robots to probe the depths and map submerged archaeological sites while also collecting samples for identifying micro plastics, to automated support for physiotherapy and medical operations or four-legged robots that can intervene in high risk areas or perform agricultural tasks. These are just some of the stories of Italian excellence collected in “100 Italian Robotics & Automation Stories.” The Report, which we prepared in collaboration with the Symbola Foundation, was presented in Rome on 5 February by Francesco Starace, CEO and General Manager of the Enel Group, and Ermete Realacci, President of the Symbola Foundation. The report is the fourth in a partnership that began in 2015 with “100 Italian Energy Stories” and continued with research into Italian excellence in the fields of electric mobility and the circular economy.

One hundred stories of Italian excellence

Italy is in sixth place worldwide in terms of the number of industrial robots in use: only China, Japan, South Korea, the United States and Germany have more. Our country is home to 104,000 firms in the sector and is also in sixth place globally for the quantity of published scientific research into automation (so far 10,000 papers have been produced).

The Report, which was prepared in collaboration with the UCIMU Foundation (that represents Italian manufacturers of machine tools), describes one hundred virtuous experiences of applied robotics in a variety of sectors, from aerospace to medicine, logistics to the environment, the automotive sector to edutainment.

Starace underlined that the purpose of this study, as was the case in previous editions, is to raise awareness in the country of the existing potential and excellence, in addition to providing new knowledge tools for public institutions. 

Ermete Realacci also highlighted how the ability to combine innovation, beauty and quality enables Italians to tackle the challenges of the present and the future, by finding human-sized solutions.

Take the Hannes hand: this is a perfect example of how engineering and design skills can be harnessed in order to help people. The robotic prosthetic hand enables patients to recover 90% of their functions, adapting to objects. It was designed by ddp Studio and developed by the Centro Protesi INAIL (the INAIL Prosthetics Centre) in Budrio (INAIL is the Italian national institute for occupational accident insurance) and the Italian Institute of Technology (ITT). An example of how design also considers the emotive relationship between the person and the object, explained Gabriele Diamanti, a designer from ddp Studio, who was responsible for creating the artificial limb.

Intelligent machines that are increasingly “natural”

One particular success story was described by Francesco Visentin, researcher at the centre for Micro-BioRobotics at IIT in Pontedera. He captivated the audience with the presentation of Plantoide, the first robot inspired by plants, which is capable of reacting to external stimuli and extending its “roots” into the ground to gather environmental data.

Another example of Italian excellence is the “octopus-robot,” which was created by Cecilia Laschi, a professor of industrial bioengineering at the Institute of BioRobotics at the Sant’Anna School of Advanced Studies in Pisa, the branch dedicated to developing machines with soft and malleable surfaces.

Antonio Bicchi, President of I-RIM (Institute of Robotics and Digital Machines), emphasised the importance of looking to Artificial Intelligence, pointing out that there is more to AI than algorithms that elaborate data: they are also tools and solutions to support people.

Last but not least, there was an example that highlighted the link between robotics and the new generation: the students of the Scientific High School Avogadro in Vercelli, winners of Zero Robotics 2018-2019, the international competition set up by NASA. Having teamed up with two schools in the US, the youngsters programmed the movement simulated by mini-satellites on board the International Space Station.

The Italian robotics sector has achieved great results in just a few years. The new frontier for the sector, according to Cecilia Laschi, is to draw inspiration from living beings and the environment: the robot of the future will be increasingly “natural” and at the service of people’s health and well-being.

Download the report “100 Italian Robotics & Automation Stories