Taking IIT technology into space

Giuliano Greco

Yesterday a meeting was held between IIT researchers and some of the major Italian SMEs operating in the space economy.

The event ‘Technology transfer applied to the Space sector: how to transfer technology from research labs to industry’ took place in the form of a workshop, organised by the IIT Technology Transfer team, and it was designed to bring the technological needs of companies operating in the space sector into contact with IIT’s research activities.

The Institute has developed numerous skills and technologies, such as robotics, new materials, teleoperation and artificial intelligence, which could be applied in the space field through collaborations and joint ventures with companies that are already working in the sector. For these reasons, although IIT is not directly involved in space technology, it considers space as a strategic and cross-cutting sector for its own technological applications.

The meeting was opened by Italy’s first astronaut Franco Malerba, who, introducing the workshop, commented: “I believe that IIT could become a research hub in the space sector as well, making Genoa a point of reference for the space economy”.

In addition to the many Italian companies present, Marco Di Clemente, Head of the Technology Unit at the Agenzia Spaziale Italiana (ASI, Italian Space Agency), spoke at the meeting, referring to the Agency’s framework agreement with IIT and encouraging companies in the sector to invest in innovation. “For small and medium-sized companies”, said Di Clemente, “investing in the medium and long term can make the difference in terms of competition, even with respect to the major players in the field”.

We have received excellent feedback from Italian SMEs in the space sector and we believe that many of our technological solutions can meet their needs. To date, we have a dozen projects for space-related activities in the course of development”, commented Matteo Bonfanti, Director of Technology Transfer at IIT.

There are several fields in which we could make a tangible contribution: we are working on robotics, both in terms of remote control robots and space rovers for moving on rough terrain, as well as new types of sensors to monitor astronauts in orbit. We also have applications in AI and computation to model the effects of solar radiation in space, as well as new materials and claddings capable of withstanding radiation in space. We have recently started work on an AI programme applied to archaeology to identify undiscovered archaeological sites using satellite images. True to IIT’s typically multidisciplinary spirit in research, this project backed by ESA (European Space Agency) brings together elements of cultural heritage, space and computational science”, concluded Bonfanti.

The revised presentations from the meeting will be published online for companies who wish to find out more about the technology developed by the Institute’s various research groups, offering potential for aerospace applications.