A conversation with Gaetano D’Aquila, Calabrian computer engineer and one of the authors of GIPSTECH, the indoors GPS system which won the startup competition of TechCrunch Italy – Second Edition, held at the Maxxxi Museum in Rome. The project was developed within the University of Calabria.
In 2013, Gipstech, the start-up company you co-founded, won the second edition of TechCrunch Italy, the biggest Italian event dedicated to digital enterprises, for a new system of indoor geolocalization. Let’s start with TechCrunch Italy: would you like to explain what it is?
The American press agency TechCrunch is one of the main vehicles of information on technology on a global scale. It is “obsessively” devoted to all that concerns start-up companies, the latest Internet products and the so-called “disruptive” – or revolutionary – technologies. Periodically, TechCrunch organizes global-scale conferences to which the exponents of the most innovative technologies are invited. They fulfill a double purpose: on the one side, they carry out purely journalistic tasks, while on the other side they deal with the issue of technological supply and demand, since important business people systematically attend, looking for promising new technologies in order to finance them and speed up their launch on the market.
Now, let’s talk about your device…
Actually, it is not a device, but rather a technology that we are developing. It will be a kind of indoor alternative to the constellation of already-existing GPS satellites. As we all know, all modern satellite navigation systems employ radio signals emitted by orbiting satellites which allow them to work and localize the user’s position. We also know that radio signals find it hard to penetrate indoors: most of the times, walls or any other obstacle between outside and inside produce a shielding effect, which usually blocks the radio signals needed by navigators to work. As a result, all services of localization based on the user’s position, navigators included, cannot work in large indoor spaces. If we consider the enormous success achieved by these systems abroad and the fact that people spend more than 70% of their time indoors, it won’t be hard to imagine the true potential of our technology. I think the panel of the TechCrunch event were aware of it when they decided to assign the victory to GiPSTECH, after a selection from more than 250 Italian start-up companies (5 of which made it to the final).
You are a computer engineer. Where did you study?
I studied at the University of Calabria.
Did you attend any other training programme?
After graduation, I had the opportunity to spend a few years at the CNR in Rende as a temporary researcher. I also had the chance to move in the academic circles and participate in many research projects.
As a Calabrian, what do you think about your region?
Calabria is rich in talents, even though in my opinion it isn’t the best place for them to develop: very often, this talents find themselves forced to emigrate and contribute to the development of brilliant projects elsewhere.
Changes are slow to come. For different reasons, Calabria started off at a disadvantage. Most of the times, the huge financial resources allocated by the European Union or by the State in order to fill the existing gaps by creating opportunities for economic development in Calabria and offering employment prospects to privates and enterprises fail to reach their target. If we exclude a small number of recent cases which might be construed as signals of a profound turnabout, there are economic and financial quibbles which make those resources inaccessible to the younger generations. More frequently, such resources are exploited by external subjects, temporarily coming to Calabria with the sole purpose of pursuing their own profit against the negligible drawback of a time-limited regional occupational increase.
This far, the outcome of the situation is that the advantages these investments should have brought to the Calabrian entrepreneurial context have proved to be either null or even disadvantages. A global analysis will show that Calabrian technology enterprises have to face a much larger outlay than their colleagues in Lombardy or Veneto. Calabrian enterprises need more offices, one in Calabria and at least one in the North (where they typically finds their clients) and have to meet exorbitant costs, which are made even worse by the decrease of daily flights and the consequent necessity of covering board and lodging expenses. Almost all regional surtaxes are set at the highest amount allowed by law. Bureaucracy reigns throughout the region: it impairs citizens who don’t know any “big shots” by imprisoning them in a maze of papers, legal documents and unparalleled red tape.
However, I think there is a wind of change which is now blowing for Calabria. Young people are not willing to pack and go elsewhere anymore. On the contrary, they often initiate projects in their own region which are highly praised even outside Calabria. That sort of inbuilt laziness that has been characteristic of every single change made over the past few years is giving way to the speed that is typical of new ideas when they first strike people. As of now, Calabria is astir with initiatives that are no more simple ideas, as they’re growing bigger and bigger and making their contribution to regional development.
Would you like to give a suggestion to the young Calabrians who are about to begin a university career?
I don’t have any specific suggestion in mind. The only thing that really matters in my view is to make an unconditioned choice when it comes to picking a faculty and let one’s own passions be the only source of inspiration.