MILAN – Two female engineers and a teacher of artificial intelligence man: the pink quotas reach two thirds in the team of the University of Pavia which has won, with an innovative and ambitious project, the international robotics competition organized by Epson, so for this Once STEM is married to women. They are Antonella Ferrara (Full Professor of Automation and Professor of Robot Control) and Bianca Sangiovanni (PhD student in Electronics, Computer and Electrical Engineering, XXXIII Cycle) who, together with Marco Piastra (Professor of Artificial Intelligence), have developed and presented a project that presents a very innovative approach in the field of man-robot or robot-robot cooperation because it requires that the robot learns “independently” from its mistakes until it understands how to move in a limited environment so as not to collide with men or other machines. Professor Ferrara explains: “I decided to propose my PhD student Bianca Sangiovanni as group leader because she is very competent and I wanted to allow her to try her hand at leading an important and innovative project, with many difficulties to solve.”
It is no coincidence that Professor Ferrara chose a young female engineer to guide and coordinate the development of the project. “Women have characteristics that I consider particularly suitable for the scientific field: they are usually very precise, tenacious, attentive to the conduct of research”. The difficulty for them is often excessive humility. “My many years of experience with researchers of both sexes leads me to say that women often seem less self-confident due to an atavistic form of humility, very present among the very young researchers, even when they have the same abilities as their male colleagues.”
Women, universities, STEM and careers
Professor Ferrara continues: «If we go to see the statistics of the Ministry, women are more than half of those enrolled in degree courses (55.5%), of the total number of graduates (57.6%), of those enrolled in doctorate (50%) and the total number of research doctors (51.8%), but this female presence decreases drastically with the rise in the hierarchical scale, up to 23% on average among ordinary professors and a meager 6% in the STEM area. Just as the number of female enrollments decreases according to the field of study: in fact, compared to the 55.5% average, in the area of letters and arts, the students are the vast majority with 77.6% falling to 48, 1% in Agricultural and Veterinary Sciences, down to 27.4% in STEM disciplines. » “What is striking – Ferrara concludes – is that, in all areas of study including the STEM area, the percentage of graduates compared to the number of enrolled students is greater among women, who therefore complete university education more successfully, but then they can't – or can't – keep growing. “
The winning project: how to teach a robot to move in an unknown environment
The exact title of the project is “Deep Learning for Safe Physical Human-Robot Interaction” and the ultimate goal is to bring together robots and humans, an increasingly felt need in the industrial world, but which has just started its way. The innovative idea carried out at the University of Pavia was to combine machine learning techniques based on artificial intelligence with classic robot control techniques. The other characterizing element is that the team has decided to use an industrial robot, which by nature is not born to operate in close contact with humans, but rather is confined within specially prepared areas, surrounded by cages equipped with many sensors , necessary to ensure worker safety.
«Our work – reports Bianca Sangiovanni – will allow us to introduce the robot in an environment not necessarily known a priori, with enormous advantages for companies that, in this case, will be able to prepare environments with humans, robots or other types of machinery. The big effort for me and for all of us is to explain and make companies, students and in general to the widest possible audience understand the impact that this type of technology has and will have on everyday life. »