Copernicus Masters is the leading innovation competition that annually awards prizes to the best services, products, and business concepts using satellite observation in everyday life. Since its first edition in 2011, its mission has been to stimulate the development of market-oriented applications.
The spectrum of business solutions developed reflects the many opportunities made possible by this future-oriented technology: both individuals and entire industries can benefit from earth observation in areas such as health care, leisure, traffic management, emergency and disaster management, rail, maritime and air transport logistics-just to name a few.
The Italian Space Agency has joined this competition also in 2022. Indeed, the Agency strongly believes in initiatives for young innovators and scouting for technological ideas that use space as a lever to build a sustainable future.
The winners of the 2022 Italian competition are Stefano Bagli and Paolo Mazzoli of GECOSISTEMA, who are going to tell us how the idea that turned out to be a winner, SaferPLACES, was born.
How did the idea of participating in the Copernicus Masters 2022 come about?
At the end of 2021, after the EIT-Climate KIC-funded SaferPLACES research project, we had a Web Cloud Platform in hand that could also produce and predict flooding in the city by leveraging climate and satellite data from Copernicus. The Copernicus Master seemed like a perfect opportunity for us to present our innovation and receive feedback during the proposal evaluation process.
You won with your SAFERPLACES proposal. Can you tell us, in brief, what is it all about?
When we started working on the SaferPLACES project in 2021, we had this question in our minds: Are our cities ready to deal with the next extreme climate event?
Unfortunately, recent catastrophic floods, such as those in the Italian Marche region and Ischia in late 2022, highlight the need for innovative tools and adequate knowledge to deal with these events, to prevent economic losses, save lives, and to design future cities more resilient.
We believe that the answer to the above question lies in the availability of "Flood Risk Intelligence," which is the ability to leverage information about flooding in cities at high spatial resolution that can distinguish risk on a building-by-building basis and is available for historical, real-time events and future scenarios.
Therefore, the innovation of SaferPLACES lies in its ability to provide crucial flood risk information (so called Flood Risk Intelligence), in short time and at low cost, for any city in the world, with reliable results and high spatial resolution. SaferPLACES comes to the market with an innovative technology that combines the creation of a digital twin of the urban environment using geospatial and satellite data (digital twin), with artificial intelligence algorithms, all integrated in a platform that leverages the computing power of cloud computing. It is aimed at those involved in urban planning and design of mitigation and adaptation measures in cities, as well as the insurance-finance sector, multiservice companies, and Civil Protection Agencies.
What are the main technological challenges that SAFERPLACES still needs to solve to become a commercial product?
SaferPLACES is already a commercially available product (www.saferplaces.co), but we are working on further enhancement and integration of satellite data from both Copernicus (Sentinel) and commercial platforms (Cosmo SkyMed) that will help increase the accuracy of the information provided, as part of the European
Space Agency's "ESA InCubed" program. We are also working with the FinTech sector to support banks and insurance companies in post-event parametric analysis and flood forecasting for climate change scenarios.
What are the most innovative technologies that can most support you in solving your problems (e.g., artificial intelligence, etc.)?
To provide key information on flood risks, SaferPLACES uses high-resolution geospatial, climate, and satellite data along with data-driven artificial intelligence algorithms that are accessible also to non-expert users. Artificial intelligence models for flood risk simulation and elastic and scalable Cloud infrastructure form the technological basis of our solution.
Tell us something about the next steps. How do you plan to realize your project idea?
SaferPLACES aspires to become a world leader in providing Flood Risk Intelligence in urban areas in the next five years. The technology development project within the ESA InCubed program, to enhance and integrate satellite data from Copernicus, will end in early 2024. By that date we expect to have a commercial and sales infrastructure in place to get SaferPLACES to as many people as possible.
What do you think about the COPERNICUS MASTERS 2022 experience?
The Copernicus Masters experience has undoubtedly been very positive. It gave us the opportunity to introduce SaferPLACES to the Italian and European scene on a stage of excellence for the space industry. In addition, winning the Regional Award for Italy supported by ASI gave us, above all, a great confirmation of the potential of SaferPLACES, in which we believed and continue to believe!
Any advice or suggestions for those who would like to participate in the new CASSINI competitions proposed by the European Commission for 2023?
The advice we would like to share is to start with a start-up or product idea that is solidly anchored on the real needs of the users. At SaferPLACES, we have, and we are investing a lot of time into co-design and co-develop the service in collaboration with potential end-users to meet their needs.
Participating in the Copernicus and CASSINI competitions is a great opportunity to get involved and test the validity of the idea, we also suggest coming to these competitions with proposals that are not early-stage but with an advanced level of development.
What goals do you have for the coming year?
2023 is a crucial year for us, we are investing both heavily in technology development with a focus on satellite data technologies and Earth Observation, but also in structuring business strategies and acquiring the first customers. We are looking to close major contracts with public and private entities that support cities in flood management both in Europe and globally. We have also opened a first Series A investment round and are looking at Venture Capitalists in aerospace, digital twin and Climatech.
Today, sustainability is a strategic factor for both the academic research world and the industrial world. How does SaferPLACES contribute to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)?
Our project certainly plays a part in the 17 Sustainable Development Goals outlined by the United Nations. SaferPLACES contributes specifically to Goal 11 aimed at making cities more inclusive, safe, resilient, and sustainable based on new models of Smart Cities and Disaster Risk Reduction strategies, and of course contributes to the Goal 13 focused on acting to combat climate change and its impacts. Finally, we hope to
be a role model for the younger generation by contributing to Goal 8 which focuses on the importance of startups and entrepreneurship.
What would you tell an investor potentially interested in SAFERPLACES?
That we are a very knowledgeable and motivated group! We have contacts and high industry knowledge, with an established background in IT, data science, and hydro-informatics. We also think that the market for the provision of Flood Risk Intelligence will have a great development in the short term, also given the increasing awareness of the financial and insurance worlds, and the citizens themselves, to the challenges related to the ongoing climate change.