Tech entrepreneurs use Italy's design legacy as inspiration

At the World Wide Rome event, Italian entrepreneurs with a DIY spirit and open-source aspirations connected the dots between Italy's glorious design history and today's "maker's" movement.
Written by Reena Jana, Contributor

Long before Silicon Valley began dominating the innovation landscape with its ambitious, creative engineers and designers, there was, of course, the Italian Renaissance. A recent event in Italy, World Wide Rome, placed the rich history of Italian design ingenuity in a contemporary context. It focused on start-ups and entrepreneurs with new business models based on digital fabrication and open-source production--and with the do-it-yourself trend of today's "makers movement" in mind.

The conference, which took place on March 9 at Rome's Acquario Romano (pictured above) drew a number of design-world leaders, including Dario Buzzini, a design director in IDEO's New York office, and Chris Anderson, editor-in-chief of Wired, reported Luisa Castiglioni of Domus magazine. "There is no nation in the world where the word 'design' has such strong meaning as here. And this is the right time for Italy to become the bearer of democratic design, Anderson said," wrote Castiglioni.

Arduino, an open-source platform for making smart objects

In her coverage of the confab, Castiglioni highlighted some of the standout presenters, companies, technologies, and ideas discussed. These include:

  • Riccardo Marchesi, who creates intelligent fabrics with the Florence-based company Plug and Wear. Their textiles are outfitted with sensors to achieve effects such as glowing or touch sensitivity. They are used in interior design, fashion, and healthcare.
  • Enrico Dini and D-Shape, which has created a 3D printer that creates rock-like structures out of sand and salt. So far, applications include maritime hydraulics that help protect coral reefs. But Dini hopes he will one day create homes suitable to be built on the moon.
  • Arduino, an open-source hardware-and software-prototyping platform that can easily receive input from sensors to create smart products
  • Openwear, a "social commerce" platform where fashion entrepreneurs can sell their clothes and engage in community discussions and the sharing of ideas and resources
  • Paraimpu, a social tool that lets people customize "smart" products or services via personalized software applications, and add them to the "Web of Things" (networks of physical objects, connected and controlled online)

Interestingly, Italy isn't the only nation with a legendary past of creative innovation hoping to attract global attention to its contemporary design contributions. At the same time that World Wide Rome took place, the first India Design Forum was held in New Delhi on March 9-10. The Indian conference also drew many top design thinkers from around the planet--the Museum of Modern Art's chief curator of design, Paola Antonelli; frog's executive director of global insights, Jan Chipchase; and designer Karim Rashid, among other big names--who were curious to mingle with the brightest stars of an Old World nation with a rich history of elegant design and a thriving tech market today.

It will be fascinating to see how ideas will cross-pollinate internationally after such events. Imagine a conflux of Indian designers and Italian "makers" (although no such plans exist). With the worldwide calendar of design conferences and design weeks increasingly filling up, though, such exchanges might be challenging to pull off. But then again, in the age of social media, the basic concepts presented onstage at these gatherings are likely to be shared and discussed even more quickly and in a more global manner online than at their physical locations.

Images: Acquario Romano, no credit available/Wikimedia Commons; Arduino, Nicholas Zambetti/Wikipedia

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com

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