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Italian Inventions 2: Software & Hardware

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The Italians are great aficionados of comfort and they excel in ensuring the most pleasant environs you can bask in after a hard day of work. You would be surprised to learn that they are also the creators of some things we cannot imagine our modern lives without. Welcome to the software and hardware that was either created in Italy, or by an Italian or inspired by this creativity-inspiring land.

Programma 101

Programma 101

Programma 101

I bet you are reading this blog sitting comfortably with your beloved laptop or a phone, or even having a cheat-break at work, in front of your PC. This reality could have never happened but for Pier Giorgio Perotto (Turin, December 24, 1930 – Genoa, January 23, 2002) who invented the mother of all desktop computers: the Programma 101, the world’s first personal computer, known back then as Perottina. It was the first computer in history purposely designed to be on a desktop. It made possible to use a computer at home, office and places previously not reached by huge mainframes of the time. The Programma 101 was officially launched in 1964 in NYC, attracting major interest from the public and the press. The large-scale manufacturing by the Italian company Olivetti began in 1965 with about 44,000 units primarily sold in the US market.
NASA bought ten models and used to plan the Apollo 11 landing on the Moon in 1969. The ABC Network used the Programma 101 to predict the presidential election of 1968, and the U.S. military used the machine to plan their operations in the Vietnam War. This computer was introduced in schools, hospitals and government offices. The idea was such a great commercial success that in 1968 Hewlett-Packard was ordered to pay about $900,000 in royalties to Olivetti after their Hewlett-Packard 9100A was ruled to have copied some of the solutions adopted in the Programma 101, including the magnetic card, the architecture and other similar components.
Well, let be honest and pay the tribute to the Programma 101 predecessors, who could also be considered the first personal computers.
While the Programma 101 was one of the first desktop personal computer, it wasn't necessarily the first personal computer. The LGP-30 was the very first example of a personal computer, created in 1956 by Stan Frankel and was used for science and engineering as well as basic data processing.
 
Another personal computer worth mentioning is the Altair 8800 It was created in 1974 by MITS It quickly grew after being on the cover of Popular Electronic, which helped spark interest in the product and made it the first commercially successful personal computer
Ivrea, the battle of the oranges. Beware the flying object, they really hurt

Ivrea, the battle of the oranges. Beware the flying object, they really hurt

As a matter of reference, the Italian company Olivetti (a part of the Telecom Italia Group since 2003) that manufacturers typewriters, computers, tablets, smartphones, printers and other such business products as calculators and fax machines is headquartered In Ivrea, in the Metropolitan City of Turin. Ivrea has a nickname ‘citta di informatica’ for that. This is the city where the tired programmers release their stress in the Battle of Oranges or play rugby in C1 Piemontese, or swim in the neighbouring lakes - Sirio, San Michele, Pistono, Nero and Campagna. If the gentle valley lakes are too peaceful, there is a nice option to experience more dramatic Alpine water basins near Matterhorn that lies to the north from Ivrea, about 60 km as the crow flies.

HyperSearch

Everybody is using hyper search, what if it were not a machine engine?

Another indispensable feature of modern life is hyper search. The Generation Y, aka Millennials, cannot even fathom how to fumble for the information in a common paper catalogue, they would be lost without a google search bar. Speaking of Google, its co-founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin cited HyperSearch when they introduced their PageRank.
The man to thank for the thing that economizes huge amount of time and effort is an Italian researcher Massimo Marchiori. He won the TR35 prize in July 2004 for the technique introducing link analysis for search engines. The Prize is given by Technology Review who choose the best 35 researchers in the world under the age of 35. + link
Massimo Marchiori is a Professor of Computer Science at the University of Padua, he is also a researcher at MIT and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL) in the World Wide Web Consortium.
The breakthrough of his idea is that the search results are based not only on single page ranks but on the relationship between single pages and the rest of the web. The initiator of the Query Languages effort at W3C, he started the XML-Query project, deemed to develop the corresponding world standard for querying XML (XQuery), finally providing the due integration between the Web and the database world. He also co-developed the first version of the Web Ontology Language (OWL) standard.

PeakVisor App

This is another search tool, also inspired by Italy, produced in Italy and first tested in Italy, even though it was not produced by an Italian. Being avid travellers, Denis Bulichenko with his Route.tips team had been pregnant with the idea for some years and it finally came out in December 2016.
This is an augmented reality app which overlays camera screen with peak names and height, and a rendered 360 degrees mountain panorama. The creative thinking originated from a problem: using maps and compasses in the mountains can be painstakingly cumbersome, and you don’t need to be “geographically challenged” to experience map and compass complexities.
The team figured out the maths to determine the phone (and its camera) 3D position, calculate the field of view depending on the phone camera optics, translate the map of the surrounding terrain (latitude, longitude) into a 3D scene. The debugging of the algorithm was not exactly a piece of cake, even more so that the hardware available on the phones (initially it was developed for iPhone) also posed problems. It turned out that depending on the weather conditions all the sensors (an accelerometer, a gyroscope, and a magnetometer) could be inaccurate. Lower temperature, wind, motion, could lead not only to imprecise data values but also even to the ongoing values drift. However, with sufficient time and effort, the team managed to fight even minor inaccuracies coming from the sensors. All it took was hours of work outdoors, in the mountains, with epic views and awesome adventures.
As to the present moment, the PeakVisor app features a high precision 3D Mountain Panorama that is rendered for the current location of the real-time terrain. There is a fab cunning 3D compass and an altimeter and a Sun trail that pictures the current position of the Sun on top of the camera view. While preliminarily we used it to calibrate the compass when being far from mountains, the feature appeared to be very helpful to plan photos and the journey itself. Oh, by the way, people from other parts of the world where it is not that sunny as in Italy could see the Sun at any moment!
You can read about this experience in the article on Medium.com. Lessons learnt from a lean experiment.

Microchip

All those software wonders would be impossible if Federico Faggin, an Italian-American physicist, had not invented a very small, but so important electronic device called the microchip in 1968. The man is also known for MOS Silicon Gate Technology Intel 4004, Intel 8080, Synaptics Touchpad, and Touchscreen.
He headed the 4004 project and the design group during the first five years of Intel’s microprocessor effort. Most importantly, Faggin created in 1968, while working at Fairchild Semiconductor, the self-aligned MOS silicon gate technology that made possible dynamic memories, non-volatile memories, CCD image sensors, and the microprocessor. The technology replaced the traditional aluminum gate of an MOS transistor with a gate made of doped polycrystalline silicon, drastically reducing the physical size and the parasitic capacitances of the transistors. That increased the speed of the circuits, prevented power dissipation and current leakage at the junctions (10 to 100 times!) and much more.

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