Telerilevamento Europa: A Spin-off Company of the Polytecnico di Milano
Tele-Rilevamento Europa is the first commercial spin-off of the Politecnico di Milano Technical University. The Politecnico has always been known for quality and innovation in its teaching and research, and one of the most recent success is the development of the Permanent Scatters Technique (PS Technique) patented in 1999.
The PS Technique allows to process satellite radar data with unprecedented accuracy for the detection and monitoring of surface deformation phenomena affecting large areas (subsidence, seismic faults, landslides, etc.). In addition, PS technology can highlight the motion of individual buildings.
Established in March 2000, Tele-Rilevamento Europa (TRE), a spin-off company, is the world-wide exclusive licensee of the PS Technique patented by the Politecnico. The reasons for establishing a spin-off company to commercialize the technology were multifold:
- PS Technique is a knowledge-intensive” activity that requires a high level of know-how related to the patented technology, for which the greatest experts were the researchers/inventors themselves;
- PS Technique created a new market and a new kind of service;
- The university’s entrepreneurship and interest in sharing equity with the inventors;
- The inventor's close links and interaction with the university.
TRE’s biggest assets is a team of engineers with vast technical expertise in radar remote sensing. The constant link with the university provides continuous updates and improvements of the algorithms, the processing chains and the procedures in use.
TRE’s activity is the natural industrial outlet of a long course of study and research in the field of radar remote sensing and satellite survey. The Digital Signal Processing group of the Politecnico started working in this research field in 1984. The first results were obtained in 1998. In 1999, after a long period of experimentation, checks and assessments, the Politecnico filed a patent and started the process to obtain patent protection in a number of foreign markets. With hindsight, it is now clear that the PS patent was the beginning of a brand new area of research and development that continues today. This research demands significant resources and investments, to improve the analysis tools, to adapt the technique to other sensors with different operating capabilities, and to stay ahead of the competition.
The PS Technique is a remote sensing technology capable of accurately supplying the differential motions of million of natural radar targets” (the PS) distributed on the earth’s surface. Typically these PS correspond to man-made structures such as buildings, bridges, dams, water pipelines, antennae, as well as stable natural reflectors (e.g. exposed rocks). From the identification of such points, this technology offers the analysis and screening of thousands of square kilometers of territory within extremely short time scales. The PS identified in the area of interest constitute a sort of natural geodetic network” for precision monitoring of possible variations of the sensor-target distance.
Wherever PS are present, it is possible to:
- Estimate their velocity (the precision varies from 0.1 to 2 mm/year depending on the amount of data available and the PS density)
- Reconstruct the displacement history of individual PS (the precision can be as good as 1 mm on individual measurement).
PS Technique allows:
- Risk factors evaluation in relation with: floods, landslides, subsidence, earthquakes, volcano activities, air and water pollution;
- Risk area monitoring and related maps updates;
- First and fast evaluation of damages;
- Monitoring ground subsidence in scarcely vegetated areas (e.g. urban areas);
- Monitoring of single building stability; and
- Measuring preseismic fault deformations.
TRE is a successful case of technology transfer from the university system through the creation of a new spin-off company in which every actor of the Technology Transfer Process reached their own goal:
- The university exploited the patent having the guarantee from the industrial partner that maximum effort would be devoted to reach the market in the most effective manner;
- The inventors became entrepreneurs receiving financial incentives from both, the patent royalties and the net income of the company;
- The new spin-off company can use the patented technology, know-how and trademark of the university as a warranty of the scientific level of the offered service/product keeping a strong link with the Politecnico for carrying on basic research (closing the loop, generating extra research funds for the university)