In the late 1980s he took a degree in electronic engineering, wrote a thesis on Artificial Intelligence (AI), and then won a scholarship at Selenia - later merged into Alenia, then Selex, and finally Leonardo - already one of Italy’s most technologically innovative companies.
He was passionate about technology from an early age: “I was the kid who always asked ‘Why?’ or ‘How does it work?’ and I was lucky enough to have a grandfather - an engineer manqué - who raised me, educating me to understand how to answer my own questions.”
This is how Francesco Cenci’s professional story began. Today he coordinates the Leonardo Labs research activities at the Leonardo site in Via Tiburtina, Rome. He also promotes the Open Innovation model and monitors subsidised finance programmes for the Elettronics business area.
His career path has reconciled professional ambitions and personal interests, allowing him to seek out work experiences and situations that fuel his passion for technological innovation. He explains: “Fortunately, in many of the contexts where I have worked [ed: referring to his past in the Group and his 11 years spent working at Ericsson], I have communicated my passion for technology and innovation which has then often been profitably exploited.”
This has been true at Leonardo where, taking a cue from the first research studies he conducted as a new employee into AI and neural networks, in 2018 he took part in the AI Working Group which led to his involvement in the then nascent Leonardo Labs.
The Labs are a network of 11 technology hubs devoted to researching and developing frontier and breakthrough technologies, in association with universities, polytechnics, research centres and partner companies, to feed a constantly evolving innovation ecosystem.
In one project being conducted, which also features international talents, Francesco and his team are working, for example, on “Super Resolution, a technique that uses deep learning to increase the resolution of an image or video that - for our products - must be consistent with the information received.” He continues: “...the AI-based systems we develop must be based on verifiable techniques (Trustworthy AI, Explainable AI)”.
He sees Leonardo as “a context where you can experience technological evolution and actively contribute to it.” Working in such an international environment has allowed him to “broaden his vision”, travel, learn about different countries and cultures, and interact with many colleagues from various fields and backgrounds: “...it has given me access to inaccessible worlds.
Leonardo 4.0, launched in 2017 and financed by the Ministry of Education and Research (now the Ministry of Education and Merit) with funding from the European Union, is one of the programmes Francesco Cenci feels most strongly about. Leonardo is the lead partner alongside the University of Salerno, the University of Campania ‘Luigi Vanvitelli’, Digitalcomoedia and Youbiquo.
The project aims to support digital transformation in the manufacturing sector, to increase efficiency, and to reduce product development times and costs. It has enabled the development of a software solution oriented towards the Industry 4.0 paradigm and its testing within the company. As many as 11 Leonardo production sites have been involved (covering four different areas: Cyber Security, Electronics, Aerostructures, and Helicopters) which used ‘disruptive’ technologies (Big Data, IoT, Cloud Computing, AI, Mixed Reality) to launch digitisation projects. Francesco – for the Elettronics business area - coordinated the activities at the Leonardo plants in Lazio, Campania and Abruzzo.
With his trademark constant curiosity, in recent years many of his interests - especially the development of hardware and software technologies - have evolved from “technological hobbies” into opportunities for in-depth research and development in the work environment.