The environmental engineer
Silvia Franceschi comes from a valley in Trentino in the vicinity of Lake Garda. She studied environmental engineering at the University of Trento, specialising in hydrology, geomorphology and hydraulics. She founded HydroloGIS back in 2005 with her former university colleague and now business partner, Andra Antonello from Merano. HydroloGIS, a company specialising in environmental engineering, carries out hydraulic and geomorphological surveys as well as integrated environmental analysis thanks to GIS, assesses renewable energy resources and develops software packages to be used in environmental planning and management. They chose Bolzano and TIS innovation park eight years ago, because at the time great attention was paid to the environment and Free Software.
Tell us about your work.
The collected data have significantly grown in importance over the course of the last years. These data refer to specific geographic locations and are of vital importance in planning and implementing building and road construction projects. For example, we analyse the effect of rain or the sun on a specific point. We also plan photovoltaic or hydroelectric systems and produce cartographic support material to help public administration with the plan of streets and buildings, as well as mapping the forests and vegetation. A hydrogeomorphology expert like me analyses water and its effects: from the moment it falls from the sky to the moment it touches the ground, until it joins the sea and oceans via rivers and streams. Furthermore, we also research the effect of renewable energies on nature, taking visibility, noise and other factors into account.
The second part of your trading name is GIS. What does it mean?
GIS stands for Geographic Information System. Thanks to these systems, it is possible to collect, work on and analyse geodata and processes.
You work with Open Source and Open Data. What are their pros and cons?
Open Source means that software, for example, are passed on with its code. Open Data do what it says on the box. Normally, "open" equals "free". True, but not always. Data are free, software aren't necessarily so. That means the license is Open Source but not free. The same applies to apps, which may cost something to download. With Open Data, they are free and accessible to all. This is a huge development for IT experts and developers, as it has also led to an improvement of their professional image. A couple of years ago it was unthinkable to download certain data from a web site. At the time, the red tape involved was scarily complex. You had to first send a detailed request for permission to the institution which hosted the data. Should that be approved, you then had a limited amount of time to collect a CD with the requested data. Open, however, does not mean that it's not safe and regulated- the access to data occurs via a safe platform from an archive-like structure.
HydroloGIS developed Geopaparazzi. What is it all about?
Geopaparazzi is an Android app for geodata collection. Thanks to a previously uploaded or prepared map (such as OpenStreetMap) users are located via their smartphone GPS connection. They can then take pictures or make notes in that precise spot. Thanks to this app, deciphering handwritten notes is no longer a problem. The same applies to badly digitised written material. Furthermore, the app delivers on its precise location and geographical positioning.
Geopaparazzi was programmed using Linux and Open Software. Why did you choose these two tools?
Personal preference, to be honest. Our supervisor at the University of Trento, Prof. Riccardo Rigon, told us all about them at the time. He was one of the first who used them and we were fascinated by the whole process. Some of the tools we use in our line of work belong to him, actually; we used them because they were developed using Open Software and are, therefore, free. And also because this concept of giving and taking is all about continuous evolution and development: that's why we decided to stick with Open Software. You don't have to start from scratch, you can use already available material, develop it, improve it and pass it on and so on and so forth. That is how you efficiently use your time and money.