Why Sicily may become Italy's version of Silicon Valley

Sicily is not seen as a tech hub and faces issues from crumbling infrastructure to overflowing trash. However, the largest island in the Mediterranean is working on a small, crowdfunded budget to solve these issues and boost its evolving tech scene, with the local government investing a portion of the €13 million needed for technological projects. Let's look at how one of these projects, the two-year-old SmartMe, has expanded from cities like Messina to neighbouring Palermo and Catania, giving Sicily the push it needs into the 21st century.— Philippe Leonard


Crowdfunding a smart city

Two years ago, University of Messina Professor Antonio Puliafito put together a crowdfunding campaign in the hopes of raising €15,000 to fund three dozen Internet-connected sensors around the harbour city of Messina, in northeast Sicily. By installing sensors everywhere from parking lots and buildings to bus stops and trash cans, these integrated services can compile data and information to improve services for citizens, thereby making Messina a “smarter” city. Here are a few of the Open Data network highlights Sicily can experience thanks to the project:

-Sensor-equipped bus stops which monitor heat, humidity and sound, helping cities collect data used to track traffic patterns and air quality.

-Apps that signal potholes on the route ahead, as well as help drivers, find and reserve parking spots. Available spaces will automatically show up on a smartphone map and even offer the driver directions.

-Apps that display real-time locations of taxis and signal which are free to pick up passengers.

-Connected garbage bins that alert the sanitation department when they’re full, solving the issue of overflowing trash and roadside pile-ups.  

-A connected app that boosts tourism by providing information on city landmarks when you point your smartphone camera at certain sites.

By looking to the community for support, Puliafito and his team were able to gather double the amount they initially hoped to invest in the SmartMe project. After starting from square one in Sicily, where less than a fifth of the cities’ populations have used their phones to connect with the government, SmartMe has already expanded to Palermo and Catania. While initially working on a community-funded budget, the team were able to get the local government’s attention, with the promise of contributing a portion to these projects. Sicily may not have the budgets of more affluent cities like Singapore or Chicago, but it’s still proving that it has the mindset and community spirit to become Italy’s version of Silicon Valley.