Today, we have the pleasure of introducing Federica Tonti from our esteemed partner organisation, the Royal Institute of Technology (KTH), involved in the RefMap project. As part of our initiative highlighting "Women In Aviation Science," she shared insights into her involvement in the project, the diverse roles she has embraced, and the significance of women's leadership within her field.
Can you introduce yourself and describe your role within the REFMAP project? What sparked your interest in joining this project?
My name is Federica Tonti and I obtained my PhD at DLR-Institute of Space Propulsion in Germany in Rocket Science, in particular combustion instabilities for Liquid Propellant Rocket Engines. In REFMAP, I am developing Deep Reinforcement Learning algorithms for Unmanned Aerial Vehicles navigating in urban environments. This project captured my attention because for me it is a challenge, making me come out of my comfort zone and giving me the motivation to work on something that can have a positive and immediate impact on the life of people living in cities.
In my days I was told women didn’t go into Space Propulsion and Artificial Intelligence. I saw no reason why we couldn’t.
In your role within REFMAP, how do you contribute to the project's mission?
I am the developer of Deep Reinforcement Learning algorithms that will allow UAVs to navigate autonomously in urban environments, considering all the difficulties that a UAV can face during its navigation, in particular presence of buildings and gusts which may lead the vehicle crash or not reaching the target it has to reach.
Are there any women in the same field who have inspired you in your career? How have they influenced your path?
It is a pity that not many women are involved yet in algorithm development for AI applications in our everyday lives, but still, some women are willing to introduce these applications in their research. Prof. Anna Federica Urbano at ISAE SUPAERO in France is doing a fantastic job in the development of ML algorithms for the design of novel injection systems for rocket engines, and Prof. Paola Cinnella from Sorbonne is a leader in her field, pushing research of ML methods in investigation of turbulence phenomena. In general, two scientists inspired me a lot in my life, Rita Levi Montalcini and Margherita Hack. They were women who always truly believed in their job, making it a mission in their lives. It is the same thing that is happening now to me, my job is my first passion, and I hope in the future I can be an inspiration for young women who want to work as algorithm developers in AI.
How has your involvement with the project contributed to your professional growth and skills development?
The REFMAP project is challenging for me because it allows me to work and learn on a completely different topic than what I was working on before. It is enriching my knowledge a lot, from Deep Reinforcement Learning to trajectory optimisation and dynamics of UAVs. It allows me to exploit all the skills I already have, apply them to this project, and learn new things that I think will be fundamentals in the society of the future.
In REFMAP, I am developing Deep Reinforcement Learning algorithms for Unmanned Aerial Vehicles navigating in urban environments
As a woman in science, how do you hope to inspire other women and girls to pursue
careers in similar fields?
I would like to become an inspiration for other women because I have never given up in front of the challenges in my job and because my passion for what I do goes beyond everything else. I had to demonstrate a lot during the years to make finally people believe in my skills and my passion for research, but luckily I also found in my life persons who trusted in me, like my former chef Dr. Justin Hardi, and my current chef Prof. Ricardo Vinuesa, two persons which inspire me every day and have given me the chance to develop my ideas.
What message or advice would you like to share with women who aspire to work in this scientific field, especially those interested in making a positive impact on the environment?
Don’t be afraid of hard work. Nothing worthwhile comes easily. Don’t let others discourage you or tell you that you can’t do it. In my days I was told women didn’t go into Space Propulsion and Artificial Intelligence. I saw no reason why we couldn’t.