December 2022 OES Beacon

Obituary on Pino Casalino

Andrea Caiti, René Garello, IEEE Fellow   

Pino and Andrea displaying their gift. Hopefully, they did enjoy the music (2015)

Giuseppe “Pino” Casalino died suddenly last summer at 73. He was Emeritus Professor at the University of Genova, Italy, where he spent most of his research and academic activity as Professor of Robotics. Before his final appointment in Genova in 1993 he had positions at the University of Calabria and the University of Pisa. He had been also in different periods visiting scientist at Australian Nat. University in Canberra and at Warsaw Polytechnical School.

Starting from original fundamental contributions to learning control theory in the mid ‘80s, autonomous cooperative robotics has been his main area of research. While he was a fine theoretician indeed, characterized by both clarity and rigour, he was adamant in pretending that theoretical developments should always be linked to real-world applications. As a consequence, his “pencil and paper” work has been coupled to an intense laboratory activity with his colleagues and his students. He was the leader of the first Italian group to participate in an EU-funded robotics research project, back at the time of the EU 1st Framework Programme. He went on in having a leadership role in a wealth of other EU, National and Regional projects since.

Field work on the pier (2018)

In the mid-90s, one such EU project, AMADEUS, was focused on underwater manipulation systems. This was the starting point of an intense, though not exclusive, activity in marine robotics, again with theoretical contributions (as motion planning in 3D for non-holonomic systems) coupled with the development of experimental prototypes (as the hybrid glider/AUV “Folaga”, multi-arms multi-bodies underwater manipulation, control and coordination of autonomous surface vehicles).

One characteristic tract of Pino research was his never posing as “one-man-band”. He actively worked to favour the spreading and sharing of his original research ideas. In 1999 he founded and was the first Director of the Italian Interuniversity Research Centre on Integrated Systems for the Marine Environment (ISME), creating an effective way for the Italian researchers in Oceanic Engineering to join their resources together, including experimental facilities and instrumentation. ISME is now a consortium of 9 Italian Universities, shares a joint laboratory with the Italian Navy (the SeaLab) and it has a number of different activities and resources going far beyond those of its starting time. Pino rejoiced of the success of ISME, considering it one of his most relevant contributions to the Italian research system growth.

Indeed, Pino’s contributions to research growth in Italy, at regional and national levels, have been many and all relevant: he has been Department Director, Vice-Rector of the University of Genova for Technology Transfer, Scientific Director of the Ligurian District for Intelligent Integrated Systems (SIIT), President of the Italian association of researchers in Control and Automation. But at ISME, marine robotics and oceanic engineering have always had a special place not only in Pino’s brain but also in in Pino’s heart.

The members of the OES may remember him, in addition to his numerous conference participation, as Technical Chair of the IEEE/MTS OCEANS’15 Conference in Genova.  He did a great and very intense job in dealing with an unprecedented number of scientific submissions. But, indeed, he was also part of many other aspects of that conference. Pino insisted that the first ever OCEANS conference in Italy should involve in the organization as many Italian research groups as possible and feasible. He rightly felt that the OCEANS’15 Genova Conference was a milestone in the development of the Italian oceanic engineering research community, and everyone in the community should share the honour and the pride for this recognition. And he was keen in supervising that this was indeed happening, that no one was left out and that everyone was put in the condition to work efficiently and happily for the conference.

At sea test in Portugal – getting ready (2018)

As a matter of fact, several members of the IEEE/MTS OCEANS’15 Genova local committee were formerly Pino’s students. Pino was a professor and mentor of exceptional quality. Many of his former PhD students have now relevant positions in Italy and abroad, in the Academy, Research Centres, Industry. In the day-by-day, work he was always informal and sympathetic with everyone: the students, the younger and the older colleagues. He was bringing in any circumstance curiosity, optimism, enthusiasm and team spirit; this sincere attitude allowed him to overcome difficult situations and conflicts with a constructive attitude.

Prof. René Garello was the liaison between OES and the OCEANS’15 team. He remembers vividly all the contacts he had for preparing the conference, starting to meet the Local Organising Committee (LOC) several years before. In particular, one of his visits was in the Fall of 2013, during his first year as President of the OES. He had the opportunity to give a Distinguished Lecture (DL) at the University and more important to visit Pino’s lab where he could be entertained by all the marvels developed there (especially the skin sensitive underwater devices). Pino was a man with many skills, intellectual as well as manual, and a dinner with him was an entertainment by itself, for all the stories he could tell. The picture below, was taken during the social dinner we had at the conference with the LOC, MTS and OES.

No one, having worked with him, may forget his joyful character and attitude, his dedication, his encouragements and his criticisms – while always constructive, Pino was indeed an objective and severe reviewer of his collaborator’s work. But when criticism had been overcome, “Steady as she goes” he would cry and try to pat on the back the one closest to him. This was the moment everyone feared: Pino, a top class waterpolo player in his youth, had an incredible physical strength, of which he himself was not always aware; his “pat on the back” could knock you down!

Pino leaves a wife and two daughters; a conspicuous number of important scientific contributions; a respectable number of wooden manufacts and furniture he crafted by himself, literally starting from chopping woods; a never-ending collection of anecdotes and curious events; a community in mourning.

His wife and daughters, announcing his death, have written: He is now talking maths with the greats of the past. Remember him this way