A Pet Frog Inspires a Passion for Fail-Safe Technology

Intel Innovator: Riccardo Mariani, Functional Safety Technologist

Riccardo Mariani
Riccardo Mariani, an Intel Fellow based in Pisa, Italy, is passionate about designing computing systems that keep people safe, and about tackling cycling road races. (Photo courtesy of Riccardo Mariani)

How he’d describe his work to a 10-year-old: “Functional safety is to an electronic system—such as a computer, robot or car—what your immune system is to your body: It protects you from harm if that system malfunctions or fails.”

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Why functional safety is critically important for self-driving cars: Functional safety systems could, for example, prevent an autonomous car from braking by mistake and triggering an accident, or could stop an airbag from deploying unintentionally. Functional safety concepts also apply to the Internet of Things. For example, in a state-of-the-art factory, robots have to work safely alongside humans. Protecting people from electronic system malfunctions or failures is a critical element in designing an autonomous future, and is influencing how Intel designs future generations of processors.

Why he cares so much about functional safety: Growing up, Riccardo had a pet frog and was intrigued as he considered the many different things that could go wrong — the ways its tank enclosure could fail — without hurting his amphibian pal. “Since I was a child my passion has been to understand how things may fail,” he explains. “It is my way to understand how things work and also to be ready to react in any situation.”

His path to Intel Fellow: In 2000, Riccardo co-founded Italy-based Yogitech, a company that specialized in functional safety. After Intel acquired Yogitech in 2016, he joined Intel as a Fellow and is one of the few employees outside the U.S. who’ve been named to the company’s highest technical ranks.

He’s a strong advocate for inclusion, which is deeply personal for him: “Since I was a child, I’ve had a stutter to my speech,” Riccardo says. “Talking is a challenge for me and it’s a continuous effort, but Intel has been exceptionally supportive. I have been approved as an official spokesperson without any problem. I am proud to be part of a company that prioritizes inclusion.”

A passion for climbing big hills: Riccardo is an avid road cyclist. “I like to climb famous mountains such as Stelvio, Mont Ventoux, Tourmalet and Galibier,” he says. “I had a dream to form an Intel bike team joining the most challenging races all over the world.” His dream comes true on July 1, when the new Intel bike team will take on the Maratona dles Dolomites, the most famous road bike marathon in the Italian Alps. Not surprisingly, he’s equipped his bike’s wireless gear system with two interchangeable batteries—if one fails, he’ll be able to keep riding.

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