Umberto Cugini was a pioneer in computer graphics and computer aided design especially in Italy.
He studied Mechanical Engineering at the Politecnico of Milano, where he became assistant professor in 1973, and associate professor in 1979. In 1987 he was appointed full professor in the scientific area of “Design and Methods in Industrial Engineering”, first at the University of Cagliari, then at the University of Parma, and finally in 2001 at the Politecnico of Milano.
In 2012 he was awarded the title of Professor Emeritus by the Minister of University and Research for his outstanding research results and academic services.
He had a real open mind and in 1979 he established and chaired a multidisciplinary research group, named KAEMaRT (Knowledge Aided Engineering Manufacturing and Related Technologies), comprising mechanical engineers, physicists, computer scientists, and mathematicians.
He promoted activities in several research areas: computer graphics, geometric and feature-based modelling, CAD, physics-based modelling and simulation, robotics and automation systems, knowledge-based systems for product development, engineering knowledge management, business process reengineering, human computer interaction, multimodal and haptic-based interaction, virtual/augmented reality, virtual prototyping, etc. Most of his activities have been carried out within the framework of a range of national and European industrial projects.
Since the beginning of his research activities, in the 70s, Umberto Cugini focused on innovative methodologies and tools to support design in the mechanical engineering domain. He followed a user-centred approach (rather unusual at that time) where the users’ point of view was focal and fundamental for the specification, development and validation phases of new tools for product development. In addition, Umberto constantly focused on those issues associated with human computer interaction, on state-of-the-art technologies and techniques for haptic and multimodal interaction, on applications based on virtual/augmented/mixed reality and virtual prototyping.
In 1985 the research on geometric modelling based on the parametric approach led to the development of a prototype (GIPS-Graphic Interactive Parametric System), whose concepts anticipated -and were then included in- the development of the PTC and SDRC CAD products.
In 1993 his research on modelling and simulation of non-rigid materials moved from an approach based on geometric modelling to a physics-based one.
In 1994 Umberto Cugini introduced haptic interfaces into the product design context, which have been integrated into applications for virtual product development and validation.
He published his research work in leading conferences and scientific journals and his research has had a significant impact. Over the years, more than 100 researchers worked in his research group and many of them now hold leading positions in academia or industry.
Umberto Cugini was President of the Consortium Politecnico Innovazione of Politecnico di Milano, founder and member of the Executive Committee of EUROGRAPHICS (1980-1983), member of the Conseil Scientifique de l’Université Claude Bernard Lyon 1 (1999 – 2004) and chairman of the IFIP Working Group 5.2. – Computer Aided Design (2000- 2006).
Finally, he promoted several initiatives also in the industrial world with a main goal: to create culture in the field of methods, technologies and systems for product development.
It is an honor to write this tribute to Umberto Cugini who was a guide, a professor, a colleague, and also a friend. He was loved by a lot of people who interacted with him professionally and he was known not only for his great scholarly work but also for his wonderful personality and sense of humour.