CoLab: individual learning can spark world-changing ideas

In 2017 ICT launched CoLab, a community of 25 graduate students working towards a bachelor’s or master’s degree. They take on small projects together with our in-house professionals, learning new skills and sharing insights on new technologies and ways of working.

CoLab has an average cycle of six months, meaning that a total of 50 students can participate each year. CoLab projects are usually focused on specific themes such as:

– Artificial Intelligence
– Smart Mobility
– Digital Twins in IoT
– Smart Contracts
– E-health
– Smart Assistants

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The CoLab community works with customers to explore possible innovations with the help of Design Thinking workshops. In one full day an idea gets prototyped and tested for the first time. These workshops usually form the foundation of CoLab projects.

“If everything in our world is connected, we have to work together to develop the future.”

Developments in technology are moving fast. It has only been twenty-five years since the Internet became accessible to the general public and just ten years since the first smartphones were released. We live in a society where we are all connected and are always online.

CoLab: to learn and inspire

The purpose of CoLab is to work together on ideation and social innovation with the aim to both learn and inspire. The source of the ideas we harvest can be anyone or anything: professionals, customers or online communities. CoLab projects range from doing research to developing a proof of concept, provided that the project is small, manageable and the idea has a learning aspect. By learning new skills, the students extend their toolkit to solve problems. Through research or open-source coding we share the knowledge gained on cutting-edge technologies.

Things get smarter

“If everything in our world is connected, we have to work together to develop the future,” according to ICT Director of Innovations Bart Lamot. The 2019 Consumer Electronics Show showcased the newest consumer electronics and one of the most common new features was the support for digital assistants. Assistants such as Google Home and Amazon Alexa are becoming more and more accepted within households. Although this trend does not directly apply to most of the software that ICT develops, each assistant has built-in features including Artificial Intelligence, microservices, user experience and digital transactions. Digital assistants will affect our work as well so we are experimenting with the building blocks of digital assistants in CoLab projects.

The theme of e-health highlighted a social innovation project which resulted in a 3D-printed and attached prosthetic arm. Two students worked on this project for five months and came up with an open-source solution based on generic, available hardware. They used a 3D printer to print a prosthetic arm and then adhered a microcontroller to it. The user of the arm can control a laptop or a tablet by making gestures with the arm. The software installed in the arm uses machine learning to learn the gestures for each specific user, enabling it to fit the user’s movement capabilities.

Big future challenges with respect to the environment, feeding the growing population and freshwater distribution call for innovative solutions, both big and small. The CoLab initiative is keen to contribute to this with smart technology.

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