There is a problem at UWA. There is a distinct disconnect between students, research, and industry. Research and innovation initiatives like [email protected], UWA Makers, and CEEDUWA are flying under the radar, invisible to students. Industry interaction with students and researchers is minimal, and companies are saying that industry-relevant education is starting far too late in our degrees. At the UWA “Game of EZONEs” 12-hour Innovation and Design Challenge, our team proposed a bold vision that would see the upcoming EZONE building, the new hub for engineering, computing, and mathematics at UWA, utilised to solve this problem. We won first place for our efforts.

Our three pronged approach would firstly see a communal space created to encourage collaboration across disciplines and increase the visibility of innovation and research at UWA. Secondly, a digital and social platform would use this space to physically bring together students, researchers, and industry in a way that encourages collaboration. Thirdly, we outlined programs that would make industry both an educator and a driver of research at UWA.

1: A Communal Space

As part of the vision for a collaborative learning environment, lectures would no longer be hidden from the student body, tucked away in walled off theatres. Lecture theatres would instead be built in central locations, with high traffic areas surrounding them and serving as viewing galleries, much like those of parliament house. Glass partitions would prevent outside noise from intruding into the theatre, while speakers or headphone jacks would make lectures audible to passers-by. By bringing lectures to the foreground we can encourage students to enhance their interdisciplinary knowledge and broaden their horizons.

The main focus of our plan would be the collaborative workspace. Central to this space would be the idea of visibility. The space would be open, with a staggered multilevel structure as in the UWA science library providing excellent visibility of works conducted within the space. Clever geometry and feature partitions like those of the newly remodelled Reid library bottom floor would divide the space and dampen the propogation of ambient noise, creating comfortable, home-like spaces while maintaining excellent lines of sight across the entire area.

At the heart of this environment would be larger workspaces that could be booked on a long term (up to monthly) basis by faculty, students (with faculty approval), and industry. These spaces would be used for collaborative development and research. The central placement and visibility of these spaces would encourage anyone who walks past to learn from and contribute to the work being conducted. A gantry system would allow large equipment to be moved into this area, putting it on display while it is being used. Currently, most of the fascinating equipment around the university is hidden behind closed doors, at the end of a hallways, on the umpteenth floor of buildings on the outskirts of campus. We would bring this equipment out to see the light of day, proudly displaying science and engineering in motion.

Surrounding the central workspaces would be smaller spaces that students could book for short term use (up to a day). These spaces would not just be desks with power-points, as is usual for student study desks. Equipment such as 3D printers and fixed room-scale VR installations would also be available for student use. VR “holodecks” could include TVs displaying the user’s view, to better engage onlookers who would otherwise only see a person walking around in a square with a screen strapped to their face.

Finally the cafe would be placed in a central location, encouraging people to adjourn there when they wish to socialise, and drawing away excess noise into a comfortable space where people will feel at ease conversing, a location perfect both for catching up with mates, and for professional networking. By creating a space where innovation is front and centre, we forsee companies sending out “talent scouts” to survey the work being conducted on a regular basis and connect with students who show great aptitude for innovation.

2: A Digital Support Platform

In addition to increasing the physical visibility of innovation and research at UWA, we seek to increase its online prescence too. A digital platform would allow users not only to book workspaces and lecture theatres, but to see other bookings. Users would be encouraged to give a detailed summary of what they plan to work on or present during their booking, and the platform would allow others to contact those who have made the booking. This way, interested parties can be invited to sit in and learn from what is going on, or even provide valuable input and expertise which may lead to further collaboration. These booking summaries would also be displayed on digital signage around the building. So if you’re walking past a lecture theatre, you might see an interesting lecture on in a few hours and decide to stick around and catch it. This is part of our plan for a “sticky” campus, a place that people want to be in, with the digital platform shattering the social barriers that prevent collaboration.

Regular research evenings would be held in the building and advertised through the platform. Researchers from the student body and from industry would be invited to demonstrate or give progress reports on their projects. At the core of these functions is the idea that research should not be invisible until it is published. Research can benefit hugely from iterative feedback from other students, faculty staff, and industry professionals. A liquor license for the cafe would add value to these events and encourage networking afterwards, fostering collaboration and bridging the gap between academia and industry.

3: A Strong Industry Prescence

Companies large and small would be highly encouraged to lease the long term workspaces in the EZONE building, with a view to connecting with students and inviting them to collaborate on industry projects. Imagine doing an internship at Microsoft, developing for Hololens. Then imagine that you could do this internship on campus, at a leased workspace in the EZONE building, and even gain academic credit for your contributions. By blurring the lines between academia and the private sector, students build connections with industry early and are able to map the employment landscape. If the initiative were successful enough, we could see many UWA graduates hired straight out of this program, rather than wading through archaic and cumbersome application processes for graduate programs.

Professionals would also be encouraged to give lectures, real lectures. Not just a 30 minute talk that can be summed up as “here’s a link to our graduate program application page”, but real lectures explaining industry-relevant skills or a company’s recent achievements in research and development. Through this program, companies can be sure that UWA graduates have the skills they need to succeed in their chosen industry, and again students can interface with key industry figures and build their professional network early on in their education.

Our plan of crafting a collaborative environment and filling it with an amalgum of students, researchers, and professionals would bridge the gap between industry and academia, better prepare UWA graduates for life beyond their degrees, increase the quality of research through collaborative initiatives, and see UWA skyrocket in world rankings, becoming a global innovation hotspot.

Our vision for the EZONE building earned us first place in the “Game of EZONEs” 12-hour Innovation and Design Challenge. I’d like to credit my team members for their pivotal roles in constructing this vision for EZONE. Emily Allen, Ahmad Bagbag, P Venkatesh, and of course Zac Zarev, it was a pleasure to work with you. You should all be immensely proud of yourselves.