Bridging the Now to the Next by Open Innovation

Nokia has experienced an amazing transition from the multidisciplinary company to the leading mobile device manufacturer – and more recently to the mobile solutions provider offering overall experiences to the end users. The corporate research unit, Nokia Research Center (NRC), has contributed to the future of the company – as well as to the directions of the overall mobile industry – for almost a quarter of a century.

Nokia Research Center is positioned to be the future-looking arm of the company which is encouraged to take risks both in the area of technology visions, and in emerging business opportunities and models. Nokia is a strong believer in open innovation – which also shapes the fundamental basis on which the research unit operates. NRC is a global and distributed organization, which has located its 12 offices to the leading innovation hubs in the world. Nokia researchers engage with their academic colleagues e.g. on campuses of Stanford University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), UC Berkeley, University of Cambridge or Tsinghua University in Beijing. These universities in the close proximity to Nokia’s research offices form a set of core strategic partners. But additionally the company is also collaborating with more than a hundred other academic open innovation partners. Altogether these partners form an interesting, distributed innovation network which ties together researchers from different disciplines and from various parts of the globe.

Innovation by partnering with the Swiss research ecosystem

Since 2008 Nokia’s research has been present also in Switzerland, in the rapidly growing innovation ecosystem at the campus of EPFL. As a consequence of the founding of the Innovation Square, many other companies, like Cisco, Credit Suisse, Debiopharm, Nestle and Logitech, have announced their plans to establish presence at the campus. In addition to EPFL, NRC-Lausanne collaborates also with other research partners, like ETHZ or IDIAP. The whole operation model is based on seamless industry-academia collaboration – which in practice means that the joint project teams solve commonly defined research questions. This model allows a symbiotic relationship, in which companies can engage with vital innovation ecosystems – but can also influence the innovation system by feeding relevant research challenges to it. Further, industry-academia interaction can speed up the commercial deployment of the academic research results via technology transfer.

With respect to the research directions NRC-Lausanne is focusing on Sensing and Data Intelligence, which is one of the four focus areas of Nokia’s research. The key idea is to use a wide range of sensed and history-related information to learn and understand users’ behavior, preferences and contextual situation. This can be used to tailor the user experience to match with the contextual preferences or to offer completely new types of services. As a simple example, the device can detect automatically when the user is commuting by train – and the user interface can prioritize applications and information which is most valuable for the user in that context. Mobile sensing converts your devices into “intelligent companions”

One element in the sensing and data intelligence vision is that the world can be seen as a distributed, dynamic sensor network with more than 5 billion nodes in the pockets of the people all over the world. The enabler for this is that smartphones have become very powerful sensing devices, because of their various embedded sensors (e.g. location, acceleration, light, noise), as well as their connectivity capabilities. The latter allows capturing and aggregating information also from additional sources, like sensor networks monitoring the environment. Further, mobile platforms are programmable and device vendors offer powerful application development frameworks and software development toolkits (e.g. the Qt framework used with Nokia’s platforms).

NRC-Lausanne has been experimenting in the mobile sensing domain by collecting rich contextual data from almost 200 volunteering individuals in the Lake Geneva region since September 2009. This rich set of data will allow to address research questions with a multidisciplinary nature and it will be a rich source of innovation both for Nokia and for its research partners. This all is enabled by the efforts of the volunteering individuals who have contributed to the campaign – which is naturally highly appreciated by the researchers using the data. This campaign is also one concrete example of Nokia’s open innovation principles. NRC-Lausanne is sharing this valuable data with its research partners – who can then seek the answers to their specific research questions from this rich data.

This all will allow the mobile industry to offer better services and solutions to the end-users, also together with application developers who have become a very important source of innovation. The ultimate goal is that the devices become our intelligent companions, which are capable of learning to know us – to be able to show and recommend relevant content in different situations of life. This can also help to address many issues related to the mega-trends of the globe. Health or wellness related services or applications can recognize the well-being state of the user, learn the lifestyle and recommend changes in a persuasive manner. Rich mobile data in connection with the computational social science, will also allow to explore human behavior from new perspectives.Altogether data gained by mobile sensing is attracting scientists from various fields to work together with the industry. Emerging innovation in the field will lead to contextually intelligent end-user experiences, as well as will allow to make breakthroughs with scientific contributions. NRC-Lausanne is very happy to work with its Swiss research partners in this extremely interesting area.


Lausanne Juha Laurila (left) and Valtteri Niemi of the NRC at EPFL.

By Juha

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