A company presents an idea or challenge, and a team of students works on it for a few months, tests things and seeks solutions. That is how the Demola Tampere innovation platform operates. The first commercial smart glass solution in Finland got its start there, for example.
Media outlets in different parts of the world have recently published news stories about smart glasses that make traffic wardens’ work easier – or even revolutionise it. Mobile parking payments are rapidly becoming more common, and control must keep pace with the development. Thanks to the smart glass application created in Tampere, a traffic warden can find out immediately whether a car’s parking has been paid.
The idea for utilising Google smart glasses in parking control was sparked at the Vincit software house in Tampere. Demola offered a convenient environment to test how the idea would work in practice. Demola assembled a suitable team of students, including economics student Essi Pihlajamäki, who was interested in new technology projects and their commercialisation.
“As a team, we then contacted the City of Tampere in order to learn more about the extensive duties and practices of traffic control work. Without that information, it would have been quite difficult to design the application,” says Pihlajamäki.
Pihlajamäki estimates that the team used more time on the project than average, especially in the last stages, where they worked on it daily. The study credits from the Demola projects could probably have been attained faster through other means, but the smart glass project gave the students something much better.
“We got to help create real and brand new technology. To show that it was possible even though no one else had ever done it before,” says Pihlajamäki.
‘Google Glass for Traffic Warden’ was a Demola project in autumn 2014. All in all, Demola carries out dozens of projects each year (57 in 2015) with the same principles: an idea comes from a company or organisation and students of Tampere higher education institutes work on it. The Demola model gives the project structure and target schedules, and the Demola staff help ensure that the students have all the preconditions for progress and success. According to Ville Korpiluoto, Head of Demola Tampere, high-quality facilitation is the best way to support teams.
“The facilitator ensures that the project stays on track and knows how to give the team enough space to produce the content. Most of the time, the team works on their own under the leadership of a project manager selected from among themselves,” says Korpiluoto.
The results of the most successful Demola projects are the most likely to make headlines and become products and services that people use in their daily lives, but it is not possible to order excellent results or predict success in advance. Therefore, the goal is agile experimentation in which proving that an idea does not work is just as important a result as showing that it does work. The smart glass project started looking good at a fairly early stage.
“Actually, it was as soon as we went to see the Tampere parking control personnel. They were so excited and there was clearly a need for the application. It gave us a feeling that it would amount to something,” says Pihlajamäki.
And it did. The Demola project created a mobile application for traffic wardens, and a background system for the application has since been built at Vincit. According to Pihlajamäki, by spring 2016, the electronic parking control tools that started out this way were being used in six Finnish cities, with more cities due to join in soon.
“The focus, however, is in the international market, because the product works everywhere. For example, Stockholm is interested; we will start there this year,” says Pihlajamäki.
In spring 2016, Pihlajamäki returned to Demola, this time as the Vincit contact person for another project. Vincit has found Demola projects to be a good way to test ideas and take them forward.
“And we create a huge number of ideas here at Vincit,” Pihlajamäki says with a laugh.
Companies have found Demola well and there is no real lack of project partners. There is still room for more companies, however, especially those interested in utilising the Demola network on a wider scale. A company could start 3–5 Demola projects at once, possibly with Demolas operating in different parts of the world.
“That way, a Finnish operator could quite easily dive into the ecosystems of, say, the Canary Islands or Namibia, or vice versa,” says Korpiluoto.