Today in Melbourne, Telstra opened their new Gurrowa Innovation Lab. This lab features a mixture of new spaces that look very start-up with vertical gardens, exposed air-conditioning ducts, and some killer technology. The new Lab is located on the second floor of 242 Exhibition Street, but sadly isn’t open to the general public. It’s not a new co-working space, not a new incubator, it’s a Lab, where a lot of research, development and Aussie innovation will be done.
Telstra’s CEO and CTO both spoke at the event,the This lab will be used by around 70 full time Telstra employees who will work with businesses trying to solve complex problems. These problems will leverage Telstra infrastructure, connectivity and services to meet the objectives of the projects.
Typically projects are expected to run for around 3-4 months, but Telstra says they’re aren’t limiting themselves, if there’s a bigger problem, that takes longer, it can also happen here.
Most of the desks in this space consist of motorised stand and sit desks, complete with a curved 34” LG monitor and plenty of power and Ethernet. There’s also a hot desk room where employees can drop in and work and this particular room has music playing to give it a more relaxed feel.
Telstra have announced that they will partner with Pivotal Labs, who in pride themselves on highly disciplined agile practices that focus on test-driven development, pair programming, short development cycles and continuous verification and integration of code. This will help Telstra and their customers dramatically improve software quality and flexibility and reduce costs.
Parliamentary Secretary to the minister for Communications, Paul Fletcher (aka Turnbull’s right hand man) spoke at the launch, highlighting that one of the biggest benefits of the new venue will be collaboration. As more and more industry sectors are disrupted, he referenced the extraordinary innovation that’s happening in agriculture. He went on to say that Telstra, working with startups, working with so many other businesses, will help change industries here in Australia.
We then toured the new facility with Chief Technology Officer, Vish Nandall. During the tour we were given a look at an array of work spaces, some open plan, some more collaborative and others more flexible lot a hot-desk workspace. Each of these rooms provided an opportunity to preview some of the current projects being worked on by the existing Innovations team.
One team was working on solving the latency issues with real-time, remote ultrasounds. In this simulation they had a patient receiving the remote ultrasound, controlled by the doctor at a distance. As he would move was having an ultrasound and the weird pen in a ball controller, it would be repeated by the robot. This task needs to be incredibly precise, ok not micro surgeon precise, but accurate and not uncomfortable for the patient. The remote diagnosis should mean we could see health care finally start to take big leaps forward in this country, but only if the latency means the instruction set of movements are transferred fast and accurately at the other end.
Lag in a game is frustrating, lag in healthcare, could be painful at best and dangerous at worst. Thankfully 5G networks are on the way and will help to solve this problem.
Kinect for Windows was being used to watch an environment and thanks to the skeleton tracking available, they were able to detect if a body feel at a velocity exceeding a normal threshold (i.e. you just layed down by choice). When the crash test dummy (an employee on the team) flopped to the floor, a visual error was display on the screen indicating a fall had occurred. In reality, this alert could be sent in the form of an email or sms.
While this was a pretty basic mockup, it does show that with the right combination of sensors placed throughout the home, and the right connectivity, healthcare, particularly aged care, could be about to be transformed.
Emergency control centre
By far the coolest visually, this digital control center featured a display where the controller could move the focus object (in this case a cylinder) over a map and the additional screens would supply a dashboard of information critical to that area. This would work great with the right dataset and emergency situation.
Internet of Things (IoT)
There are experimentations happening that suggests we my be headed for some very different connectivity methods. While not technically Wi-Fi or Bluetooth, we were asked to consider what a Bluetooth IoT device could do if it had the range of a small city ? Very interesting, not a lot of detail here, most of it top secret. What is clear is Telstra’s understanding that they need to be ready for all of our devices to start creating masses of data, that’s an infrastructure challenge that’.
Sadly the 3D Printing lab was not open today. As you’d expect it’s to assist with the rapid prototyping of projects that require hardware solutions.
Custom Digital Displays
These displays are unique, not the 16:9 we’re used to, and that’s because they’re custom hardware. The software is too and while they were disabled for today, they normally operate as touchscreens, so you can walk up and schedule a room right from each of the displays that sit outside each room. They’re actually really great, showing the profile pictures of attendees in the meeting, time remaining etc. I actually think this is a hardware/software solution that Telstra could sell easily to enterprise. Room bookings and room usage is typically done poorly and still using printed signs far too often.
With so many people working on great projects in different areas, this main hallway is designed to surface project updates Telstra hopes enables serendipitous discovery of other’s work. It’s a neat hallways, one I’d love at home, with 10 vertically mounted displays.
On-site server infrastructure
Telstra has decided to install their own server infrastructure in the building and their server racks are on display, behind a glass wall. There’s more than 180km of fibre and over 85km of Ethernet cabling that goes into connecting the space, so as you expect from Australia’s largest telecommunications company, they’re not short of bandwidth. This is so their networking and service hosting infrastructure is ready to cope with whatever the projects require.
“A lot of our big data experiments will be done here”
Having these dedicated server resources won’t restrict projects to just using these, if there’s a need, Telstra are and will use 3rd party solutions like Microsoft’s Azure and Amazon’s EC2.
Drones and Connectivity
What used to be the size of a shipping container, is now the size of a lunchbox. Telstra’s working on a mobile base station that will fly in connectivity for special occasions. Telstra believes this technology could make its way to drones, given Facebook’s recent efforts in this space, we’re not talking about consumer level quad-copters, this would be commercial drones, but would be unbeatable in terms of speed to action. Imagine an emergency rescue on the side of a hill needs connectivity for the responders to organise logistics of the rescue. Moving a semi-permanent truck may not be an option, but this could be.
While this may sound like a fringe case, it could be life saving and if it’s my life, sign me up for connected drones.
Overall the new Gurrowa Innovation Lab in Melbourne has massive potential. The employees are now armed with great spaces, great equipment and are now ready to take on big challenges. This will be one to watch over the next 12 months, I’m expecting plenty of examples of great Australian innovation to come from here and often solving problems at scale.