Unisa Talk - Identifying innovators and solutions that work 
Innovation is not the sole domain of research – it is found in all aspects of life. This premise informed Unisa’s first Innovation in action seminar series, hosted by the Research and Innovation Portfolio on 23 May 2012.
Guest speaker Vukosi Marivate, a PhD candidate and Fulbright Science and Technology Award Fellow at Rutgers University in the United States, used this platform to engage on ‘Two perspectives of our interconnected future’. Referencing the fact that the drop in computation costs as well as more cost-effective network connectivity provide opportunities for innovations and user-driven technology development, Marivate presented on both a human-to-human and human-machine perspective.
Turning data generated on the social web into information and leveraging it to make decisions was a focus point for Marivate’s human-to-human perspective. Using the South African television programme, Intersexions, as case study, he presented work done with data created on Twitter. His findings from the Intersexions network showed 30 435 tweets, 6 210 users and 146 627 friend network edges. “It’s so important to measure who interacts with your brand and university,” he said. “There is an explosion of data from social media, and we need to turn this into information. Many key strides can be made from this and potentially evaluate reach.”
For his human-machine perspective, Marivate focused on the so-called smart world. With physical devices around the home increasingly resembling small computers, this was a perspective that resonated with many. He challenged the audience with relevant questions such as: “How do we get people to be more than just consumers of technology but also creators?” “What happens when all of our devices are on the internet?” “How do we make computing simple but also powerful?”
One solution that his team at Rutgers is working on is a cloud-based device management system. The architecture of their system for the universal programming of devices is based in ‘the cloud’ (essentially a virtual storage space for applications, files, or data). Physical devices, physical sensors and web-based sensors (Facebook and weather forecasts, for example) are connected to the Internet and users can switch seamlessly between their computers/smartphones/tablets to programme their devices on the Internet.
With all of these technological strides, the big question is “What’s next?”. “A lot of technologies are created daily now, some will fail, some will succeed. Community-orientated projects are becoming part of the mainstream, and basic computer science knowledge will be more important in getting users to be not just consumers but also creators in the future,” said Marivate.
Excited by the knowledge-value brought in by Marivate and the Innovation in action seminar series, Prof Mamokgethi Setati, Vice-Principal: Research and Innovation, said: “This series is about identifying innovative solutions that work. We hope that when you leave here you do so with new ideas and solutions. We hope you’re inspired and have made use of this opportunity to expand your network.”
The purpose of the Innovation in action seminar series is to create an opportunity for Unisa staff (researchers and non-researchers) to meet, engage and interact with innovators from a range of disciplines and focus areas. These are innovators who develop solutions for real-world problems. Their solutions may emerge from research, their daily lives, work or engagement with technology. This seminar series is about identifying solutions that work.