What is your lab called and where is it?
Our lab is called Ubilab, a short name for Laboratory for Research on Mobility and Media Convergence (or Laboratório de Pesquisa em Mobilidade e Convergência Midiática in Portuguese). It’s located at PUCRS, a catholic university in Porto Alegre, southern Brazil, and started its activities in 2011.
What sorts of projects and activities form the core of your work? Is there a specific temporal or technological focus for your lab?
In terms of areas, we are focused on mobile communications and Internet of Things from a media convergence perspective. These areas are connected to the Social Communication’s School, so we research them through a ‘lens’ of the media studies. Usually, our projects involve companies asking us to try to understand how a new technology can help them, in an applied fashion. Thus, we usually try to delve into the company’s context and generate reports on opportunities and good practices they can follow. In some researches we also help to produce actual products to reach specific goals, such as how to communicate with lower classes through mobile, how to use IoT devices to improve in-store experiences, or how to make a multimedia assistant for a radio station. In cases like this, we help their partners offering our know-how about the relations between information consumers and technology.
Who uses the lab? Is it a space for students, for researchers, for seminars?
It is a space mainly for researchers to do their tasks for the lab. The goal is to be like a co-working space, where you can use the lab’s tools and structure to develop our researches. We also use it for meetings with members and with partner companies. Actually, our staff is composed by four professors, one PhD student, one MsC candidate and three undergraduate students.
What sorts of knowledge does the lab produce (writing, demonstrations, patents etc.) and how is it circulated (e.g. conference papers, pamphlets, books, videos, social media)?
For our partners, we produce reports, guides and keynotes on select subjects. Generally, we gather all the insights and findings we had and published papers or present them at conferences. We have a website and a Facebook page where we highlight our researches and partnerships.
Tell us about your infrastructure. Do you have a designated space and how does that work?
Yes, we have two rooms inside the university’s tech park. The main one is a twin room, where we have some computers, an Apple TV and other gadgets. This is a space for discussion and traditional work, where we even have a small museum of old technologies. The other is more like a workshop, with two 3D printers, IoT devices, Virtual Reality headsets and a drone. Both are always available for our researchers.
What sorts of support does the lab receive?
We receive institutional grants and support from our university. We also work with private partnerships, in specific projects. So far, we have worked with around 5 companies/universities in developing projects/ideas. We use the money to hire professors as researchers, interns and gear. In the past, some professors received grants from the government to develop two games to foster local Creative Industry.
What are your major theoretical touchstones?
We tend to be guided by authors such as Henry Jenkins and his idea of convergence, William Mitchell, for his ideas of living cities and connected environments. Also, Pierre Levy and Nicholas Negroponte, with their early writings on cyberculture and internet culture are important influences.
What would you say is the lab’s most significant accomplishment to date?
In 2016, two professors from Ubilab presented the results from a research at the World Association of Newspapers Congress. The Lab is filiated to the Global Alliance for Media Innovation, and the research regarded a state of the art of media labs at the Americas. It was a great moment for showing the lab’s research to the world. Another moment was in 2013, when the lab developed a ‘second screen system’ for a news station, in partnership with a big media group from Brazil, placing an additional layer of information online for the live streaming. The work generated our first patent, one of the few ones generated by a Social Communications School in Brazil.
Could you briefly describe your plans for the lab over the next 3-5 years?
In this period, we hope to achieve more partnerships with even more companies. We also want to develop more researches where we can build products, enabling companies to better understand their audiences and use technology to that end. Besides, our goal is to have a deeper presence in our university, possibly doing partnerships with other colleges, such as tech and engineering.
What makes your lab a lab?
We work with projects which we don’t know if they’re going to succeed. Even when we work together with private companies, our goal is not only to create something, or develop a strategy, although those certainly are our objectives, but also to understand a given technology or context of use. In short, it’s creating solutions while also trying to understand scenarios of communication and technology.