Fueling student ideas with the power of 5G
At Arizona State University, a 5G-powered lab is helping students create big ideas that could support advances in education.
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As a high school student in India, Krishna Prasad Sheshadri worked with blind or partially sighted students, taking notes or reading textbooks to them. “I felt then how difficult it was for blind students to have the same experience as their classmates,” Sheshadri says.
So when Sheshadri was challenged during a Digital Equity Jam at Arizona State University (ASU) to come up with an idea that would improve education equity through technology, he immediately thought back to his time as an aide to those students. “One of our core goals was to find a way for blind students to have better classroom experiences.”
A speed networking session on the first day of the jam brought together Sheshadri and two teammates. The trio then brainstormed and refined an idea based on Sheshadri’s experience. On the second day, they and seven other teams were able to pitch their concepts to a panel of judges that included faculty and industry leaders from ASU, Verizon and two other companies.
ASU learners spent time researching their 5G-related ideas for education, healthcare and the environment. Image credit: Alisha Mendez
Three of those seven teams were selected to develop a proof of concept for their ideas. From there, a winning team would earn a competitive entrepreneurship internship with VentureWell and the Clinton Global Initiative.
Behind it all: the arrival of Verizon 5G Ultra Wideband at ASU’s Learning Futures. Leaders at Learning Futures wanted to inspire creative thinking around applying the new 5G and wireless technology to address issues in education, health care and the environment.
Sheshadri and more than 50 other students were up for the challenge.
One day one of the Jam, groups brainstormed and researched their solutions and refined their pitches. Image credit: Mike Sanchez
Verizon, ASU and Learning Futures
At Learning Futures, students and university employees imagine what learning will be like three to five years from now. They create proofs of concept, minimum viable products and prototypes to improve the future of learning and inspire others to help shape the future of education.
Heather Haseley, co-executive director of Learning Futures, says that as Learning Futures started to focus on digital equity and immersive learning, the need for 5G connection speeds became apparent. “Initially, we were trying to figure out what the future of learning looks like at the center. What do we want to work on, and what technologies might empower us and enable us to work toward that?” she says. “The need for 5G really became very evident.” Verizon became a partner in January 2022, bringing 5G Ultra Wideband to the table, which supports multi-access edge computing (MEC). MEC moves data processing closer to the network’s edge and closer to users, reducing latency and allowing information to be delivered quickly and reliably.
The other unique benefit of the partnership is its potential impact on 130,000+ ASU students, both on campus and online, such as Sheshadri. “These are the people who are going to be using 5G in their careers, in industry-based and work-based applications,” says Haseley. “They’re creative. They see things that others might not see as current professionals. They’re a really great group to tap for what people are going to want in the future and how 5G can match those potential wants.”
Finding success at the Digital Equity Jam
The Digital Equity Jam was held one month after 5G Ultra Wideband was brought to the Learning Futures facility. “The idea was to hold something similar to a musical jam, where you get a bunch of people together with some instruments and you just see what comes out,” says Haseley.
The final three teams that were selected to bring their ideas to the proof-of-concept stage included:
Healthshare, which pitched an idea to make telehealth appointments as similar as possible to in-person doctor appointments by amplifying -.
Bay Guys, which pitched providing low-cost devices for accessing services to individuals who are living below the poverty line or who are experiencing homelessness.
E.S.O., which wants to generate Braille transcriptions of writing on whiteboards in real time to help students who are blind or partially sighted have the same experience as their classmates. (This is Sheshadri’s team.)
Each team presented a 10-minute pitch on day two of the Jam. Image credit: Alisha Mendez
The opportunity has been life changing for Sheshadri, whose team went on to win the VentureWell internship. “5G is a technology that has yet to be fully explored or utilized,” he says.
Building for the future
Sheshadri walked away from the Digital Equity Jam with much more than an understanding of 5G. He and his team now have seed money to bring his Braille transcription service to life, as well as an internship. “I still joke to my friends, ‘Hey, I just came to the jam for the free food and T-shirt!’,” he says.
He’s hoping to reveal the finished product in November 2022. He says it’s like working at a startup, which has provided invaluable skills about business and collaboration, as well as about working with state-of-the-art technology.
Haseley says the jam served as a springboard for other students as well. Two of the members of Healthshare are continuing to work on their idea as part of their honors thesis, and Learning Futures has hired three other students who attended the jam.
More ideas around how 5G-powered technology can improve education continue to come from students working at Learning Futures. At the center, students have access to 5G and MEC experts, and they are actively thinking about how 5G can power educational advances in the near future. Haseley says this is pivotal career experience for students who then launch their careers in tech. “They’re the 5G experts,” she says.