Co-innovating the future at the 2017 Nokia Bell Labs Prize Innovathon

August 04, 2017

The Nokia Bell Labs Prize is an annual global competition seeking ‘game-changing’ ideas and solutions with the potential to disrupt or profoundly change the future of human existence and experience.

The competition provides monetary prizes but the unique twist and appeal of the competition is that each applicant is partnered with a Bell Labs researcher to help to enhance their idea. Our researchers encourage the applicant to focus on solving the largest, most important ‘human need’ problem, rather than just focusing on the technology.  In other words, the goal is to apply the cool science, mathematics, engineering techniques and technologies to real problems, rather than inventing in isolation. Every year, it is amazing to see the reaction of these bright minds and great ideas when they interact with the community of like minds and ideas at Bell Labs to elevate their goals and create innovations that reach far beyond their initial concepts. 

The latest Bell Labs Prize call for proposals brought in 334 proposals from 35 countries, from which 18 candidates were handpicked to become semi-finalists, and participate in what we call the ‘Innovathon’, where the semi-finalists are paired with the Bell Labs researchers and senior leaders to help expand the (human) possibility of the idea.

Previous prize winners have included a Shannon-like theory of social networks and a novel large-scale plasmonic array that could form the foundation for holographic projection and high speed, massively adaptive optical communications. 

This year the Innovathon consisted of a fantastic set of novel Artificial Intelligence (AI) and machine learning ideas, optimized distributed computing techniques, new wireless antenna technologies, new biomedical diagnostic technologies and 3D printed battery technologies.  It truly was an amazingly diverse set of proposals, but in each case, it was equally remarkable to see how the ideas blossomed into something much bigger during the 2 days spent with Bell Labs researchers.

Candidates for the 2017 Bell Labs Prize are shown during the 2-day Innovathon at the Murray Hill, New Jersey campus.

From now until September, the applicants will continue to partner with the Bell Labs researchers to enhance their proposals, and create proofs of concept. In October, we will select 5–10 finalists who will compete to win the three top prizes, at the final judging on December 6.  So, watch this space later in the year for what promises to be a banner set of innovations that will shape the future of humankind.

If you are interested in following this year’s Prize, then please visit here. (The competition is not open to Nokia or affiliate employees or their families.)