For several years now, students at Staffordshire University have taken part in fortnightly, voluntary, extra-curricular events called Challenge Lab, where they are set technical challenges by each other, lecturers and businesses.
These events, also known as ‘hackathons’, usually take place over the space of two or so days, with teams working intensely to find working, prototype solutions that can be developed further. Recently, EPX Ltd, a Stafford-based IT firm, was invited to take part, by providing a problem that needed to be solved, being present while the students worked on their ideas and then judging the results.
“We provided equipment, such as servers, as well as plenty of pizza”,
said Dan Ellis, co-director at EPX.
The technical challenge EPX gave the final year Computer Games Programming students, Josh Gibson and Russel Stocking, was to distribute audio via WiFi, with the idea being, for example, that one computer could stream music to several others located around a building.
Bob Hobbs, Senior Lecturer in Computing at Staffordshire University, who oversees the Challenge Lab, explained,
“This benefits EPX in that they can trial what might be a commercially viable idea at greatly reduced costs, thereby considerably lowering their risk. The students develop expertise and gain real-life experience at working on an innovative and potentially commercial project, under the guidance of the companies involved, so the project benefits both sides.”
“Without firms like EPX coming up with interesting challenges, providing equipment and being there to oversee the project, Challenge Lab would not be the excellent opportunity it is to showcase the talent at the University”,Mr Hobbs concluded.
“It was fantastic to work with the students. We were delighted by how well they did, in a really short amount of time. Their prototype, while not yet fully functional, demonstrated the principle, which is a massive step towards creating a finished solution”,
“I find it endlessly encouraging to see the ability and ingenuity demonstrated by the students of today. It is reassuring for the future of the British technology industry to know that such highly skilled students will soon be entering the workforce.”
Dan and his fellow director at EPX, Mark Pennington, met in the early noughties while studying at Staffordshire University. The company has maintained close ties with the university ever since it was founded, ten years ago, including by providing work placements and acting as judges at GradEx, the annual exhibition where graduates present their final year projects.