- Molly Gardner
Ava + Verizon: Virtual Enrichment for National Academy Foundation Future Ready Lab Internship
Updated: Nov 25, 2020
Historically an in-person innovation challenge for high school students the National Academy Foundation, in partnership with Verizon, had to find new solutions to virtually welcome and host the 2020 group of Future Ready Lab (FRL) interns.
With Covid19 restrictions firmly in place, the interns would have to work on their projects and experience enrichment sessions remotely. Not being able to physically visit the Verizon 5G lab space in-person was a large experience gap to fill. In response, the Verizon team looked to their own offices to provide a practical teleportation solution for the interns: a fully-autonomous Ava Telepresence Robot.
Photo courtesy of Verizon 5G Lab
NAF Future Ready Lab Program + Verizon
Every summer, NAF offers a highly competitive innovation challenge for high school students lasting five weeks, in several cities across the US. The goal of the challenge is to design and build a solution that applies to a real-world situation. Verizon, along with a few other sponsors in different cities, partnered with NAF to provide mentors, resources, and the 5G Lab for the internship program.
"Future Ready lab is an employer-sponsored capstone work-based learning experience, albeit virtual this year. That did not prevent us from producing successful professional development programs and networking opportunities to the high school interns,” said Verizon Distinguished Member of Technical Staff and Future Ready Lab Mentor, Deepika Chanamolu. "This Verizon powered internship program helps align high school education with future workforce needs, creating a diverse talent pipeline and a pool of future business leaders."
While the interns spend half of their time working with their team on their project, the other half is dedicated to enrichment and continued learning, focused on career development. For this aspect of the challenge, Verizon provides team mentors and guest speakers to present to and interact with the group throughout their five-week program.
The Virtual Challenge
This year’s challenge was to develop, plan, and create a solution promoting safe, sustainable cities. Each project would include a marketing/GTM plan, SWOT analysis, etc. But, this year, the teams would be doing it all, virtually. Rather than a short-coming, the teams saw this as an opportunity to create a different experience for the FRL program.
“We accessed resources that we could not have tapped in a typical location-based program, while delivering the Project of Value, based on UN SDG-11. The FRL internship program included the Verizon 5G virtual lab tour via Ava, 5G Smart Cities, AI/ML workshop and mentoring sessions on interviewing, resume building, and elevator pitches." -- Deepika Chanamolu, Verizon Distinguished Member of Technical Staff
Enabling 5G Lab Experience with the Ava Telepresence Robot
Prior to Covid19, or the start of this year’s program, Verizon already had Ava Telepresence Robots stationed in their offices. Remote employees and customers have been using these robots to collaborate with on-site Verizon teams. The Verizon team was confident that Ava could provide a more immersive experience for the students. As a user-friendly solution, the interns could easily log in from all over the country and teleport into the innovation center for a more meaningful and memorable tour of the 5G Lab.
The interns enjoyed using fully autonomous robotics technology to bring them into the 5G space, and it helped kickstart enthusiasm for their projects. The students were able to not only use Ava, but also recognize the possibilities 5G brings for emerging technology applications. A FRL intern provided the following feedback, "On behalf of the Future Ready Lab interns, I wanted to thank you for speaking with us...it was really interesting to learn about all the applications for 5G that you are working on, especially the volumetric scanner and Ava!”
The Winning Project: A Robotic Solution
The projects were all impressive and well-thought out, but the winning team's proposal for USD-11 was actually a solution to fill in urban potholes, using a robot. Their decision to employ robotics stemmed in part from their exposure to and experience using Ava. A few of the winning project team members shared their thoughts:
“Ava was one of our inspirations. We wanted to manufacture something that solves problems in today’s society. We brainstormed, and, as a result, we wanted our product to solve an environmental problem. We came up with a solution that would clean polluted water and the ‘QuikFix’ pothole solution. We ended up selecting QuikFix.” --Terrell Brooks, 2020 FRL Intern
Ava Telepresence Robots Innovation and Experience Applications
Although the virtual nature of working and learning in the time of Covid19 presents acute challenges and pain points for businesses and programs, there will continue to be demand for a more fluid workplace--a more fluid way to learn and experience things that are more interactive.
The FRL interns are just like the many remote employees, customers, clients, consultants, and other groups who need access to people or a space for inspiration, productivity, and collaboration. Companies who are looking to truly respond to new workplace standards and expectations turn to solutions that not only serve the purpose, but that also empower people to do more, participate, and be more present.