Planning And Predicting The Future At Aurora 2K17

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Waking up early is not exactly something we’re accustomed for. But this time, it was for a good cause. This was Aurora 2K17. Held on the 17th of march 2017 and organized by the Society of Computer Science at the University of Sri Jayewardenepura, Aurora is the University’s quintessential conference showcasing the latest developments in the ICT industry. The event comprises of two parts: The conference and the competition.

The Aurora 2K17 conference kicked off with the traditional lighting of the oil lamp by the Chief guest, guest speakers, various dignitaries, a representative of the university and a boy and girl representing the schools taking part in both the conference and competition.

Yomal De Silva, President of the Society of Computer Science delivered the opening speech. He thanked all those attending and also explained the concepts behind Aurora. Following this was the event introduction presented by Chavin Rathnayake, Co-chief organizer of Aurora 2K17.

Aurora 2K17
(Image Credits: Lahiru Perera)

Following this was a speech by Prof. Sampath Amarathunga, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Sri Jayewardenepura and a speech by Prof. Sugantha Liyanage, Dean, Faculty of Applied Sciences. He spoke about the Faculty itself and proudly noted that it is the largest faculty in Sri Lanka. Whilst emphasizing that more prominence should be given to the areas of physical science, Prof. Liyanage also spoke about the benefits of choosing the faculty of Science at the University of Sri Jayawardenapura to continue one’s higher education. Following his address, he was presented with a token of appreciation.

A colorful and mesmerizing performance of the welcome dance by the students of the faculty was up next, followed by a speech by the Chief Guest for Aurora 2K17, Dr. Arul Sivagananathan, Chairman of SLASSCOM.

Dr. Sivagananathan started off by congratulating all those who worked tirelessly to make Aurora 2K17 a success.

The generation is changing – Dr. Arul Sivagananathan

With that as his opening statement, Dr. Sivagananathan explained how the problem that exists today is not entering the university, but rather that once a student is out of the university, their skills are outdated. With the way education is changing, it is important to become IT savvy and learn coding and digitization from a young age. Using a real life example of his 5-year-old son, Dr. Sivagananathan explained that when he told his son about the where the phrase “the early bird gets the worm”, his son replied by saying that “the worm got up early too, but he died”.

Aurora 2K17
(Image Credits: Lahiru Perera)

You need to Learn, Unlearn, and Relearn – Dr. Arul Sivagananathan

Attitude is the next key element. You must have the right attitude for the job you want. Dr. Sivagananathan emphasized on a number of key factors such as Strategy, Skill, sharing of knowledge, building effective communication and leadership skills, and also the importance of being simple. With that, Dr. Sivagananathan’s speech came to a close and he was presented with a token of appreciation.

On screen was a video showcasing the history of Aurora from its initial concept to where it is now. Looking around the hall, all eyes are on screen as those attending, both students and undergraduates alike give their rapt attention to the video.

The first speaker for Aurora 2K17 was up next

Dr. Harsha Subasinghe, CEO of Codegen was up on stage to address the audience. His presentation was about Environment sustainability through innovative technologies. According to him we have passed the Carbon tipping point for good. This essentially means that the carbon footprint has taken a shift for the worst and we are already in the danger zone. This means no more carbon neutralization. Sounds scary? Well it is. The health effects include high cancer risks, respiratory illnesses, nerve damage and a host of other problems.

The major impacts of this would be the increase in extinction rates. According to Dr. Subasinghe, extinction rates have accelerated almost 1000 times. As a result, upto 10,000 species could become extinct every year. This can lead to issues such as food chain disruption, rising sea levels, ocean acidification and coral bleaching, the latter of which would wipe out an entire marine eco system.

Aurora 2K17With regard to humanity, basic human rights are: to breathe fresh air, drink clean water and eat healthy food. Yet, people are not talking about this. Rather they would protest about menial things. People living in and around Kandy already have irrevocable lung damage caused by air pollution. With regard to eating healthy food, there is actually no real organic food, rather it’s all riddled with pesticides .

The solution to this?

Eco friendly innovation and production. You can innovate in fields such as transportation, building construction, country, city and policy planning, agriculture, and a new legal framework.

He then spoke about problem solving technologies such as electric vehicles, solar and wind power, ecofriendly housing and even recycling. For example, in Germany, you can get 5 pence per plastic bottle recycled.

The fourth Industrial Revolution is coming!

Central to this revolution are breakthroughs in fields such as artificial intelligence, robotics, the Internet of Things, autonomous vehicles, 3D printing and nanotechnology. Kodak, for example, despite inventing the first digital camera in 1975, chose not to market  the new technology. Rather, they held back for fear of hurting their film business, The result? Well, when was the last time you saw someone using a Kodak film camera?

In the future, you might not even need a driver’s license due to the prevailing improvements in autonomous vehicles. Simply get into the vehicle, and it will drive you to your location. As these vehicles are autonomous, it would result in fewer roadside accidents thus also making the insurance industry redundant.

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Just sit back, and enjoy the ride
Image taken from: TechRepublic

The medical field also would improve as technologies such as IBM Watson and 3D printing would play a bigger part in our lives. Dr. Subasinghe explained an advancement of a biomedical chip that you can blow on to which will show you what diseases you have and can also detect cancer. In terms of 3D printing, you may also be able to swap out your organs for newer more powerful ones.

With regard to a more local approach, Dr. Subasinghe spoke about the transformation of Tripoli market square, now known as Trace Expert City. These are the things that we would experience to make is an amazing place to work.

Aurora 2K17
The transformation of Tripoli Market to Trace Expert City
Image Credits: YouTube & Malshan Photography

Dr. Subasinghe then spoke about one of Codegen’s most ambitious products, the Vega super car. He emphasized that the reason behind it was to inspire the younger generation and to showcase the hard work and passion to prove that anything is possible. He covered the basics of the development of the car such as the chassis and aerodynamics, modeling, motor controller design, battery module design and modeling etc. Adding to that were EV charger design and development.

Aurora 2K17
The Vega Super Car

As for future advancements with the Vega Supercar, Dr. Subasinghe and his team plan for an acceleration of 0-100kmph in 2.8 seconds, an all-wheel drive capability, reduction of weight by 400KGs, and their own standard for fast charging. They are also working with Nvidia for autonomous navigation. They are also planning to enter into Formula E Racing.

Hydroponics was his next topic. This is subset of hydroculture, where plants are grown without soil, using mineral nutrient solutions in a water solvent. They can grow food via vertical agriculture thereby saving space.

Aurora 2K17
An example of Vertical Agriculture
Image taken from: Modern Farmer

In terms of education, Dr. Subasinghe spoke about a cloud based learning system called Cloud smart classroom. Because the content is online, there is no need for physical copies thus saving paper. Apart from that. CodeGen also has a plan to switch the education system from content based learning to problem solving.

Aurora 2K17
Image taken from EXSOFT

AI is the future – Dr. Harsha Subasinghe

Mathematics and Chemistry are vital elements for the future, according to Dr. Subasinghe. Advancements in these fields would help the world in developing new materials, create more efficient formulas etc. Dr. Subasinghe then spoke about advancements in advancements in collaborative product engineering such as isolation of active agents from coconut oil and Murunga (drumstick tree), arts and entertainment product such as Qube sounds etc.

Bhutan is currently the world’s first carbon negative country. What do we need to do to become that? – Dr. Harsha Subasinghe

Amidst all this, Dr. Subasinghe also stated that we must also be happy. For example, Singapore is one of the unhappiest countries in the world. Using a video as an example, he explained how we need a mindset change. We must decide if technology rules us, or if we rule technology.

Aurora 2K17
Image taken from WellBeing

Meditation, because some questions can’t be answered by Google – Dr. Harsha Subasinghe

The mind, once collected, is a very powerful force. It is up to us to ensure that our minds are at peace. If it is not at peace, steps must be taken to find peace.

When you find out who you are, then you will find true happiness – Dr. Harsha Subasinghe

With that, Dr. Harsha Subasinghe’s speech and presentation drew to a close. He then asked a question from the audience and the winner was handed a prize by Dr. Subasinghe himself.

The next item at Aurora 2K17 was a panel discussion

After a small break and a recap video of the previous Aurora conferences, Adhisha Gammanpila, Winner of the GSEA 2017 National Finals acting as the moderator for a panel discussion consisting of the following members:

  • Harsha Subasinghe – CEO, CodeGen
  • Mangala Perera – Director, Software development, IFS
  • Wellington Perera – DX Lead, Microsoft
  • Stein Inge Haaland – CEO, Embla Software Innovation
  • Rangana Samarasinghe – CEO, InSharp

The discussion revolved around topics such as career opportunities, startups, and innovation. Mangala explained that a major requirement for recruitment was to have a very strong foundation in concepts. That is the way that you can be measured. Apart from theories, you should have done a couple of projects. Soft skills and attitude are another key factor that you need. These skills will not be measured when you’re studying, but will immediately be measured the moment you graduate and are on the look for a job.

Aurora 2K17
(Image Credits: Lahiru Perera)

Harsha’s views were that potential recruits needed to have the ability to learn content very fast. They also have to resolve problems fast as well. The problem can be a simple one. But how fast it takes you to solve it would play a key part in. Lastly, the solution has to be innovative as well.

Technology means nothing if you can’t reach out to your customers – Wellington Perera

You need to have proper communication skills in order to get your point across. If you can’t talk to someone and get something done, you can’t go ahead with anything. Learn English. Talk passionately of what you love to do. Have a strong handshake. Practice how to talk, practice how to have an interview.

You need to know how to sell something to somebody. If you can’t resolve a problem, then you can’t see where an opportunity for a new market.

Aurora 2K17You can have a startup only if you have a product or a minimum viable product. Don’t get an investment unless it’s absolutely necessary. Follow your passion, let the market come behind you. Don’t think about the money, solve the problem first.

On the other hand, not everyone is passionate about startups. Mangala explained how a person who was placed in the top three in a startup competition opted for a regularjob rather than continue the startup as he chose a salary rather than the startup.

You can’t give up because you’re not making enough. You have to see it through – Mangala Perera

That brought the panel discussion to an end. Tokens of appreciation were handed to the panel.

Following Lunch, we had Jehan Wijesinghe, CEO of Kidsignite

Jehan’s topic for the day was about the Future and how it can be faced. In an interactive manner, he asks the audience what they want to be when they grow up, from social entrepreneurs to criminal lawyers, a number of answers were given.

To face the future one can do either of two things:

  • Predict the future – this is easier said than done
  • Prepare for the future – this is not that difficult to do

Jehan then spoke about learnability. Unlike knowledge, which is not considered to be important anymore, the ability to grasp new things and the how quickly you can learn things are the key concepts behind learnability. Knowledge has become a commodity now. Anyone has access to a smartphone has access to universal knowledge. It is also perishable. It gets outdated fast. From our young days, we have been built to be walking encyclopedias. Because of that we do not want to grasp that knowledge is THE thing. Learnability makes you go out of your comfort zone, try out new things to work for your future.

Aurora 2K17
(Image Credits: Lahiru Perera)

Creativity is the next topic. This will be a fundamental trait needed for the future. You need to develop your creativity to tackle jobs that require your thinking.

How does one develop these traits?

One can do this by exposing themselves to different domains. Rather than sticking with only what you know, break the status quo and develop your skills in other fields. Step out of your comfort zone. If you want to develop your creativity, this is important. The next step is to constantly challenge yourself. You should always not be afraid to fail.

How do you actually make something useful? You need to be observant, you need to be sympathetic and empathetic. You have to identify someone’s pain points. You can then attack it with a solution. Since you have different domains, you can come up with a unique solution. This is the key to innovation

Next up at Aurora 2K17 was an interesting talk about 3D printing

This was done by an individual from RCS2 Technologies. He spoke about their product Thrimána Mini. This is a desktop class entry level 3D printer designed specifically for the education sector. He then spoke about the various applications to 3D printing such as fabric, fashion designing and the famous 3D printed Wedding dress, architectural designing, 3D Animation, machine prototyping, rapid prototyping and sports.

Aurora 2K17
(Image Credits: Lahiru Perera)

RCS2 Technologies has also partnered up with the University of Colombo to develop an affordable printer utilizing multiple heads to get the printing done faster. They also carry out workshops and have also been featured in 3D Print India as the only 3D printing company in Sri Lanka.

It was then time to announce the winners of the competition stage of Aurora 2K17. Just to recap, 23 different school competed with 10 schools got through the first round. Round two was the development of a website. Certificates of participation were given to the schools, before announcing the winners of the competition.

Aurora 2K17
(Image Credits: Lahiru Perera)
  • Winners – Mahinda Rajapaksha College
  • Runners Up – Nalanda College

Chavin Rathnayake, Co-chief organizer of Aurora 2K17 was up on stage next to deliver the closing address. Reciting Helen Keller famous quote “Alone we can do so little, together we can do so much”, Aurora 2K17 drew to a close.

Hats off to the organizing team of Aurora 2K17. We hope to see them again at Aurora 2K18.

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