Discovering FIKALAB – A Place for Innovation

July 15, 2020

An innovative mind must be fed and given the tools to thrive. Fortunately, FIKALAB does just that! Now’s your chance to find out more.

Discovering FIKALAB – A Place For Innovation
A Place for Innovation

FIKALAB is our ingenuity, innovation and drive brought to life as a place where the most diverse and exciting projects are born.

Innovation is what drives us here at Critical and we make use of every opportunity that comes our way to put our ingenuity to the test. FIKALAB is all of this and our drive brought to life as a place where the most diverse and exciting projects are born.

From sign language assistants to toys adapted for children with special needs, FIKALAB is the vehicle through which many initiatives to improve people’s quality of life and to give back to the community are implemented, all the while giving us the chance to do what we do best and what we love the most.

We spoke to Gonçalo Silva , from the FIKALAB team, to give you an insight into what our innovation lab is all about.

How would you define FIKALAB?

FIKALAB is more than just a physical place you can enjoy; it’s a concept. The name is inspired by the Swedish word “fika”. The word is often translated as “coffee break” but it’s not that straightforward. The word “fika” is more of a state of mind, an attitude, a ritual. It means to take a break and making time for friends and colleagues to share a cup of coffee or tea and a little something to eat. At FIKALAB, we believe it is a mindset which allows us to develop innovative ideas in a relaxed and collaborative environment. It gives everyone the chance to experience and use the latest developments in technology to bring their pet projects to life. Anyone can make use of FIKALAB, regardless of their job role. If you have an idea, FIKALAB invites you to make it happen with the support of the whole community, who will promote your idea and help you achieve your goals!

How did the idea come about in the first place? What was the process involved in creating an innovation lab?

The idea to create FIKALAB came from a desire to create different things, like hardware systems with embedded software - things with more added value. That’s the goal and FIKALAB is an attempt at opening a pathway which is neither easy nor simple. We wanted to allow people to invent and create without boundaries or limitations of any kind. We wanted to let people move away from their desks and have a good time with their own imagination. Not only that, but the concept of FIKALAB also fits Critical’s ethos very well as it ties in with the company’s Innovation and Knowledge policy, which is a key pillar for our success. The main three points of this policy are: experimenting and creating freely for the sake of it, rather than having to stick to rigid goals; researching solutions and developing them into new tech; and sharing knowledge in a structured and systematic way. These points summarise FIKALAB perfectly and bring it close to Critical Software’s very nature.

How exactly does FIKALAB work?

FIKALAB is an innovation space. Every Critical Software office has some kind of FIKALAB presence. In bigger offices, we have a proper lab; in smaller offices, where we can’t have a room exclusively in use as a lab, there is a FIKALAB kit with equipment. FIKALAB also hosts contests: Open Call and Open Challenge. All Critical employees and even outsourcers can participate in these contests. The projects developed for these contests are funded by Critical and equipment is also provided. The winner is awarded with a surprise prize.

What can people count on when at FIKALAB?

The atmosphere for innovation and creation is exceptional. You can count on a rush of creativity when you’re working at FIKALAB because the core purpose behind it is to inspire people’s ideas and projects. There’s a great sense of community and mutual aid as well. If you’re ever stuck on a particular aspect of your project, someone will gladly help you find a way to move forward. On the material side, FIKALAB is equipped with tools, boards, sensors… Pretty much anything you might need for your project. Obviously we don’t own every single resource in the world and there might be some things we don’t have available. We do have ways round this issue, though. FIKALAB hosts contests throughout the year, like Open Call and Challenge, in which you have your own budget, meaning it’s your chance to get the tools and resources you need to carry out your project. You’ll still have access to FIKALAB’s tools, of course; you’ll be using the tools already at your disposal, plus the missing ones you’ll be able to buy with your contest budget.

What can you tell us about the projects created at FIKALAB?

I can say that there are tons of them! There are many, many projects either already developed or ongoing in FIKALAB. It’s incredible to see how creative people can become when given the right resources and support. Projects made at FIKALAB don’t have any specific requirements. It can be a software project, hardware project, communications project… You name it! You can even mix it all up and see what happens. Our FIKALAB concept doesn’t limit one’s imagination – it actively encourages it!

Can you give us some examples of projects made at FIKALAB?

There are so many of them it can be hard to pinpoint just a few. There’s a very interesting project called Critical Interpreter. It’s a sign language assistant and converts audio input into gestures. There are countless applications for it: medical appointments, video calls, classrooms, public transportation, and more. You can imagine how helpful this would be if it were to be implemented in society at large. The quality of life of people with hearing problems would drastically increase if this system were standard where written messages aren’t available. On a more light-hearted note, we have iBoGS, a chess-related project. This project gives you the opportunity to play against an artificial intelligence system in a chess match and involves a dynamic chess board that lights up with available moves. It’s the same concept as when you play chess on your computer, but with a real-life board and pieces. There are some charitable projects as well, like “Ligados às Máquinas”. This is a sampling orchestra on wheelchairs for musicians with cerebral palsy. Since these musicians may have some difficulties with movement, it’s important to have a visual cue to understand who’s playing. So, this project was born. Basically, the musician in the wheelchair triggers an audio sample with their instrument and it will light up their wheelchair. This way the audience knows exactly who’s playing.

It seems that FIKALAB is also about making an impact in the community.

Yes, from time to time FIKALAB hosts several charitable events. The most prominent one is “Fika a Brincar”. This is a yearly event that gathers many people, engineers or otherwise, to modify and adapt toys for children with special needs. It’s a very important event for us, as we get to do what we’re good at and put a smile on a child’s face at the same time. It gives us quite the motivational rush! More recently, FIKALAB held an initiative to help fight the COVID-19 pandemic by 3D printing face shields. While it was a FIKALAB initiative, anyone who owned the required equipment and material was more than welcome to make face shields with us too. Over 4000 face shields were delivered to several types of front-line workers, including health professionals, firefighters, pharmacists, and more.

 Although it was born within Critical Software, FIKALAB has now expanded, right?

Yes, FIKALAB was born within Critical Software but the bird has well and truly flown the nest! FIKALAB has expanded to two other companies within the Critical Group: Critical Techworks and Critical Links. However, we’ve even spread our wings outside the Critical universe too. We’re now at ISEC, the Polytechnic College of Engineering in Coimbra. FIKALAB opened its doors there last year. It’s easy to see why we invested in taking FIKALAB to ISEC. It’s an engineering university, there’s a lot of potential for building incredible, brand-new technology, not to mention that it provides huge help when it comes to developing students’ skills through providing them with ways to build projects on their own and work out their own solutions and techniques. It was a very exciting adventure to be part of, and soon we’ll begin to see the innovation our younger minds can muster.

Finally, are there any other interesting FIKALAB facts that you can tell us about?

I’ll be honest, FIKALAB encompasses so much more than I could possibly tell you in a single answer! It’s a full-on experience! Still, there are a couple more things I can briefly tell you about. IoT, or Internet of Things, is a big part of what we do at FIKALAB, so our innovation corner provides infrastructure based on The Things Network. This is a free, community-driven network for IoT that ensures that projects are successfully functioning. 

If you’d like to stay up to date with FIKALAB’s initiatives, make sure to follow on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram! Also, don’t forget to subscribe to our newsletter to learn more on FIKALAB and the exciting projects developed there.