Home' Trinidad and Tobago Guardian : November 6th 2016 Contents A24
Sunday Guardian www.guardian.co.tt November 6, 2016
• From Page A23
of the "cultural problem" hindering research
and development, an important part of
TTLAB s character is its upending of conven-
tional development approaches. "There s a lot
of emphasis locally on building large buildings,
and then there s no resources left for research,"
says Prof Hosein.
TTLAB is the opposite. It has no headquar-
ters or bureaucracy. The company simply selects
the best students (or invites applicants it
believes are gifted) gives them money, and lets
them do what they want. He treats them the
way that he likes to be treated which is to be
given autonomy to explore and have complete
time flexibility (they can work from home if
they wish and, like him, many prefer working
Unfortunately he cannot pay as much as he
thinks they deserve to be paid but the Fellows
actually receive a larger stipend than that pro-
vided by UWI scholarships.
Lee Young agrees: "In Patrick s field T&T
can become a global player in R&D---T&T does
not need expensive huge labs. We are dealing
with brains---reason, logic, computation, and
software skills. We can develop and harvest
this resource in a short space of time---com-
pared to R&D in other disciplines."
This approach is particularly useful, says
Prof Hosein, to those scientists and engineers
who work in day jobs, but are not allowed to
do the kind of research they want to do. With
a little extra money, they can take time off
from work, and spend it on the things that
matter more. He believes that a "reverse-
intern" program whereby bright engineers/sci-
entists in industry get to perform research
under the supervision of UWI Faculty might
be feasible and all three parties will benefit.
Indeed, he says, it was his prize from the ANSA
Caribbean Awards that allowed him to take
time off from his teaching at UWI to pursue
his own research and help fund his first exper-
Another innovative practice is encouraging
students to think of what they would like to
pursue, as well as encouraging topics of local
use and interest but with global scope. "To
publish internationally, you have to be more
broadly focused than just Trinidad & Tobago,"
says Prof Hosein, "but there are things here
that qualify." One of these things is electricity
grid efficiency. TTLAB (through a RDI Smart
Grid project lead by Dr Sharma at UWI)
approached T&TEC for data from their meters
which they analysed and developed an algo-
rithm and an application which could provide
significant savings if applied since comparable
foreign software is expensive. The project,
unfortunately, has been frozen.
But engineering is not the only area that
can benefit. The UWI (and every university
library) maintains subscriptions to international
journals which, must be paid for in US currency.
Analysing the data on how UWI members
access the journals, TTLAB derived an opti-
misation algorithm which recommends which
journals should be subscribed to, and which
subscriptions can be halted, and individual
articles purchased instead. This would mean
no loss of access for students and faculty, but
millions of dollars can potentially be saved by
The biggest problem in putting this knowl-
edge to work, says Prof Hosein is local inertia.
"We have tried to talk to local companies, but
they only see us as app developers, and anyone
with computer knowledge can develop an app.
Most don t see the value in our expertise in
Machine Learning, Optimization, Decision
Support Systems and so on. Just as in the
above cases we can use this expertise to help
them achieve significant savings.
"And even when the returns are immediate,
as in the T&TEC research to improve grid
quality, bureaucracy freezes the process. In
fact, says Hosein, many local companies tend
to prefer to get foreign consultants. If TTLAB
can continue to grow, this could change, as
"we would like to go beyond just publishing,
and start filing patents and developing local
products to show we can benefit local industry."
TTLAB s founder wants to keep it focused
on research but admits that some development
may be required in the future to help pay the
bills. "The preferred model is simple," he said.
"A company admits they need help, provides
us with the information (especially data) that
we would need, we provide a solution and
possibly a prototype of the solution and we
move on. Of course during the process we
hope to publish but we will never disclose any
confidential or company proprietary informa-
The object and means to develop might be
science, but the spirit that allows it to exist
must be cultural.
• Article courtesy ANSA Caribbean Awards
TTLAB: A Caribbean golden goose of innovation
Members of the Think Tank team from, left, Matthew Stewart, Shiva Ramoudith, Jonathan
Earle, Anderson Singh, Keshav Bahadoor, Shellyann Sooklal, Nicholas Chamansingh, Inzamam
Rahaman, Stefan Boodhoo, Kiran Maharaj, Shanta Sukhoo and Kevin Feveck.
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