At the same time, however, Mr Arnold, who is Director of Research & Technology at Thales Nederland, knows that he has to start in a small way. "My first task is to highlight the Cell and put it to work. In that phase we must show with examples what we can do, and how much point there is in benchmarking technological knowledge between industry and the scientific world. Of course, some settling-in will need to take place: for instance, it must be decided what know-how you can exchange without problems and what is better kept undisclosed just yet."

For the time being, Mr Arnold is running things almost single-handedly, with some secretarial support. "The wheel must be set in motion, and someone has to give it a push. The concept is my own brainchild. I have always been closely involved in innovation, preparing many technological roadmaps, and quite often I have found that there was a gap between what science was engaged in and where the industry wanted to go."

It is gaps such as these that Mr Arnold wants as far as possible to close. For the first benchmarking tests he is drawing on his own network, "but the Xchange Cell is not Thales property." He would like to bring the Thales Department of Training and Simulation (responsible for flight and combat simulators) into contact with UT colleagues active in the same field, and to link the developers of an advanced knowledge management system at Thales ("so far with poor result") to UT specialists at GW and BBT.

But while talking, Mr Arnold sweeps readily on to larger, future projects. "Innovation in the caring profession is a key concern of this region. But if you just look at ICT applications in that sector, you find that they are lagging some fifteen years behind the military in that respect. If you would bring the two together, enormous steps forward could be made with relatively simple means."

The examples given by CTIT Director Mr Peter Apers, during his foundation day lecture of end November 2003, of applications in the field of smart surroundings, also in the social services sector, have hardly impressed Mr Arnold. "That kind of thing I already saw five years ago at the MIT. I do not want to be patronising, but what in The Netherlands ranks as "top" or "spearhead" is often not so spectacular in the mondial context. If The Netherlands is to be a genuine knowledge economy, much will still have to be done."

Mr Arnold views his T-Xchange Cell as a pilot project that fits in well with the efforts of the National Innovation Platform, striving to put The Netherlands on the technological map. The Cell's subtitle is "Engineering Innovation". "Open innovation" is the term Mr Arnold uses to describe his concept: scientists and market parties getting together in an early phase of the product development, preferably when there is not yet anything more to exchange than ideas, and jointly devise solutions. In the follow-up phase of the innovation concept Mr Arnold sees an important role reserved for the UT's VR Lab, where products that do not yet exist can be tested in a nonexistent environment.

Last Monday, the UT and Thales signed a covenant on the cooperation in the Xchange Cell and Mr Arnold's part in it. The Thales executive will on average be one/two days per week at the UT, and report directly to The University Board. Mr Arnold remains in the employ of Thales, which pays his salary and also pays for the secretarial support and office space at the UT. (Go back)

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