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In this #PROFILE series, we touch base with the recipients of DESIGNSCAPES’ 3rd and final Open Call for design-enabled Innovation Scalability Proofs.

At the end of last year, we met with Filip Kovalovský from Crosswalk. We talked about the project’s progress and how they are dealing with the COVID-19 crisis to keep the momentum going. Filip told us a little bit more about the team behind Crosswalk, their current state of mind and their desire to create connections and cooperations with different projects and actors. We also focused on some of the lessons learned through this replication experience. 

Crosswalk in a word

The Crosswalk project aims at developing a new generation of illumination devices for safer pedestrian crossings on the street. Through their technology innovation, they aim to improve the visibility of pedestrians to increase their protection. After prototypes in Ziar and Hronom (Slovakia), the team is currently in the replication phase in Bratislava, in cooperation with Go-ok, a civic organisation that works to ensure accessible infrastructures for disabled people in the city. 

What is Crosswalk currently up to?

In their work towards scaling, Crosswalk is busy building sensors for their safe crossing device and collaborating with their partners to understand how to better improve the device for users with disabilities.

About the impact of the COVID-19 crisis

As part of developing their device for safer pedestrian crossings, the team at Crosswalk have struggled with the impact of the pandemic on the supply chain of the hardware they are working on. They have managed to adapt by changing parts of the hardware; however, the situation has also affected the testing activities part of the hardware development. Additionally, activities in cooperation with local authorities had to be halted or moved online. As Filip put it: “It’s not ideal for us because we need to test, we need to be on site. We need to be on the street or in the traffic.” 

Flexibility has been key, then for the team behind Crosswalk, as to continue with their development they not only had to change their hardware and look for local suppliers but overall modify the order of their development steps.

The team behind Crosswalk

Crosswalk’s group is a small but effective team, as Filip described it. Beyond him as project initiator, the team consists of two experts in hardware development, and a member responsible for project communication. 

Filip built the team by involving people he already knew — and who, above all, he knew were passionate about the topic and had experience in the field of lighting. He admitted, “I already knew they are great in what they are doing or what they’re interested in. […], they have a great passion for it.”

When asked what the team’s key strength is, Filip confidently told us: “I usually say that the strength is that we know a lot in our field of work. But the second is that we also know that there is a lot we don’t know”. The team’s awareness of their competencies goes hand in hand with its capacity to outsource strategic knowledge for their project. Their attitude in contacting and reaching out to relevant actors is best expressed in Filip’s words: “The great thing for me personally is that […] from the beginning until now we have gained a lot of contacts, a lot of great people […]. We are trying to share knowledge but also to get the knowledge that we don’t know about the problem.”

“We also know that there is a lot we don’t know.”

As a result, the Crosswalk team has managed to cooperate with external actors, outsourcing strategic knowledge and assets. As part of this, Filip explained that they gained access to specific facilities that helped them develop their technology: “The university has better lab conditions. So, it’s also nice when they say, ‘OK try it here, we will see what happens,’ and so on…” 

Establishing connections in Bratislava

Then Filip told us a bit about what helped them embed Crosswalk in the new context of Bratislava. He explained how the Slovakian capital’s large community of startups proved instrumental for them in the communication with the local municipality. “Because they know the people and they can say: ‘Hey, we know another project which may be interesting for you and for the city.’ So that was how we started to communicate with the city and […] for example, the police department”.

For Crosswalk, having the police department on board is crucial, as they are the ones giving the team the approval to test the prototypes on the street. Filip told us how the project generated a strong interest, as it offered the local police an innovative solution to reducing traffic and accidents in their city: “They are helping us a lot […], for example in the meetings with another police department from the EU”. 

Main lessons learned in this scalability phase

Filip explained to us some of the differences he found when scaling to the bigger city of Bratislava, as compared to the earlier prototyping phase. “It has a greater impact in the city we’re working now, in Bratislava, than it had in the city of the previous stage.” He goes on, “so it changed a lot in our process to implement it, how to communicate it.” Moreover, “The stakeholders and also the target group is much wider, including a lot of people we have not mainly worked with”, which he says requires much more attention than in the small cities where they first tried out their device. 

“The huge next step is to put it in practice, put it out on the street.”

Regarding developing advanced and complex hardware, the team understood better what works and what doesn’t in applying their technology on the street. Another key learning concerned the engagement with the municipality. This is how Filip described Crosswalk’s experience: “It was nice to find out that there are people willing to help. […] Up to now, our mindset was that everything was bad — but now, that’s changed a lot”. He concluded: “We don’t need to be afraid of communication, and we can just try to call or send letters and emails.” Last but not least, the Crosswalk team learned the importance of flexibility in their plans and processes: “We learned that we are not so rigid but we are flexible to react to the situation as it happens.”

Looking at the next achievements for the project, Filip thinks about testing and evaluating the technology they’ve been developing so far. As he put it: “The huge next step is to put it in practice, put it out on the street” … and gather data that can help further adjustments

At the end of our talk, Filip also shared with us another possible long-term objective: “to share contact between cities, between Designscapes projects … Maybe we could find some kind of cooperation there.” As he remarked, “every project wants to scale to another city to grow.” The opportunity he sees for Crosswalk and for DESIGNSCAPES at large, is to facilitate this, by collaborating, sharing contacts and local knowledge, to ultimately help innovative ideas spread throughout Europe.

Photo: Crosswalk