MIH Medialab at SU shows off new, modern office space

A space created by an industry partner who believes in the potential of creative young people to change the world.

This is how Prof Gert-Jan van Rooyen, one of the directors of the MIH Laboratory (Medialab) at Stellenbosch University, described this initiative’s new, purpose-designed and innovative office space at the opening ceremony on Thursday, 4 October.

A space to relax at the MIH Medialab’s new office. Photos: Pia Nänny

The MIH Medialab is an initiative of media giant Naspers, and more specifically MIH, the company’s broadcast and internet technology division. The research group was created in 2008 thanks to generous funding by Naspers and MIH. The team’s size has increased substantially – they started with four pioneers in 2008 and increased to 32 postgraduate students this year – and this has forced the team to acquire an alternative work space.

The Medialab is a multi-disciplinary research environment where post-graduate students from various technical and non-technical disciplines work together on the technologies and applications through which the internet, computer and mobile technology change our world.

The Stellenbosch firm Visser Kapperer de Bruyn, who also designed the JS Gericke Library’s new study and research areas, designed a laboratory ideal for the type of research and innovation where constant interaction between diverse researchers is very important, according to Van Rooyen. The open-plan office boasts impressive computer screens, an area for relaxing with colourful couches and a foosball table, and a well-equipped kitchen with special dustbins for recycling.

Most of the vertical surfaces – walls, windows and glass partitions – are movable, and the crow-nest of scribbled diagrams and mathematical calculations is evidence that a lot of thinking takes place on them. Because a lot of the laboratory’s research is internet-related, it also boasts a 20MBps Internet connection.

Prof Gert-Jan van Rooyen in front of the Medialab’s wall tattoo.

Van Rooyen recalled how, in 2008, Koos Bekker and Antonie Roux of Naspers came up with the idea to “create a breeding ground for the technologies the world needs so desperately”.

“And the tree that was planted then is now bearing fruit,” Van Rooyen added while standing in front of a wall tattoo depicting this ‘tree’ and its fruit.

“I’m a great supporter of the rector’s (Prof Russel Botman) vision of a move from successful research to significant research. It is necessary to bring the academics closer to the industry and the industry closer to the academics.”

Some of the interesting themes the students are working on include: Computers that read and compare newspaper articles, motor vehicles that become data networks, projectors and tablets that enrich the world around you with data, artificial intelligence for computer games and a social media barometer for democracy.

The Medialab is a popular destination for students and the directors have received a record number of applications from students who want to be part of the project next year.

Sonja and Petronel Roux unveil the plaque that pays tribute to their late husband and father, Antonie Roux, at the entrance of the Medialab.

Tribute was also paid to Antonie Roux, former CEO of MIH Internet and patron of the project. Roux passed away earlier this year and Van Rooyen said it was very said that he (Roux) never saw the final product. A plaque was put up at the entrance of the Medialab to give credit to the part Naspers, and especially Roux, played in setting up this area.