At New N+1 Institute, industry collaboration shapes the next wave of computing

The pace of change is accelerating, but a novel industry membership model will enable the N+1 Institute to keep up.

For decades, the speed of computing advancement has accelerated year upon year, bringing innovation faster than ever before. Experts report we’re on the edge of a new artificial intelligence (AI) super cycle that will bring widespread impact to computing architectures, in turn leading to fundamental changes in both business and society. It’s a crucial time for all: Technology leaders want to stay in front of the opportunities and risks, while business leaders must adapt or risk being left behind. University researchers’ work has unprecedented potential for real-world impact, and students are increasingly in need of hands-on learning experiences to develop the latest specialized skills.

The N+1 Institute, a new interdisciplinary unit housed in UW-Madison’s Department of Computer Sciences, plans to address all this. The name is a nod to the idea that there’s always room to discover and improve — through multifaceted industry collaborations, the N+1 Institute “fuels research, education, and innovation in next generation computing systems.” In short: N+1 will solve tomorrow’s problems today.

As university leaders, industry members, faculty, and researchers prepare for the Institute’s official launch event on Monday, May 6, here’s a look at how they plan to achieve this vision.

Translating the Wisconsin Idea into a global reality

From medicine to manufacturing, advancements in computing have a sweeping impact across all fields of study and facets of everyday life. The N+1 Institute makes use of that inherent potential, focusing research efforts on the systems that underpin AI, edge and cloud computing, and Web3 — three areas with immense potential to improve life tangibly, both here in Wisconsin and beyond.

N+1’s model is straightforward: Industry members and venture capital partners collaborate on research and education, which in turn creates both innovative solutions and career development opportunities for students. The programs range widely, including research collaborations, capstone and student projects, co-ops, hackathons, scholarships, and seminars. Membership is flexible, designed to suit Institute and member organization needs.

According to Executive Director David Ertl, UW-Madison and the Department of Computer Sciences more specifically is an ideal place for N+1 to do its work. “N+1 leverages the Department’s historic strengths in areas like data, storage, networking, security, and privacy, which will be fundamental to the next technology wave,” he says. “UW-Madison also has a unique breadth to its excellence, making it a beacon of scientific advancement.” N+1 is a rare opportunity for industry members to tap into the University’s vast reserves of resources and expertise

The goal, says Ertl, is “to bring transformational innovation to its full potential.” With the right partners, it’s not just possible it’s inevitable. 

The key to N+1’s success? Cross-campus collaboration

At UW-Madison, access to world-leading experts is a given. Not only is the Department of Computer Sciences where the N+1 Institute is headquartered nationally ranked, but so are the other two departments with which it jointly forms the School of Computer, Data & Information Sciences (CDIS). In fact, this depth of expertise can be found all across campus, in areas like medicine, engineering, agricultural sciences, and beyond. According to CDIS Founding Director Tom Erickson, “The breadth of excellence across the UW-Madison campus makes it a natural locus for the high-impact interdisciplinary collaboration the N+1 Institute will inspire.”

Denoted by record-breaking investments in UW-Madison’s research, this range of expertise is fundamentally what makes N+1 such a compelling partner for industry members. “The ability to work with and consult with a vast range of experts sets N+1 apart,” says Remzi Arpaci-Dusseau, Grace Wahba Professor of Computer Sciences and a member of N+1’s leadership team. 

Companies and tech leaders, often among the first to implement new technology, don’t often have this level of access. “For industry members, this kind of early lifecycle collaboration opens up doors to not only shaping research, but becoming an early adopter and beneficiary,” says Dr. Suman Banerjee, the David J. DeWitt Professor of Computer Sciences and another faculty-leader for the N+1 Institute.

Benefits extend to on-campus partners, too. For involved students, N+1 programs like capstone projects and co-ops present an experiential, hands-on education. Often, it leads to recruitment. Recent proposals like Chancellor Jennifer L. Mnookin’s RISE Initiative have emphasized the University’s increasing interest in AI research and experiential learning opportunities for students – both sit at the heart of N+1’s role on campus.

The N+1 Institute also leverages partners like the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation (WARF) to help move innovations to market faster.  As the designated technology transfer organization at UW-Madison, WARF facilitates the commercialization of inventions stemming from university research. “R1 universities like UW-Madison are leaders for some of the world’s greatest scientific discoveries, yet commercializing this work can be difficult and slow,” explains Greg Keenan, senior director of WARF Ventures. “To address this challenge, WARF offers a range of resources, including intellectual property management, licensing, venture funding, and investment support, to streamline the process from ideas to market success.”

In the simplest terms, N+1 is “all about the next generation,” be that of computing, technology, or workforce. “N+1 fills a crucial gap on campus and serves as a point of connection for so many incredible collaborators,” says Ertl. “Our work has a real impact. There’s immense potential for anyone seeking the opportunity to develop novel research or collaborate with faculty and students.” Interested parties need only inquire. 

To learn more about the N+1 Institute and membership options, register for the N+1 Institute Launch Event or contact Director of Corporate Relations Justin Hines.