OurHEX – An Online Innovation Lab


This page introduces the Creative Science Foundation’s online ‘Innovations-Lab’ (i-Lab), OurHEX,  as a location-independent collaborative space for creative activities. While the longer term goal is to provide a space open to all creative people and applications, initially we will focus on creating a platform to support Science Fiction Prototyping for product innovation, teaching creative thinking and supporting second language acquisition.

An Online Spacestation

Science Fiction Prototyping concerns thinking about high-tech futures, so therefore we wanted to create a futuristic environment to house the online innovation lab and so the idea of basing it on an online simulation of a spacestation was born.  The structure is relatively simple consisting of a large central arrival area (Social Deck) leading to an, essentially, unlimited number individual rooms, each of which can be customised by the users to suit their particular purposes.

OurHEX (various views)The Unity 3D Prototype space station (clockwise from the top left there is the Social-Deck, one of the radial connecting corridors, an i-Lab entrance and a view of an i-Lab)

The original online spacestation platform was inspired by a long-defunk Essex University restaurant, with an hexagonal structure, called “The Hex” (or more fondly “Our HEX“). For the online innovation lab we adapted the original spacestation to house the online innovation lab, giving it the domain name OurHEX. In the original spacestation design, each hexagonal element housed a room which could be fitted out to support almost any activity. In the version for the online innovation lab, we are proposing to create a mechanism for ‘plugging in’ an almost unlimited number of rooms, to support the required activities.

Innovation Labs (i-Labs)

The Innovation Labs concept was created by the UK Royal Mail’s ‘Futures and Innovation Group’ in 1997 for the purpose of helping their management teams brainstorm future possibilities. In creating innovation spaces it became apparent that the interactions within the group, together with the conversational and session management tools played a significant role in the effectiveness of the sessions, leading to the idea for providing specialist environments (iLabs) to support these activities. In brief they deduced that an iLab required three interlinking components namely the environment, the technology and the facilitation mechanisms to make it suitable for ideation and innovation activities.  Furthermore, they determined that an iLab session comprised a mix of the following activities (most electronically supported):

  • Icebreaker and reviver activities
  • Discussion & getting other people’s perspectives
  • Brainstorming & voting
  • Headlines, cut & paste collages and PowerPoint presentations
  • Wall activities (collaborative writing, doodling etc)
  • Scenario building
  • Role play

At the core of the process was brainstorming, a technique for unleashing a flood of thoughts driven by participants sparking ideas off each other, or from carefully injected external stimulus. Having generated sufficient ideas a group would go on to categorise, rationalise and vote on the suggestions. Implementing the ideas is more challenging and occurs beyond the iLab session. Thus, the initial focus of OurHEX is to support these activities and, consequently, each simulated iLab includes a communal electronic white-board, a set of anonymised editing stations (so ideas and comments can be written to the white-board without identifying the writer), a means of ranking ideas and facilitator tools for managing and archiving the sessions. Creative Science employs brainstorming as part of a product-innovation process called Science Fiction Prototyping. In this OurHEX sessions adopt a procedure called an Imagination Workshop which was first proposed by WU in 2013 and is similar to the brain-storming process used in an iLab, except it uses science fiction and fantasy ideas to extrapolate forward current technologies, business and social practices by ten-plus years. In addition, the online innovation lab employs a an end-to-end product innovation scheme called ‘Creative Innovation Development‘ (CID), also pioneered by Wu as part of an entrepreneurial startup study in 2016. Since 1997, when the original iLab concept was proposed, it has grown in popularity resulting in over 100 globally-located iLabs (from social to technical) created by organisations as diverse as The Standard Bank, Walmart, John Lewis, the UK National Health Service (NHS), Ryan Air and government (eg New York’s ‘Public Policy Lab’ or the ‘Social Innovation Lab for Kent’). More details on the history and current state of iLabs is given in reference (1), below.


The images on this page show the prototype version of ‘OurHEX‘ spacestation which will be developed into the online innovation lab.  Each user who accesses the virtual world (OurHEX) first lands in the central arrivals area (the Social Deck). From that location they would be free to walk around the environment; interacting with any displays they encounter (eg display boards showing outputs from earlier sessions, or interactive display boards where they could participate in competitions to evaluate innovation outputs, or just read notices of other events). The central area has corridors leading to each of the different iLabs. In each iLab, users would be able to participate in Imagination Workshop and Creative Innovation Development sessions or whatever other activities are underway. Teachers and facilitators would be able to observe, assist and rate participants work.

OurHEX PlatformsSome platforms for “Our HEX” (picture courtesy of Dan Chen)

The ‘Our HEX’ spacestation prototype was implemented using Unity-3D, an online gaming engine. Being an MMO cloud based virtual world, users are able to log into the environment from anywhere in the world. The spacestation’s i-Lab server resources are provided by a cloud based system. The execution-engine is structured in a modularised client / server arrangement to facilitate future expansion. While a working prototype of the spacestation has been built (a video walkthrough is available at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-i6ki5YHGZc), the conversion to an innovation lab, although started, still largely remains to be done.

Current Plans & Invitation to Participate

The OurHEX online innovation lab is being constructed as a modularised extensible space with the explicit intention of facilitating interested parties to collaborate with CSf by creating customised rooms that can be plugged into into the OurHEX structure, to provide facilities that support their community of interest.

This is a CSf community venture and we welcome participation from anyone interested in volunteering the help. Thus, if you are interested in contributing to this venture in some way (eg proposing a new room, helping develop a room, organizing an activity on OurHEX, participating in OurHEX activities, etc) then use the CSf contact form to contact us.

Further information
  1. Vic Callaghan, Marc Davies, Shumei Zhang “An Online Immersive Reality Innovation-Lab” , iLRN’16, Santa Barbra, California 27 June -1 July 2016
  2. Shumei Zhang, Victor Callaghan and Hongmei Wang “Improving English as a Foreign Language Education in China with Creative-Science“, SOFIEE’16, London, 12th-13th September 2016
  3. Hsuan-Yi Wu, Victor Callaghan “From Imagination to Innovation: A Creative Development Process”, CS’16, London, 12th-13th September 2016
  4. Hsuan-Yi Wu “Imagination Workshops: An Empirical Exploration of SFP for Technology-based Business Innovation“,  in Futures (Special issues Exploring Future Business Visions Using Creative Fictional Prototypes), Volume 50, , Pages 44–55, June 2013.
  5. Ping Zheng and Vic Callaghan “Diegetic Innovation Templating“, CS’16, London, 12th-13th September 2016
  6. Shumei Zheng, Vic Callaghan,  Hongmei Wang, Bin Hedong “Learning Computer English Using a Creative Science Approach“, Tsinghua University Press, 2016
  7. Marc Davies “Short Video of Early Version of CSf Spacestation