April 13, 2017

The future of industry will be digital. It’s inevitable, but that doesn’t make it easy. UI LABS was founded to take on grand challenges in this arena: To digitize the U.S. supply chain to make manufacturing more competitive globally, and to rebuild American infrastructure to make it smarter and more effective to improve residents’ lives.

These “old school” industries lag behind the consumer sector in the path to digitization. A single player can’t create an app that reaches the hundreds of thousands of small and medium-sized manufacturers in the United States in the same way that a consumer app can sweep the nation.

We have assembled the tools necessary to bring industry into the 21st century and beyond. The UI LABS network of more than 300 partners, derived from universities and industry, along with government, startups, and community organizations, brings diverse viewpoints to the table early. Our sandbox environment allows for experimentation and risk-taking not tolerated in these fields under normal circumstances. A tested framework speeds outcomes and allows for unnatural alliances.

Looking back at 2016 in our latest Annual Report, we were able to take stock of our recent progress. Over the course of the year, we wrapped up our first set of projects, initiated more than 50 new ones, and added over 130 new partners to our network.

Our completed projects include a software suite developed by California-based technology company Green Dynamics. Its initial application will help small wind turbine blade manufacturers streamline their design processes, and it has the potential to help introduce composite materials into entirely new industries.

On the smart infrastructure side, our Underground Infrastructure Mapping pilot demonstrated a new platform to create 3-D maps of below-ground assets. Knowing exactly what lies under our streets—from gas mains and power lines to legacy infrastructure like telegraph wires—will help speed construction processes, and prevent costly and potentially dangerous accidents caused by errant digging.

New partners that we brought into the fold added to the capabilities and know-how of our network. Aerospace and defense technology company Northrop Grumman, for example, joined as a top-tier member of our Digital Manufacturing and Design Innovation Institute hoping to collaborate with industry and academia to accelerate the transition to digital manufacturing across the enterprise.

Our innovation platform City Digital, meanwhile, welcomed Boston-based IoT startup Opti as a member, whose goals include delivering reduced flood risk and improved water quality at the watershed scale for communities around the country. The report looks at these partners and more, and the ways in which they’re collaborating to reimagine their industries.

Taking on longstanding problems within old-school industries means getting out of the daily grind, getting off campus, and maybe getting a little uncomfortable. We understand that taking this leap is difficult, but the first movers in these areas will see the greatest benefits.

The next digital frontier may be the most important. As a trusted guide to innovation, UI LABS is helping courageous leaders conquer it.

This post originally appeared on LinkedIn.