Ateneo Java Wireless Competency Center Celebrates 15 years in service

April 06, 2018
In this day and age, information lies in the palm of our hands – literally. Everything can be easily accessed through our smartphones and the multitude of applications and software that they can power. Whether it be crowdsourced traffic updates or cat GIFs, all it takes is one tap. 
In the early 2000s, however, times were different. While the Internet had slowly been growing in popularity and ease of access in other parts of the globe, the Philippines had remained a largely text message-based society. This didn’t stop Dr. Luis Sarmenta (HS ‘88, B.S. Physics ‘92) from responding to the growing need of Filipinos to improve their lives using mobile phones. Thus, the Ateneo Java Wireless Competency Center (AJWCC) was born. 
Established in 2003, the award-winning center was envisioned as a “world-class research and development center and to develop and tap the full potential of the Filipino in the field of mobile and wireless technologies.” Today, in 2018, it still continues to push the limits in wireless technology and help create mobile solutions to various problems.

Dr. Regina Estuar, AJWCC’s Current Executive Director

Back then, said Dr. Reena Estuar, Executive Director of AJWCC, “this cannot be perceived as something that is easy.” At the center’s anniversary event on April 5, 2018, she spoke about the history of the institution as well its current situation and what it hopes for the future. She reminisced about the center’s first products, such as the creation of a framework and platform for value added services, or the ability to text a four-digit number to receive information or download a game. 

The center has also developed products related to health, including an SMS service that provides patients medical information; e-learning, through management platforms like Usbong; and disaster management, which includes crowdsourced rain gauging as well as a platform for relief goods.
Currently, AJWCC is working on various systems within and outside of the Ateneo. One of these projects is Akapp (Atenista Ka Application), envisioned as the Facebook for the Atenean community. They have also launched a Consciousness Examen app and are working on an online version of the Ateneo College Student Survey for purposes of creating a good database profiling the university’s students over the years. 

University President Fr. Jett Villarin welcomes the audience to the event

Other projects include an app for the Ateneo Alumni Association and GCash for the John Gokongwei Student Enterprise Center (JSEC). External to the Ateneo, the center is continuing their work with Operation Smile for patient screening.  

Other proposed projects include SHINE, an autism project of the Ateneo School of Medicine and Public Health (ASMPH) that blurs the specialization among different doctors, as the condition demands different kinds of doctors. SHINE is hoped to “develop a platform so that these different doctors could talk to one another” and to focus on the patient rather than the doctors’ own domain. 
AJWCC also has a project in the agricultural sector – a solution to detect disease in bananas. The center likewise continues to develop applications in disaster monitoring, teaching fellowships, and internships. 
Smart Communications was—and still is—a constant partner of the AJWCC, having collaborated on many different projects over the years. Mr. Darwin Flores, Smart’s Senior Manager for Community Partnerships, shared his insights from teaming up with the Java Wireless Center for the last fifteen years. He mentioned the role that the private sector plays in nation-building, and how crucial it is to continue to work with the government in order to provide efficient services to the country and her inhabitants. He noted how a focus on health had seemed to emerge organically on its own; thus, the center had partnered with institutions like PhilHealth and the Department of Health. 

Mr. Darwin Flores of Smart Communications, industry partner of the Java Wireless Center

Of course, the celebration would not have been complete without hearing from the founder himself. Sarmenta, also a former Chair and faculty member of the Department of Information Systems and Computer Science, shared the journey he took to get to where the Java Wireless Center is now. 

“I wanted to make a difference,” he said. “I felt like God was calling me.” But he had encountered pressure, doubt, uncertainty. Finally, his heart had begun to settle after attending a mass at the Gesú. The homily was about the Parable of the Sower. “Maybe that was the answer: I just needed to plant the seed.” And so he did. 

Founder of AJWCC, Dr. Luis Sarmenta

The Center, which is soon to be renamed the Ateneo Research and Computing Competency Center (ARCCC), is unceasing in its pursuit to innovate and create as well as train future generations of coders and developers. Their goal is to instill the value of what it means to code and what it means to develop products for nation-building. 

“We want them to code with a heart,” said Dr. Estuar. This has been the driving force of the Center’s projects for the last fifteen years, and undoubtedly for the years to come as well. 

The attendees of the event, including founder Dr. Luis Sarmenta, AJWCC Executive Director Dr. Reena Estuar, Mr. Darwin Flores of Smart Communications, VP for the Loyola Schools Maria Luz Vilches, and former University President Fr. Ben Nebres