Looking Beyond The Horizon

Innovative Technologies & Services

Archive for January, 2007

Quantum Dots For Untapped Energy

Posted by evolvingwheel on January 30, 2007

Recent developments in nanoparticles have emerged possibilities that open new horizons in alternative sources of energy. One of them is solar energy and photovoltaic (PV) cells. Ted Sergent and his colleagues at the University of Toronto have invented a plastic infrared solar cell that is capable of tuning the bandgap in a semiconductor material. The team developed a semiconducting plastic (a polymer) where the size of the nanocrystals can be controlled to optimize the efficiency of the solar cell.

The high cost of fabrication and limited efficiency in converting solar energy to electricity have handicapped the first and second generations of solar cells. The yield versus the investment has limited the growth of this alternative energy source among average consumers globally. However, new developments in nanocrystals and methods of fabricating polymer plastics with quantum dots have created opportunities to implement a technology that promises cheap implementation and extremely high efficiency.

The first advantage of quantum dots is their tunable bandgap. By controlling the size of the nanocrystals one can generate high voltage with regular incident sunlight. Quantum dots can improve the efficiency of solar cell by extending the band gap and also by generating more charges from a single photon. Secondly, in contrast to traditional semiconductor materials that are rigid, quantum dots can be molded into different shapes and forms and hence can be implemented as sheets or films – an extremely attractive proposition for commercial impementation. Finally, the ability of the polymer to absorb light in the non-visible range opens a sudden and unexpected realm. Nearly half of the approximately 1000Wm3 of the intensity of sunlight is in the infrared zone. Infrared photovoltaic cells can even capture radiation from heat sources like industrial facilities. This implicates an enormous potential. The devices can be installed in thousands of industrial manufacturing lines to abosrb the energy and convert to electricity, thereby leading to an opportunity of delivering power from non-power generation sectors! [Click here for article]

And the business opportunities? 🙂 

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Posted in Innovation, investment, materials, micron, nanotechnology | Leave a Comment »

Cancer drugs for cheap! And the implications?

Posted by evolvingwheel on January 24, 2007

New Scientist reported a new finding which could be a breakthrough in cheap but potent treatments for cancer. The finding comes from a recent research conducted by Evangelos Michelakis and his colleagues at the University of Alberta in Edmonton, Canada. You may refer to the main article here.

One interesting fact is that the drug found to be having an extremely positive impact on different cancer cells is dichloroacetate (DCA) – a non-patented and long-prescribed affordable drug. The clinical trials of DCA may not be sponsored by big pharmas since there wont be any profit on non-patented drugs. So charities, nonprofits, universities, and governmental research centers will possibly chip in. Now what if this is a trend? What if hundreds of research centers in universities and govt. organizations across the country (or say the entire world) come up with breakthroughs in medicinal developments outside the realm of big pharma funded projects? How does the product get to the market successfully? Who markets it? Will governments provide subsidies in trials, capital investments, mass production, marketing, and eventual launching in the global pharmaceutical market? Now, we do know how bureaucratic things get when government processes are used to deliver time-critical and highly sophisticated products 😉

So who will step forward with sound management skills, marketing horsepower, and highly organized processes and operations? Startups? Nonprofits? But nonprofits are not yet well equipped with that level of management that we see in big corporations who pay a fortune for the big guns! And what’s the return even if someone chimes in? How will we integrate social innovation with technological innovation while having a margin enough to sustain the investments?………

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Innovation or Invention or Both

Posted by evolvingwheel on January 21, 2007

Came across this article published in Forbes Online… an interview of Harold Sirkin from BCG discussing about a critical differentiator between invention and innovation. The author explains how many managers/companies mistakenly identify inventions as innovations whereas an innovation is a full cycle of research, design, development, product conceptualizationm, and successful inception to the market.

Later on we will analyze different scenarios where companies succcessfully implement inventions to their product lines and in some instances fail to materialize their ideas to the marketplace. However, sometimes big inventions trigger other developments in the peripheral industries. An entrepreneur a company may consider such implications and develop strategic partnerships of different kinds to reap the benefit from the paybacks in other business ecosystems!

How To Reap The Rewards Of Your Innovation – Knowledge@Wharton

These days, almost every company worth its balance sheet insists that it invests in “innovation.” But does it make or lose money on these investments? That is a tougher question–and one that James Andrew and Harold Sirkin tackle in their new book, titled Payback: Reaping the Rewards of Innovation.

According to the authors, who are senior vice presidents and directors of the Boston Consulting Group (BCG), a new idea is just an invention–and not a true innovation–unless it generates financial returns. “Thousands of good ideas exist within every organization, even those that don’t think of themselves as innovative,” they write. “The real problem these companies have is how to turn their ideas into cash.”

That is where Payback hopes to help. Andrew and Sirkin believe that in order to profit from their innovations, companies need to develop a process to collect, screen and nurture new ideas, and “commercialize and realize them in a way that achieves payback.” They explain concepts such as the “cash curve,” which lets companies track and manage the innovation process, and the “cash trap,” which refers to supposedly innovative products that perpetually hemorrhage cash.

In an interview with Knowledge@Wharton, Sirkin discusses these and several other challenges that companies face as they seek to innovate and–with any luck–make a few bucks along the way.

An edited version of the transcript follows:

Knowledge@Wharton: Why is it so hard for companies to generate returns on their investment in innovation?

Sirkin: It’s very hard because most companies think about the idea–the invention, as opposed to the innovation. By innovation, we mean an idea that is driven to the profitability of return on investment. Most companies focus on invention. Read the rest of this entry »

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Innerspace – Part II

Posted by evolvingwheel on January 20, 2007

innerspace2.jpgIts like revisiting Fantastic Voyage.  A recent article in WIRED News (Fantastic Voyage: Departure 2009) sounds like a SciFi story in line with the script of 1987’s Innerspace. James Friend and his buddies at Micro/Nanophysics Research Laboratory are building a flagellated robot of 250 micron capable of swimming upstream through he human arteries and operating at desired locations unreachable by todays’s conventional methods. Isn’t that amazing! Just knocked my socks off when I tried to imagine its implications. What a massive engineering feat. A motor fitted in a capsule as wide as 2 human hairs that is driven by the mechanical pressure exerted by the rushing bloodstream running down the arterial network. The components are mind boggling: a micro level piezoelectric slab, mechanical flagella, a circuit, a power supply – all stacked together in a carrier that travels to a microscopic tumor or a blod clot in the middle of the brain. Innovation at its best.

Now lets dig into the possibilities that diverge from the commercialization of such technology in medical science. What always interests me is the ramification in other industrial developments and scientific researches. There are numerous opportunities. One is definitely material research in micro level. How can we develop materials that operate under severe size and conductive restrictions. May be we will try to mimic the natural phenomenon in artificial devices but in microscopic level. Another industry could be the commercialization of power supplies that are derived from molecular configurations and their alterations. Microbot development could also trigger research in molecular and genetic payloads which are capable of reaching highly sophisticated targets and reacting by chemical interaction to diffuse or instigate actions as required. Molecular genetics will be definitely worth following. I would also like to emphasize on the growth of a sector in medical profession where doctors will be acting like astronauts. Think of Dr. John Doe sitting on his special chair half inclined, with a hi-tech pair of goggles, and his both hands holding two joysticks that drive the microbot to the smallest cavity in the middle of the brain. As he smoothly rotates the stick, his right thumb presses a red button that ejects a micro amount of a synthetic glue to seal a ruptured vein.

It might sound great to have the patient check into the medical center, sit on a half inclined bed, get injected with a bot, and watch a Seinfeld rerun while the doctor finishes a delicate surgery in his brain. But…. but.. any invention is successful only to the extent of its availability. Along with the economics involved with the commercialization, what matters most is its implementation. Currently there are so many life saving drugs waiting for years to get approved by the FDA. Then there are ethical, political, and social questions associated with every aspect of a new drug or a technique. The medical industry doesn’t operate like the software or the hardware industry. Thus, the procedure might need some big shot pharmaceutical or medical device company to bring it to the market. However, in that case we face the inevitable question – will the new method be available at a reasonble price? Will not the implementor try to make huge profits and pass on the cost to the average patient? How receptive will the insurance companies be? So there are so many questions…….. and we will keep looking for answers.. and I ask you to look for too 🙂 

However, for now lets savor the wonderful feeling of crossing the thin line between reality and science fiction! 

Posted in Innovation, micron, nanotechnology, robots | Leave a Comment »

Global Innovation Hotspots – Where will they contribute?

Posted by evolvingwheel on January 18, 2007

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A new research has identified India, China, S. Korea, and others as global innovation hot-spots for the years to come. The numbers given in the graphics below (courtesy Businessweek) have both long-term and short-term implications. These centers will inevitably attract investments from within and beyond their borders. However FDIs (foreign direct investments) will mainly promote further developments, inventions, and resource engagements in these regions. Now my question is will these hot-spots benefit science & technology of their parent countries to a large extent or channel new developments mostly to the investing companies and their origin countries?

Over the last few decades S. Korea has emerged as a technology powerhouse. It has appeared that the major brand names that have powered the innovations and technological developments in that country are primarily native to that region. Even though FDIs were channelled from outside over time, the R&D was concentric to the national goals and objectives to enhance the infrastructure and general lifestyle of the citizens of S. Korea.

The landscapes in India & China are different. The support to new developments have mainly originated from outside of these countries. Its worth watching how these two governments direct policies and promote growth while balancing foreign investments. The social and economic developments of these regions are intricately tied up with the future growth in the science & technology sector. We will see how many patents arise from native companies compared to ones from foreign companies.

One interesting highlight of the research is the growth areas in the countries mentioned in the picture. Both Israel and Russia have core developments in optical sensors and aerospace which make up a big proportion of investments in defense. While India and China contribute more towards technology services with Taiwan and Singapore concentrating on hardware. I feel that the trend in Taiwan/Singapore are reflection of the FDIs over the last few decades from US companies like HP, Intel, and other giants.

Drugs appear to be a somewhat unique among all the sectors. SunPharma, Reddys, Ranbaxy, etc. are some of the powerhouses aggressively pursuing new patents. This could be a totally new area of development in India over the next 10 years.

Posted in hotspot, Innovation, investment | 1 Comment »

Will InPhase’s holographic storage fly?

Posted by evolvingwheel on January 18, 2007

Attention grabber: An IEEE Spectrum article on holographic storage published in Jan 2007 issue link to article. Will InPhase fly with its path-breaking technology of next generation data-storage? What are possible market segments and feasibility factors associated with the acceptance of the concept across the storage industry

As I read through the article, the numbers just looked awfully mouth watering. The 5.31 inch storage drive will be able to store 300 GB of data which will eventually scale above 1 TB. The data transfer rates could be in the range of 10s to 100s of Mbytes/second. Wow! That just opens the lockgates of storage capabilities. Now the immediate question arises if the technology will be accepted by the market in different levels both vertically and laterally. I am not yet aware of the performance during stress tests in different possible scenarios. May be the big guns from Bell Labs have run the concept through all possible technological constraints and limitations. I went to InPhase’s website and looked at their contribution to the already existing holographic imaging technology. They invented new multiplexing methods. It appears that with the advent of high density media storage and optical utilities (DVD players, Blue-Ray Discs, digital cameras) commercially over the last decade, the earlier bottlenecks should be gone. Now the question is how fast will their product penetrate the market? How long will this product take to wipe out the flash drive market?

Storage is the keyword nowadays. Media storage is competing with the conventional computing data storage market. iPODS, DVDs, DVR boxes are current. In the near horizon are the prospects of real time movie downloads from big banners to home media centers. If the company has a good marketing strategy supported by a program of fast implementation of the technology to mass consumer (individual shoppers) platform then the limits are boundless. The target blocks could be anywhere from rocket science (NASA, DOD) to average music lovers. It now depends on the management to focus on a solid delivery channel, continued funding, competitive marketing, continuous innovation, cheaper manufacturing cost and fast assembly line, and ergonomics of the device. I personally feel that if taken in the right direction, this product should cover a lot of distance.

Cons: Other market giants might follow through. However, the patented technology might trickle legal issues with other competitors who will try to come up with their versions of the recording medium and multiplexing? We have to observe how InPhase tackles these questions. Strategic partnership will be a key component.

Footnote: I was reading somewhere earlier that cable companies in upscale markets or big cities might create big data (media) hubs in front of the last mile to push HD VODs to individual home fast. Holographic media storage will then come real handy…….

Posted in hardware, Innovation, optics | 1 Comment »

Is innovation our fundamental right or impending responsibility?

Posted by evolvingwheel on January 16, 2007

500 SeriesHow critical is innovation? Is innovation the primary conduit to a better living, a social change, or a revolution? Within every mind kindles the spirit of adding some value to this world or for that sake to one’s own life. In some shape and form we always try to contribute towards a status quo change. There is definitely an inherent quality in every human being to go beyond their means. Depending on social and economic background, rearing, and the environment around us the energy may steer outward or stay dormant till the end. All successful individuals have somehow been able to rise above that watermark, that gravitational force and steer their dream towards tangibles that have redefined not only themselves but also the possibility of bringing change to the system.

One critical aspect of innovation is that any invention, modification, change, or formation is not limited to just serendipity. Its not that special event, the EUREKA or the light-bulb that has successfully evolved our lives towards a better direction. Its the soul behind that invention, the excitement from that turning point that has driven us. There has always been that dream! That dream to make the impossible happen. The dream to achieve the unachievable. However, all successful innovations regardless of social or technological have depended on the collective effort of implementing that change in the society. What value the invention of telephone would have brought if people were scared of its future implications and limited its use? What value an airplane would have added if we would have remained intimidated by the risk of flying? So the success of true innovation depends on the extension of the idea and its acceptance among the audience – which then brings the question that whether innovation is our fundamental right to improve our lives or our impending responsibility to raise the standard of living of the human race or both?

As our society grew more complicated over the ages, our governments and bureaucracy became hierarchical and puzzling, our greed exceeded the means, and our dependencies increased, we have observed a slowdown in true innovation and its implementation. Well, please feel free to refute me. I truly understand that there had been thousands of inventions over the last decade. Lifestyle changes supported by medical developments have significantly modified our standards of living. But, how much have we achieved in bringing such innovations to the doorsteps of every possible human reach? So much has been done and being done, but contrastingly so much more could have been done. I will bring couple of questions from the technological paradigm (considering my domain of interest).

How come we still drive cars that fundamentally run on the same basic physical principles invented 100 years back? How come we still have aircraft which are cylindrical and needs a long runway to take off? Why don’t we have cars with standard capability of parallel parking? Why don’t microwaves and washing machines come with remote operation (over distance via wireless) features commercially?

The technology is possibly there. The means are there. May be even the resource is there. But commercially too costly to bring to the average Joes? Too difficult to implement in volume while keeping the cost down and the margin high? Or is it the dependencies and the implications of bringing such revolutionary change in our lives which could negatively affect the social order? Is it monopoly, greed, or corporate control? However, I believe that the problem lies on the OTHER SIDE. May be its that side of the innovation that we call acceptance. How to make the change acceptable and agreeable. Its the age old conundrum with evolution. May be we are not always ready for such changes. Then the next critical thing is how to make ourselves ready. May be that will be that one big invention. Invention to a problem which is way more difficult than the technology itself.

I would like to focus in this blog about different innovative ideas in technology. We can discuss ways of enhancing the concept, look for better ways of implementing it, and find new options to make this world a better place to live.

Let the blogger’s contribution begin 🙂

Posted in Innovation | 1 Comment »