Looking Beyond The Horizon

Innovative Technologies & Services

Archive for March, 2008

RFID goes beyond tracking – Can smartcard be smart enough?

Posted by evolvingwheel on March 29, 2008

John was standing by the door of the overhead Red Line commute train with no idea about where to get off. As he stared blankly at his ticket for the Maroon 5 show, the automatic door just closed. Suddenly an idea clicked. He took out his cellphone, turned the ESI (External Source Input) button on, brought it near the ticket, and BINGO! It worked – the ticket had an embedded RFID chip that beamed the phone with the location map of the theater. Now imagine one step ahead – John, then held up his phone closer to the transit map on the train and a blink flashed – the RFID chip in the CTA map absorbed the existing target location in his phone, mapped against the current location of the train, and sent him back a direction log to get to the right stop! nokarfid.jpg

Well, this is not a Arthur C Clarke imagination – it’s more like a reality in next few years or may be even at the end of this year. Samsung has been up to developing a RFID chip that will be able to read information from different RFID chips embedded in all kinds of materials. The chip, more like a smartcard, will be able to read schedules, recipes, route maps, directions, and what not from chips that will appear at different spots and in multi-functional objects. Read the detail [here]. The best part will be when this RFID chip will be a two way gateway for information swapping.

Now comes the better part. Once you have these RFID chips in mobile devices, what will you do with the extracted information beyond just finding maps and reading calorie charts in grocery stores? Well, then will come the applications that will figure out ways to derive more meanings out of that tag information. In fact, information could be distributed just to trigger some specific application needs.

I just couldn’t miss the opportunity to showcase another company who have been developing some incredibly powerful applications with RFID technology. Mayalys, based in Malaysis, has been set-up by experienced businessmen and engineers based in Asia and France to handle designs, promote & market a range of innovative applications relying on a two way radio smartcard handheld terminal called YADILYS™ that addresses three market segments: electronic payment, intelligent transportation system, and sustainable lifestyles. Investors, interested professionals, and any other RFID enthusiasts should read about the technologies that they are using in implementing RFID based smart systems.

Picture: Nokia is rolling with the big dogs now by pushing out a phone with a technology that hasn t been done much before in cell phones. The company is including read/write RFID capabilities into a mobile phone. The phone seen here is the 3220 NFC prototype that is capable of reading any RFID tags and also writing to an RFID information tag.

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Posted in Communication, Innovation, RFID, wireless | Leave a Comment »

Smart electrical grids and broadband over power lines – two winner propositions

Posted by evolvingwheel on March 22, 2008

Over the recent years we have heard, talked, and ruminated about informatics – clinical informatics, bio-informatics, neuro-informatics, social informatics. Now we are adding one more – power-informatics. Yes, that could be a very legitimate name for a science that blends sophisticated engineering, advanced conservation, and proactive allotment of resources in electrical power development, distribution, and savings. All these together are forming a very potent tool in power consumption and smart-grid management.

So what is a smart electrical grid. Even few days back I didn’t know much about this concept – a concept that develops its fundamentals from advanced monitoring of power production, distribution, and usage at both the source and the consumer end. Minneapolis-based utility Xcel Energy has embarked on a project that will ‘equip homes with smart power meters that help people reduce demand when electricity is most expensive. Substations will also use information from the meters to automatically reroute power when problems arise’. You may read the full article [here]. the smart grid is all about saving energy, over-usage, and bottlenecks in grids, power lines, and cluster nodes. In a nutshell, as I understood, when there is peak hour, your intelligent monitor installed in the garage will send a signal to the washer to wait for few hours when the grid load mellows down. Further, the household electrical utensils will pass usage analytics to the power company that would help them forecast usage volume and cost peaks across demographics that stretch across geographic, economic, and cultural spectrum within the population. powerlines-squareweb.jpg

Now there are two other things that came to my attention.

First, one partner of this project, called Current Group, has designed and deployed what is known as BPL systems – Broadband over Power Lines. Now this is just amazing. Being interested in ubiquitous access of the Internet in remotest parts of the world (and poor parts as well), I have often encountered insurmountable difficulties in envisioning accessibility to broadband in under-served communities of the world. Now BPL creates a whole new dimension and henceforth a disruptive innovation that could be called RADICAL. As electricity is considered fundamental to modern civilization, every government have tried their best to push the electrical outlet as deep as possible into villages and remote corners of their countries. Internet is a new phenomenon. But power lines had been growing for decades and have evolved their way into households affected by poverty and other infrastructure disparities. Now if BPL becomes a viable option, then communication accessibility to these parts of the world will be a very very reasonable option. I am very excited by this opportunity. Got to do some real research on the policy, infrastructure, and capital investment needs to bring this to fruition.

Second, is a whole new market development in electrical utilities that talk to the user over broadband – whether that is laid through power lines or wifi or other wireless networks. I will just give a small use case and you can dream all different ways to extend it. When your washing machine gets a warning from your power provider about peaks, it sends you a ping to your cell phone and you communicate back asking it to start two hours later. If you plan to override, your power system charges you premium and you bear the cost by confirming the alert through your mobile device. Is this sounding like sci-fi. May be 5 years from now it won’t!

Last but not the least: My salute to one of the greatest sci-fi author Arthur C Clarke, who passed away in Sri lanka on March, 19. A true dreamer and a visionary of the time.

Posted in broadband, Communication, electricity, Energy, Environment, Innovation, social innovation | Leave a Comment »

Inhaled tuberculosis vaccine – a gateway to affordable and non-invasive drug delivery

Posted by evolvingwheel on March 13, 2008

Several months back I mentioned about saliva as a source of biomarkers for different diseases. The theme of my post was to delineate the non-invasive and easy-to-administer features of a method that could be used in developing areas of the world where harsh environmental conditions, lack of trained resources, and ignorance pose potent threats to proper diagnosis. This posting comes under the same theme of affordable diagnosis and drug administration where the sturdy nature of the delivery methodology makes it easier to transport, store, distribute, and apply medication among masses of population who often survive on less than $1 a day. tb.jpg

Researchers from Harvard University and an Int’l nonprofit Medicine in Need (MEND) have come up with an aerosol version of a common TB vaccine that can be applied as an aerosol mist. The differentiator is the aerosol delivery using nanoparticle technology that may change the current immunization delivery platform altogether. In the hot countries of Africa and Asia, some of the most difficult challenges are storage and sterility of injection needles. This method, which is currently being tested on animals with highly positive outcomes, if successfully implemented among the human population, can add a whole new horizon of social innovation in immunization for the most needy. A more detailed information about the method and their pioneering inventors can be found [here].

Even in the western hemisphere, this new method, if proven successful, can put the industry of drug delivery upside down. Such a scientific innovation could instantiate a process overhaul among several other collateral supporting industries that provide us with needles, storage, delivery medium, etc. Several years back my friend was using the Asthma inhaler called AdvAir. I was really impressed by the easy-to-use style of the delivery medium – air! If a similar technology could be brought over for the Flu vaccine, I wonder what will be the impact on the society where immunization will be a matter of few seconds and the candidate doesn’t even need to be in a clinic or a healthcare facility. Another major dimensional change will be if the immunization becomes a OTC activity.

Picture: Courtesy Harvard Science/David Edwards, the Gordon McKay Professor of the Practice of Biomedical Engineering in Harvard’s School of Engineering and Applied Sciences.

Posted in diagnosis, drugs, Environment, health, Innovation | Leave a Comment »

A new kind of market empowered social innovation

Posted by evolvingwheel on March 9, 2008

While on my way to work last week I was just browsing through my fresh copy of BusinessWeek magazine and came across a small article. On the first pass, the publication seemed insignificant lying almost at the middle of the magazine, in a less than obvious spread. As I kept on reading line after line, a sudden scintillation struck my nerves! Something sounded very very right with a fantastic potential. Before I go any further, here’s the article: A New Kind of First Responder.

So what’s so special in that one page publication. Not going into too much detail, which you will find anyways in the link, I will briefly touch on some key notes. One of the global insurers, Swiss RE, has created an innovative insurance mechanism that covers catastrophic environmental disasters in a particular geographical area of the world. In this particular case, the company has launched a product called Globecat that provides insurance to cover early response to earthquakes in El Salvador. The coverage buyer puts a couple of millions of dollars into a special investment instrument. Globecat then sells bonds to the financial market and raises funds to cover the disbursement if an earthquake of a specific magnitude hits the area. Investors bet on the possibility of an environmental disaster. If there is no earthquake of the specifications demanded by the fund, then the investors makes interest which is paid out by the premium. ‘Bingo‘!! – what a innovative approach to connect the free market with social innovative pursuits to help the poor and the needy affected by natural calamities. bangladesh_flood.jpg

Now think of the potential of these kinds of instruments –

  1. Provides a very fast way to deliver resources to an affected area – not waiting for charities to raise money and taking days if not weeks to provide help to the people. So, that’s the logistical aspect of the equation.
  2. The instrument is allowing investors to bet on natural uncertainties – a more complicated futures market for incidents quite out of our control. What does that do? It creates several opportunities. One, it emphasizes research in atmospheric sciences and earth sciences that provides the ability to forecast such events. May be that is another way to raise the R&D money outside the blessings of NSF, DOD, NASA, and NOAA. Second, the future will create a rating system of different regions prone to activities by analyzing historical data. This natural disaster instrument will then directly affect the agricultural futures in those particular regions. Considering macroeconomic factors directly connected with such attributes, the hedging can control the distribution of agricultural investments in different geographical areas.
  3. Next, I assume, this investment will enrich the market of social innovation by bringing real talent and resources to the plate. Analysts, scientists, and economists could bring a new vigor into the game too. More such innovative approaches will allow the foundations work parallel to the market in orchestrating mechanisms to deliver help to the underserved communities in a more efficient manner.

The hope is ON!

Posted in Environment, Innovation, investment, social innovation | Leave a Comment »

Strike against Bisphenol – Consumer awareness dictates product shift despite regulatory indifference

Posted by evolvingwheel on March 1, 2008

There has been a growing concern about Bisphenol-A (BPA) over the last couple of years. As different lab test results come out through the media outlet and Internet, highlighting the negative effects on human health and more so on infant health, a sharply heightening awareness is leading consumers to find different options. The story can be told better if I explain a bit about this BPA and how it affects us.

Bisphenol A is a hormone-disrupting chemical considered to be potentially harmful to human health and the environment. BPA is a key building block in plastics and is used ubiquitously in different plastic products ranging from polycarbonate to polyester. BPA is one of many man-made chemicals classified as endocrine disruptor. Lately, the concern has been revolving around several critical findings that talk about the potential of leaching of this compound from transparent plastic bottles being used for feeding babies. In the US several test data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) have shown that there is a decent amount of BPA in urine samples of humans between ages of 6 and 85. And CDC data reflects that “Children had higher levels than adolescents and adolescents had higher levels than adults,” says endocrinologist Retha Newbold of the U.S. National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences.

Read more about the studies in the following links below:

http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/01/080130092108.htm

http://www.sciam.com/article.cfm?id=plastic-not-fantastic-with-bisphenol-a

The interesting part of this is how consumer awareness of these findings is translating into buying behaviors. The market for infant bottles and other baby utensils that employ BPA is staggering and more than 95% of the feeding bottles today are made from BPA. While Japan, Canada, and EU have acted judiciously on this continued research on the health effects of BPA leaching from the bottles, the FDA in the US are taking a slower reactionary standpoint to the growing concern. Meanwhile, there is a war of words between the chemical industry and health activists on this issue. The industry argues that unless BPA is proved to have ill effects it should continue to be manufactured and used, because it is cheap, lightweight, shatterproof and offers other features that are hard to match. There is no alternative for either of those materials [polycarbonate plastics and epoxy resins] that would simply drop in where those materials are used. On the other hand, the activists claim that polyethylene and polypropylene plastics would be fine substitutes for several products. While the industry groups, consumer advocates, government regulators, and healthcare professionals debate over the efficacy of these researches and the true impact on human health, the consumers are now deciding their own options. bisphenolabottle.jpg

There is an increasing number of online orders for BPA free plastic feeding bottles and glass bottles. What could be more dear to one other than his/her kid’s safety. This has juxtaposed with the awareness through blogs, websites, conventional media, and email/text notes between groups and individuals. In a web2.0 world, social networking has also augmented the viral distribution of knowledge that is translating into actions. People are not waiting for Target-Walmart to take these bottles out of their shelves. Concerned parents are going online and finding other channels to suffice their needs for a non-BPA lifestyle. It appears to me that Internet is again going to be a market driver for a product usage shift. And this time it may be a remarkable example of overriding industry dictations, vested interests, and market lobbyists.

Next comes the existing market for BPA bottles. The BPA production numbers by major manufacturers as of 1999 can be found [here]. There are two dynamics to follow. One is a new market for the substitute material for infant bottles as demands grow over the next few years, and next is the shift of the polycarbonate applications from the existing infant utensil market. It wouldn’t be surprise to me if in next few months Walmart announces that they will put BPA-free bottles on their shelves. However, such a move can’t preserve the BPA bottles parallel to the ones free from it. The comparison issue will immediately discount the BPA bottles as a consumer’s choice. Then the immediate business opening is the re-utilization of the manufacturing and distribution process of BPA for infant industry.

http://www.theglobeandmail.com/servlet/story/RTGAM.20080214.wlbottle14/BNStory/specialScienceandHealth/home

The final outcome could be FDA issuing a more strict guideline for BPA manufacture and application. However, consumer’s practice would preempt the regulatory aspect by enforcing the product development, marketing, and distribution towards a non-BPA world. Can we call that Internet enabled consumer2.0?

Picture Credit: Univ. of Cincinnati

Posted in Environment, health, materials | Tagged: , , | 1 Comment »