Looking Beyond The Horizon

Innovative Technologies & Services

Archive for the ‘social innovation’ Category

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 »

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 »

Fight malaria by contributing your computer while you sleep

Posted by evolvingwheel on February 16, 2008

Remember the SETI@Home project that was launched in 1999? It has been one of those pioneering projects where grid computing was brought to average consumers who would donate their computer hours for complex analysis of radio-signals from the space. The down-loadable software would receive data from the SETI server in the background and do calculations when the machine is idle at night or when you are away from it. Such grid computing way back then opened the doors for a new class of utility that would one day serve for complex stochastic simulations that could take years with limited computing power. A new possibility emerged!

Paying heed to this tremendous potential of volunteered grid computing across populations with desktops/laptos, MalariaControl.net hosted by AFRICA@HOME has launched a similar grid computing effort to model transmission dynamics and health effects on demographics with potential of getting infected by malaria. These simulations are intensive as they demand a huge set of grid points (human populations) with innumerable attributes that control the derivation of disease progression trajectory and other forecasting knowledge. The idea is simple. The Swiss Tropical Institute has developed a model for malaria epidemiology that uses the volunteer computing ability to calculate a credible analysis and a platform for evidence-based-treatment for malaria in Africa. malaria_kid.jpg

Again, the possibility of grid computing with volunteer computer hours is enormous. Further, to sweeten the deal, the architecture to support such efforts is FREE! The Berkeley Open Architecture for Network Computing (BOINC) is a openly available middleware that can be used to launch any such project. Another greatness of the BOINC framework is the support for both Microsoft Windows and Unix/Linux systems. Even though disease epidemiology studies for non-profit endeavors are great objectives for harnessing BOINC-like utility, the for-profit sector can also benefit from such volunteer contributions. Market research based on demographic behaviors and activity patterns across international borders is a demanding aspect of international business today. Stochastic marketing research models can leverage such grid computing efforts to run comprehensive analysis of product usage patterns. Furthermore, the volunteer attribute can be enriched by a monetary payment factor for hours of modeling usage of one’s computer too.

Picture: Courtesy AMREF

Posted in Computation, health, Innovation, Medicine, poverty, social innovation | Leave a Comment »

A tribute to Mr. Hans Rosling – Thanks for enabling the war on poverty better

Posted by evolvingwheel on December 16, 2007

I spent sometime learning what Mr. Hans Rosling is up-to, and that’s too for last 30 years. This incredible human being has collected the numbers of different indexes of poverty, education, income, export, import, healthcare, mortality, and what not. And he has come up with a dynamic representation of a perplexing view of changing time-line of economic/wealth growth of different countries in an application called Trend-alyzer, recently bought by Google. Discover Magazine recently covered him. Find the link [here] with an interview with Rosling. hans_rosling.jpg

Rosling created an animation of all the eco-social data points translating decades of development of individual countries into a time series. But it is more than that. As I watched his video, what struck me is the detail of the message embedded in an evolving path. All the data will now be available for free and social enterprises, nonprofits, entrepreneurs, and other parties can use them to develop economic policies, social instruments, and technological devices to appropriately address different pressing issues across the world. I believe that this will greatly benefit the understanding of the intricacies of an emerging world. In fact, one other aspect of this development is the possibility of crafting efficient flow of capital and resources through FDI (foreign direct investment) or philanthropy.

I visited Rosling’s blog and I would highly recommend you to visit too. A good collection of different discussions, literature, and Rosling’s innovative ideas to address global poverty and healthcare. The first thing that came across my mind is how we could use his data points and develop efficient and innovative ideas to bring sophisticated services and technologies where they are most needed. How could this data help us to device cost effectiveness of any proposed solution in those parts of the world where help is critically needed. Whatever way we proceed, his numbers will give us a live gauge of the pulse of these regions in a more vivid manner. THANK YOU Mr. Rosling.

Posted in drugs, Environment, health, Infrared, Innovation, poverty, Soccer, social innovation | Leave a Comment »