Archive for June 21st, 2008

Wireless recharging is coming soon

June 21st, 2008 | Category: Innovation direction,Targeted technology

Over the last few years, there has been an explosion in the number of portable or semi-portable devices we all carry around with us, laptop PCs, mobile phones, iPods, Palms, sat navs and more. One big issue which cuts through this whole area is getting power to these devices conveniently. If your home is like mine, you now have a number on mutually incompatible chargers around you and when your phone runs out of juice you can spend many minutes trying to find the right charger to plug in. Using the simple TRIZ tool of intensification, as the number or devices increases and the distribution of these devices becomes more complex, the number of chargers increases massively and the cmplexity of getting power to them all becomes a major headache and probably a key limitation. Wouldn’t it be great if you could get your power wirelessly and simply? Well, there are some interesting emerging technologies which could¬†make this possible.

One of my favourite technology sites is Philips Research. Right on the front page is a feature on wireless charging. Philps propose a wireless charging pad which transfers power to the devices by magnetic induction Рinduction coils in the pad induce current in charging coils in the devices, recharging their batteries. The magnetic induction principle is already used in the Philips electric toothbrush.


The encouraging thing about this technology is that Philips are working with the other device manufacturers to agree a standard so that the charging interface can be universal, taking away the problem of which charger is for which device.

Another company on the same trail is Splashpower. Once again their system is based on the principle of magnetic induction, giving the ability to transmit high power levels quckly and using a compact design. Splashpower also talk about charging applications in your car which seems like a great idea.

Both these developments will help to make ownership of mobile devices far easier in future. This sort of technology could well support the first steps to a further proliferation of mobile and embedded devices, taking us one step towards the ambient intelleigence vision of users being able to access personalised, context sensitive invisible intelligence in a seamless way.

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What it looks like in PARC

June 21st, 2008 | Category: Interesting stuff

I saw this on Guy Kawasaki’s blog “How to change the world”, ¬†which is a really good read anyway around innovation and technology. Guy visited the Palo Alto Research Centre at the end of 2007 and had a good look round the site. I liked the personalised workstations and early prototype iPod in particular. Also worth checking out is Guy’s video, The Art of Innovation

Guy Kawasaki

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Effective Problem definition – how to get more than half way to solving your problem

June 21st, 2008 | Category: Problem solving

From time to time in any innovation activity, you will face problems which need to be solved and solved quickly so that you can progress towards your objective. The way you go about solving a problem can make a major difference to the outcome you get.¬†It can mean the difference between a quick clean, elegant and maybe even downright exciting solution or the loss of weeks of valuable time and an unhappy compromise nobody really wants. When I work in innovative companies, helping people to solve¬†long standing, “impossible”¬†problems, I often see people getting caught out at the first step. I see teams or individuals who haven’t asked the right questions at the start of their problem solving process. That’s right, hard to believe as it may seem, many times, even before people have properly defined their problem, they are off and trying to solve it. There are many reasons for this puzzling behaviour, here are a selected few:

“I’m the expert so I ought to know all about the problem”

“I’m under serious time pressure, so I need to get on and solve the problem right now!”

“from my experience of similar situations, this worked last time”

Anyway, here is a simple process which I have used and I’ve found can really help:

Lets explain each of these steps in turn:

Step 1: Create an initial problem statement. Now this may sound really silly, but write the problem down. Committing your problem to paper can really help clarify exactly what you and maybe your team are setting out to solve. I’ve seen teams who have been working on a problem for weeks or months get into serious debate at this first stage about which problem they are really trying to solve. Writing the problem down gets everyone aligned about the real problem to resolve. It helps to start to write the problem down in the form “I want to …..¬†“ to get clearer on the desired solution you want to achieve. It is also really important that you write the problem down without using technical terms and jargon. Your problem should be able to pass the My Mum test, that is if you read it to your mother, she would understand it. There are two reasons for this, first, it makes the problem easier to explain to anyone, which helps if you want to get external input to your solution and second, it starts to take out terminology which is associated with the way you see the problem now, in TRIZ terms, your psychological inertia. This immediately helps you to unblock your thinking, which is the first step towards a new way of looking at your problem situation.

Step 2: Check you’re solving the problem at the right level. What do I mean by this? Lets take an example, imagine you are work for an airline and you start with problem: I want to design a more comfortable airline seat. Rather than just look at this specific problem, it can be really helpful to spend a bit of effort to check the context for the problem and consider possible sub-areas which might yield the best results. A simple tool to help with this is why-how laddering. To move up the ladder and discover context first ask why? This will quickly get you to top level business needs for your airline. Then ask how? to expose alternative options to answer the top level needs and even drill into your problem area:

Step 3: Refine the problem situation. This step helps you to identify the real tension or contradiction you are trying to resolve, in other words the gap you need to jump from where you are now (reality) to where you want to get to (expectation). Use the format I want to…but…. to frame your probelm situation.

¬†So, for the airplane seat example your problem might be: “I want to make a more comfortable airline seat but the current space available is too small for tall passengers.”

Step 4: Scope the problem. In this step, you define what can and what can’t be changed according to the conditions of your problem situation. Sometimes it is good to list the different components you have in the problem situation and their associated parameters and then go through each and decide which ones can be changed and which ones must stay as they are. You can use various scoping tools to help here: a simple table with¬†can change/can’t change columns, a scope box (what is inside can change) or, a personal favorite,¬†a chalk man of scope – a dead body outline laid out on the floor to help¬†your problem solving team decide what is in and out of scope.¬†

At this point you have a much clearer understanding of your problem situation and you can then proceed to use other problem analysis tools including TRIZ tools to analyse and solve your problem. More on steps forward from this in future posts. Download version: effective-problem-definition1


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