Archive for June 26th, 2008

Ideal Technological System, some practical examples

The previous post got me thinking a bit about the TRIZ concept of an “Ideal Machine” or “Ideal Technological System”. This is a very powerful and deep rooted TRIZ concept, which stated simply can be summed up by the sentence:

“An ideal technological system is a system which does not itself exist as a physical entity but¬†the function that it delivers is still fully performed”

Sounds a bit strange doesn’t it? If the system itself doesn’t exist then how on earth does it deliver any function at all? Well, lets see if we can think of some examples of ideal technological systems, that is, things which delivers¬†functions but which don’t themselves exist.

1. The office printer, scanner, fax¬†and photocopier used to be¬†four discrete devices, each with their own costly consumables and space requirements. Now you can get all the same functions from one device. So you could say that, for example,¬†the fax function is delivered without any system. Here’s a shiny example from Canon to prove¬†it, just look at all the stuff it does!


2. As I showed in my post about evolution of technical systems, the system to move aircraft control surfaces¬†has become¬†quite complex due to the need to control and move control surfaces on large and fast aircraft. The¬†active aero-elastic wing (AAW) prototype demonstrates a new way to move control surfaces by using shape memory alloys to flex the entire wing surface. This format eliminates many of the subsystems needed in a conventional wing such as flaps and hinge systems. Incidentally I’ve found some film of the AAW is action which is rather cool.


3. OK, I’m going to shift industry area completely now. Here is a final example of ideality. In this case, a recent innovation in dishwashing tablets – Finish Quantum. The key innovation here is that the tablet is encased in a hot water soluble barrier. I know it’s not perfect, I’ve stopped using them myself after a brief flirtation, but you get my point – no wrapper!


I hope you can see that such a thing as an “Ideal Technological System” can actually exist in reality and isn’t just a high-flown abstract TRIZ concept. From the TRIZ viewpoint the reason this concept is so important is that all technological systems, even if they are far from ideal right now, tend to evolve towards the “Ideal Technological System” over time, just look at computers, mobile phones and audio media for example (compare MP3 with an LP to get an idea here).¬†¬†

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New ways to control mobile devices

I found this on MSNBC today and it got me thinking how people might be controlling mobile devices (should they still exist) in the coming years. The article talks about eye movement control of mobile phones and portable music players being researched by engineers at NTT DoMoCo is Japan.

The experimental system uses sensors and chips that detect electrical current produced by movements of the wearer’s eyeballs. NTT DoCoMo believes wearable control technology will be adapted for mobile devices that download music, play video games and allow users to shop online and keep up with their e-mail. The new technology may also enable cell phone cameras to read bar codes used in Japan to get product information, download music and coupons when the user simply looks at the codes, researchers said.

Also on show was a new minimalist phone system is the form of a ring. To listen to it you stick your finger in your ear and the vibrations travel through your bones to and from the ear piece. Looks to be a bit clonky right now but I guess it’s only a prototype.

Finally there was a device shaped like a wrist watch which you tap to control other devices.

There is an interesting trend in technologies to interface with various devices right now, be it in surgery, aerospace, gaming or mobile telecoms. I’m not sure if the above options will ever make it to market but they do point the way to a future sitation where mobile devices become more “ideal” and, in time, a situation where they cease to exist totally, while their functions remain or¬†are even enhanced.


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Open Innovation – Why you should know what “Ideagora” means

Open Innovation. The holy grail of modern innovative companies. So all you have to do is connect with innovators around the world and, hey presto, all¬†your innovation worries are gone! Of course, in real life it’s not quite that simple, for a start how do you go about connecting with all these innovators in the first place. The trouble with Open Innovation is that it’s open – do you really want to open up all your strategic issues to the world in the hope of gettting a solution? What about IP, how do you handle that? well, there are a number of idea marketplaces (Ideagoras) which¬†help companies get through this process. The top three, in my view, are:

Nine Sigma¬†who source innovative solutions for their clients (Innovation Seekers) by using a global network of up to 1.5m Solution Providers. They cover a broad range of technical disciplines…chemistry, materials, electrical/electronics, packaging, food, formulation, consumer preferences, health/life sciences, renewable energy and more. Interestingly, many large organizations are registered as Solution Providers as well as Innovation Seekers. Nine Sigma posts new, often annonymous¬†Request For Proposal (RFP) documents on it’s website on a weekly basis. The Client typically pays an up-front fee of $15K (2007 prices) per RFP with risk sharing “success commission” based on paying Nine Sigma a percentage of the final contract value. RFPs are sent by e-mail notification each week to registered Solution Providers and Affiliates. Solution Providers are offered a prize for the best solution(s) generally ranging from $5K to $50K. In my experience as a Solution Provider, it can take a very long time (nearly 2 months and counting) to get a response if you submit a proposal. I’ve heard from others that they never received¬†a response.

Nine Sigma has a very rapid rate of growth of their¬†Solution Provider¬†base, primarily through Affiliates. Large client organisations have had some big successes through Nine Sigma and are expanding their agreements, increasing the number of RFPs that they are posting. However, for smaller innovators it’s worth noting that many of the transactions are between large companies with complementary capabilities and strong IP awareness.

Innocentive¬†connects companies, academic institutions, and non-profit organizations (Seekers) with a global network of more than 145,000 of the world’s brightest minds (Solvers) and aims to Become the “Google” of the innovation search. Challenges are posted annonymously normally and solutions have come from more than 30 countries with over 550 postings for innovation challenges since starting, 192 awards to date. Recognition is given to successful solvers on the InnoCentive website and in my view Innocentive is aimed more at the research scientist community than Nine Sigma. InnoCentive is also innovating the way it markets itself e.g. use of Youtube (here¬†is¬†an example of a¬†seeker and solver video). The cash awards for solving challenges are in the range $5,000 to $100,000 (but can be as high as $1m). InnoCentive have so far paid out over $13m in prizes. As with Nine Sigma, there is an initial posting fee which varies according to the type of challenge but is in the range of $6,000 to $15,000. There is also a success fee based on the value of follow-on contract or award value. Innovation Challenges are sent by e-mail to Solvers once a week. Innocentive have experienced extremely rapid growth (45% per month) of solver base, number of challenges and value of awards. I haven’t actually answered any Innocentive Challenges although I have recently seen one that I might have a go at.

With both Nine Sigma and inncentive, as a Solver/Solution Provider, you need to have a look at their contractual terms and conditions. Both sites talk about “Non-confidential disclosure” which they say is mainly intended to prevent the client being compromised by IP. However, as a¬†Solver/Solution Provider you should also think about your rights and if you think you have something that is new (after a quick prior art search) then the best thing to do is protect it by filing a patent. This needn’t be a scary experience. I’ve recently filed 3 patents; it was cheap and once you get the style of the lingo it is relatively straightforward. More on this in another post.¬†

Which brings me on to the third Ideagora:¬†is a bit different as it is focused around buying and selling IP. They exist “to help technology companies realise value from their Intellectual Property”. claims to operate the¬†largest Global online marketplace for technology transfer. The internet presence is said to be a unique resource to facilitate deals¬†with 120,000+ registered users, 40,000 companies, Network of 12,000+ smaller companies ($10-500m). also says it holds 500,000 data points of known solutions and specialises in “In-licensing ” and “out-licensing” IP for large companies and SMEs.¬† closed 20+ deals last year and completed transactions for 10 F500 companies in Q4 2007 with 71% of the deals¬†between companies from different industries.¬† provides consulting support throughout a project and stays engaged in the deal-making process and claims that it is very well placed to help companies acquire technology because it also helps clients exploit technology.

Typical client rates (2007 rates):
Membership fee $4,000 to $30,000
Consulting service fee $30,000 to $40,000
Success fee: % of value to the deal but capped

There is some interesting stuff on and it is certainly worth a look if you’re cruising fro technology to answer your specific problem. I’ve¬†already found useful technologies in here for my clients. It might be a good place to post your technology IP, if you can afford it.

So, what do I think about these new marketplaces? Well I reckon that they do present an important new resource for technology sourcing for Innovation Managers and¬†R&D¬†Directors, and as they have got bigger they are beginning to approach the critical mass necessary to deliver meaningful innovation. For innovation minded companies, they can no longer be ignored. However, don’t expect¬†them to solve every problem you have – one statistic to bear in mind is that on average (Nine Sigma and Innocentive figures) they only manage to get suitable answers to 40% of their postings.¬†Here is a downloadable powerpoint¬†presentation:¬†the-ideagora-an-emerging-innovation-marketplace