Archive for the 'The future' Category

Technology Innovation at Philips Applied Technologies

Last week I visited Philips Applied Technologies in Eindhoven and I was given the inside line on a number of impressive new technology applications.¬†Philips Applied Technologies¬†are¬†well experienced in applying and integrating a wide range of technologies including software, electronics, robotics, precision motion and sensors. They act as a consultancy wing of Philips, helping to broaden the use of Philips technologies and applications for a very broad range of clients in areas as diverse as retail, healthcare, energy and semiconductor manufacture. While there, I had a look around “homelab”, a demonstrator for the home of the future, I saw a number of neat technology applications and I experienced the Philips 3D TV in 42″ LCD format. Watching the new TV, without any special glasses, is a seriously convincing visual and sensory treat – I watched a very realistic 3D film sequence from Journey to the Centre of the Earth and witnessed Pinnochio’s nose grow out of the screen. It works by having an extra lenticular layer in the screen which is designed to interact with the displayed image and special¬†processing chips to send the correct images in real time to your right and left eyes to create the 3D effect. It’s a bit like a super whizzy version of the lenticular display signs you sometimes see which give a moving image or a 3D image as you move your head. To view the screen, you need to position your head so you can’t see any ghosting and then enjoy. Apart from this the only limitation seems to be that the resolution of 2D images suffers so the display is effectively limited to 3D. Initial applications are in digital signage retailing at up to $13,000 for the 42″ version. I think it’s called WOWvx.

Heres a quick video about Philips 3D TV to give you some faint idea of how cool it is.

Other cool things being worked on are lab-on-a-chip devices, already being used to detect high alcohol or drug levels in drivers, a new Optical imaging mammography system, Near Field Comms technology to enable WiFi, low cost noise cancelling headphones, some amazing precise mechatronic systems (for use in future 22nm fab lines) and some clever ways to configure LED lighting systems.

I was really impressed by the capabilities and technologies that Philips Applied Technologies have on offer. I can imagine that when used with strong market and consumer insight, application of the technologies they have on offer could easily result in some true market breakthrough products.

From the Open Innovation perspective, the whole High Tech Campus in Eindhoven has been through something of an opening up process over the last few years and Philips is finding new ways to showcase and connect with customers through initiatives such as “Meet and Match” where technologies are demonstrated and explained and customer needs elaborated.

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The future of food – will there be enough for everyone?

July 29th, 2008 | Category: Change,Food innovation,The future,Trends

I’ve just read the latest insight briefing from Innovaro¬†which outlines future innovation opportunities in food and drink. The paper suggests that

the food industry today is facing a similar  Ľtipping point ľ to that which became apparent to many in the energy sector around 5 years ago. Just as the energy sector is facing growing demand, rising prices, climate change and security of supply by shifting its view, so too can the food industry.

Within the food industry and food markets, there are a number of macro drivers of change that are increasingly being recognised as either essential or highly probable developments. Two main driver are:

  • the iminent large scale adoption of GM food, driven by the pressing need to get more yield per unit area of farm land and the impact of the food vs. fuel balance. According to the report, Organic food will be seen as no more than a worthy blip¬†away from¬†the path to increased food yield
  • the rapid and, given current production techniques, unsustainable rise in global meat consumption due to the growing middle classes¬†of India and China moving up the protein ladder. This trend my well need to be answered by the emergence of alternative protein production methods, such as large scale laboratory cultures.

The article goes on to outline three main catalysts for future innovation:

  • ¬†Water Scarcity – according to the paper:

the increasing lack of fresh water for the growing global population will result in more water wars, rising prices and, as a regulatory response, the requirement to declare embedded water. Today, not many people are yet aware that it takes 400,000 litres of water to make a car and 140 litres to make a single Starbucks cappuccino.

  • Efficient Product – this seems to be all about eliminating waste, where the paper says the food industry has some way to go:

As other sectors aim for 100% recycling of product and packaging, the way we manage food and drink supply chains needs to fundamentally change and become more efficient in terms of waste. Innovation in this area in other sectors is already showing tangible results and fuelled by increasing attention to the topic, consumers will expect similar standards of efficiency across sectors.

  • Localised Processing – I’ve talked about his trend in previous posts about future consumers and emerging trends in food production to reduce environmental impact and increase trust in the source of the food. The paper says:

The real changes are coming in the area of food processing which is being driven by a combination of both top down eco-footprint regulation and bottom up community interest. Whether this is for ready meal preparation or more simple produce conversion, shifting the final finishing of more foods from a centralised production model to a smaller, decentralised approach will demand coherent effort across the agriculture sector, food and ingredient manufacturers, retailers and regulators.

The above trends present a mix of threat and opportunity and it’s clear that the organisations who can start to exploit these changes and innovate to provide relevant solutions will be very successful in future. On the other hand, concerningly, there will be increasingly major challenges ahead¬†to find ways to ensure everyone can be fed.

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FDIN Seminar – Breakthrough Innovation for the Food and Drink Industry

Just got back from an excellent seminar, run by the Food and Drink Innovation Network¬†(FDIN). Lots of interesting stuff to share in future blogs on ways to improve your targeting of Lead Users and ways to engage them more fully in your innovation process, Open Innovation, Consumer Trends and¬†Emerging Packaging formats. Incidentally, the FDIN is a great source of information about¬†developments in the food industry and I make sure I get regular updates.ÔŅĹ

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All Terrain Quadruped Robot – a glimpse of the future?

I found this amazing video on the Boston Dynamics website yesterday of a quadruped robot, BigDog¬†which can get over serious obstacles, climb 35 degree slopes, carry 400lbs and even gallop and jump. It is pretty cool even if it is powered by a (rather noisy) gasoline engine driving hydraulics.¬†There are clearly¬†some very sophisticated control algorithms in it’s on-board computer – some of the shots of it trying to stay upright on ice¬†are amazing! I then had a look through the rest of the stuff on the site, how about a tree and wall climber, a sneaky all-terrain ground crawler and a small brother to BigDog imaginatively called LittleDog. I reckon this one seems a bit more house trained and might even make a good pet. Anyway, here’s a shot of BigDog full loaded.

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Boeing fuel cell aircraft at Farnborough airshow

July 14th, 2008 | Category: Interesting stuff,Targeted technology,The future

On the news today, I found out that there is an experimental hydrogen fuel cell powered aircraft on show at this years Farnborough Airshow. As you might imagine the Boeing FCDA (fuel cell demonstration aircraft) is not the most powerful of aircraft, but it has flown for over 20 minutes entirely under fuel cell power and it’s only emissions are water and heat. If you’d like to see it in action, here is some video from youtube. Although fuel cells are now commercially available (the fuel cells in this plane come from the UK), it will be a while before fuel cells will be used to power anything but the smallest aircraft. Even so, it does seem to be a pretty cool direction for¬†a more sustainable¬†future.


The new age of innovation?

I’ve just watched C.K. Prahalad being interviewed on Business Week, talking about his new book “The New Age of Innovation: Driving Cocreated Value Through Global Networks” Prahalad talks about the new needs of innovation being driven by four big changes in the competitive landscape:

1. Global connectivity, where up to 4 billion people will be on-line

2. Digital technologies becoming more available through increased convenience and lower cost

3. Convergence of industry boundaries and technologies, e.g. a cell phone is also a computer a watch and a camera

4. Evolution of social networks

In Prahalad’s view this is driving big shifts in innovation away from industrial revolution thinking, where the key considerations of innovation were the form and product as the source of value, to a situation where one consumer has a very personalised experience provided from a concentration of a¬†very broad range of resources. An example of this is the iPod, where a user builds¬†his or her¬†own very personalised experience while Apple (who don’t¬†manufacture the¬†device or prepare the content) facilitates this by bringing together a wide range of resources from aroung the world. This Prahalad, rather snappily, describes as “N=1, R=G”. He goes on to contrast this new model with the previous view of the world, highlighting three key differences:

1. While the product may be a small part of the experience, the key thing for the consumer is the experience.

2. This experience is co-created by the consumer. For example, Apple can’t tell you which¬†content to play on your iPod. All they can do is provide a platform for you to chose the content. You become an integral part of the value creation.

3. The experience cannot be created without the collaboration of a wide range of different institutions, creating a whole eco-system of contributors to your personalised experience.

These three points contribute to the shift away from the old innovation approach of form being the unit of analysis and product being the source of value, the old innovation approach being epitomised by the Model T Ford. Prahalad argues that this new model doesn’t just apply to systems like iPod and iTunes but will also apply to other, less glamorous¬†products such as tyres or shoes.

Prahalad sees two fundamental challenges for management:

1. To change the way we look at the world, to see our consumers as an active parts of the experience creation process. In this new world, there are two joint problem solvers the company and the consumer. What impact might this have on future business strategy?

2. how to change information management systems to match these shifts. He see this area as a major source of competitive value.

So, to summarise, if you’ve gone with this argument so far, our job as innovators becomes one of¬†building new platforms on which our consumers can create their own experiences. This all seems to align well with the TRIZ evolution of the technological customisation system. The next step after this from a TRIZ viewpoint is that the system itself customises the consumer’s experience with no intervention required from the consumer.¬†ÔŅĹ


PC – TV convergence, searching for the “sweet spot”

I recently picked up an article on the knowledge at Wharton website about the topic of bridging the chasm between the computer and TV. There are a number of players targeting this transition and what is clear is that all three elements of the “sweet spot” strategy are being explored, business, market and technology. Companies such as Netfix and are looking at their current businesses and have realised that the need to start looking to the next generation of media format. They both see potential for increased revenues and profits through the switch from DVD rental by mail to digital media direct to consumers homes. Other players, such as HP,¬†are looking at the opportunity from the hardware and technology side. On June 10th Hewlett-Packard¬†unveiled a $349 digital receiver that brings video and audio content from the PC or Internet to any high-definition television set.


In May Netflix unveiled a $99 set-top box that directs movies and TV shows from the Internet to its subscribers’ TVs. Meanwhile, Apple has been building out the services connected to its Apple TV product,¬†signing a deal with HBO in May to bring shows like “The Sopranos” from its iTunes store to widescreen televisions. Companies such as Netflix, Disney, and Apple are expanding the digital distribution of media.

Right now there is some serious debate going on about the likelihood of convergence of the compute, on-lin digital media and the TV. David Hsu, a management professor at Wharton, says “Theoretically, it should be the case that there’s a lot of convergence between the PC and TV and content evolution. But on the demand side, it’s unclear what consumers want.” Hsu thinks the solution is to try many different business models. Wharton marketing professor Peter Fader says the digital living room analogy is off-base in many respects. “The whole digital living room idea misses the point. A nice analogy is, ‘What am I going to do for dinner tonight?’ I can go to a fancy restaurant. Or just get a burrito. It’s all about convenience and control. The microwave burrito is watching video on your PC. The fancy restaurant is the big screen in your living room and the immersive experience. You’ll do both.” There seems to be evidence of some serious techno-push as well. “Everyone is too beholden to their boxes,” Fader notes. “Companies are a little more fixated on the technology and gadgets than the services when they should instead be focusing on making it easier to consume content on any device.” At the moment a lot of the services being offered are closed, that is you buy the box and you only get one specific content. People seem to be following the Apple iPod/iTunes model. One reason these digital living room technologies are closed to each other is because companies are trying to reproduce Apple’s so-called “halo effect,” where one device or service stokes demand for other products from the same company. There is still a lot of experimentation going on in the area as the different companies focus on find the “sweet spot”.

“The value for companies will emerge when they come up with something that cannot be replicated by Comcasts in the world. Netflix has made some strides here by allowing subscribers to manage their movie queue online. But I would say it has to go beyond that,” says Hsu.

For now, however, companies targeting the digital living room are more often than not emulating what the cable companies already do. The more successful models are subscription based or pay-per-view and involve a set-top box. “The rationale for all these set-top boxes is that consumers want to interact with devices in a way they already know,” Hsu notes.

Indeed, one of the biggest hurdles for these new entertainment delivery business models is consumer behavior, he adds. Consumers are not used to combining the functions of a TV and PC and sharing content between them. Hsu expects more innovation and experimentation to come. “Technology is getting sophisticated and there will be some meld of the PC, TV and Internet. But what’s going to get people to switch over to interacting with these appliances and machines? There will have to be something that’s fundamentally different than what’s on TV.”

Of course there are other issues facing these innovators, on top of potential proliferation of set top boxes, the thorny issue of bandwidth rears it’s head. “Most of these set-top boxes use cable broadband as a separate distribution channel, but it’s not quite as separate as it seems because it’s all coming over a cable modem,” Faulhaber says. “This could become an issue if Internet TV really takes off. If streaming video over broadband networks becomes popular, there may be limitations placed on it because the networks may not be able to carry it all. Some accommodation will have to be made because there will be 20 pounds of content in a three-pound bag. When we start pushing TV down the broadband channel, there will be issues.”

Interesting article, demonstrating the struggle companies often have when a logical emerging technology theme (in this case very much in line with the TRIZ evolution law of transition to the super-system, following the mon-bi-poly line) is not sufficeintly rooted in business model of market value.

Personally I think it will come. In the UK we already have something called BBC iPlayer. This new free service provides on-line access to BBC programs from the last 7 days. It has been phenomenally successful, with more that 1 million downloads per day, so much so that the UK internet providers have started to restrict iPlayer bandwidth at certain times of the day. Although downloading can be a real pain, I’ll put up with it because I can get great content for free. The only remaining problem I have is that I have to watch it on the PC, when I’d really like to watch it on the TV. So the demand is already there. If the process could be made faster and easier I reckon it could even start to make a lot of money for the right company. In the UK, Sky television make an absolute fortune out of their Sky+ system already and¬†while that is good, a decent PC based system with context sensitive background information, could provide a far more involving multi-media service.¬†¬†¬†



What would you do if your car drove itself?

July 01st, 2008 | Category: Innovation direction,The future

I’ve just seen an interesting interview on GMnext and it got me thinking. Dr Chris Borroni-Bird was being interviewed by Mark Frauenfelder of boingboing fame about the design freedoms that upcoming automotive innovation could bring.¬†Dr Borroni-Bird is working on prototype fuel cell vehicles at GM and he just talked about two themes:

1. Safety

2. Environment

In terms of safety, Dr Borroni-Bird predicted that this rather unsexy subject would get sexy, first with much more in the area of active safety and ultimately in autonomous driving vehicles. In terms of active safety, I’ve seen some rather good technology demonstrations from Philips¬†a couple of years ago¬†with up to six different objects being tracked in real time as the car travelled down a crowded street. It even tracked parked cars and alerted you if¬†one started to move into your path. Pretty cool. Dr Borroni-Bird said that the whole experience of travelling by car¬†is due to be transformed and the driver will be freed up to do other things like work on his computer, watch movies and¬†even sleep. He asked what cars would be like when they no longer had to meet crash legislation. He wondered what would happen to car design when cars were zero emissions and so no longer needed to comply with emissions legislation.

I guess the legislation will switch to reducing the environmental impact¬†involved in¬†making the car and¬†disposing of it.¬†It is possible that cars in future could become far more mimimal without the¬†need to protect the occupants from collision, reducing environmental impact and making the vehicle more “ideal” in TRIZ terms. It is possible that cars may become more durable and customised to the specific owner’s requirements to reduce energy invested and may even be able to have radical updates for important¬†changes such as new additions to the family, in the same way as houses have extensions added now. The entertainment and comfort elements of the vehicle will need to be optimised from the point of view of environmental impact, perhaps some of this¬†funtionality could be delegated to the surrounding static infrastructure. Combining the future vehicle vision with the ambient intelligence vision of distributed access to context sensitive computer capability and information, I can see a time when I could be travelling through the countryside with a display overlaying the exterior scene and highlighting¬†information specifically for my interest profile. I’ll bet there will still be adverts though.¬†ÔŅĹ

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