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Good Thinking

The 2007 Lemelson-MIT Student Prize

February 15, 2007 If there’s an absolutely golden imprimatur for the person-most-likely-to-succeed, it’s the Lemelson-MIT Student Prize. Jerome H. Lemelson, one of the world's most prolific inventors, and his wife Dorothy founded the Lemelson-MIT Program funded via his own private philanthropic Lemelson Foundation, the Student Prize recognizes outstanding inventors, encourages sustainable new solutions to real-world problems, and enables and inspires young people to pursue creative lives and careers through invention. Given that MIT attracts the very brightest students to begin with, the winner is usually a stellar high achiever and this year’s winner is already that. 2007 winner Nathan Ball's inventions include the Atlas Rope Ascender (see separate story) and a needle-free injection technology that will enable greater efficiencies in mass inoculations, both capable of saving many lives and both with many commercial applications. Last year’s winner Carl Dietrich is the CEO and CTO of his own flying car company Terrafugia. We’ve also written about Saul Griffith, the 2004 winner. All the winners and their exploits in this article.  Read More

The economic benefits of obtaining a degree

February 14, 2007 We all intuitively know that having a degree offers many advantages but just how much difference it makes has now been quantified in a new report from Universities UK, the vice-chancellors’ umbrella body. The report highlights the economic benefits associated with higher education qualification attainment and shows that the gross additional lifetime earnings is now approximately UKP160,000 or between 20 and 25% more for individuals with a higher education qualification than for those with two or more A-levels (UK Secondary qualifications). The study showed the financial benefit of a degree is greatest for men from lower socio-economic groups or from families from lower levels of income, and the benefits associated with HE qualifications increase as graduates get older.  Read More

The use of special prizes to fuel global innovation

February 13, 2007 Two heads are better than one. Six billion are even better. In solving big problems, you need a lot of brain power and the opportunity now exists via this wonderous global network to pour cubic brainpower on problems we need to solve. Tens of millions of scientifically trained minds all thinking about the same problem ensures that if there’s a way, we’ll find it. In terms of setting the global scientific agenda and stimulating innovation, nothing seems to work quite as well as a clearly defined challenge and a big fat prize. It immediately gives that limitless source of human intelligence out there a focal point – throughout history, such prizes have consistently proven to be the most effective method of fast forwarding development of enabling technologies, opening new vistas of human endeavour and solving key society-enabling problems. In announcing the Virgin Earth Challenge, Branson showed he had been an attentive student of innovation history when he said, “History has shown that Technology Prizes have been invaluable in encouraging technological advancements and innovation in many, many areas of science and industry.” History has indeed given us many big thinkers who have left massive legacies – people whose macro perspective on the world is such that they can identify a seemingly insurmountable societal problem and set in motion the process of solving it with an audacious stroke and a lot of money. In recent times we have seen DARPA’s Grand Challenge which gave us the world’s first truly autonomous vehicle inside a few years and for just a few million dollars. The Ansari X Prize fast-forwarded space development by decades. The British government offered the first prize of this type for a device capable of accurately measuring longitude in 1714. The prize was claimed 59 years later when clock maker, John Harrison (pictured) was awarded UKP 20,000 for devising an accurate and durable chronometer and it transformed our ability to sail the seas. The French have often used prizes as an incentive to fuel innovation, with a 100,000 franc prize in 1775 resulting in an artificial form of alkali being produced and hence began the French chemical industry. Napolean is best known for his battlefield genius but a 12,000 francs he offered in 1810 resulted in the first vacuum sealed food. A newspaper prize catalyzed the first flight across the English channel in 1909 and reset human boundaries as to what was possible with powered flight.  Read More

The US$25 Million Virgin Earth Challenge

February 13, 2007 Sir Richard Branson’s US$25 Million Virgin Earth Challenge focuses on the biggest single problem faced by humanity today - global warming. It steps across the national boundaries which have prevented anyone a full appreciation of the damage we have done to the environment and the gravity of the consequences of messing with the planet’s ecosystem. There may not be a single effective solution to this problem but if there is, the Virgin Earth Challenge is the best chance we can see of finding it. Given that these is no effective common approach on the horizon to a potential extinction event, we applaud the initiative wholeheartedly. The Virgin Earth Challenge will award US$25 million to the individual or group who are able to demonstrate a commercially viable design which will result in the net removal of anthropogenic, atmospheric greenhouse gases each year for at least ten years without countervailing harmful effects. This removal must have long term effects and contribute materially to the stability of the Earth’s climate.  Read More

Smart Nanobattery has indefinite shelf life, instant usage and it’s green too

February 8, 2007 mPhase Technologies today announced that the Smart Nanobattery it is developing could be equipped with features that would allow it to be disposed of safely. The company has applied for patent protection for a set of design strategies to create batteries that use advanced chemistries but are still safe to dispose. The prototype batteries use various chemicals as electrolytes residing on top of nano structures in a dormant state and when triggered, cause an electrochemical reaction to produce a measurable voltage and current under a load. Some cells are reserved to create the neutralizing chemical reaction at the end of life. The Smart Nanobattery promises an energy source that can be packaged in various configurations, with shelf life lasting decades, yet still able to be activated almost instantaneously on demand.  Read More

Fractional Ownership Portal

January 17, 2007 We’ve written before about the growing trend towards fractional ownership moving from cars to almost every aspect of lifestyle. Fractional ownership is the concept of dividing an expensive asset into percentage shares and selling those shares to individual owners. Each person who owns a fractional share then gets a relative percentage use of the asset. More often than not, a company manages the asset and owners pay fixed fees for the management in addition to variable fees for use. For rapidly depreciating assets, such as high-end vehicles, the management company may sell the asset after a fixed period and distribute the proceeds back to the owners. Now a new web portal named Fractional Life is providing a one-stop site to assist consumers in making sense of the currently expanding fractional ownership marketplace. The website also covers those companies that offer lifestyle experiences such as the use of supercars, jets, yachts and other top-end luxury products but without the consumer owning a particular segment - anything asset-sharing, part-ownership or experience sharing based.  Read More

Crosslink flexible lighting could change the look of the future

January 16, 2007 Futurists’ might need to reappraise their forecasts for the look of the future if the promise of a new electroactive polymer materials with remarkable properties reaches full commercialisation. Start-up Crosslink has developed a material with an array of real-world applications that could profoundly influence how our living environments, possessions and clothes look in the future as it effectively offers almost any object the ability to become a light source. SuperFlex is a lightweight, crushable, durable electroluminescent (EL) lighting technology based on polythiophene, an inherently conductive polymer known as PEDOT. SuperFlex can be formulated to emit light in both the visible and near-infrared (NIR) spectrums and can withstand being twisted, punctured, torn or scrunched-up (bottom images) without losing its ability to light up. The first commercialisation of the technology will be in the form of easily-transportable softwall shelters for the military (top image) with the lighting system semi-permanently attached to the inside of the shelter. The future prospects for SuperFlex are very bright as textiles, composites, plastics and metals all can be coated with SuperFlex, signalling a step-change approach to how we use light sources. The technology is applicable in myriad ways - from merchandising displays to packaging, walls, drapes, any part of a structure, clothes that light up at night for safety or decorative purposes ad infinitum. Then there are some compelling military applications, such as a foldable map that emits its own infrared light so it can be read in complete darkness using night vision goggles.  Read More

Self cleaning Lotus leaf imitated in plastic

January 15, 2007 Nature has some ingenious solutions which have been studied by some of the most successful inventors and creators of our time. Frank Lloyd Wright implored, “Study nature, love nature, stay close to nature. It will never fail you.” Now we have the prospect of a self cleaning plastic cup based on the same ideas that nature used to self-clean the Lotus Leaf - a plastic cup that can be reused without washing it, simply because contamination has no chance to stick to the surface. The ideal natural properties of the Lotus leaf’s self-cleaning surface are ideal for many applications and consumer products. Work underway by the Applied Laser Technology Group of the University of Twente has shown that such products are possible by using an ultra fast femtosecond laser.  Read More

Concept to prototype in three days

January 15, 2007 With concept-to-showroom times being cut from years to months in recent times, one wonders just how quickly the development process can be carried out. One very ambitious and ultimately successful promotion at MacWorld Expo really pushed the envelope in this regard. Product development company mophie successfully turned the show floor of MacWorld ’07 into an open-source product development space where in less than four-days MacWorld attendees saw doodled concepts become actual prototypes. The mophie Illuminator generated over 100 concepts, and although the promise was to deliver one prototype, three of the concepts were deemed so good that three finished products were created during the show. And some nice ideas too …  Read More

The KangoRoom self-contained portable trade display

December 30, 2006 As we’ve previously noted, moving an elephant atom by atom costs a lot more than moving the elephant in one pre-assembled lump. Now everyone knows that trade shows are a gold mine of new business opportunities and a vital part of an effective, integrated marketing effort, but the cost per lead is often very expensive when you add all factors into your allocation of resources. Creating a functional and effective booth at a trade show is not for the feint of heart or inexperienced – it requires fastidious pre-show planning and the choreography of myriad factors and external suppliers if it’s gonna be right on the day. The KangoRoom is a self-contained portable trade display that eliminates the constant design, construction and set-up of the booth. Obviously not for everyone, but for many companies this new approach from New Zealand’s KangoRoom would enable a lot more trade shows to be incorporated in the budget.  Read More

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