Sunday, December 24, 2017

Creating Sustainable Mobility Technologies – Opportunities and Challenges

Image result for urban mobility India

This is the second in a series of Blog posts on the Urban Mobility Challenge. You will the first post here -

Sustainable mobility for the future is all about creating automotive technologies that are clean, safe and fast. If we look at the urban mobility scenario today, there are three problem areas that need attention (a) pollution due to vehicular emission (b) vehicular accidents and (c) loss of productivity due to difficulty in navigating through dense traffic. Electric Vehicles are emerging as the future clean vehicle technology and will remove concerns around rising vehicular emissions. Autonomous cars have demonstrated accident-free performance for more than a million miles. Connected vehicles that can proactively communicated with signals, parking lots and other vehicles on the road are fast emerging as the solution for handling traffic jabs in the cities.

The opportunities in the short-term include introducing battery powered electric vehicles (that are powered by a mix of solar and fossil fuel), autonomous tractors and border patrol vehicles and connected vehicles whose location and performance can be monitored remotely. In the medium term, electric vehicles fully powered by solar, autonomous trucks that can move on dedicated tracks on the highways to transport goods and connected vehicles that can talk to signals and parking spaces. In the long term, we visualize emergence of electric vehicles that will not need energy storage (create and use electrical energy on the go), autonomous cars on the road and connected vehicles that can talk to each other, plan their route and coordinate their movement.

The challenges in realizing these three technologies – electric, autonomous and connected vehicles – are three fold. The first is the materials challenge – the scarcity of materials such as Lithium for battery, Rare Earth minerals for magnets in the motors, Cobalt etc may become bottlenecks for scaling up these technologies. The second challenge is about Intellectual Property (IP) – since these technologies are exponentially growing and converging, there is a need to accelerate the creation and commercialization of IP. For instance, if it takes more than five years to secure IP for a technology invention, then the technology may become obsolete by that time. The third challenge is to get the ecosystem ready for effective diffusion of these technologies. For instance, electric vehicles will need charging infrastructure, autonomous vehicles will need favorable legal framework and connected vehicles will need seamless internet availability.

We will describe the potential opportunity to create sustainable mobility for the future by investing in the development of electric vehicle, autonomous vehicle and connected vehicle technologies. We will also discuss the challenges associated with critical materials, intellectual property and ecosystem readiness.

Saturday, December 23, 2017

Inventions created by Artificial Intelligence in Manufacturing - Managing the IP

I was a panelist at an International Conference on Intellectual Property organized by CII in New Delhi recently (Nov 2017). The theme was AI in Manufacturing. I made three points

1. The adoption of AI in manufacturing is too important to be slowed down by the complexity of handling IP. Just because we don't know how to handle the IP, we cannot delay benefiting from AI and Automation in Manufacturing. Additive Manufacturing, Robotics, AI and Machine Learning are set to change the landscape of Manufacturing.

We can greatly accelerate innovation in manufacturing by partnering with AI.

2. The creation of patentable ideas by AI is not new.

The Creativity Machine is the brainchild of Dr. Stephen Thaler and is an Artificial Intelligence (AI) product that not only imitates original and creative thinking, but produces it. Thaler's machine has already been credited with the invention or improvement of a number of products and the creation of a number of original music compositions.

As early as 1997, Inventors have generated ideas with the help of AI and applied for patents - many of these patents have been granted - and the products have been sold in the market. The Inventor of the AI machine became the Inventor of the Ideas generated by the AI machine.

AI generated Inventions have been patented.

3. How can we improve the quality of IP by using AI

One of the key criteria for granting a patent is Non-Obviousness. The Idea shoudl be non-obviosu to a "Person of ordinary skill in the art " (POSA). This POSA is supposed to have a knowledge of all the prior art (in all the relevant domain). While it is difficult for a human being to have this vast knowledge, AI can easily serve as a POSA. Thus an AI POSA can accurately evaluate the non-obviousness of an idea submitted for patenting.

Let us use AI enhance the quality of the granted patents.

Recent Trends

Did you hear about - and

All Prior Art is a project attempting to algorithmically create and publicly publish all possible new prior art, thereby making the published concepts not patent-able. The concept is to democratize ideas, provide an impetus for change in the patent system, and to preempt patent trolls. The system works by pulling text from the entire database of US issued and published (un-approved) patents and creating prior art from the patent language. While most inventions generated will be nonsensical, the cost to computationally create and publish millions of ideas is nearly zero – which allows for a higher probability of possible valid prior art

All The Claims is a sister project to All Prior Art which is attempting to algorithmically create and publicly publish all possible new prior art, thereby making the published concepts not patent-able. The concept is to democratize ideas, provide an impetus for change in the patent system, and to preempt patent trolls. The system works by pulling text from the entire database of US issued and published (un-approved) patents and creating prior art from the patent language. While most inventions generated will be nonsensical, the cost to computationally create and publish millions of ideas is nearly zero – which allows for a higher probability of possible valid prior art.

Materials Innovations for a Sustainable Future

Materials Innovation for Electric, Autonomous and Connected Vehicles

When I was invited to deliver the keynote address at the International Conference on Materials and Processing, I was very excited to a global audience of fellow material scientists. I decided to speak on creating a sustainable future - sustainable energy and mobility technologies. Sustainable mobility is all about creating technologies that are clean, safe and fast.

The sustainability of electric vehicles depends on the availability of the battery storage material lithium - when lithium availability becomes a bottleneck, materials scientists need to discover alternative materials for lithium or create process for effective recycling and reuse of lithium from batteries. Most motors of the electric cars need strong magnets that are made of rare earth minerals - Neodymium. When Neodymium becomes scarce, innovators need to create motor designs that can work without RE magnets or find alternative magnetic materials. Fast charging of the electric cars need Supercapacitors (aka Ultracapacitors). These supercaps need a variety of materials - metal oxides, carbon and polymers. 

The Autonmous cars have a LIDAR and these are MEMS devices for laser light emision, micro mirrors and photodiodes - need semiconductors, metal oxides, metal etc. The price of LIDA has dropped from $70k to $1k in 2015 and steadily reducing further. The sensors that enable connected cars needs a variety of metal oxides and semiconductors.

The Materials Scientists have a key role to play in creating a sustainable future. The technologies that enable sustainable energy and mobility technologies have strong dependencies on certain critical materials. Innovations that open up these material bottlenecks can lay the path for a sustainable future.

The simultaneous emergence of electric vehicles and falling price of solar PV direct our attention on storage batteries - as both technologies would need them. Batteries will unite the mobility and energy industry. Lithium ion battery price is steadily falling and alternative materials are being continuously explored - promising new battery materials are in the horizon.

Only a DESI CTO can Manage the Technology Disruptions

I was invited by CII as a keynote speaker for their first CTO Summit (Mumbai, Nov 2017). I designed my talk around two themes (a) the challenges that a CTO faces in managing the disruptive technologies and (b) the new skills that the CTO has to acquire to lead successfully in a  VUCA world.

I discussed the technologies disrupting the Mobility and Energy industry - Electric, Autonomous and Connected Vehicles, Renewable Energy etc.Analyzed their exponential growth and potential for convergence. New business grow through technology platforms rather than technology pipelines - it is a paradigm shift for the traditional CTO who has been building technology pipelines for many years now. The closed innovation model is giving way to Open Innovation model - saves cost and accelerates the development.- the CTO has to manage a distributed innovation team and handle shared IP.

The CTO has to acquire four thinking skills to lead technology in this VUCA world - Design Thinking, Exponential Thinking, Systems Thinking and Inventive Thinking. The CTO has to practice human centered design thinking and use empathy to drive decisions. The CTO has to learn and practise 6 D Framework (Peter Diamandis) to handle exponential technologies. CTO has to deploy Systems and Architectural Thinking to align technology development with fast new product development. The CTO has to be an inventive thinker - train his team in systematic innovation (like TRIZ) and build expertise in technology trends analysis.


Thus the VUCA world needs a DESI CTO to effectively manage the disruptive technologies.

Disruptive Technologies - Friend or Foe for the CEO

I was invited by the CII Western Council to speak to their CEOs forum on Disruptive Technologies recently (Ahmedabad, Dec 2017). I designed my talk with two objectives in mind 
(a) create an awareness, among the business leaders, of the disruptive potential of certain new technologies and (b) discuss how traditional businesses should respond to disruption.

Disruption arises when successful businesses fail precisely because, in the face of technological change, they continue to make the choices that made them successful in the first place.

We looked at the exponential growth of technologies and the impact of their convergence - cited specific examples in AI, Data Analystis, Cybersecurity and Additive Manufacturing. Also emphasized the need for learning Robotics and IoT. Analyzed the technologies that are dependent on Infrastructure and regualation driven - renewables,  autonomous vehicles, healthcare and synthetic biology.

If we analyze how GE invested in disruptive technologies such as Industrial Internet and Additive Manufacturing, adopted bold business models such as reverse innovation - it looks like the CEO Jeff Immelt did all the right things to secure GE's future. Unfortunately, when all these preparation for the future was underway, the GE stock price steadily came down and pressure from activist investors made their CEO step down. Steve Blank has written an excellent analysis of what went wrong in a recent HBR article - 

While it is important to encourage innovation, it is equally important to execute current strategy and survive. The single-minded pursuit of shareholder value, as measured by the current stock price,  has contributed to pervasive short-termism and diverted human and financial resources from needed investments in innovation.

Jack Welch, famously said that,
"..I always thought any one could do one or the other. (a) Squeezing cost out at the expense of the future could deliver a quarter, a year, may be even two years, and it is not hard to do.
(b) Dreaming about the future and not delivering in the short term is the easiest of all the mistakes.
The test of the real leader is balancing the two."

I concluded by saying that the CEO of the Future will need NExperts and FLExperts more than Experts. Nexperts who can see the future trends & needs - Flexperts who can create the flexibility needed to respond to the changes.

The Disruptive Technologies will be Your Friend – if you understand their potential early and invest.

They will become Your foe - if you ignore or underestimate their potential

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Innovation Flow - TEDx Live Talk at Pune

Transcript of my talk at TEDx Live event at Pune on 28 April 2017

Friends, I am here to share with you a secret – a secret recipe. It took me ten years to figure this out – it is a collective learning from coaching about a thousand innovators – I will share with you, in the next ten minutes, how to grow your idea into an innovation.

1.1 The challenge of converting ideas into innovations – the fear of rejection

Most of us are reasonably good at spotting a good idea – but not all good ideas become innovation – innovation seems be a totally different animal. If you start with a hundred good ideas, can you guess how many will convert to successful innovation? It is hardly two or three – the conversion is very poor. Of the many barriers to converting ideas into innovation, I would like to take up the most powerful one. It is the fear of rejection – the fear of being laughed at for suggesting a crazy idea. How do we overcome this barrier?

1.2 The Logical Brain Vs the Creative Brain

Let us look at how a typical idea generation exercise – a brainstorming session is conducted. I remember, I was fresh out of IISc with a Ph.D degree and a bag full of ideas at that time. I happened to sit next to an expert during the brainstorming session. I had great regard for the expert and I wanted to get his views before I share my ideas with others – I didn’t want to run the risk of being laughed at. The expert kept shooting down my ideas – citing valid reasons like lack of feasibility, viability etc. Very soon, I went blank – after three consecutive rejections, I could no longer create a new idea. My self-esteem was at an all-time low. I thought that I should not sit next to the expert the next time. But, friends, these are not two individuals that can be separated – this is the cognitive dialogue that takes place all the time between the logical and creative hemispheres of your brain (popularly referred to as the left and the right brains). So how do we keep the logical brain quite for some time, so that that creative brain can generate a few fresh ideas without any inhibition?

1.3 How to Zap your Logical Brain

Let us do an exercise of generating ideas while keep our logical brains zapped. Our logical brains won’t understand illogical situations – so the clue is to work in an illogical situation so that the logical brain cannot reject the ideas. Let us say we want ideas for designing an innovative school. What are the common assumptions that you would make about a school – we need a building, a teacher, books, students etc to run a school. Now pose the questions what if I don’t have a building ? what if I don’t have teachers ? what if I don’t have books ? what if I don’t have students ? – when you reverse the common assumptions, you are in a territory that is unfamiliar to your logical brain. Now you generate ideas – so what if I don’t have a building – I will run my school in a park, I will run my school in an old bus or train compartment, I will run my school online etc. So what if I don’t have teachers – I will use videos, senior students can teach junior students, parents can volunteer as teachers, I will let the students to work in team and experiment and learn from each other etc. if you observe what we are doing here – we are generating many ideas in an unconstrained manner – the creative brain is working at full steam without being hindered by the logical brain. The logical brain is busy figuring out what we are trying to do – why the hell does he want to run a school with teacher – have you gone crazy – no one has ever run a school without a teacher – ignore him, he has gone crazy! Thus, the trick to zap the logical brain is to reverse the assumptions and then generate ideas. These ideas would have easily got shot down by the logical brain otherwise.

1.4 CREATE – Think divergent

To further generate more ideas, we could use divergent thinking tools. One such example is CREATE – let us say that you want to create innovative variants of this pen – you ask what can I combine (maybe a LED, a stylus, a USB storage etc), what can I rearrange , what can I enhance (cartridge life, aesthetics etc), what can I adapt from elsewhere (what can I adapt from nature) what can I turn around (reverse – can the pen be stationary and the paper move) and what can I eliminate (can I make a pen that does not need ink)? CREATE is an acronym that will trigger your divergent thinking and put you in six different directions. Remember - good ideation happens in two distinct phases – divergent followed by convergent thinking.

1.5 Make your idea work within the constraints

Now that you have a bunch of ideas, the next step for you is to recognize the real-life constraints under which the idea is to work. If you recognize the constraints early, then you get the opportunity to shape your idea in the right direction. I derive my inspiration to overcome constraints from a story from the Hindu mythology where an evil-minded Rakshasa (demon) asks God for a boon that he become immortal – God says that it is the law of nature that everybody born will die – ask for anything else. The smart Rakshasa asks for a series of boons that will make him almost immortal – I should not be killed by a human or animal, I should not be killed in the day or in the night, I should not be killed on the floor or in mid space, I should not be killed inside the building or outside the building, I should not be killed by any known weapons – surprisingly, God grants all these boons. The Rakshasa becomes over confident and arrogant and starts harassing the people – the people pray to God to Kill the Rakshasa and save their lives. Now God needs to design around these five strong constraints to kill the evil Rakshasa – he comes up with an innovative plan. He comes as a lion-man (Narasimha) at the dusk time (neither day nor night), drags the Rakshasa to the doorstep (neither inside nor outside), puts him on his lap (neither on floor nor in mid space) and rips him apart with his claws (no weapon). God could work around such severe constraints and create an innovative solution. There is nothing to worry about constraints – you only need to recognize them and factor them while evolving your idea.

1.6 Innovation Flow

Now, I wish to introduce a simple framework that you can use to grow your idea into an innovation. I call it FLOW – after the three stages involved in the process – Focus, Leap & Orient and What’s next. The Focus phase is all about studying the opportunity space, gathering insights and formulating the right problem. Next step is for your mind, that is full of past ideas, to create space for new ideas – we call this phase the Leap. You have to let go your old ideas (though they faithfully worked for you in the past) and take the bold leap into the space of new ideas. The analogy here is the performance of the trapeze artist in a circus. She lets go her swing and takes the leap – but she has to orient herself towards the opposite swing and grab it at the precise moment. Leap is always accompanied by Orient – simultaneous events. Leap – Orient can be letting go one technology and orienting towards the next-gen technology – the classical transition of the S-curves. And finally, What’s next – how is technology changing, how is the market need changing – what will be different in the next five to ten years? Define the next problem. Thus the innovator has to take his idea systematically though the three phases – Focus – (Leap & Orient) – What’s next. If there is one thing that I want you to remember and appy from this talk, it is FLOW. FLOW provides you a structured approach to grow your idea into innovation.

1.7 Key Takeaways

Friends, I would boldly say that Innovation is no rocket science. We can all innovate.
·        Explore your crazy side – for every 8 logical ideas that you pursue, try at least 2 crazy ideas.
·        To give a break to your logical brain and consciously give the control to your creative brain - Challenge the assumptions. Ask What If.
·        Don’t rush to convergence without spending sufficient time thinking divergently.
·        Recognize the constraints early and use this knowledge to shape the idea in the right direction.
·        Be agile and respond to changing technology and changing market needs – don’t get stuck to your idea (even if it works well).

Have lot of fun.

Saturday, March 12, 2016

Advanced Energy Storage – Flow Batteries

Innovative energy storage technology for Power Generation Hybrid Systems
can reduce fuel consumption, carbon footprint and total cost of operation up to 50%
-key product differentiators for the fast growing remote telecom towers segment.

Disruptive Technology - Hybrid power generation systems, for the fast growing remote telecom towers segment, will witness disruptive innovations caused by integration with energy storage and renewables by 2020. We have an opportunity to differentiate our product by adopting a superior energy storage technology – Zinc Bromine Flow Battery (pioneered by the Sandia National Labs). Flow batteries are superior to Li-ion and other next-generation storage technologies for long-duration applications. The falling costs of these batteries is expected to carve out a 360 MWh market in 2020, worth $190 million - Zinc bromine (ZnBr) is predicted to become the most competitive flow battery at $391/kWh.

Business case - Secondary market research indicates that, the global telecom industry will deploy by 2020 approximately 390,000 telecom towers that are off-grid and 790,000 that are in bad-grid locations. This is an increase of 22% and 13%, respectively, from today. If these towers continue to use diesel-powered generators:
·         Diesel consumption for telecom towers will increase by 13-15% from today’s levels, to over 150 million barrels per year. The resulting annual cost of diesel will be over US$ 19 billion in 2020, or US$ 5 per mobile-phone user per year.
·         About 45 million tons of CO2 per year will be released, which is more than 5 million tons higher than current levels.
Conversion to more efficient, greener alternative tower power solutions, which include diesel generator-advanced battery and renewable energy hybrid systems, could save the industry US$ 13-14 billion annually. Adoption of these green technologies at scale also has the potential to generate approximately 40 million tons and US$ 100-500 million annually in carbon savings.

Customer benefit - Pairing an energy storage technology and a smart control system with a high efficiency diesel generator produces a wide range of advantages compared to a diesel-only generator – (a) The engine does not have to be running the entire time and when the engine is running, it is at its most efficient rpm, which extends engine life (b) Fuel consumption, TCO and carbon footprint can reduce up to 50% (c) Engine noise is greatly reduced.

Idea in brief - Deploying a hybrid power system that integrates a variable speed diesel DC generator with a superior energy storage system – a Zn Br flow battery - is an extremely energy efficient alternative to using an AC generator operating 24/7, since the generator simultaneously charges the battery and powers the site load. When the battery is fully charged the generator shuts down and the battery takes over as the primary source of power. The generator runtime is reduced to typically four hours per day, with major savings in fuel consumption – usually up to 50% compared with a standard generator. It also reduces CO2 emissions while increasing refuelling and service intervals. A complete hybrid system of this type can be packaged in a compact and light ‘energy container’ to offer a turnkey solution that is quick and easy to install in remote locations.

We will explore the use of flow batteries for automotive application in our next blog :

Automotive - GE built a flow battery that enhance the range of electric vehicles to 240 miles -

India - A team of materials scientists, physicists & chemists at Central Electrochemical Research Institute (CSIR Lab, Karaikudi) lead by Dr Vijayamohanan Pillai has been actively working on Zn - Br redox systems for flow batteries - notable inventions from this group include development of carbon - based electrodes.