Saturday, 19 December 2009

Brit Tech Genius: 10 Innovators Changing Your World.

Think all your gadgets are dreamt up across the pond or in secret Far East bunkers owned by the world’s biggest tech titans? Think again. Britain is at the forefront when it comes to bleeding edge gadgetry, whether it’s the latest shiny must-have from Apple, or a motor that’s all set to break the land speed record. It’s easy to forget British boffins are behind some of the world’s greatest gadgets so, without further ado, here are my top 10 British innovators you need to know.

Jonny Ive, Senior Vice President of Industrial Design at Apple: Every modern day Apple gadget owes its existence to one man. Not Steve Jobs, but Jonny Ive, the Chingford (UK) born designer who’s been in charge of Cupertino’s industrial design since 1997. In that time he’s created the classic iMac, turned the MP3 player from niche plaything to global phenomenon with the iPod, and made touchscreens work seamlessly on the iPhone.

Ive’s a shy genius, rarely speaking about his work and showing his face in public even less often. He’s most frequently found toeing the company line in official Apple videos, but the clip below from American TV show Objectified shows him more relaxed, working in his studio, and explaining the thought processes which keeps him at the top of the tech design pile.

James Dyson, inventor the Dyson Dual Cyclone: Dyson’s first vacuum cleaner, the G-Force, was sidelined when it was first unleashed in the 80s. Yet it’s follow-ups have set the tone for household gadgets all over the world. With the Dyson Dual Cyclone now found in the home of every self-respecting cleanliness freak Dyson has set his sights further afield.

Not content with fighting dust, Dyson’s Airblade hand drier has called time on weak-willed air blowers in loos across the globe, and earlier this year he set out to change desktop fans forever with his Dyson Air Multiplier.

Tim Berners Lee, inventor of the World Wide Web
Without Tim Berners Lee, what you’re doing right now might not be possible. The British engineer developed the www back in 1989, going on to build the first ever web browser and web server.

After the first website was built in 1991, Berners Lee’s creation went from niche networking to global colossus in ten short years. Tell me you could live without the world wide web now and you’d be lying.

John Piper, Chief Designer, Hound: You might not have heard of John Piper, but pay attention: Piper’s car, Hound, isn’t like other motors. That’s because it’s being primed to top 1,000mph in 2011, smashing the world land speed record in the process.

Whizzing by in a faster-than-sound blur, it’ll be driven by current record holder, Wing Commander Andy Green. Piper recently finished the design of Hound, positioning a small rocket underneath the engine of a Eurofighter jet. He reckons it’ll be enough to bring him success with the landspeed record, and cements him a place on my list of British tech giants.

Gordon Murray, McLaren F1 designer turned eco car maker: Murray is known as the man behind the McLaren F1 sports car. But he’s all set to make a name for himself at the bleeding edge of eco motoring with the T.27, a brand new type of electric car that’ll be ready to roll on British streets in just under two years.

A completely new concept, Murray is hoping to have s built and on sale by 2011. It’ll have a top seed of 60mph when it hits the tarmac in 18 months time, weighing around half the mass of today’s ‘leccy motors at 600Kg. At the moment, Murray’s prototypes look like he’s hammered them together in a shed, but he’s got form for creating fantastic cars in the past, and could be about to start a Prius-style revolution right here in the UK.

Trevor Baylis, inventor of the clockwork radio: Baylis is best known for inventing the clockwork radio, letting people snaffle signals without relying on batteries or the mains for their breakfast banter. His Freeplay radio, as it became known, was first unleashed in Africa, before a smaller hit the UK.

Since then Baylis has become a champion of British inventors, helping young bucks bring their high tech dreams to reality with the Trevor Baylis Foundation.

Kane Kramer, inventor of the Digital Audio Player: While Jonny Ive may have brought the MP3 player to the masses, it’s possible the iPod would never have happened without Kane Kramer. The British inventor first conceived a Digital Audio Player (DAP) back in 1979, also touting the idea of downloading music of your phone line and something that looks very much like an Apple store. It may have seemed mad back then, but he was bang on the money.

Kramer’s original drawings of a DAP clearly show a slab like device that many of us would recognise as an iPod today. In 1979 though, his ideas were seen as marginal. Apple was even moved to recognise Kane’s idea in 2007, although it won’t be stumping up any cash in return for making it popular.

Peter Molyneux, creator of Fable, Theme Park and Milo: Britain’s gaming industry is teeming with successful developers that are the envy of the world. But Molyneux has been a leading light in the world of video games since the 80s. Classics such as Theme Park, Populous and Fable all bear his hallmark. And he’s not shuffling off into retirement yet.

Molyneux is one of the driving forces behind the Xbox 360’s Project Natal. At its launch, he showed off a project dubbed Milo and the forthcoming Fable 3. If a gaming technology has Molyneux behind it, you’re guaranteed big crowds, and with his vote firmly in Natal’s ballot box he’s already making sure British games studios are taking Microsoft’s system seriously.

Richard Palmer, founder D3O: D3O is about to revolutionise gadgets. You might not know its name, but it’s one of the world’s first smart materials, and it was invented by a Brit! Chemical engineer Richard Palmer set up his own business to create the substance, which acts like silly putty in your hands, but stiffens up to absorb shocks and bumps whenever it’s hit.

It’s a silicon polymer that has the look and feel of playdoh, and is already in laptop and iPod cases from Tech 21, saving your precious tech from taking a battering. Palmer also says it could go into body armour too. Think futuristic football shin pads that mould to your legs but harden up when you’re hit by a crunching tackle. Smart materials are the future, and Palmer proves you needn’t be a mega multinational to make your mark.

Sir Howard Stringer, CEO Sony: Stringer hasn’t had it easy heading up one of the planet’s biggest tech giants. But his Sony United plan has made the gadget colossus more lean, better focused and able to make the most of its assets.

His first triumph was with the robotic Rolly. The device itself was never going to be a huge seller, but it let Stringer pull together Sony’s Walkman, Aibo and mobile teams to create a single product that was more than the sum of its parts. It was niche and bizarre, and stole headlines while proving that Sony’s sprawling divisions could work together effectively. And he hasn’t stopped there.

With the likes of the PlayStation 3’s XMB interface heading to Sony Ericsson phones and onto Blu-ray players, he’s helped Sony’s products have one core interface. The impending Sony Online Service, flogging eBooks, music and video will also be a huge match for iTunes, finally turning Sony’s ragtag army of products into a unified fighting force ready to stomp all over tech rivals.

eSolar Inc., has engineered a paradigm shift in CSP technology.

eSolar designs and develops utility-scale Concentrating Solar Power (CSP) projects starting at 46 MW. The eSolar power plant utilized small mirrors which track the sun with high precision and reflect the sunlight to a tower-mounted receiver, which boils water to create steam. This steam powers a traditional turbine and generator to produce solar electricity.

The simple concept of making renewable energy cost-competitive with fossil fuel energy has driven eSolar to engineer a paradigm shift in CSP technology, providing a cost-effective and scalable solution.

eSolar builds an individual 46 MW power unit on 160 acres (64 hectares) and can scale up to 500 MW or larger capacity with multiple units. The utility-scale CSP power plant is based on mass-manufactured components and designed for rapid construction, uniform modularity, and unlimited scalability.

To read on, click here.

Monday, 14 December 2009

It’s Christmas (again), and So Time for an End of Year Story.

'Galen Point.'

People - lots of people - challenge me about my work in and around Future Studies. Not only its legitimacy, but its practicality. ‘You just can’t predict the future.’ they say.

To begin with my Futurology work really is much more than mere projection; but looking towards how we can put together a better, smarter, fairer and more-capable world. It's about tracking trend-lines and directions so that strategies, plans and new ventures can be designed and realised in structured and pragmatic way.

But it's even more than that!

The best rational/empirical future thinkers are good historians. I don't mean knowledge of lots of dates and events, or even the meanings and the lessons we can learn from the past. But more. My favorite part of the job is to show how far we have come based on the evidence, and thus potentially how far we can go in the short, medium and extremely long-term. How far we can improve the human condition, our lives, the planet and much much more.

So, let me take you on a journey. Let’s go back in time!

Let’s go back in time to around AD 149; roughly 2000 years ago. You are invited to a dinner party. Not any dinner party, but a doo at the Great Galen’s home, in the Court of the Emperor Marcus Aurelius.

Galen gained fame as a surgeon to the gladiators of Pergamos; and taking Hippocrates’ notions of pathology, Galen incorporated and developed anatomical knowledge. He was the first experimental physiologists, researching the function of the kidneys and the spinal cord in controlled experiments (c.2000 years ago).

A man of acute intellect, reason and vision. A man that not only innovated, but thought way, way ahead.

And so to Dinner.

We meet, seat, eat, and drink Bacchus’ great wines, to the point where our tongues and minds loosen and open up.

Galen: 'Arrr, thank you for joining me at my table.’

You: ‘Delighted.’

Galen: ‘You know? I see something in you! But I can’t quite make it out. You seem to have some foresight in you, vision even. Let me ask you, and bearing in mind, I’ve been thinking about the future of medicine for many, many years now. What do you think we can achieve? How far can medicine go?’

You: ‘I don’t know, I’m not a physician. But I am a bit of a futurist (you say coming from year 2009). Well, I see a day when physicians, such as yourself, will have tools that allow you to see inside the human body in sub-microscopic detail, in real-time. You’ll have tools that will automate not only routine sugary, but the complex transplant of organs such as the heart, liver, kidney and lungs. You’ll have medication that will halt tremendous pain, almost instantaneously. Cure vicious infections overnight. Prophetic limbs that enable people to run faster than folk with human limbs. That scourge, you cannot quite get your head around now, that eats the body away (Cancer), will become so well understood that over 80% of people that are diagnosed with it will overcome it and resume normal lives. You’ll have technology such as artificial eyes, that will allow the blind to see……’

Galen interrupts.

Galen: 'Now, now my dear fellow, all that wine has gone to your head…. "Artificial eyes." "Instant pain killers." "The transplanting of vital organs by machines." Come, come my dear boy/girl… Well, I must say, you do have vivid imagination. Still, if only that vision would be true!...... It’s getting late, I’ll think I’ll retire; perhaps we can meet again and carry on this visionary dream. "Artificial Eyes" indeed…. Good night.’

You’re off home, back to the future. Good’ol 2009 (and 2010+). But you truly, madly, deeply begin to wonder?

You think: ‘Galen lived c.2000 years ago. And made tremendous breakthroughs in medical practice, experimentation, understanding and medication.... So I wonder what the next decade, century will bring (you think)?...... And good job I didn't even begin to mention about heaver than air machines that fly 75-thousand feet in the air faster than the speed of sound. Airplanes that use tap-water (and soon sea water) as fuel input. 3D-TV. Hyperphones. WiMax Internet. Commercial Space Flight. Men on the Moon. A plan for The Mission to Mars. Nanotechnology. Artificial Intelligence; and Heaven forbid Star-Trek!.... Yes, I wonder what will happen in time?’


Of course, from Galen's point of view, in his own time, he could not have appreciated (even begun to conceive) the projections (now facts) you could have made at his dinner table. What you now know is all well and true.

Such as the facts that:

Visual prosthesis such as 'Artificial Retinal Implants' are now allowing the partially, even the profoundly blind Grandfather to see his teenage Grandchildren for the very first time (re: my Post Sunday 29 November 2009).

The maiden-flight of the first airplane that runs and flies be hydrogen jet-engines (watch a short video on the Antraes DLR-H2 Maiden flight! (re: my posts on Friday, 11 December 2009).

And that 'Tomographic Scanners' have reached a point where biological detail can be seen at the nano-scale (spacial and temporal), meaning greater elucidation of dreadful neurological problems such as Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s and Stroke (re: my Post Sunday, 28 March 2008).

And so, to conclude:

The 'Galen Point' is a fact of our lives. We are obscured to such wondrous futures because of the time, place and context we live in.

Our horizons are not often that far away, and for most the far future is merely the next day or perhaps the planning of an event some months or years away (; a holiday or a new product). We are obscured by the unimaginative, political and acutely myopic media. With day-to-day preoccupation: family, work, bills and the loft-conversion.

It's so easy to get trapped in those kind of Galen Points. So easy to fall into a pattern where we take things for granted. Where all that is around us has been here forever and day.

But it hasn't.

It's taken 4.5 billion years for life to evolve on this planet to a point where you are now reading this blogpost. What will happen in the next 4.5 billion years (ever cross your mind)? Practically speaking what will happen in the next 5, 10, 20, 50, 100, 1000 and more years (ever think about it)?

My last point is, it does not just have to happen. You can have a hand in the future. You can break out of the Galen Point by not only appreciating the power of methodological Futures Studies, but engage in it. Learn the skills and tools of objectively projecting the future. Because a Futurist job is to smash and breakthrough through the limited Galen Point. To see, and build a future that benefits us all.

Wishing 'You' an Inventive Christmas and Visionary New Year.

Chris Harris.

Sunday, 13 December 2009

A Sussex University student just asked me a rather curious question:

'How did I get to the top of my game?'

Here's how the conversation went:

Student: 'Chris liked the article on you in Omni Magazine. But, how did you do it. I mean, get to the top of your profession?'

Me: 'Easy! I started at the top!'

Student: 'What!? That's rubbish. How can you start at the top. You have to work your way up.'

Me: 'That's the least of it. Because you to can start at the top of your field if you invent it.... If you do something original, and, of course by definition, there's nobody else doing it, and master the discipline of innovation, you start out at the top. The trick is to keep being original, keep innovating, be constantly different, but relevant to the time, and always keep a good eye on the future.'

Student: 'Oh. Oh I see... Your round of drinks then Chris!'

Rene Daalder's SpaceCollective.

I'v known Rene Daalder's - the Dutch writer/director – MIND BLOWING work for sometime. In fact I remember vividly the night and where I first experienced it.

Daalder is regarded as a pioneer of Virtual Reality and digital motion picture technologies. He's made many cult films (see wiki). Producing some highly acclaimed, award winning, culminating in directorial feature film debut ‘The White Slave.’

Often operating at the cutting-edge of his field and heavily involved with special effects, software development and music, Daalder has gained worldwide recognition as a pioneer of Virtual Reality and digital motion picture technologies.

His Los Angeles based company ‘American Scenes Inc’ consults for computer imaging studios all over the world and develops technology-driven TV show formats as well as groundbreaking community driven website projects, with interaction designer Folkert Gorte.

Daalder - a man of many firsts - developed digital film making tools and movie projects at NYITÕs Computer Graphics Lab, which spawned the Computer Graphic medium we know today, ranging from SGI to George Lucas' Industrial, Light and Magic and Pixar. Daalder created computer effects and consulted, are RobocopII, Lawnmower Man, Michael Apted's Blink, Brainscan and the X-Files TV series.

His new piece ‘Strawberry Fields’, a computer animated musical feature film and gaming event for which Daalder and his partners have secured the rights to 40 Beatles songs, is now in production.

Only, once again he has blown my mind. His website: 'SpaceCollective.’ Is a multimedia gallery of 'The Future of Everything.' Panning across his and others work, showing an extraordinary array of mini-to-max-vids, hyperthinking and fascinating futurism!

Please take a look at his site. Click Here. But be warned: it's a multidimensional future ride!

Alternatively you can also view his personal site by clicking here.