Entries Tagged ‘Innovation’

Is the rate of innovation stagnating?

Wednesday, December 28th, 2011 by Robert Cravotta

Around this time of year many people like to publish their predictions for the next year – and according to an article, the “experts and analysts” do not see a lot of innovation coming out of the United States soon. The article mentions and quotes a number of sources that suggest the rate of innovation is going to be sluggish the next few years. One source suggested that “bigger innovation labs and companies are holding back on numerous innovations until they can properly monetize them.”

I wonder if these observations and expectations are realistic. I see innovation every time I see some capability available for less cost, training, or skill than before. I am constantly amazed at the speed at which new technology reaches the hands of people in the lowest quartile of income. More significantly, I am amazed at how these new technologies appear in everyday activities without a fanfare. For example, my daughter who is learning to drive has pointed out features that she really likes about the car she is driving – features I never gave any thought about either because I did not notice them or because noticing them would be analogous to noticing and commenting on the air we breathe.

My daughter received a Nintendo 3DS as a present this Christmas. The 3D part of this product goes far beyond the display as it enables her to move the device around and interact with the software in new and meaningful ways. These “invisible” types of innovations do not seem to make big headlines, but I suspect they are still sources of technology disruptions.

As for a company holding off on an innovation, is such a thing possible in a highly competitive world? Can any company afford to hold off on an innovative idea and risk another company beating them to the punch in the market?

Is the rate of innovation stagnating? Is the marketing hype around innovation just not getting the return on investment and so companies are backing off on how they hype it? Are you aware of anyone holding back on innovative ideas waiting for a better consumer market to release them?

What does the last Space Shuttle flight mean?

Wednesday, July 6th, 2011 by Robert Cravotta

The final Space Shuttle launch is scheduled for July 8, 2011. This upcoming event is a bittersweet moment for me and, I suspect, for many other people. I spent many years working in aerospace on projects that included supporting the Space Shuttle Main Engines as well as a payload that was cancelled for political (rather than technical) reasons after two years of pre-launch effort.

Similar to the tip of an iceberg, the Space Shuttle is just the front face of the launch and mission infrastructure that was the Space Shuttle program. Like many embedded systems that are contained within end systems, there is a huge amount of ground equipment and technical teams that work behind the scenes to make the Space Shuttle a successful endeavor. So one question is – what is the future of that infrastructure once the Space Shuttle program is completely closed down?

While the United States space program has been a largely publicly funded effort for many decades, the door is now opening for private entities to step up and take the stage. I am hopeful this type of shift will enable a resurgence in the space program because more ideas will be able to compete on how to best deliver space-based services rather than relying on a central group driving the vast majority of the direction that the space program could go. The flurry of aerospace activity and innovation that the Orteig Prize spawned demonstrated that private groups of individuals can accomplish Herculean feats – in this case, flying non-stop across the Pacific Ocean, in either direction, between New York and Paris.

However, I am not sure that a public prize is necessary to spawn a resurgence in aerospace innovation. There are a number of private space ventures already underway, including Virgin Galactic, SpaceX, as well as those companies in the list of private spaceflight companies on Wikipedia.

Does the end of the Space Shuttle program as it has been for the past few decades mean the space program will change? If so, how will it change – especially the hidden (or embedded) infrastructure? Is space just an academic exercise or are there any private/commercial ventures that you think will crack open the potential of space services that become self-sustaining in a private world?