Saturday 27 February 2010

Nanotech Water Purification

One of the problems of some parts of the planet now, and which will be a problem for more of the planet in the future, is the availability of pure water to drink. While the underlying politics of recent wars can be linked to land occupation and control of oil reserves, it is likely that in future it will be water that is the underlying bone of contention. And in many parts of the planet, it is not so much a shortage of water but rather a shortage of usable clean water that is the problem.

One of the many applications of Nanotechnology in the environmental space could be a contribution to the water purification process. The traditional approach to purification is to build large plants which perform the treatment process on large scale. But this is susceptible to attack (e.g. bio-terrorists) much more easily than if water is purified at the point of use in many local places. Once the core technology is mainstream, this local approach is also likely to be more cost-effective. Local purification ideally also addresses the particular contaminates affecting the water in an area.

A whole range of nanotechnology could be brought to bear on water purification. This includes smart membranes, nanocatalysts, nanosensors and nanoabsorbants. Combining these into personal water treatment devices which can be programmed to work at the atomic and molecular level will revolutionise one environmental challenge facing the world.

Monday 22 February 2010

BBC Technology Bus!

Should be an interesting day tomorrow ... I am invited to be one of the experts aboard the BBC Technology Bus to talk about all sorts of gadgets and devices, and to appear as a guest on Steve Scruton's afternoon show on BBC Essex radio, live from the bus. I'm looking forward to meeting the people that visit the bus and to answer any questions raised by listeners who phone into the show between 2 and 4pm. The station streams its output on the Internet too so you can listen from anywhere! One focus will be the BBC History of the World project, and I will be mentioning how current and future technology will help people capture the past and upload content to the BBC History of the World website.

Friday 12 February 2010

Redfly Video Review

Before I left BT last year, I did some video reviews of various products for their Innovate magazine. The final one has just been published on the web, although as it is embedded flash on one page of the e-zine its not exactly easy to provide a link to directly.

The subject of this review was the Redfly ... a netbook-like device without any processing inside it which links to a Blackberry or Windows Mobile smartphone by USB or Bluetooth and effectively gives you a bigger screen and keyboard for the apps on the smartphone. I actually think this is just an admission that some of those smartphones and their apps are pretty unusable. I dont see me ever needing a netbook let alone one of these smartphones and a Redfly. I'll definitely stick with my iPhone! However if you want to see an example of my performances on camera, you can find the Innovate e-zine here. The Redfly video review is on page 15 ... click the relevant link when you get there!

Thursday 11 February 2010

Lingfield Park visit

Today I had the pleasure to talk about future disruptive technology at Lingfield Park in Surrey to a group workshopping the future strategy for the South-East of England. I included material on innovation, the environment, employment and devices amongst many others. The session was run by the SE Partnership Board, and brought together a strong set of influencers from that region to work through the issues. I also had an opportunity to run a longer session at the HQ of the Partnership Board in Guildford later in the day. Thanks to all those who attended, and I hope you had a productive day.

Monday 8 February 2010

Corporate employee provision

In the future, it is likely that the workforce will be much more fluid than today. Each individual will be more likely to time share between different employers at the same time. Just-in-time skills provision will be a competitive edge for companies. Social networks may support the matching of near-real-time skills provision. Policies in HR departments will need to change to accommodate multiple employers per employee.

Consumerisation of IT provision will enable people to obtain their Information Technology tools personally but yet attach to multiple corporate networks, and for organisations to pay something towards the cost of provision while eliminating duplication. While some of this happens already, it will be far more widespread and commonplace in future.

Thursday 4 February 2010

3D Printing ...

It was June 2008 when I first blogged about personal fabrication, and effectively three dimensional printing. Now I note that a US based company is offering a 3D plastic making printer. And it seems to be at a price that could stimulate the market. It needs to look nice and pretty in your room and be more user friendly. Some folk have problems changing ink tanks in today's printers so there is a challenge to be met still and it's early days. However a number of initiatives in this space now are bringing the idea more into focus. And it brings another application for robotics in the home or office to mind.

Monday 1 February 2010

iPad - initial thoughts

So the iPad is announced. Watching the keynote, I felt that Steve Jobs lost his way a little bit when demoing the new device. The structure of the presentation seemed slightly hurried for a change and I think the was scope for more impact by describing the features that distinguish the iPad from the iPhone and iPod Touch (e.g. iBooks, iWork, Photo-frame) first and then adding that by the way those users will be familiar with how it works and it does photos, music etc too. Why do I think this was important? Well because focussing more on the features that overlap with the other devices, and simply stressing the bigger screen caused many in the media to mistakenly write it off as a large iPod Touch and the impact of the launch wasn't so great. Despite this, given the way certain other companies have reacted, the launch of the iPad at the price point they have chosen has touched a nerve in the industry and I think it will be a success. I suspect that if more deals had been able to be concluded with TV and newspaper companies in time for the launch, we might have seen the emphasis and story of the new iPad put from that perspective instead.

But there are a number of reasons why the early critics have got it wrong ... here's why...

First there were criticisms of the lack of a camera, and other aspects of the specification. These folk just don't get it about Apple. They don't put technology in the product to impress by the technical specification. They put technology in a product which is needed to fulfil the uses and purposes for which the device is intended. If a later version of the iPad is intended to provide a really good video chat experience, then it will have a camera and a multi-touch iChat app. This one isn't and so it doesn't.

Secondly, some critics are comparing iPad to the iPod Touch or to a Laptop PC. This is a mistake. The device is not intended to be one of either of these. People who need a Laptop PC will still use one and likewise for those who want a pocket music player and games handheld. Indeed Apple do not want to cannibalise their own existing product sales by introducing the iPad. But there will be people for whom the iPad fulfils needs, whether that be to consume published material like books and e-newspapers, and those who want to surf the web and do email but not have a full blown computer. I can see my parents in the latter category. They have a digital camera and want to be able to share photos they take, and they use the web and email but not much else. They really don't want to have a computer sitting there... the iPad would conveniently support what they do. They and many other non-technical users will be able to do stuff without that fiddly mouse and keyboard which makes a computer look like a computer.

Thirdly, the iPad cleverly takes the role of a multi-purpose device without being so general as a PC and the complexity that a PC presents to a non-tech user. So it wins as an e-book reader over the single purpose readers like Kindle, and offers extra for the price, but doesn't dilute its role so much that the non techie wonders what they can use it for. It is also different in the whole way it abstracts away from the file system complexity which a PC puts in your face. Apps like iWork and the Photo app will manipulate information as projects within the apps, while the iPad takes care of where the associated files live, either on the device, in the cloud or on another wirelessly networked device. The main thing is that the user need not bother about it.

So I believe although not presented in such a way, except to call it revolutionary, the iPad is a true innovation which leads the way for a new category of computing device, and which will appeal to a different set of people than traditional computers. The other thing we should remember is that this is version 1.0 of an innovation ... there is much much more to come. i think iPad sets a direction for computing innovation as much as being a new product innovation.