Chips with everything

Writing a blog like this is an interesting experience.  Some weeks, you can see easily what you can write about and some weeks you have to fall back on a timeless theme.  Then at other times, and often over several weeks, you have a series of meetings that ought to have no interaction with one another and, as you go through them, something just screams at you to comment on.  I have just had one of those periods.

The first meeting I recognise as being part of this theme was at the Design Council.  We have been working with the design community for some time and have been building a working relationship with the Design Council over the last 18 months.  This involves everything from trying to build design thinking into the front end of the projects we sponsor to providing the technological input they need for some of their projects. 

This meeting was about the water industry.  We have been holding a series of workshops in conjunction with Ofwat to see if the area is ripe for an Innovation Platform.  This means that we have talked to a range of people across the industry from water companies and their supply chains through to the various government agencies that regulate the area.  What the Design Council were doing was looking at how to change the whole system of domestic water supply, from being able to measure the actual use of water in real time to how to present the information to householders to influence their behaviour.  Their request to us was to open up the technologies available for measuring water use.  The "water meter" as currently used is inserted in-line by the water company and measures the water flow directly.  It is usually inserted close to the main supply in the pipe "owned" by the water company.  This often involves digging up the road or path outside the house.  The alternative, of placing it inside the house, seems to be problematic for a number of reasons.  What the Design Council was looking for was a non-invasive sensor that could be strapped onto the side of the water pipe to give a signal that could be used as an input to a real-time device - or even a channel on your television!!

 A couple of days later, I took part in a workshop for the evolving Electronics, Sensors and Photonics Knowledge Transfer Network (ESP KTN).  The Technology Strategy Board had inherited a collection of KTNs that covered much of our interests in the outside world, but had recognised the coverage was patchy and incomplete - although some areas were "over-covered"!  We have therefore been going through an optimisation process, of which this workshop was part.  What caught my attention about this meeting was that it was not about the component technologies themselves - it took as its structure the potential end uses of the technologies.  Admittedly, this had been "imposed" on the meeting by those inside the Technology Strategy Board, but the commitment and intellectual vigour shown by the participants in their syndicate groups uncovered the strong links between the ability to capture and process data locally and over a distributed system.

The same week, Iain and I met with Imagination Technologies.  Imagination is one of those UK based companies that not many people know about but most of us depend on.  They design silicon chips that handle data and graphics and go into everything from digital radio and audio, mobile phone multimedia, personal media player, car navigation & driver information, personal navigation, mobile internet device (MID), digital TV and set-top box, to mobile TV.  They hit the news recently when Apple bought 3.6% of them after using their graphics hardware accelerator in the iPhone and iPod Touch only to have Intel buy a roughly similar amount a few days later.  (Shades of Victor Kiam?) What became clear when we described our activities is that they see the integration of hardware and software solutions to address the sorts of challenges we are tackling with our Innovation Platforms.  We have subsequently been to visit their facilities and described our programmes in more detail, and expect to see them involved not just in our "technology inspired" activities but in our "challenge led" ones too.

The problem is that now, my peripheral vision is tuned into this aspect of our activity.  Everywhere I go, I see links between the local and the distributed, all built on the flexibility of the chipsets that reside within most modern devices and the ability to move data around a local network or the whole internet.  This opens up better ways to solve problems at the right level - and escalate to access greater capability when necessary, and not before.

Or am I just paranoid and is this just a huge silicon based conspiracy theory?


Last updated on Tuesday 18 August 2009 at 22:54

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