BioConvergence: How nature-inspired technology is transforming our world

After about 4.5 billion years of solid research and development, nature has developed some ingenious solutions. From transporting water and nutrients up a 300-foot-tall redwood tree to defying gravity, nature has developed some of the best known methods for life to adapt and thrive.

Researchers and scientists have been increasingly keen to study nature in search of new innovations. Sometimes, they simply present themselves. Velcro, for example was created after a Swiss scientist went on a hike in the Alps and noticed that burdock burrs were stuck on his clothes and his dog. It took him 10 years to develop velcro, but now he’s resting comfortably having given the world a new way to stick.

BioConvergence is, put simply, the study of nature and the application of natural processes and phenomena to innovation. Technically it’s the convergence of biological, physical, and computing technologies inspired by nature. This field is now developing some of the most exciting and innovative developments in science and technology, including new materials and new fabrication processes for more efficient and resilient products.

 

Researchers are drawing on BioConvergence to find efficient, diverse, and ingenious approaches to problem-solving. New solutions are needed now more than ever, as the world’s population is expected to expand to an estimated 8.5 billion people by 2030, including 1 billion new people joining the middle class and consuming more resources. Concerns over sustainability as it relates to these projected needs are prompting new approaches to how we harness energy, consume resources and produce products.

The following are some examples of how BioConvergence is transforming the world as we know it.

Nature-inspired fabrication

In a future where demand could outweigh resources, alternative materials and fabrication methods may be needed–and soon. While previously the majority of our product manufacturing relied on a subtractive and replicative fabrication, we are now seeing increasing interest and use of additive manufacturing processes, that will give us greater control and less waste in product fabrication.

This form of manufacturing allows us to spend more time focusing on the detail of materials properties and science we are actually using to make fabrication and manufacturing more efficient and to increase throughput. It also inspires us to create products with varying material customization and personalization. It’s akin to the organization of cellulose fibers in the branch of a tree give the tree branch flexibility and yield. These properties are substantially different from the material in the trunk of the same tree. It’s the same wood but their mechanical properties are different based on the function of that region of the wood. We are moving into a world where instead of removing material, we add details needed by modifying the material rather than assembling another part.

Additive manufacturing, is an area HP is helping to pioneer and advance with its Jet Fusion technology. With HP’s Jet Fusion technology, users can control a material’s properties, such as color, mechanical strength,texture, elasticity, electrical and thermal conductivity, index of refraction, opacity, and more. This technology allows for the manufacture of parts with different qualities from common material. A part can have durable, hard surfaces with low friction where contact and wear will occur, and a differing index of refraction in another area.

Bioinspired materials

Bioinspired materials are synthetic materials whose structure, properties or function mimic those of natural materials or living matter. Examples of bioinspired materials are light-harvesting photonic materials that mimic photosynthesis, structural composites that imitate the structure of nacre (aka mother-of-pearl), and metal actuators inspired by the movements of jellyfish.

With the rise of 3D printing, greater inspiration is being gleaned from nature to construct new materials, substitute existing materials and develop new fabrication processes.

“Biological systems have clearly shown that large numbers of molecules, structures, and systems in living organisms possess attractive materials properties that are beyond the reach of current nonbiological synthetic approaches,” states the Materials Research to Meet 21st-Century Defense Needs paper by the National Academies Press. “Many of these molecules, structures, systems, and natural fabrication processes could serve as the basis for synthetic materials with enhanced properties.”

The bones of a bird have inspired new forms of concrete. While a bird’s bones are somewhat hollow, they are highly resilient and efficient, rather than fragile. The Technical University Munich (TUM) is experimenting with 3D printing to create lightweight cement pipes with a network of internal supports, similar to a bird’s bones. With a focus on structural efficiency vs. structural volume. Meeting physical requirements with minimalistic design.

“The design was inspired by the bone of a bird: very thin and light, but still very stable,” said Dr. Klaudius Henke, TUM Chair of Timber Structures and Building Construction, “It would be impossible to make it using traditional methods. 3D printing will change architecture. The technology not only allows more versatile shaping, but also more variety, since each component can be individually designed without incurring any additional costs.”

DNA digital data storage

The natural world is also inspiring researchers pondering our growing data problem. By 2040, the demand for global memory is expected to exceed the projected supply of silicon, the raw material for flash memory, according to some scientists. This is based on projected use of data, which continues to be consumed each year at an exponential rate.

Scientists are seeking solutions by looking to nature’s most efficient storage unit: DNA. DNA is three dimensional, lending vastly more storage space per unit area compared to conventional hard drives, which store information on a two-dimensional surface. Through DNA digital storage, scientists found a way to store 215 petabytes, or 215 million gigabytes– roughly equivalent to all the data on the internet — in a single gram of DNA. DNA is made of nucleotides: chemical “building blocks” of phosphate, sugar and nitrogen. As a raw material, it is highly compact and can last hundreds of thousands of years if kept in a cool, dry place.

“DNA won’t degrade over time like cassette tapes and CDs, and it won’t become obsolete,” said Yaniv Erlich, a computer scientist at Columbia University.

Information has been extracted from DNA in bones that are 700,000 years old. And, this memory uses 100 million times less energy than storing data electronically in flash.

Energy through osmosis

A 300-foot coastal redwood tree transports water and nutrients from deep in the ground, through its trunk, out and up its bark and leaves via its nutrient transport system. This incredible feat has inspired scientists to harness the energy of osmotic reactions to produce renewable energy.

In Tofte, Norway, a prototype power plant was created that uses osmotic processes to generate carbon-free electricity. For this power plant, energy is generated as a result of the concentration gradient in places where freshwater meets dense salt water, as it does along coastlines all over the world.

“We critically need more green energy in the world,” said Skilhagen, Statkraft’s Head of Osmotic Power. “Osmotic can be a valuable contributor. It’s a base load renewable energy. You can make electricity from the combination of fresh water and sea water.”

Statkraft’s plant pulls salt water and fresh water from nearby sources and places them into adjoining chambers separated with a thin, permeable membrane. The freshwater forces its way through to the salt water, creating pressure on the salt water side that turns an energy turbine.

One day osmotic power could generate 1700 TWh of electricity per year, which is about half of the European Union’s current consumption, Skilhagen believes.

To read how computers can simulate the brain, and the rest of the article, head over to HPMegatrends.com.



I want to hear your thoughts, too! Leave a comment below or join in on the Twitter conversation by using the hashtag
#MegatrendsbyHP and tweeting me at @AndrewBolwell.

 

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How AI is transforming healthcare

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Artificial intelligence (AI) will make a direct and immense impact on the healthcare field. Technology has already improved diagnostic accuracy, drug delivery, and patients’ medical records, and AI will only add to those breakthroughs. AI can mine medical records, design personalized treatment plans, handle administrative tasks to free up medical providers’ time for more meaningful tasks, and assist with medication management.

AI has already made headway in medicine, helping to do everything from processing x-ray images and detecting cancer to assisting doctors in diagnosing and treating patients. In fact, the global AI healthcare market is expected to reach $22,790 million by 2023.

And the general public is on board. According to a recent survey, 47% of people were comfortable with AI assisting doctors in the operating room. More than half of respondents over age 40 were willing to go under the knife with the help of technology, compared with only 40% under age 40. Additionally, six in ten participants (61%) were comfortable with their doctor using data from wearable devices, such as an Apple Watch or Fitbit, to assess their lifestyle and make recommendations based on that data.

So what healthcare areas will AI have an impact on in the next five to ten years?

Mining medical records

In our current age of big data, patient data is valuable. Often times, patients’ files are unorganized and mining their records to extract necessary medical insights can be a great challenge.

David Lindsay, founder of Philadelphia-based start-up, Oncora Medical, realized this struggle in radiation therapy. He and his team built a data analytics platform that helps doctors design sound radiation treatment plans for patients, personalizing each one based on their specific characteristics and medical history.

Virtual healthcare providers

AI is being used to detect emotional health issues as well. x2 developed a mental health chatbot, Tess, that delivers on-demand, psychological support. Tess coaches you through tough times to build resilience, by having text message conversations — in the same way a therapist would. The coping strategies Tess delivers are based on the emotions and concerns you express in your conversations.

Beyond Verbal is another example of a company utilizing AI to track emotional well-being. The emotions analytics company, developed a vocal biomarker to potentially help patients and their providers recognize patterns and better understand their healthcare needs.

Sensly boosts, Molly, a virtual health care assistant which dynamically generates speech, receives images and videos, and offers complete remote monitoring, with support for the common and high-cost conditions.

Drug development

Clinical trials can take more than a decade and cost millions of dollars. AI can play a part in speeding up the process of drug development, along with making it more cost effective.

GSK, a company that researches, develops, and manufactures innovative pharmaceutical medicines, vaccines, and consumer healthcare products, is active applying AI to its drug discovery arm. In fact, it created an in-house AI unit called “Medicines Discovered Using Artificial Intelligence.” In 2017, the company announced a partnership with Insilico, to identify novel biological targets and pathways.

Overall, AI can assist healthcare providers in managing their patients’ care more efficiently. I don’t believe AI will take healthcare jobs, but instead transform them. AI will provide the opportunity for healthcare works to take on higher impact jobs or at least offload their less desirable workload. AI will create growth and introduce more opportunities for the human workforce. It has the potential to automate mundane tasks, allowing humans to spend more time on more important tasks. If they can collaborate with the human workforce in hospitals and doctors’ offices, it will take care of the most important aspect of healthcare — improving patients’ experiences.

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Brains, brawn and big business: AI and robots reshape the workplace

Automation technology is moving into the workplace with unstoppable momentum. As bots and robots take on more kinds of tasks, will they eliminate jobs? Or will they instead generate opportunity for workers to leverage their own strengths and manage their tireless mechanical colleagues?

In today’s workforce a factory line worker, a university professor, and a customer service rep are guaranteed to have one thing in common: a job that will be transformed by the presence of robots and AI in the coming decade. Will that worker be able to change along with it?

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Security never sleeps: Robotics and AI in public safety

“It’s the end of the world as we know it.” The iconic song from rock band R.E.M. has been the soundtrack for many dark days since its original release in…wait for it…1987. It was a simpler world then…wasn’t it?

Actually, there’s ongoing debate over whether we are living in an increasingly dangerous world, or whether 24-hour news cycles and social media are decrying global crime conditions that may actually be stable or in decline. Still, the news delivers a daunting barrage: terrorist attacks, gang murders, warring militant groups, gun violence and cybercrime. It can be hard to know where to focus and how to stay safe both in the physical and digital environments.

Better news: AI and Robotics in public safety and security present a growing, diverse and powerful force for good against an evolving threat landscape. From tireless patrol robots to game-theory based monitoring of harbors and airports to predictive analytics at IoT scale…security technology is helping law enforcement, businesses, communities, and citizens stay safe and quash criminal activity.

Robo-guards: At a data center or street corner near you

There’s a long tradition of retired police and military personnel joining the civilian security workforce. Military robots are following suit, being deployed as extensions of police departments and security staffing teams. Robots are increasingly being used as smart, and uber-efficient patrol guards in businesses, institutions, city streets and transit hubs. They have become affordable enough to justify cost even for smaller businesses. The global security robots market is likely to reach $2.71 billion in 2021, according to Arcluster, in the first-of-its-kind report on the Worldwide Security Robots Market (2016–2021).

There are numerous examples of military-style robots reporting for duty. The Los Angeles Police department handles car bombs with a 50-foot telescoping arm on their burly Bomb Assault Tactical Control Assessment Tool (BatCat), built on a Caterpillar tractor chassis. In Cleveland, a tiny version, the 12-inch robot Griffin, that under cars and behind dumpsters to scan for hidden explosive devices.

South Korea will be making extensive use of robo-guards to enforce security at the 2018 Olympic Games in Pyeongchang. In Greece, aquatic rescue robots have sped flotation devices across the water at 20 mph to Syrian refugees stranded by capsized boats. In Japan, suspicious drones flying over sensitive areas are scooped up by defense drones wielding what are essentially six-by-ten foot butterfly nets — the better to avoid falling debris that would result from shooting at them and destroying them in flight.

One company with early mainstream momentum is Knightscope, makers of the Autonomous Data Machines (ADMs). They are 4-to-5-foot tall robotic security guards, able to monitor and report activity, stream video, and sniff out cybercrime, detecting devices that are trying to access data on a network. They can detect and alert authorities to the presence of certain kinds of items — guns, for example — a person may be carrying into a public area.

While their AI-driven capabilities are impressive, these robo-guards are at their best when they are feeding insight to, and taking direction from, their human counterparts. And when they are visible in public spaces, it will be natural for them to fulfill other typical aspects of a human security guard’s role: being an greeter for a business or city; providing directions, and gathering input from members of the community or business they serve.

AI: The brains of the operation for tech-enabled public safety

Artificial Intelligence is the other half of the story. Oceans of data are generated daily, both by humans and by the global mesh of devices that interact with us and with each other.

There is tremendous promise in the ability to aggregate and crunch that data and turn it into usable insights for public safety officials. AI can help us pre-empt crime by recognizing patterns, finding anomalies, and using predictive analytics to anticipate the likely next moves of terrorists and criminals from the physical and digital realms.

Digital transformation in the public safety field is no small challenge. It requires legacy IT systems and entrenched processes and behaviors. But the CIA, recognizing an existential need to modernize, did just that a few years ago. It moved onto the commercial cloud a few years ago and is now able to instantly and securely inter-operate across all 16 of its agencies and all levels of classification — a development its leadership describes as “game changing.”

Collaborating with AI and Robots to cut cost and improve safety

AI and robotics have much to offer security professionals who are responsible for the safety of people, places, and things (physical and digital.) There’s no question that protecting human life, sensitive data and other assets are worthy of our investment. But resources are finite, and there is tremendous value in using technology to replicate elements of human judgement, observation and insight.

Accenture recently asked 165 technology leads in police, justice and intelligence departments worldwide to identify the biggest challenges they face today. Their top three answers were: financial constraints, increased citizen expectations and the need to modernize operations. Digital transformation is essential to overcoming those challenges — as is adopting a proactive, preventive security strategy to ensure greater safety for individuals and communities everywhere.

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Building emotional connections & human resilience: Q&A with Mirjana Spasojevic

I was thrilled to sit down with Mirjana Spasojevic, head of the Immersive Experiences Lab at HP, to chat about building emotional connections and human resilience. She recently spoke at RISE 2017 about the work HP Labs has been doing to better understand people and their practices in order to craft the best experiences with future technologies.

Here’s a snapshot of our conversation about the Immersive Experiences Lab’s quest to understand and fulfill the promise of valuable, delightful experiences through data-driven, user-centric solutions.

How does HP’s mission and outlook on Megatrends play a role in the Immersive Experiences Lab?
HP’s mission to “engineer experiences that amaze” plays a vital role in how we innovate in the Lab. We want to create technologies that makes our customers’ lives better. We do that by studying how people work and live – their motivations, their emotions – and then we consider how technology might change their practices in the future. We are constantly prototyping, experimenting, and iterating based on our learnings because we want to help drive positive change in people’s lives through the solutions and experiences we create.

We also make big bets based on Megatrends – Rapid Urbanization, Changing Demographics, Hyper Globalization, and Accelerated Innovation. With these Megatrends as a backdrop, we as researchers craft experiences that anticipate how the world will be in three to seven years.

What projects has the Immersive Experiences Lab worked on that exemplify this?
Recently we created Project Jetty. This concept started in a brainstorming session, and our team’s goal was to help people feel connected without actually being connected. In our study, we placed an “art object” – a 3D-printed, realistic representation of a subject’s house – in the home of an older adult and another 3D-printed house in their children’s homes. Each printed house glowed when its owner was home, and it sat in a photo frame with holographic, real-time weather displayed around it.

Before the study, all of our study participants indicated they didn’t stay in touch with others as often as they’d like, and felt dissatisfied with their current methods for keeping in touch. After the study, we heard comments like, “I feel happy and warm inside because in some strange way I feel I am able to see them through this device.”

This is when we saw an exciting shift in how these people experienced the concept away from technology and toward the fulfillment of emotional needs.

I find the shift from technology to emotion fascinating. Can you tell me more about that goal?
Of course. With Jetty we aren’t necessarily looking to develop a new HP product. Instead, we wanted to extend our understanding of how technology can help us live better and feel more resilient in our lives.

We’ll use the learnings from Project Jetty in a wide variety of future projects. We believe the future of computing is people-centric. Wearables, smart materials, and technology in general should always strive to support human resilience and authentic experiences.

This people-centric approach is at the heart of everything we do in the Immersive Experiences Lab.

Learn more about the work Mirjana and her team are working on here.

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How to Spark an Innovation Mindset

Technology is changing at lightning speed. When I was in college, a single computer took up an entire room.  Yes, am dating myself a little here…. Now, we hold computing devices in the palms of our hands. In fact, we have more computing power in our pockets than all of NASA had when they put the first man on the moon in 1969.

We now live in a world increasingly surrounded by self-driving cars that may someday be self-flying cars, of pervasive artificial intelligence, and where India can put a spacecraft around Mars for less than what Hollywood spent making the movie Gravity.

Innovation is significantly shaping our world. And it’s the number #1 topic I’m most frequently asked about. Whether it’s at the HP offices, at speaking engagements, or when I attend conferences, people want to know how they can tap into their own inner innovator, and spark innovation at their offices. I wanted to share a few of those questions and the answers I give in hopes of sparking more innovation at your office.

Why is innovation important to a company and employees’ personal development?
Innovation is about adapting to change.  It’s the difference between leading change and being led by it, so it is critical for any company that wants to do the disrupting and not be the disrupted.

Adapting is the difference between leading change and being led by it.

Innovation is equally important for personal development. Innovation at a company doesn’t happen magically; a company can only be truly innovative if they have employees who are innovative. Adopting an innovative mindset also makes life a lot more interesting and fun when you think of every problem that comes at you as an opportunity to learn and grow.

What makes someone an innovator?
Innovation is an attitude. As an innovator you need to believe you can change the world, that if you keep working on a problem you will eventually find a solution, and that anything is possible.  Innovators have a passion to make things happen. They relentlessly take action.

How can I inspire my team to take action?
I tell my team: be curious. Observe, ask questions, have an open mind, and suspend judgement. Be bold. Be passionate about what you’re doing. Most importantly, have fun. I often say that boredom is not a corporate objective, and when you enjoy what you do, you will be better at it.

What are the most common misconceptions when it comes to innovation?
I’ve come across several misconceptions. The first is that it requires a large team and a lot of resources to change the world. While endless resources and a large team can make parts of innovation easier, it doesn’t take an army to do big things. Disruption can occur with small, special forces with drive and dedication. The willingness of smaller teams to be agile and adaptable can lead to success.

Another misconception is when you are starting something new, you need to know what you’re doing ahead of time. In reality, you just need to have the right mindset, and you’ll find your way. Trust in yourself, and learn along the way. Don’t get stuck at the starting line because things will inevitably change anyway. It’s better to get started, enjoy the journey and adapt to the changing world around you.

“I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” – Thomas Edison

How do you deal with failure?
You shouldn’t just prepare for failure, you should welcome it and actively seek it out because failure is an opportunity to learn and grow. I truly believe you can’t have success without failure. As Thomas Edison once said, “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”

Sometimes it takes “failing” 10,000 times to find the right path forward. When you start something new, think of all the reasons that something won’t work. Then, order them by the highest risk of failure, and go about testing the riskiest assumptions first. If things aren’t meant to be, aim to fail fast.

How can employees practice an innovation mindset?
Start with small things. Have lunch every week with someone outside of your team. Talk to them about what they do and how they do it. Innovation is about leveraging diversity, and the more you know about more things, the better you will be able to innovate.

Write down your ideas. Sometimes the simple act of writing things down can bring your ideas to life. You never know when that list will come in handy.

Be mindful of the language you use. The words we use influence our thoughts and mindset. Get in the habit of reinforcing an innovative mindset through the words you use or the way you respond to questions. Instead of “why?”, ask “why not?” Instead of saying “no, but…”, say “yes, if…”.

Once you become comfortable with those, move on to larger mindset shifts.

Question your assumptions about everything. Many times, the “right” way to do things can be altered and improved, it just takes someone to question the underlying assumptions. Ask yourself, how can this be improved? How can we make it better?

Be persistent. Don’t give up when things get tough. Instead, keep your eye on the prize and work your way toward it one step at a time. Test, learn, iterate, move forward, rinse, and repeat. Through that process, make it a personal goal to learn one new thing every day.

Don’t play the blame game. If something goes wrong, look for solutions and learn from everyone’s mistakes. The past is already behind you, so you might as well leave it there. Simply stay in the “here and now” and do whatever you can to create the future you’re aiming for.

Help others build on their ideas. It’s not your job to tell others why their ideas are bad or won’t work. Help them grow their ideas and make them work as if they were your own.

The future hasn’t happened yet, you get to create it.

Lastly and most importantly, believe in yourself and what you’re doing. As a child, we all believe we could do anything or be anything. Sometimes as adults, we forget that. We listen to people tell us why we can’t do something or why something isn’t a good idea. Don’t listen to them. Recapture that child-like belief in yourself. The future hasn’t happened yet, you get to create it.

What are your tips for sparking an innovation mindset? I’d love to hear them in the comments section below.

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Is your business Megatrends ready?

Over the next 15 years, we will experience more change than in all human history to date. The pace and magnitude at which change is occurring is staggering.

Did you know we now have more computing power in our pocket than all of NASA had in 1969 when they put the first man on the moon?

Or how about the fact that artificial intelligence spent 42 hours solving the 100-year-old mystery of how flatworms regenerate body parts?

With the accelerated pace of change comes the equally accelerated rate of innovation. I believe this accelerated innovation and the Megatrends driving it will have a sustained, transformative impact on the world in the years ahead — on businesses, societies, economies, cultures and our personal lives.

So how do we as engineers, marketers, designers, innovators, and executives stay ahead of that change and help chart our own course?

Ask yourself: Is your business Megatrends ready? Answer these five questions to find out.


1.
What products could you develop to support megacity infrastructure, an aging population, or hyper global trade?

By 2030, there will be 8.5 billion people walking the earth, and 97% of that population growth will be in emerging economies. And as people move to cities, our cities will get larger, and we’ll have more of them, including megacities in places many of us have never heard of today.

It will change how we buy and consume products and services, propelling the sharing economy and convenience-based services. Businesses must design products that meet the needs of the megacity infrastructure, an aging population or hyper global trade.

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