The future of motorbikes is electric

23 October 2012

Kawasaki KR1-SI normally leave the coverage of all things patent related in the capable hands of my colleague Steve van Dulken and his Patent Search Blog.

However, Steve is not the keen biker I am (nor the owner of the best motorbike ever created). So he is unlikely to have come across this story in the latest issue of Bike Magazine.

It is about a patent for an electric motorbike from Honda in Japan. And I have to admit I struggled to read all 19 pages of the patent application. But my understanding of the innovation, is the use of smaller electric motors located near the rear axle. This avoids the need for a traditional chain to provide motive power from the engine to the rear wheel.

The point of this story is that you can use patents as a form of market research. It is unlikely Honda would go to the trouble of protecting this idea if they weren’t planning to launch an electric motorbike in the near future.

You can read more at the Espacenet website. US Patent: US8028785  (B2) ― 2011-10-04 ELECTRIC MOTORCYCLE or European Patent: EP2168858  (B1) ― 2012-06-06

Honda_electric_bike

Honda_electric_bike2


Playback Rewards, a success story in the making

29 June 2012

playbackrewards-logoMost of the inventors and entrepreneurs we help in the Business & IP Centre realise that it takes hard work and patience (and some luck) to become successful.

For Alistair Kelman the man behind Playback Rewards it has taken three years of seven day weeks with no holidays.

I have often seen him working in the Centre, and for the past couple of years he has been giving me regular progress reports on his patented invention. These updates have been an alternating mix of positive and negative news, as hurdles appear and then are overcome. Or amazing opportunities arrive, but then disappear again.

Alistair_KelmanThroughout this roller-coaster of events, Alistair has remained positive, and bounced back from setbacks (an essential ingredient for an entrepreneur). He has also taken a flexible and pragmatic approach to commercialising his invention (another necessary requirement – but sadly rather too rare for inventors).

For the last few months I have been waiting for permission from Alistair to talk about his invention on my blog, and now he has given me the green light. I am excited because Playback Rewards has the potential to be our biggest success story so far, by far.

Alistair started working on his ideas for revolutionising television advertising at the Centre at the beginning of 2009. He filed his first patent later that year, which was granted in February 2011. He then worked for months, almost on a daily basis at the Centre, developing, researching and refining the commercialisation of his invention.

In late 2010 Alistair ran out of money for his patent. But managed to persuade Stephen Fry to put in a little to keep the project on the road. As you can see from the video Stephen recorded ???, he liked Alistairs’ ideas and wanted to help. Then on Christmas Day 2011 his company was mentioned in an article in the Sunday Times.

Five months later Playback Holdings Ltd won a place in the semi-finals of the CISCO BIG awards, where it stands the chance of winning $100,000 for the business. Alistair feels that which everyone should know about this amazing programme.

As part of his entry for the CISCO i-prize competition Alistair has made a video Magic in your pocket which explains how the service would work.

On 6 July Playback Holdings Limited starts its Series A  fund-raising via an Financial Services Authority (FSA) approved crowdsourcing  platform called Seedrs. This innovative investment method allows ordinary people to invest between £10 to £100,000 in any of the start-ups on its platform.

The full story behind Playback Rewards, and where they are going is on their website www.playbackrewards.com.


Inspiring Entrepreneurs: Forward-thinking Fashion

12 June 2012

Tonight’s excellent Inspiring Entrepreneurs event looked at different approaches to ethical, environmentally-friendly and sustainable fashion.

Rather than seeing ethical fashion as an add-on, our speakers are taking advantage of new technology and practical innovative business models to make them more creative and also sustainable in the long-term.

Tonight was run in partnership with  London College of Fashion’s Centre for Fashion Enterprise (CFE) and Designer-Manufacturer Innovation Support Centre (DISC).

DISC-image

Christian Smith is Corporate Responsibility Manager at ASOS, and has an MSc in Environment and Sustainable Development from UCL. His work at ASOS includes measurement of greenhouse gas emissions, helping the company to understand its impacts and opportunities for improvement.

Annegret Affolderbach is designer and founder of Choolips, who revive  ancient textile traditions. She is passionate about sustainable fashion, and the exciting and potent future it presents for global fashion. Her range is now sold through the ASOS Green Room.

Annegret spent a year and a half after graduating collecting ideas on Post-It notes trying to work out how she could use her talent to make a positive difference to fashion in the world. She also felt the need to be inspired for her whole business career, rather than a short term goal.

Annegret spent another year travelling and listening, visiting the Gambia to learn about Batik, and how the local producers thought about their lives and impact on their local environment.

She was determined to create a product that would be harmonious to both the producers and consumers of the products, and started with just two simple dresses.

Electrobloom flowerMark Bloomfield with a background experience of designing wearable accessories for brands such as Vivienne Westwood, Matthew Williamson and Asprey, talked about developing his own jewellery business, Electrobloom.

This has been inspired by how the worlds of nature, art, technology and science collide, he produces unique jewellery designs using 3D printing technology.

Eleanor Dorrien-Smith is the founder of PARTIMI, and graduated from Central Saint Martins with a BA in Fashion and Print. She has worked for Mary Katrantzou, Tata Naka, John Galliano and Eley Kishimoto before setting up PARTIMI. After creating a capsule collection for US retailer Anthropologie, the PARTIMI ready-to-wear collection was launched in 2010. The PARTIMI collections are defined by striking prints, a distinctive personal narrative and an environmental edge.

The evening was chaired by Melanie Frame, Sustainability Manufacturing Developer at London College of Fashion (DISC). Melanie is part of the DISC project to support fashion manufacturers and designers to innovate their production process. Melanie has been involved in various sustainability projects helping small businesses to set up sustainable and ethical practices.

A question about the concentration on sustainable supply lines led to a fascinating discussion about the speaker’s views on what sustainable fashion means to them.

For Mark it was about recreating a made-to-order type of personalised shopping experience, which gives a more engaged experience for customers.

For Christian improving the welfare of the environment and fashion producers are an important new additional part of the business model, from the traditional success measures of company share price and market share.

He talked about how the Green Room at ASOS helps breakdown the enormous challenges of sustainable fashion into bite sized chunks, making it more manageable. Also telling the story behind the product is another way of engaging customers and staff.

He gave several examples of innovation and change:

The discussion ended with a transparent discussion of producer pricing and markups that are common in sustainable fashion.

My colleague Fran Taylor who organised the event has written an excellent review of the evening on her Creative Industries blog .


The ingenious Tapsell gates of Sussex

31 May 2012
Tapsel_gate_at_St_Andrew's_church,_Jevington

Image from Wikipedia

On one of my regular wanderings up on the South Downs, I recently chanced across an intriguing type of churchyard gate.

For my undulating perambulations I often carry a day-pack filled with waterproofs, extra layers and ‘emergency rations’ (in my youth I was a Boy Scout, so ‘Be Prepared’ is my motto). So conventional gates are an unsatisfactory ergonomic experience.

The most common obstacle is the stile, which often involves an unsteady climb and descent on frequently wobbly and slippery planks of wood. Kissing gates appear more straight-forward, but the hinges are often rusty, and half the time your rucksack gets snagged as you squeeze through the narrow gap. Then there is the traditional five-bar gate, which if new, requires Herculean strength to prise the spring-lever open, or once old, has collapsed on its hinges and has to be lifted out of the mud and dragged open and closed again.

As you can see from the photo above the Tapsell gate is a much more ingenious device, as it balances on a central spindle. The gate opens with the slightest of touches, and can be pushed right round so it comes to rest on the fixed stops of the gate posts in a closed position. In effect you only ever have to open the gate, and you never have to wait for someone coming the other way as they can pass by on the other side simultaneously.

According to the little leaflet I picked up in Jevington church written by Rosalind Hodge, the Tapsell gates even allow coffin bearers to comfortably pass on either side without breaking step. Apparently, the bearers could even rest the coffin on the gate if they needed to pause before entering the churchyard.

Sadly, very little seems to be known about who invented this style of gate or when. The most likely source seems to have been a branch of the Tapsell families of Sussex, some of whom were carpenters.

For me, the most intriguing thing of all about these gates is just how few there are. Currently only six examples survive, but it seems not that many were made even at their peak.

This brings me neatly back to a regular discussion I have with inventors. So often they assume that their great idea must be entirely new because they haven’t come across it before in the shops. I explain that of the seventy million or so patents registered in the UK, only a tiny minority ever actually became commercially successful.

The sad truth about inventing (or any innovation come to that) is having a good idea is not nearly enough. I fact I would say it is the easy bit. The hard part is proving the commercial viability of the idea (usually to understandably cynical investors), and then find a way to market it successfully.

Too many follow the path of Ray Kinsella the character played by Kevin Costner in the film Field of Dreams, “If you build it, he will come”. And this proves to be very much the exception rather than the rule.


Organizations Don’t Tweet, People Do by Euan Semple

16 May 2012

euan-sempleYesterday evening the British Library hosted a book launch for Organizations Don’t Tweet, People Do: A Manager’s Guide to the Social Web by Euan Semple.

Instead of a speech, Euan was interviewed by Richard Sambrook a friend and college from their days together at the BBC.

Here are my notes from the evening followed by my selections from Euan’s book:

  • The development of the internet and social media present a unique opportunity for social change – Euan considers this a phase change in society.
  • Euan wanted to be part of that change for his children’s sake.
  • He felt that when he was at the BBC, the World Service was a role model for the rest of the organisation. There people rubbed along together from all departments and levels sharing information. Other parts of the BBC were much more hierarchical and stuck in their silos.
  • A lot of the use of early collaboration technologies were simple tools to help people find out answers to simple questions, such as ‘does anyone know a fixer in Poland’, or ‘how do you claim for petrol expenses’.
  • On a wider level introducing these collaborative tools helped to create a shared understanding of corporate issues.
  • Euan recognises that the control issues for social media for many organisations such as law firms are non-trivial, but he believes they will get there eventually.
  • Finding your own ‘authentic voice’ through blogging is so much more valuable than writing endless management reports written in “management bollocks”, to a set formula,  which no one actually reads.
  • Euan describes his idealised vision of future corporations as ephemeral meritocracies.
  • He wonders if it is unreasonable to expect people to be able to, or want to have their own voice. And thinks that education and corporate structures have led to many thinking they don’t. But he believes that ultimately everyone wants to have a say in their lives.
  • The barriers to social media are not about age, but about open versus closed approaches to the world.
  • He believes the internet and social media is the next big story after 18th century religion, early 20th century fascism and communism, and late 20th century capitalism.

The tweets from the event have been Storified here.

A more detailed summary from the Strange Attractor blog by Suw Charman-Anderson.

Book coverReview of Organisations Don’t Tweet, People Do

The book comes in 45 Bite sized chapters, each with introductions and summaries. And in fact each chapter can be purchased individually in electronic format. Euan’s idea is to make it as easy as possible to spread the message to those who remain unconvinced by the benefits of social media.

An essential read for anyone with a connection to social media in the workplace (which means everyone), it is very wide ranging, quite philosophical at times, and always passionately personal.

Euan makes a strong case for the democratising benefits of adopting  social media and collaborative tools.

However, my experience of both successes and failures to introduce these technologies in various workplaces, makes me think that Euan is somewhat naïvely optimistic (an accusation he is aware of, and attempts to address several times in the book).

He ended the engaging question and answer session by saying he thinks it will take up to fifty years for the change to fully occur, and this strikes me as more realistic.

Here are my highlights from reading the book:

What is the book for? It is not a “how to” book nor, I hope, is it cyber-utopian vision of the future….I prefer to think of it as a collection of ideas that… can make the web more understandable and useful in the world of work.

Growing up onlineWe will only be able to take full advantage of the networked world if we grow up, think for ourselves, and take responsibility for our lives and our actions. I am not naïve. I know that, at least to begin with, truly thinking for yourself and saying what you think with any degree of authenticity is a big ask. It may never happen for many people. There may just be too much at stake and too much to take into account for a politician or someone in a corporate setting to really be authentic.

Don’t let the techies ruin the party…keep things out of the hands of technologists as much as possible. Some of them aren’t so bad, and some of them are re-inventing themselves…if there is a single biggest block to making social media happen encountered by my clients in large organizations it is with their IT department.

Ten steps to success with technology:

  1. Have a variety of tools rather than a single system.
  2. Don’t have a clear idea where you are headed.
  3. Follow the energy.
  4. Be strategically tactical.
  5. Keep moving, stay in touch, and head for the high ground.
  6. Build networks of people who care.
  7. Be obsessively interested.
  8. Use the tools to manage the tools. E.G. Blog about blogging in your organisation.
  9. Laugh when things go wrong.
  10. Unleash the Trojan Mice. Don’t do big things or spend loads of money. Set small, nimble things running and see where they head.

Anarchy versus controlSomeone once called me “an organizational anarchist” and I have to admit I was quite chuffed at the description and took it as a compliment…. What I am talking about here is not complete free reign for individuals … I am more interested in the possibility  of all of us taking full responsibility for ourselves and those around us – the ultimate in democracy.

How about moving democracy inside the firewall instead of outside it?

Bosses who don’t get itIf you can’t get support from your boss, see if you can get support from their peers. Find senior people who get what you are trying to do and enlist their support … Keep talking to them in their language about what you are doing and why – even if they occasionally glaze over!

Collaboration and trustThere is a lot of “collaboration software” out there that is really just the same stuff that failed to deliver data management, information management, knowledge management  and is now failing to deliver collaboration. In fact a lot of the tools labelled as collaboration tools actually work against effective collaboration.

Blurring work boundariesThe blurring of the inside and outside raises issues both for us as individuals and organizations we work for. For us it means that we have to take more responsibility for whatever lines we draw between work and non-work.

PR and marketing under threatI believe that marketing and PR are professions at real risk of disintermediation by the web. We will need people to do our marketing for us less and less as we use the tools in everyday work and start to have more effective conversations between ourselves and our customers.
Help your staff to become your best advocates. Give them the tools and the insights to become your ambassadors online.

The Return on Investment of social media – … I am becoming more robust about the ROI question and turning it back on those who ask it. What is the ROI of the way we do things now? … Where is the competitive advantage in preventing staff from using these tools to build and maintain the networks that develop their knowledge and their ability to get things done. Where is the competitive advantage in allowing your competitors to embrace these changes before you do and potentially re-inventing the industry you are so rigidly clinging to?

Online indiscretionsMuch has been made about recruitment teams searching Facebook and LinkedIn to find prospective candidates and the damage supposedly done by online indiscretions. In some ways this is an anachronistic attitude coming from people who don’t themselves engage online. People are becoming much more robust and open in their online lives. Besides, what is so awful about these supposed indiscretions? Rather than worrying about photos of potential recruits drunk at parties, I would be more worried about people who appeared to have something to hide. In fact I would be less likely to employ someone who hadn’t been indiscreet as a student!

Deal with management fearsOnline …You can’t hide behind your status or your pomposity. In fact being remote and pompous will severely inhibit your attempts at effective communication on the web.

So the answer is to help those who are disapproving or pompous in reaction to what is happening on the web. Don’t dismiss their reactions or sneer at them but make it easier for them to relax and say what they think. Show them the ropes and hold their hands rather than ridicule them as they discover  for themselves the fast changing world they have felt excluded from.

Develop guidelines-not rules, collaborativelyDon’t start with rules. Learn to use your tools, and see how people make them work before you cast too much in stone.

Use Trojan miceSet up small, unobtrusive, inexpensive, and autonomous tools and practices, set them running, and cajole and nudge them until they begin to work out where to go and why.

Don’t feed the TrollsThe best way to deal with trolls is to befriend them. Even the worst of them are human.

If your critics have shown the energy to engage, and can then be turned around to be supportive of you, then this sends a very strong signal to other dissenters.

Radical transparencyIn fact online I recommend that people assume that if you have written something on a computer then someone else will at some time be able to see it.

Does this mean you can’t write about anything? No, but it does mean you have to think harder bout what you are writing, where, and why.

Blogging as therapyBy writing about the workplace you become more thoughtful about your place in it and what it does for you.

My favourite quote in the book comes from Vint Cerf, one of the ‘fathers of the internet’. When asked by a journalist if the internet was a good or a bad thing, he replied, “It is just a thing. Whether good or bad depends on what you are doing with it.”

Euan ends the book with his final blog post at BBC after 21, years about the importance of love at work.


Archiving video games – the search for the impossible

30 March 2012

gameCity_logoOn Monday we had a presentation from James Newman and Iain Simons, co-authors of 100 Video Games, co-founders of Game City, and co-founders of the UK National Videogame Archive. And what an entertaining pair they made, switching seamlessly from slide to slide and from one to the other. They handled the great many enthusiastic interruptions from the very knowledgeable audience with patience and politeness.

They were at the British Library to talk about why the archive was created in 2008 and progress it has made since then. In practice much of the talk was explaining why it is impossible to archive vidoe games, due to their very temporary nature. Even the plastic of the early consoles is starting to degrade, ending eventually in a pile of fine grey dust.

With my background in computer science, I was expecting to hear about all the clever ways programmers are preserving the games so that they are playable on current hardware. They did talk about emulators and the good work fan programmers are doing, but ultimately their efforts are doomed to failure.

It will never be possible to exactly replicate the way the games played back on cathode ray tube (CRT) screens and 16 bit processors. And even if you could, the cultural context will have been lost. Consequently they are concentrating on preserving the experience of game-playing rather than the games themselves.

They do this by capturing live game playing at events like GameCity, and preserving written material relating to games such as Walkthroughs, also known as cheats.

They ended their fascinating and stimulating presentation with a wonderfully rude example of the challenges of completing a Super Mario Brothers level. This has had an amazing 20 million views on YouTube, but comes with a health warning as it is fully of swearing in response to the frustrations of playing the game.

As something of a failed gamer, it certainly make me laugh.


Summly founder Nick D’Aloisio @British Library

27 January 2012

Summly_logoI couldn’t see how my colleagues could top the speakers at our first Digital Library Conversations @British Library. Internet pioneers Vint Cerf (known as one of the fathers of the internet) and Ted Nelson who founded Project Xanadu, the first hypertext project in 1960. There is a video of the meeting if you are interested.

However, I was wrong. As a result of Stella Wisdom (one of our Digital Curators) reading an article in the Metro newspaper, we were privileged to hear from 16-year-old ‘internet genius’ Nick D’Aloisio, the founder of Summly.

This iPhone app has made international headlines and attracted backing of an investment company controlled by Hong Kong billionaire Li Ka-shing..

Summly is an iPhone app which summarises and simplifies the content of web pages and search results. Currently it can condense reference pages, news articles and reviews but according to Nick,  has the potential to go a lot further.

Nick_D'AloisioNick has been profiled in Forbes, Wall Street Journal, Wired and FastCompany for his entrepreneurial success and interest in Artificial Intelligence. Before founding Summly, Nick created Facemood, a service which used sentiment analysis to determine the mood of Facebook users, and SongStumblr, a geosocial music discovery service.

Did I mention he was 16 years old?

According to an interview with the BBC, Summly came from his frustration in researching for his exams.

“I was revising for a history exam and using Google, clicking in and out of search results, and it seemed quite inefficient. If I found myself on a site that was interesting I was reading it and that was wasting time,” he said.

“I thought that what I needed was a way of simplifying and summarising these web searches. Google has Instant Preview but that is just an image of the page. What I wanted was a content preview,” he says.

What impressed me most from our meeting with Nick at the British Library (which you can get a glimpse of here thanks to Reuters), was his intelligence and modesty.

I’m sure he has had plenty of practice, but his ‘elevator pitch’  (which is something of an obsession with me), was superb.

And when I asked him if he was planning to pursue an entrepreneurial path or go on to university, he talked enthusiastically about studying philosophy after his A levels. This is from someone just back from a series of meetings with high powered investors and entrepreneurs in Silicon Valley.

I came away with the impression that he was quite possibly the most confident and mature person in the meeting.

Addition 28 March 2012:

The video of this event has now been posted onto YouTube, and the interview with Nick starts 34 minutes in.