Must-Read Reports

Future businesses from emerging trends

Posted on

Future trends will influence the types of businesses that would emerge in the future. A report, NatWest Future Businesses report caught my attention this week. NatWest is a leading bank in the UK. I was one of its customers in the 1970s.

The NatWest Future Businesses  report highlights and explores the business trends most likely to emerge in the UK in the next 10-15 years, included within it, are predictions from a panel of four leading futurists and consumer business experts.

From virtual reality travel agents to the evolution of the e-scooter-these expert forecasts provide a fascinating insight into the future businesses we could see, and the industries where new job opportunities may emerge. Environment and sustainability, healthcare and education are among the many categories that are set to benefit from new technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI) and robotics. 

General trends Identified

There are several trends identified in the NatWest Future Businesses report.

One, we are operating in an age of high-frequency change where technology has taken the friction out of business. It is easier than ever to get started with all the digital tools at our fingertips giving us significant power and reach. That doesn’t mean that success is easy though: with great technological progress comes even greater market opportunity.

Over the next 15 years, we will likely see continued growth in the number of self-employed people, particularly freelancers. Their numbers have doubled since the turn of century and though the trend was disrupted by the pandemic, it will return to growth as the economy recovers.

Freelancers allow organizations to scale up and down much more rapidly. Businesses built as networks will be able to take advantage of this flexibility, and thus be able to plug in new technologies quickly-as and when they add value.

But alongside a highly adaptable model, companies that adhere to a set of core values and proven social conscience will most likely thrive.

Government’s green policies mean the energy and transport sectors are being encouraged to evolve; something set to continue as newer and renewably powered technologies emerge. This is already evident in the electric vehicle market where firms race against each other to provide future-proofed solutions, from fuel cells to lithium batteries.

And all this is against a backdrop of the AI and robotic revolution. Mundane tasks from turning on the lights to food shopping will be carried out by automations, in a trend that is increasingly evident. Drone could keep us safe, driverless vehicles could take us to works, virtual shop assistants could help us select the perfect outfits for us to wear, and farmers could use algorithms to decide which crops to feed.

However, there will still many roles that require human skills such as caring for patients, dealing with customers and crucially in education. In essence, the more advanced technology becomes, the more people will be forced to concentrate on being people. With this in mind, the economy is gradually  shifting towards a care-focused model, dominated by emotion-led skills such as leadership, motivation and nurture.

Looking ahead, society will become more connected than ever. The digital world will blend with the real world, and the ability to communicate will no longer be restricted by poor WIFI or distance.

Overall, the future looks bright for small and middle-sized enterprises, especially those built as networks, which, whilst having relatively few full-time employees, will be able to compete with global giants. Increasingly consumers are seeking out companies that give back to society, offer a bespoke service and meet their individual needs.

The future businesses

Among the future businesses highlighted by the NatWest Future Businesses report include the  following:

  1. Agriculture: Precision farming, urban food farms, and livestock wearables.
  2. Health and medicine: Smart skin clinics, AI doctors, 3D printed organ production, intelligent ambulances, mind-controlled exoskeletons and biosimulator businesses.
  3. Energy: Microgrid managers
  4. Media and entertainment: Haptic body suits, AI digital entertainment critics, and interactive  TV.
  5. Education: Immersive teaching, holographic teachers, haptic gloves and adaptive learning platforms.
  6. Fashion and retail: AI tailoring, super-fast fashion, VR shop assistants, and augmented reality shopping experiences.
  7. Homes: Robot hire, servicing and repairs, and robo-gardener/robo-housekeeper
  8. Leisure: Analogue activity centers and wearable experience technologies.
  9. Food and drinks: Insect and bug foods, algae snack foods and supplements, lab-experience restaurants and fungus food-packaging.
  10. Transport: Driverless pods, air taxis and self-driving car rental services
  11. Travel and tourism: VR travel agents, VR mind refresher holidays and VR holidays.
  12. Construction and engineering: Robot pilots and high-speed 3D construction.
  13. IT and security: Drone security specialists and post-quantum security., and 
  14. Space industries: Space tourism, and orbital bin lorries.

The NatWest Future Businesses report is an interesting report. The authors are well known futurist and consumer services specialist. The NatWest Future Businesses can be downloaded as shown below.

The future businesses are interesting to explore. Algae farming and rental of robots and exoskeletons (light and compact) are my interests. An area of application is wearing exoskeletons to lift patients in hospitals and at home.

World Unique Innovation

Saluting the LEDs innovators

Posted on

An LED, which stands for light-emitting diode, is a semiconductor diode that glows when a voltage is applied. Devices with LEDS are everywhere in our house: televisions, mobile phones,  solar flood lights, torchlights, inhouse lighting, street lightings, and cars day- indicator lights. .

Many companies are producing LED lights, and there are ample choices to buy indoor lights, which previously were made by Philips and Osram using the older fluorescent lights. . 

The working of an LED

In my MIT Sloan days,  a well-known Professor of Innovation, James M. Utterback, brought to the class a collection of hairs (animal and human) that were used by Thomas Edison to develop his filament bulbs. Since then, filament bulbs have been used to light homes. Sadly, these  filament bulbs would be largely substituted by LED lights of various shapes and sizes.

The workings of the LED bulb are vastly different from that of the older incandescent lightbulb. The incandescent light bulb works by running electricity through a filament that is inside the glass bulb. The filament heats up and glows, and that creates the light. However, it also creates a lot of heat. The incandescent light bulb loses about 98% of its energy-producing heat, making it quite inefficient.0datret light.

LED was built from a series of inventions

LEDs are part of a new family of lighting technologies called solid-state lighting; LEDs are cool to the touch. Instead of one lightbulb, in an LED lamp there are many small light-emitting diodes.

LEDs create light by electroluminescence in a semiconductor material. Electroluminance is a phenomenon of a  material emitting light when electric current or an electric field is passed through it. This happens when electrons are sent through the materiel and fill electron holes. An electron hole exists where an atom lacks electrons (negatively charged)  and therefore has a  positive charge. Semiconductor materials like germanium or silicon can be “doped” to create and control the number of electron holes. Doping is the adding of other elements to the semiconductor material to change its properties. By doping a semiconductor, we can make two separate types of semiconductors in the same crystal. The boundary between the two types is called a p-n junction. The junction only allows current to pass through it one way. This is why they are used as diodes. LEDs are made using p-n junctions, As electrons pass through one crystal to the other they fill electron holes. They emit photons (light). This a complex process.

The pioneers of the LED

Currently the LED light is popular due to its efficiency and many believe it is a “new technology”. The LED, as we know it, has been around for over 50 years. The recent development of white LED is what has brought it into the public attention as a replacement for other white light sources.  

The current state of the development of the LED was built on a series of innovations and their innovators. Many innovators have helped create the LED lights that are used today. 

These innovators include:

  • Henry Joseph Round

Electro luminesce, the natural phenomenon upon which LED technology is built, was discovered in 1907 by a British radio research and assistant to Guglielmo Marconi,  Henry Joseph Round, while experimenting with silicon carbide and a cat’s whisker.

  • Oleg Vladimirovich

During the 1920s, Russian radio researcher  Oleg Vladimirovich was studying the phenomena of electroluminescence in diodes in radio sets. In 1927, he published a paper “Luminous Carborundum (silicon carbide)  Detector and Detection with Crystals” detailing his research. While no practical LED was created at that time based on his work, his research did influence future inventors

  • Robert Biard and Gary Pittman

Years later in 1961, Robert Biard and Gary Pittman invented and patented an infrared LED for Texas Instruments. This was the first LED. However, since it was infrared, it was beyond the visible light spectrum. Human cannot see infrared light. Biard only accidentally invented a light-emitting diode while they were actually attempting to invent a laser diode.

  • Nick Holonyack

In 1962, Nick Holonyack, a consulting engineer for General Electric, invented the first visible light LED. It was a red LED and Holonyack used gallium arsenide phosphide as a substrate for the diode. Holonyack has earned the honour of being called the “Father of light -emitting diode” for his contribution. .

He also holds 41 patents and his other inventions include the laser diode and the first light dimmer.

  • M. George Craford

In 1972, electrical engineer, M. George Craford, invented the first yellow-coloured LED for Monsanto using gallium arsenide phosphide in the diode. Craford also invented a red LED that was 10 times brighter than Holonyack’s.

Monsanto was the first company to mass-produce visible LEDs. In 1968. Monsanto produced red LEDs used as indicators. But it was not until the 1970s that LED became popular when n Fairchild Optoelectronics began producing low-cost LED devices for manufacturers.  

  • Herbert Maruska and Waalden C. Rhines.

In 1986, Herbert Maruska and Walden C. Rhines from Stanford University, US, created a working blue LED using magnesium, and set all future standards.

  • Isamu Araski and Hiroshi Amano

In 1993, physicists Isamu Araski and Hiroshi Amano developed a high-quality gallium nitride for blue LEDs.

  • Shuji Nakamura

In 1979, Shuji Nakamura developed the world’s first bright blue LED using gallium  nitride. It wouldn’t until the 1990s that the blue LED would become low cost for commercial production. These developments led to the development of white LEDs.

The Importance of white light LEDs

Blue LEDs have been developed based on gallium nitride and silicon carbide materials. Production of light in this shorter-wavelength, more energetic region of the visible spectrum, has long been elusive to designers of LEDs. High photon energies (light) typically increase the failure rate of semiconductor devices, and the low sensitivity of the human eye to blue light adds to the brightness requirement for a  useful blue diode. One of the most important aspects of a blue LED is that it completes the red, green, and blue (RGB) primary color family to provide an additional mechanism of producing solid-state white light, through the mixing of these component colors.  

The addition of bright blue-emitting LED to the earlier-developed red and green devices makes it possible to use three LEDs, tuned up to an appropriate output levels, to produce any color of the visible light spectrum, including white. Other possible approaches to producing white light, utilizing a single device, are based on phosphor or dye wavelength converters or semiconductor wavelength converters. The concept of white LED is particularly attractive for general illumination, due to the reliability of solid-state devices, and the potential for delivering very high luminous efficiency as compared to conventional incandescent and fluorescent sources.

The human eye perceives light as being white if the three types of photosensory cone cells, located in the retina, are attenuated in particular ratios. The three cone types exhibit response curves that peak in sensitivity at wavelength representing red, green and blue, and the combination of these response signals produces various color sensations in the brain. A wide variety of different color  mixtures are capable of producing a similar perceived color, especially in the case of white, which may be realized through many combinations of two or more colors.

A chromaticity diagram is a graphical means of representing the results obtained from mixing colors. Monochromatic color appear on the periphery of the diagram, and a range of mixture representing white is located in the central region of the diagram. Light that is perceived as white can be generated by different mechanisms. A chromaticity diagram is shown in Table  1.

Table 1: LED chromaticity diagram

One method is to combine light of two complementary colors in the proper power ratio. The ratio that produces tristimulus response to the retina  (causing perception of white) varies for different color combinations.

A selection of complementary wavelengths, along with the power ratio for each pair that produces the chromaticity coordinates of a standard illuminant is designated D(65) by the International Commission for Illumination (CIE, Commission  Internationale de I’Eclairage).                      

Another means of generating white light is by combining the emission of three colors that will produce the perception of white light when they are combined in the proper power ratio. White light can also be produced by broadband emission from a substance that emits over a large region of the visible spectrum. This type of emission approximates sunlight, and is perceived as white. Additionally, broadband emission can be combined with emission at discrete spectral line to produce a perceived white, which may have particular desirable color characteristics that  differ from these of white light produced by other techniques.

The combination of red, green, and blue diode chips into one discrete package, or in a lamp assembly housing a cluster of diodes, allows the generation of white light or any of 256 colors by utilizing circuitry that drives the three diodes independently. In applications requiring a full spectrum of colors from a single point source, this type of RGB diode format is the preferred technique.

Most white-light diodes employ a semiconductor chip emitting at a short wavelength (blue, violet or ultraviolet) and a wavelength converter, which absorbs light from the diode and undergoes secondary emission at a longer wavelength. Such diodes, therefore, emit light of two or more wavelengths, that when combined, appear as white. The quality and spectral characteristics of the combined emission vary with the different design variations that are possible. The most common wavelength converter materials are termed phosphors, which exhibit luminescence when they absorb energy from another radiation source. The typically utilized phosphors are composed of an inorganic host substance containing an optically active dopant. Yttrium aluminium garnet (YAG) is a common host material, and for diode applications, it is usually doped with one of the rare-earth elements or a rare-earth compound. Cerium is a common dopant element in YAG phosphors designed for white light emitting diodes.

The first commercially available white LED (fabricated and distributed by the Nichia Corporation) was based on a blue-light-emitting gallium-indium-nitride (GaInN) semiconductor device surrounded by a yellow phosphor. The phosphor is Ce-doped YAG, produced in powder form and suspended in the epoxy resin used to encapsulate the die. The phosphor-epoxy mixture fills the reflector cup that supports the die on the lead frame, and a portion of the blue emission from the chip is absorbed by the phosphor and reemitted at the longer phosphorescence wavelength. The combination of the yellow photo-excitation under blue illumination is ideal in that only one converter species is required. Complementary blue and yellow wavelengths combine through additive mixing to produce the desired white light. The resulting emission spectrum of the LED  represents the combination of phosphor emission, with the blue emission that passes through the phosphor coating unabsorbed.

The relative contributions of the two emission bands can be modified to optimize the luminous efficiency of the LED, and the color characteristics of the total emission. These adjustments can be accomplished by changing the thickness of the phosphor-containing epoxy surrounding the die, or by varying the concentration of the phosphor suspended in the epoxy. The bluish white emission from the diode is synthesized, in effect, by additive color mixing, and its chromaticity characteristics are represented by a central location (0.25, 0.25) on the CIE chromaticity diagram ( Bluish White LED).

White light diodes can generate emission by another mechanism, utilizing broad-spectrum phosphors that are optically excited by ultraviolet radiation. In such devices, an ultraviolet-emitting diode is employed to transfer energy to the phosphor, and the entire visible emission is generated by the phosphor. Phosphors that emit at a broad range of wavelengths, producing white light, are readily available as the materials used in fluorescent light and cathode ray tube manufacture. Although fluorescent tubes derive their ultraviolet emission from a gas discharge process, the phosphor emission stage producing white light output is the same as in ultraviolet-pumped white diodes. The phosphors have well known color characteristics and diodes of this type have the advantage that they can be designed for applications requiring critical color rendering. A significant disadvantage of the ultraviolet-pumped diodes, however, is their lower luminous efficiency when compared to white diodes employing blue light for phosphor excitation. This results from the relatively high energy loss in the down-conversion of ultraviolet light to longer visible wavelengths.

Dyes are another suitable type of wavelength converter for white diode applications, and can be incorporated into the epoxy encapsulant or in transparent polymers. The commercially available dyes are generally organic compounds, which are chosen for a specific LED design by consideration of their absorption and emission spectra. The light generated by the diode must match the absorption profile of the converting dye, which in turn emits light at the desired longer wavelength. The quantum efficiencies of dyes can be near 100 percent, as in phosphor conversion, but they have the disadvantage of poorer long-term operational stability than phosphors. This is a serious drawback, as the molecular instability of the dyes causes them to lose optical activity after a finite number of absorptive transitions, and the resulting change in light emitting diode color will limit its lifetime.

White light LEDs based on semiconductor wavelength converters have been demonstrated that are similar in principle to the phosphor conversion types, but which employ a second semiconductor material that emits a different wavelength in response to the emission from the primary source wafer. These devices have been referred to as photon recycling semiconductors (or PRS-LEDs), and incorporate a blue-emitting LED die bonded to another die that responds to the blue light by emitting light of a complementary wavelength. The two wavelengths then combine to produce white. One possible structure for this type of device utilizes a GaInN diode as a current-injected active region coupled to an AlGaInP optically-excited active region. The blue light emitted by the primary source is partially absorbed by the secondary active region, and “recycled” as reemitted photons of lower energy. In order for the combined emission to produce white light, the intensity ratio of the two sources must have a specific value that can be calculated for the particular dichromatic components. The choice of materials and the thickness of the various layers in the structure can be modified to vary the color of the device output.

Because white light can be created by several different mechanisms, utilizing white LEDs in a particular application requires consideration of the suitability of the method employed to generate the light. Although the perceived color of light emitted by various techniques may be similar, its effect on color rendering, or the result of filtration of the light, for example, may be entirely different. White light created through broadband emission, through mixing of two complementary colors in a dichromatic source, or by mixing of three colors in a trichromatic source, can be located at different coordinates on the chromaticity diagram and have different color temperatures with respect to illuminants designated as standards by the CIE. It is important to realize, however, that even if different illuminants have identical chromaticity coordinates, they may still have substantially different color rendering properties, due to variations in details of each source’s output spectrum.

Two factors, referred to previously, are of primary importance in evaluating white light generated by LEDs: the luminous efficiency, and the color rendering capabilities. A property referred to as the color rendering index (CRI) is utilized in photometry to compare light sources, and is defined as the source’s color rendering ability with respect to that of a standard reference illumination source. It can be demonstrated that there exists a fundamental trade-off between luminous efficiency and color rendering ability of light-emitting devices. For an application such as signage, which utilize blocks of monochromatic light, the luminous efficiency is of primary importance, while the color rendering index is irrelevant. For general illumination, both factors must be optimized.

The spectral nature of the illumination emitted from a device has a profound influence on its color rendering ability. Although the highest possible luminous efficiency can be obtained by mixing two monochromatic complementary colors, such a dichromatic light source has a low color rendering index. In a practical sense, it is logical that if a red object is illuminated with a diode emitting white light created by combining only blue and yellow light, then the appearance of the red object will not be very pleasing. The same diode would be quite suitable for backlighting a clear or white panel, however. A broad-spectrum white light source that simulates the sun’s visible spectrum possesses the highest color rendering index, but does not have the luminous efficiency of a dichromatic emitter.

Phosphor-based LEDs, which either combine blue emission wavelengths with a longer-wavelength phosphorescence color, or create light solely from phosphor emission (as in ultraviolet-pumped LEDs), can be designed to have color rendering capabilities that are quite high. They have color character that is similar in many respects to that of fluorescent lamp tubes. The GaInN LEDs utilize blue emission from the semiconductor to excite phosphors, and are available in cool white, pale white, and incandescent white versions that incorporate different amounts of phosphor surrounding the chip. The cool white is the brightest, utilizing the least phosphor, and produces light with the most bluish color. The incandescent white version surrounds the blue-emitting chip with the most phosphor, has the dimmest output, and the yellowest (warmest) color. The pale white has brightness and color shade characteristics intermediate between the other two versions.

The availability of white LEDs has generated great interest in applying these devices to general lighting requirements. As lighting designers become familiar with the characteristics of the new devices, a number of misconceptions will have to be dispelled. One of these is that the light from a white LED can be used to illuminate a lens or filter of any color, and maintain the accuracy and saturation of the color.

In a number of the versions of white LED, there is no red component present in the white output, or there are other discontinuities in the spectrum. These LEDs cannot be used as general sources to backlight multicolored display panels or colored lenses, although they function well behind clear or white panels. If a blue-based GaInN white LED is employed behind a red lens, the light transmitted will be pink in color. Similarly, an orange lens or filter will appear yellow when illuminated with the same LED. Although the potential benefits in application of LEDs are tremendous, consideration of their unique characteristics is necessary in incorporating these devices into lighting schemes in place of more familiar conventional sources.

Conclusion

White LEDs are becoming popular sources of while lights. There were many inventors involved since the early 1900s to bring about this useful and practical white LEDs and its applications.

Let us salute those inventors who were from various nationalities.

References:

There are many sources of articles on LEDS on the internet. The most useful reference was from https://micromagnet.fsu.edu/primer/lightand color/ledintro.html.

World Unique Innovation

A new “aspirin” after 50 years

Posted on

Aspirin is an effective and inexpensive medicine that millions take daily to prevent heart attacks and strokes. Who could improve on that?

The inventor of aspirin

In ancient times, salicylate-containing plants such as willow were commonly used to relieve pain and fever. A salicylate is a salt or ester of salicylic acid . Salicylates are thought to protect the plant against insect damage and disease. Aspirin is a derivative of salicylic acid. It is known as acetylsalicylic acid.

In 1897, a German chemist, Dr. Felix Hoffman, working for the Bayer company, was able to modify salicylic acid to create acetylsalicylic acid, which was named aspirin. However, the company dismissed the market potential of aspirin on the ground that it had an “enfeebling” action on the heart. At that time, the company was more interested on the potential of another new drug-heroin, which was also synthesized by the company.

Subsequently, aspirin was found to be more tolerable to the stomach than salicylic acid, which led to the widespread use of aspirin for pain relief. Furthermore, Hoffman’s acetylation of salicylic acid also proved its ability to prevent cardiovascular events. Aspirin, was considered by many as a wonder drug.   

One common adverse effect of aspirin is an upset stomach. More significant side effects include stomach ulcers, stomach bleeding and worsening asthma. Aspirin is not recommended in the last part of pregnancy.  

Aspirin is one of the most widely used medications globally, with an estimated 40,000 MT  (50 to 120 billion pills) consumed each year. It is on the World Health Organization’s List of Essential Medicines. It is available as a generic medication. In 2018, it was the 40th most commonly prescribed medication in the US, with more than 19 million prescriptions (wikepedia).

According to Bayer, the history of aspirin can be summarized in the following milestones.

1897

In a Bayer laboratory in Wuppertal, Germany, Dr Felix Hoffman was the first to succeed in synthesizing a chemically pure and stable form of acetylsalicylic acid (ASA), which became  the active ingredient of aspirin.

1899

Aspirin was registered as a trademark. It was launched on the market in powder form. Bayer delivered the medicine to pharmacies in small 250-grams glass vials. 500 mg of the powder was then weighed out and dispensed to customers in small paper bags. One year later, Bayer launched the analgesic in the classic tablet form-one of the first medicines to be marketed in dosage form.   

1915

Aspirin became available without prescription and became a best-seller in the US.

1949

Aspirin turned 50, and the following year, was the first time it featured in the Guinness Book of Records as the most frequently sold pain reliever in the world.

1969

A box of aspirin flied to the moon aboard Apollo 11.

1977

A study reported that aspirin could prevent ischemic stroke in appropriate patients. In the same year, the World Health Organization introduced its “Essential Drug List. Aspirin was included right from the start as an essential analgesic.

1997

Acetylsalicylic acid, the active ingredient in aspirin, celebrated its centenary.

1999

Aspirin took its place among such medical advances as the stethoscope and artificial heart when it was inducted into the Smithsonian Institution’s Museum of American History, US.

2004

British researcher Professor Derek W. Gilroy elucidated the anti-inflammatory properties of aspirin.

2012

Publication in the journal Headache by Lampl et al, which reaffirmed the effectiveness of aspirin as a first-time treatment of migraine or episodic tension type headache and found that pre-treatment headache did not predict potential success or failure of aspirin.

2014

The active ingredient of new aspirin, acetylsalicylic acid, was used in the form of microparticles that were on average 10 per cent of size of particles found in previous aspirin tablets.

Microparticles were combined with sodium carbonate, which acted as a disintegrant and local buffer, helping new aspirin dissolved more quickly, entered the bloodstream faster, and relieved  pain twice as fast as previous aspirin tablets.

(Source: bayer.com/en/products/aspirin)     

Enter a “new aspirin”: Vazalore

A US-based company, PLx Pharma (www.plxpharma.com) is trying to do that. According to the Barron’s online on September 20th, 2021, there has been no innovation in the aspirin market in over 50 years. The company, based in Sparta, New Jersey, US, is seeing an opportunity to launch a new product, Vazalore, in some 30,000 retail drug stores in the US.

The aspirin market is a crowded field, where aspirin has been around since 1899. The company noted that Vazalore’s advantage is that it reduces aspirin’s tendency to irritate the stomach for people who use it regularly, a problem that can lead to ulcers. In addition, Vazalore has been shown to achieve better absorption than coated aspirin, according to studies by Harvard Medical School cardiologist Deepak Bhatt, who heads PLx Pharma scientific advisory board. PLx Pharma is facing the challenge of convincing existing users of aspirin to switch to Vazalore. Vazalore will cost US$25 a month versus a few dollars for coated aspirin. It is estimated that 43 million Americans take aspirin on their doctor’s advice, plus millions more to treat the symptoms of arthritis and other ailments.  The company estimates that every new customer will be worth US$230 a year to PLx Pharma, so that it could realize US$100 million in annual revenue from each 1 pe cent of those 43 million people.    

The Vazalore capsule holds a liquid formulation of aspirin bound up in lipid, which prevents the aspirin’s release until it passes through the stomach to the intestine. It was reported that PLx Pharma will apply its patented technology to ibuprofen and other drugs that give some users stomach problems.

We doubt users of aspirin will drop it anytime soon.

Must-Read Reports

Part 2: Digital transmission of scents

Posted on
I wish that I can smell my first leather shoes

In an emerging area of olfactory research, scents are digitally transmitted via computer code that can be sent online  or via smartphone app and reproduced at a kiosk or through scent-emitting device.

Previous attempts to re-create scents have faced challenges because liquid or gaseous odorants often contaminate each other. The Aroma Shooter, developed by a Japanese start-up Aromajoin, (www.aromajoin.com)  gets around this problem through the use of solid-state materials that can deliver split-second volleys of over 400 different scents. The technology is being used to create aroma “signage” in major department stores and to improve virtual-reality applications. Another Japanese start-up , Scentee (https://scentee-machina.com), has developed the Scentee Machina,  a device that connects to a smartphone app that can diffuse different fragrance according to the user’s mood and the time of day. At All These Worlds (https://allthseworlds.com), a VR company based in California, US, researchers have  developed a wireless-enabled scent collar that releases targeted scents for virtual reality simulations.

One area of application is the use of digital scents in mental health testament. Research has shown that our moods are greatly affected by different odors: Lavender can reduce labor pangs in childbirth and promote sleep.; peppermint can improve physical performance ; and orange may help calm our nerves. One study showed how low-cost nasal clips containing lavender odorant could improve the quality of sleep for individuals with posttraumatic stress disorder.

Digital olfaction also opens up the possibility of bringing the past to life the re-creation of long-lost smells. Researchers at the UCL Institute for Sustainable Heritage in London are re-creating and preserving “historical scents” that could otherwise be lost, such as the dusty smells of hundred-years old books.

Digital olfaction also opens up the possibility of completely new smells and products optimized by algorithms to personal tastes and different settings. Combined with other technologies such as VE and haptics, digital olfaction could radically transform the entertainment industry, by bringing us closer to a true multisensory experience in the realms of fashion, retailing, leisure, and tourism. Visitors at a museum could smell the blood of fallen warriors in ancient wars through digital olfaction.

Capturing the potential of digital olfaction

Mark Purdy, Max Klymenko and Mia Purdy have suggested four actions that can help guide business to capture the potential of olfaction.

  • Understand your olfactory value chain

Companies can start by mapping their olfactory value chain to identify the role that olfactory plays across different areas of their business.  A fast-moving consumer goods company, for example, could have thousands of product lines ; scents are an intrinsic part of these products’ appeal to consumers but remain largely unquantified. In some industries, such as  wines or fragrance production, digital olfaction can complement the tacit knowledge of experienced testers or product formulators. Olfactory mapping can trace how a product’s olfactory features vary across the supply chain, over time, and across different locations. Such profiling can improve product development strategies and supply chain optimisation and ultimately garner a stronger competitive advantage through distinct consumer appeal.

  • Prepare for contestable markets

As digital olfaction begins to decode the volatile organic compounds that contribute to our sense of smell, it offers the possibility of reverse engineering many well-kwon or distinctive aromas. Just as digital technologies are lowering entry barriers in many markets and making them “contestable” with new products, we may see something similar with digital olfaction. Copycat versions or products with distinctive or hard-to-replicate aromas–perfumes, fine wines, furniture, ceases, teas, coffee—could proliferate. Companies will need to expend efforts to preserve the intangible capital of their olfactory signature.

  • Consider multiple senses

In real life, our experiences are formed from a range of senses. Digital olfaction will be the most powerful when combined with other sensory technologies such as virtual reality and augmented reality, haptics, holograms, and emotional AI systems. Sensors and machine learning algorithms will be critical in capturing, decoding and translating olfactory signals.     

  • Anticipate ethical and regulatory hurdles.

Despite the promise of olfactory technology, there are technical, ethical, and regulatory challenges to overcome. A particular concern is the potential for addiction as ever more powerful olfactory triggers are developed; at the other extreme, overexposure could lead to the desensitization of people exposed to powerful scents on a daily basis, just as loud music has caused hearing loss for some in the entertainment industry or hospitality industries. Early engagement with regulators and health authorities will be critical, both to mitigate the risks and promulgate the health-enhancing effects of digital olfaction.

Conclusion

Smell is our most primordial sense, used by our ancestors t find food, sense danger, and detect illnesses. Yet it remains the most complex and least well understood of all senses. The human olfactory receptors were only identified in 1991, earning a Nobel Prize for the scientists , Richard Axel and Linda Buck, who made the discovery. With advances in digital olfaction, we now have the ability to decode and harness the sense of smells in ways never thought possible.

For businesses and innovators, digital olfaction opens up opportunities: new products, services, and consumer experiences; faster and more accurate production processes; low-cost environmental and healthcare solutions, and new ways to reach and engage consumers. There will be challenges too: regulation, responsible use, and new competitors and business models.

One business model that comes to my mind; digital storage of smell in a cloud, similar to the photo archives of Pinterest.

Reference” Mark Purdy, Max Klymenko, and Mia Purdy. Business scents: the rise of digital olfaction. MIT Sloan Management t Review, Summer 2021, Volume 62 (4).    

Must-Read Reports

Exciting technology of digital sense of smell

Posted on
“Durian” has a very pungent smell but most Malaysians like the taste

According to a world-famous chef, the “king of fruit”, known in Malaysia as “durian”, has the most fouling smell. Despite that, many Malaysians and a couple of my former Korean neighbours like it so much. Due to its strong odor, the fruit is not allowed into hotels or planes. The bad odor sticks to the fabric of your car for weeks.

We are expecting that people all the world will have the chance to experience the smell of “durian” through digital transmission of smell in the near future.  

This article is the first of two articles on emerging digital olfaction or sense of smell. 

Marketers have been interested to study the impact of olfaction on purchasing decisions of consumers. Buyers of new cars are excited by the smell of new leather in very expensive cars. Cookies are openly baked to allow their smell to waft in a shopping complex.

According to an article in latest MIT Sloan Management Review, despite the economic and commercial importance of olfaction, there are no robust tools to detect, measure, and manage smells in a scientific manner. This is now changing with the emergence of two branches of digital olfaction technology: one focused on the digital detection and analysis of different odors, and the other on the digital transmissions and re-creation of smells. These technologies could alter a range  of industries, from fragrances and food to the environmental and healthcare sectors.

The technology draws on several scientific disciplines., including organic chemistry, silicon engineering, machine learning, data science, photonics, and software engineering. A company. Aryballe (https://aryballe.com), based in France, uses tiny proteins called peptides grafted into silicon wafers that react to the gas molecules associated with different odors. The various digital signatures are then decoded using machine learning and expressed in the terms that humans use to  describe smells; woody, floral, fragrant, smoky, and so on.

Another company, Aromyx (www.aromyx.com), based in California in the US, uses the same receptors that are found in the human nose and tongue to identify different odors.

Applications of olfactory detection

The olfaction technology would be able to enhance products’ appeal to consumers. It will also support a variety of uses for improved product quality, as well as human health and safety, in areas as diverse as food, auto maintenance, healthcare, and the environment.

These applications include the following:

Faster and cheaper quality control

Digital olfaction is starting to transform quality control, traditionally a labor-intensive and somewhat subjective activity for many industries. In the fragrance industry, for example, traditionally, teams of  highly trained human testers have to assess the quality of different product batches, but the process is time-consuming and ultimately subjective. Aryballe is using digital olfaction to test different fragrances against a “god standard” for the particular scent. The company noted that a fragrance will usually change as it is exposed to the air or to different conditions. By using digital olfaction, it can track how the perfume changes over time as it is exposed to different kinds of skin types, sweat, air conditions, and so on. Based on this analysis., the company helps to create completely new fragrances that have the desired qualities perceived by consumers.

Digital olfaction can also be used to identify minute variations in the quality of food products and detect pathogens that could endanger human health or lead to foods spoilage during supply chain transport. Digital olfaction can greatly aid the search for better and healthier foods.

Adjusting to regional or local tastes.

Many retailers and manufacturers recognize scent as an important factor influencing the consumer appeal of a product, but the consumer-scent relationship varies significantly by region and country, making it difficult to calibrate and measure. Take the automotive industry, for example. It is well- known that new-car smell influences our decision to purchase, but there are strong regional differences. While the aromas of leather, resins, and plastics tend to captivate Europeans and American car buyers, it is a turnoff in Asia, where consumers prefer a more neutral odor. Digital olfaction can help optimize the new-car aroma for different market and car-makes.

Predictive maintenance

Digital olfaction can be used in a range of industries to detect problems before they become apparent, improving safety and reducing the risk of costly unscheduled repairs. In industrial sectors, olfactory technologies can alert people the presence or buildup of dangerous gases in chemical plants or petroleum refineries.

Early diagnosis and prevention in healthcare

We humans have long believed that our olfactory senses provide important clue to our well-being, both physical and mental. Ancient physicians used to smell a sick person’s breath to identify his/her  illness. More recently, research has established that canines can detect the early presence of diseases such as lung cancer via breath and urine. Electronic noses have been shown to be around 96 per cent accurate in detecting lung cancer in patients. A good news is that recent research has suggested that digital olfaction could provide  a quick and a safe test for the detection of Covid-19.

These developments open up the exciting prospects of low-cost, non-invasive technology to screen for a wide range of diseases and viruses, particularly those that are hard to detect with conventional early-stage screening.  An application could be that of a mask that automatically lights up when coming in contact with the coronavirus.

Reducing environmental impacts

Companies and government agencies spend billions of US dollars every year to control or eliminate noxious odors in the environment. Digital olfaction makes it possible to detect, monitor, and reduce emissions at lower cost. Bio-electronic noses can identify harmful pollutants in factories or urban areas, assess water quality, measure soil contamination, check for chemical or hazardous materials in warehouses and harbours.

The next article will be on digital transmission of scents

Reference: Mark Purdy, Max Klymenko and Mia Purdy. Business scents: the rise of digital olfaction. MIT Sloan Management Review  Summer 2021, Volume 62 (4).

World Unique Innovation

Good news for needle-phobics all over the world

Posted on
There are many needle-phobics

The rapid Covid-19 vaccination drive in Malaysia has highlighted that there are a big group of Malaysians who have fear of needles being injected into their arms. Many would be recipients of vaccines missed their appointments. Others have high blood  pressure before receiving their vaccines. One of these needle-phobics is my wife. Fortunately, she had received both Covid-19 jabs after a doctor gave her a medication to calm her down before her injection.

Now there is good news for these needle-phobics. An article in the London Guardian on August 2nd, 2021, reported that people would be able to be vaccinated without using the dreaded needles.         

The sight of a needle piercing skin is enough to put a fear on a quarter of adult Britons and trigger up to 4% into fainting. But hope is on the horizon for needle-phobics as researchers are working on a range of non-injectable Covid vaccine formulations, including nasal sprays and tablets.

Almost every vaccine in use today comes with a needle, and the approved Covid-19 vaccines are no exception. Once jabbed, the body’s immune system usually mounts a response, but scientists in the UK and beyond are hoping to harness the immune arsenal of the mucous membranes that line the nose, mouth, lungs and digestive tract, regions typically colonised by respiratory viruses including Covid-19, in part to allay the fears of needle-phobics.

To understand the role this anxiety may be playing in vaccine hesitancy in the UK and other parts of the world, Daniel Freeman, a professor of clinical psychology at the University of Oxford, and colleagues recruited more than 15,000 adults – representative of age, gender, ethnicity, income and region of the UK population – in a study and found that a quarter of the group screened positive for a potential injection phobia.

Notably, this subset of people were twice as likely to report that they would put off getting vaccinated or indeed never get the jab. Out of the total number of those fearful of needles, 10% were found to be strongly Covid vaccine-hesitant.

Probably about 3% to 4% of the UK’s total adult population were needle-phobic (have an intense fear of medical procedures involving injections), he said. And the fear of needles was more prevalent in younger adults, he added. “So, potentially, needle phobia explains more of the hesitancy in younger people.”

“The fear of needles is the one type of anxiety where actually you can faint and that sort of fear and sometimes the embarrassment about fainting is a powerful driver that people want to avoid.”

This avoidance, among other reasons, has spawned efforts to develop Covid-19 vaccines in the form of inhaled vapours, tablets, oral drops or intranasal sprays.

Dr Stephen Griffin, a virologist at Leeds University, said he was constantly asked by UK healthcare staff when there would be non-injectable formulations of Covid vaccines – not just for patients, “but because there are so many needle-phobic staff”.

Non-injectable vaccines could be gamechangers for many other reasons. Room-temperature formulations could be a boon for countries that don’t have the logistical resources to handle the ultra-cold requirements of existing Covid vaccines. Crucially, targeting mucosal tissues has the potential to produce “sterilising immunity”, or the complete elimination of infection in the body, thereby theoretically thwarting transmission. Current intramuscular vaccines, though dramatically effective in preventing serious illness and death, cannot stop transmission altogether.

But there have been hiccups in the quest for non-injectable vaccines – for instance, an existing nasal spray flu vaccine has been shown to outperform flu shots in young children, but its performance is muted in adults. And in June, the US biotech company Altimmune abandoned its intranasal Covid vaccine project, saying that it generated weaker than expected immune responses in an early trial.

At the moment, there are many researchers in the early stages of developing a non-injectable Covid vaccine. An Oxford/AstraZeneca aerosolised formulation is in development, and the Chinese biotech company CanSino Biologics recently kicked off the development of its inhaled vaccine. Others looking at nasal sprays include a team at Lancaster University, which is expected to report data from animal trials imminently, as well as the US-based Cadogenix and India’s Bharat Biotech. Drugmakers are also looking at oral alternatives, such as the San Francisco-based Vaxart, which has completed an early human study on its tablet.

My wife told me that many of her friends have refused to be vaccinated for Covid-19 due to their fear of needles and other many reasons. Hopefully, they will protect themselves and others from Covid-19 infections if needleless vaccination is available.    

World Unique Innovation

Let us harvest the power of the sun: the pioneers of PV solar technology

Posted on
Solar flood light and solar panel

Every day I use solar flood lights to deter wild monkeys from feasting on my ripe rambutans. Hopefully, the flood lights will also deter unwanted strangers from stealing the ripe rambutans. I recharge the solar flood lights using solar panels.

Many are interested to know who invented the solar panels that let us to harvest the sunlight and to be stored in the batteries of the solar flood lights. I purchase the solar flood light from an ecommerce platform at about US$50 a unit. 

Solar panels have experienced rapid reduction in prices thanks to a combination of Chinese  industrial might backed by American capital, financed by European political supports and made possible largely thanks to the pioneering work of an Australian research team.

The solar power history begins with a succession of US presidents and the quest for energy independence. First was Richard Nixon, who in November r 1973 announced Project Independence to wean the US off Middle Eastern oil. Then came Jimmy Carter, who declared the energy transition the “moral equivalent of war” in April 1977 and pumped billion of US dollars inro renewable energy research, which stopped when Ronald Reagan came to power.

By then, Australia took the interest on solar power.

The father of photovoltaic (PV) solar technology: Professor Green

The solar cell was invented when Russel Shoemaker Ohl, a researcher at Bell Labs in the US, noticed   in 1940 that a cracked silicon sample produced a current  when exposed to light. However, little improvement had been made until the contribution of Martin Green, a young engineering professor working out of the University of New South Wales, Australia.

Born in Brisbane, Queensland, Australia, Green had spent some time in Canada as a researcher before going back to Australia in 1974. A year later he had started a PV solar research group working out of a small laboratory built with unwanted equipment sourced from major American firms.    

His first experiments, alongside a single  PhD student, involved looking for ways to increase the voltage on early solar cells.

Professor Green, an important pioneer of the PV industry ,

Not long after, Green and his team began to raise their ambitions.. Having boosted the voltage, the next step was building better quality cells. The early efforts broke the world efficiency record in 1983. The team continued to achieve efficiency records in the next 38 years.

In the very early years of the PV industry, the received wisdom had been that a 20 per cent conversion rate marked the hard limit of what was possible from PV solar cells. Green, however, disagreed in a paper published in 1984. A year later, his team built the first cell that pushed past that limit, and in 1989 built the first solar panel capable of running at 20 per cent efficiency.

It was a moment that opened what was possible from the industry, and the new upper limit was set at “25 per cent”—another barrier Green and his team would smash in 2008. In 2015, they built the world’s most efficient solar cell, achieving a 40.6 per cent conversion ion rate using focused light reflected off a mirror.    

Enter the sun king

Out of this activity, the Chinse solar industry would be born largely thanks to a ambitious physicist named Zhengrong Shi. Born in 1963, Shi had earned his master’s degree and come to Australu in 1988. He had spotted a flyer advertising a research fellowship and talked to Green into bringing him as a PhD student in 1989. Shi would finish his PhD in just two and half years. He stayed on a as a researcher.

Dr Shi, who kick-started the Chinese PV solar industry

With time, the university was increasingly looking to commercialize its world leading solar cell technology and reached a partnership agreement with t Pacific Power, an Australian power generator in 1995. The Pacific Power invested US$47 million into a new company called Pacific Solar. A factory was set up in the Sydney suburb of Botany and Shi was made the deputy director of  research and development.

Shi worked in the company for a few years. In November 2000, he was made an offer. At a dinner held at his home , four officials from the Chinese province of Jiangsu suggested the 37-yaer-ol researcher and Australian citizen return to China  and build his  own factory there. After some consideration, Shi agreed and ended settling in the small city of Wuxi where he founded SunTech with US46 million in start-up funding from the municipal government.  

Shi’s arrival caused a stir in China. The ability to cheaply build conventional solar panels  with 17 percent efficiency was far beyond what his competitors  were capable off. Shi was quoted; “The first reaction was: that’s the future. Everybody said that’s the future. But they also said it was one step too early. What they meant was that there was no market for it yet. In China, at that time, if you mentioned solar, people thought of solar hot water”.

All that change when Germany passed new laws encouraging the uptake of solar power. Quickly it became clear there was a massive global demand and the world’s manufacturers were struggling to keep up with supply.

Spying an opportunity for investment, a consortium that included Actis Capital and Goldman Sachs  came knocking to pitch Shi on taking the company public. When the company listed on the New York Stock Exchange in 2005, it raised US$420 million and made Shi an instant billionaire. A year later he would be worth an estimated US$3 billion and crowned the richest man in China, earning him the moniker “the Sun King”.

As Shi had shown the way, the Chinese PV solar industry began a massive expansion. SunTech alone boosted its production capacity from 60 megawatts (MW) to 500MV, and then 1 gigawatt in 2009. The company grew so fast, its supplies of glass, polysilicon and electronic systems needed to build its panels came under strain, forcing it to invest heavily in local supply chains.

Around 2012 the world market was flooded with solar panels, sending the price plummeting through the floor, leaving SunTech vulnerable. Already under intense financial pressure, disaster struck when an internal investigation found a takeover bid it had launched had been guaranteed by Euro560 million in fake German government bonds. Upon discovering the bonds didn’t exist, Shi was removed as CEO of his company and a year later SunTech would file for bankruptcy protection when it couldn’t repay US$541 million loan that fell due in March 2013.

Chinese manufacturers dominate the PV solar industry

Between 2008 and 2013, China’s fledgling solar panel industry dropped the world’s prices by 80 per cent, a stunning achievement in a fiercely competitive high technology market. Today, the PV solar industry is worth US$100 billion a year.

As a result, China has eclipsed the leadership of the US solar industry, which invented the technology, still holds many of the worlds’ patents and led that industry for more than three decades. Now China dominates nearly all aspects of solar use and manufacturing.

I can now buy Chinese solar flood lights at cheap prices to light my garden at night. Thank you Professor Green and Dr Shi for your pioneering works on  the PV solar technology.

References:

Royce Kurmelovs. Insanely cheap energy: how solr power continues to shock the world.  The Guardian, April 24th, 2021.

John Fialka. Why China is dominating the solar industry. Scientific American, December 19th, 2016.