Category Bioengineering

In the course of our research for clients, we come across emerging technologies, new materials, new chemistries, growing markets, changing regulatory landscapes, innovative business models, and much more. Every other Friday, we pick five articles, videos, or podcasts that we found interesting and send them your way.

BIOENGINEERING | TEXTILES

Next Generation Cotton You Won’t Have to Iron

A team at Australia’s Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization has started working on a cotton with many of the properties of synthetics, such as being stretchy, non-creasing and even waterproof, while retaining its natural fiber feel. “We’re looking into the structure of cotton cell walls and harnessing the latest tools in synthetic biology to develop the next generation cotton fiber,” CSIRO scientist Dr. Madeline Mitchell said. The goal: use the next generation cotton to take substantial market share from the current synthetics industry. [CSIRO]

INNOVATION

The Future Belongs to Whoever Creates It

An interesting blog post from Jeffrey Phillips, author of Relentless Innovation: “The fact is that the future doesn’t belong to anyone. Given the rapid pace of change and the emergence of new technologies and solutions, you can’t say with much certainty who will win . . . but if we try just a bit we can understand what’s likely to happen and in some instances perhaps even influence it.” [INNOVATE ON PURPOSE]

ENERGY | ENVIRONMENT

The Big Bet in Fracking: Water

Some investors see fortunes to be made in the U.S.’s hottest oil field—by speculating in water, not crude. Fledgling companies, many backed by private equity, are rushing to help shale drillers deal with one of their trickiest problems: what to do with the vast volumes of wastewater that are a byproduct of fracking wells. The wastewater is commonly removed by truck, 125 barrels at a time, and start-ups are focused on building pipelines to handle the volume. It’s tempting to think of this as an infrastructure play, but global companies should be thinking about the opportunity in other ways because there is a lot of money to be made: rising water management costs can add as much as $6 to the cost of producing a single barrel of crude. [WSJ]

DRONES

Warehouse Drones are Ready for the Spotlight

Delivery drones may have been getting the most press, but warehouse drones are are already making a difference in many industries. This is just the start of many in-plant uses of drones and other autonomous robot, and it’s a great proving ground: Warehouses are much more physically structured than manufacturing plants and so make it easier to develop capabilities. [SUPPLYCHAINDIVE]

PHYSICS | BIOLOGY | (OLD) INFOGRAPHIC

Revisiting a 1958 Map of Space Mysteries

A year after Sputnik launched in 1957, speculation was sizzling. Surely, humans would be up there before too long, which in turn would finally put us in a position to answer our many, many questions about the universe. In 1958, the American Oil Company (AMOCO) released a pictorial map outlining some of the most bedeviling space-related puzzles of the age and predicting what might happen when space explorers were able to get a closer look. Some of these questions were tied up pretty quickly, but the rest aren’t so neatly resolved. Sixty years later, Atlas Obscura checked in with space experts to weigh in on which have been cracked, and what continues to confound. Use the zoom tool to take a closer look. [ATLAS OBSCURA]

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In the course of our research for clients, we come across emerging technologies, new materials, new chemistries, growing markets, changing regulatory landscapes, innovative business models, and much more. Every other Friday, we pick five articles, videos, or podcasts that we found interesting and send them your way.

QUANTUM PHYSICS

Coolest Science Ever Headed to the Space Station

On May 21, NASA’s Cold Atom Laboratory arrived at the International Space Station to explore a state of matter called a Bose-Einstein condensate (BEC), in which atoms shed their individual identities and crowd en masse into a single quantum wave. Long-predicted, but first observed in 1995, achieving the state requires chilling atoms to a fraction of a degree above absolute zero, even colder than the average temperature of deep space. Moving experiments to space solves a key challenge: being able to observe the BEC for more than 10-20 milliseconds after release from the magnets and lasers used to trap and chill the atoms. [SCIENCE]

STRATEGY | PRODUCT DEVELOPMENT

Building a Better MVP: How to Say No to the Wrong Things So You Can Say Yes to the Right Things

The most persistent mistake companies make during product development is also one of the easiest to solve. In fact, post-mortem evaluations of over 100 startups revealed that the primary cause of startup failure—in 42% of cases—was “no market need.” How can this happen? Founders overwhelmingly said “they were more focused on solving an interesting version of the problem, rather than solving the real problem as it existed.” Don’t ignore the importance of deeply understanding the job-to-be-done: whether you are a start-up or a major corporation, get out and talk to the market. Again and again. [ALLEYWATCH]

CHEMISTRY | BIOLOGICAL ENGINEERING

Chemists Synthesize Millions of Proteins Not Found in Nature

In a DARPA-funded project, MIT chemists have devised a way to rapidly synthesize and screen millions of novel proteins from amino acids not used in nature; the proteins could be used as drugs against Ebola and other viruses. These “xenoproteins” offer many advantages over naturally occurring proteins: they are more stable, don’t require refrigeration, and may not provoke an immune response. Amino acids can exist in two different configurations, known as L and D, but cells can use only the L variant. As building blocks for their xenoproteins, the researchers used 16 “mirror-image” (D) amino acids. The program has already synthesized D-variant proteins that will bind to the influenza virus, the anthrax toxin, and an Ebola glycoprotein. [MIT]

STRATEGY | AUTONOMOUS DRIVING

Building Autonomous Vehicles is Hard

This New York Times piece describes how Apple—handicapped by hubris and a demand to control everything—has struggled to find a partner to help execute its autonomous driving ambitions. Tesla, on the other hand, is struggling with a different problem: too much vision and not enough execution. In this piece (and podcast) which originally appeared in the Harvard Business Review, Steve Blank compares Elon Musk to Billy Durant (the founder of GM who was fired twice before Alfred Sloan took over) and “wonders if $2.6 billion in executive compensation [for Musk] would be better spent finding someone to lead Tesla to becoming a reliable producer of cars in high volume – without the drama in each new model. Perhaps Tesla now needs its Alfred P. Sloan.”

CHEMICALS | ENVIRONMENTAL

Water Woes Lead EPA to Toughen Fluorochemical Rules

The EPA held an invitation-only forum in Washington last week to announce the development of tougher national regulations on the use of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAs), and the related perfluorooctanoic acid, in an effort to keep these chemicals out of the drinking water supply. Administrator Pruitt said, “This should be and must be a national priority, and . . . we are going to be taking concrete steps as an agency to address that, along with you at the state and local level.” PFAs and PFOAs are known to persist in the environment and can pose health risks even at relatively low concentrations. Controversy plagues the EPA on this issue; it has been accused of suppressing a report suggesting the existing limits are too high and it did not open the May summit to affected community groups and activist organizations. New regulations will likely face opposition because of the importance of these chemicals across many industries. [PLASTICS NEWS]

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In the course of our research for clients across many industries and fields, we come across emerging technologies, new materials, new chemistries, growing markets, changing regulatory landscapes, innovative business models, and much more. Every other Friday, we deliver five interesting things we came across during the preceding weeks. And no filler.

BIOENGINEERING | GMO

Crispr’d Food, Coming Soon to a Supermarket Near You

This past Wednesday (March 28, 2018), the US Department of Agriculture announced it will not regulate “certain gene-edited” plants in an effort to incite innovation in the field. The designer plant fast lane is limited to genetic alterations which could have occurred naturally, such as an insertion, simple swap, or deletion, but does not protect more significant or cross-species editing. By eliminating regulatory burdens, even relatively small-market plants are worth developing, allowing small start-ups to compete with even the largest agricultural firms. No word yet on the labeling requirements. [WIRED]

MATERIAL SCIENCE

Now You See It: Invisibility Material Created

Inspired by the ability of squid and other cephalopods to rapidly change color, scientists at UCI Irvine have designed a new material that can—by stretching or stimulation with an electrical impulse—quickly change how it reflects heat. Potential uses include better camouflage for troops and insulation for spacecraft, storage containers, emergency shelters, clinical care, and building heating and cooling systems. The inventors believe the prototypes can be scaled to large sheets of commercially usable material. [SCIENCE DAILY]

AUTOMATION

Every Study on What Automation Will Do to Jobs, in One Table

Though undertaken by reputable institutions and organizations, estimates of the number of jobs which will be lost to automation vary widely—anywhere from 9% to 47%—depending on the study. Some reports include estimated timelines, number of expected jobs gained, and/or number of jobs significantly altered or requiring substantial new training. We think this is all ridiculous speculation: examining a single industry might be worthwhile if enough information is available today, but trying to predict where the technology will go when it is moving so rapidly is a fool’s errand. So we agree with the author: “we have no idea how many jobs will actually be lost to the march of technological progress.” [MIT TECHNOLOGY REVIEW]

3D PRINTING | MANUFACTURING | PODCAST

Are You Ready for the Third Digital Revolution?

Knowledge@Wharton interviewed two of the authors of the new book, “Designing Reality,” for a recent podcast. The authors discuss the two previous digital revolutions, computation and communication, and suggest the third digital revolution will be decentralized fabrication. From bits to atoms, the conversion of digital data to products will occur at local fabrication facilities or even in-home. As with Moore’s Law—a roadmap forward developed by looking back—can we predict large-scale adoption of additive manufacturing using what we know now about the speed of development? How can we use what we know about previous digital revolutions to identify and address disparities in education and opportunity beforehand? [WHARTON – UNIVERSITY OF PENNSYLVANIA]

If you have time on your commute or an upcoming flight, the podcast is worth your time, but the full transcript is available using the link above.

STRATEGY | PSYCHOLOGY

How To Convince People You Have a Good Idea

Costas Markies of the London Business School describes five important variables that determine how likely it is that your efforts to convince people to back your idea will succeed. All five have to be right but the good news is you can influence them if you think strategically about each one in turn. Read past the list itself: all five seem obvious, but they come to life as he expands on them deeper in the piece. The key message is that good ideas don’t sell themselves no matter how much we wish that was true. So don’t just hope for the best; make it happen. [LONDON BUSINESS SCHOOL]

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