Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Are you ready to receive emails from your refrigerator?

Nowadays, there is a lot of excitement about the low-cost computing, low-cost sensing, and universal connectivity. These technologies can be combined together to create the next generation of appliances with truly remarkable capabilities. In fact, companies are beginning to imagine a new industry around this idea (e.g., Industrial Internet by General Electric).

Terms “smart” and “intelligent” have been widely used for the last three decades to market really “dumb” devices. So we will need a new term to characterize the next generation of appliances. I am not creative enough to come up with a good buzzword. So I will just use the term “genius” to refer to the next generation appliances in this post.

From a purely technological perspective, it is feasible to create a “genius” refrigerator and have the following conversation with it in the morning as you open it to get your breakfast.

“Good morning!” your refrigerator greets you in a perky voice.
“Good morning,” you reply in your before-coffee half-sleepy voice.
“By the way, you need a haircut. Should I make an appointment for you?”
“I want to wait for couple of weeks.”
“Are you sure? You should really get a haircut now.”
“I will wait,” you reply as you take out cream for your coffee.
“Your calorie intake has increased and your face looks a bit chubby. You should go see your doctor. Should I make an appointment?”
“No, thank you.”
“Should I send a list of food that you are eating to your doctor?”
“Should I email that list to your wife?”
“What the heck! No!!”
“Please throw away eggs. They have expired.”
“Thanks,” you throw away the expired eggs.
“You are really running low on groceries. Should I make a grocery list?”
“Should I try to find places that have best deal for items on your list?”
“No, I will pick them up from the local Giants,” you reply. You don’t want to go to three stores at the end of a busy day to just save few bucks.
“Your wife always gets the best deals list.”
“Ok. Send me the list.” You are afraid that it might send an email to your wife.
“Should I email you coupons too?”
“Why not!” You are embarrassed to use coupons. But you are getting worried that it might now send email to your wife complaining about your wasteful ways.
“My water filter needs to be changed. Should I order it?”
“How much is it?”
“One hundred nineteen dollars.”
“Can you find me a better deal?”
“This is the best deal.
“Ok. Order it.”
(Later that day, you find a better deal on the filter at Amazon. But your refrigerator company wants to make money by selling you water filters. So it certainly is not interested in finding you a better deal.)
“Your wife’s birthday is next week. Should I order Gucci shoes for your wife? She really likes shoes.”
“How do you know that?”
“I checked her Facebook profile.”
“I will take care of the gift myself.” You are tempted to tell your refrigerator to order the shoes. But if your wife finds out about it, you will be in big trouble.
“My compressor might start making sounds like [...strange clanking sounds…]. Don’t be alarmed by that. I have already scheduled a service call and added it your calendar.”
“How do you know about that sound?”
“I follow tweets from my manufacturer.”
“I hope that you are not tweeting about us to grocery stores. Do you?”
“Please hurry up and try to leave early. Weather is expected to be bad and traffic is looking really bad.”
“Shouldn’t you have told me this before all the chit chat!! What should I do?”
“Please wait. Software update is in progress.…”

Here is what might happen that evening. You arrive at Wegmans, ten miles away from your home to get a good deal on the organic milk and tomatoes. You check email on your smart phone to download the grocery list. You have another email from your refrigerator! It is informing you that Costco has advertised a better sale. So you should go there to pick up tomatoes. The only problem is that the nearest Costco is eight miles away from where you are. You are worried that your refrigerator is “genius” enough to distinguish between the tomatoes from Wegmans and Costco and it might yell at you for wasting money when you try to put them in the refrigerator.

I did not say that you would necessarily enjoy having this conversation and getting emails from your refrigerator. I just said that technology is making it feasible.

By the way, the above scenario is not that far-fetched. Most homes in the United States have a good Internet connection. So, at least in theory, appliances at home can be connected to the Internet. Computing hardware is really inexpensive. So every appliance can have multiple CPUs without increasing its cost appreciably. If it needs more computing power, it can always connect to the cloud (e.g., Amazon Web Services) and do number crunching there.

The sensor cost has come down significantly as well. Every appliance can now have cameras, microphones, inertial measurement units, GPS, and bar code scanners. Significant progress is being made in chemical sensors, RFID readers, and thermo-mechanical sensors. These sensors should soon become pervasive as well.

There have been significant advances in human-machine interfaces as well. Voice recognition, face recognition, gesture recognition, natural language processing, and touch screens are expected to change the way we interact with household appliances. Very soon we should have technology to recognize human emotions as well.

Data mining, data fusion, and search techniques are able to analyze and integrate vast amount of data from different sources and turn it into useful information for human use.

In my opinion, future advances in appliances will come not only from improvements in component technologies, but also from the integration of a diverse set of technologies to better understand the context and provide value-added services to users.

Advances in technologies will enable many new features in products. Obviously, not all of them will be useful to all of us. The “genius” refrigerator described above had many useful features with the exception of few annoying quirks. But this is a problem with every new technology. I cannot imagine living without a computer and the Internet, but I have done enough screaming at my computer due to its counter-intuitive interface and its ability to freeze whenever I have an important deadline.

I am really excited about the possibility of the completely interconnected world. But I am a bit concerned how this will impact my life. Will “genius” appliances control my life, or will they make my life easier? Perhaps a bit of both!

I hope that my friends working in the human-robot interaction area can figure out a better mode of human-refrigerator interaction, before I buy a “genius” refrigerator.

In summary, I am looking forward to plugging my refrigerator to the Internet. I am also ready to receive emails from it, as long as I get only one email per week. I am having tough time staying in touch with human friends on Facebook. So I certainly do not want my refrigerator to become my Facebook friend.

Are you ready to receive emails from your refrigerator?

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Instant Gratification Culture Demands a New Manufacturing Paradigm

The information technology revolution is creating a culture of instant gratification. People have an urge and expectation to immediately get things they want. Fortunately, meeting this requirement in the digital world is quite straightforward. A hit song, a blockbuster ebook, a viral video, or popular news can be instantly accessed by millions of people at the click of a mouse. The scaling up process needed to meet huge overnight surge in the demand can be accomplished in a matter of hours without any significant cost repercussions.

Consumers are beginning to exhibit a very short attention span as a side effect of this culture. Something that is hot today is not likely to be remembered in few weeks from now. So it makes sense for companies to meet the market demand with an utmost urgency. Making customers wait for your product is simply not a viable option because they might move on to the next “in” thing.

This culture of instant gratification is also carrying over to physical products. People want to be able to purchase a hot new product immediately, but they want to pay a bargain price for it! Unfortunately, scaling up production in the physical world is a lot different from making digital copies. So the instant gratification culture poses new challenges for manufacturers. In the last few years, several companies had difficulties in meeting sudden surges in demand. Notable examples include Apple iPhone, Toyota Prius, and Nintendo Wii.

When a new product is launched, it is often difficult to accurately estimate its demand. So production typically begins at low volumes and production capacity is gradually added to meet the growing demand. Unfortunately, this model does not work well in situations when there is a sharp increase in the demand overnight. The culture of instant gratification demands a manufacturing system with the following characteristics:
  • ability to dramatically increase production volume on a very short notice due to a sharp increase in demand,
  • short production run spans (e.g., a few months) to quickly phase out products as customers move on to the next best-seller,
  • and low production costs to ensure affordability.
We refer to this type of manufacturing as burst production, i.e., very high volume production over a short period of time.

So far, the mass production has been the dominant paradigm for producing affordable products. It is based on the economy of scale. It usually takes many months to setup a production line for the mass production. Processes are carefully optimized on the production line to reduce the cycle time and reduce production cost. It is not unusual for a production run to continue for years with minor tweaks in the product and the process. Long production runs enable amortization of the initial setup costs. This paradigm has been successfully used to manufacture affordable products and raise the standards of living worldwide.

The characteristics described above clearly show that the burst production manufacturing is a fundamentally different paradigm from the mass production manufacturing. One simply cannot take six months to setup a production line. Currently the only viable method for supporting a burst production operation is to deploy a vast amount of manual labor over a short period of time, exploiting the flexibility of the human labor to reduce the changeover time. Currently China seems to be the only place in the world where a vast amount of labor can be rapidly mobilized at a relatively low wage rate. As we try to bring manufacturing jobs back to the US, we will also need to develop a new manufacturing paradigm to support the burst production. This new paradigm will need to be supported by a number of new technological advances.

The rapid scale up requires quick access to additional equipment. Ordering the new equipment and bringing it on-line is simply not feasible because of time constraints. There are two potential solutions on the horizon. The first solution involves customers being able to 3-D print products at their homes or shops that offer 3-D printing services (e.g., Kinkos for 3-D printing). The second scenario involves companies buying additional manufacturing services from the third party manufacturing service providers. In both of these scenarios, companies will just send digital product models to customers or service providers. Realizing this vision in practice will require dramatic improvements in digital fabrication and new standards for exchanging digital product models. Ensuring manufacturing quality in the above scenarios will be a challenge. So we will need new low-cost high-throughput inspection systems to ensure that products can be made as per specifications in the digital models.

Most high-rate production processes currently use custom tooling (e.g., molds, dies). Ordering and getting these tools often takes significant time. So we will need to either develop high-rate production processes that do not require tooling, or come up with methods to quickly produce custom tools. Several processes such as 3-D printing and water-jet cutting exist that do not require part-specific tooling. However, 3-D printing is currently quite slow and water-jet cutting is mainly used for making parts with 2-D shapes. So new high-rate processes will be needed that can produce 3-D parts without requiring part specific tooling. 3-D printing is already being used to rapidly produce custom tools (e.g., direct metal laser sintering process by EOS). However, currently material options are limited. So we will need to improve 3-D printing to rapidly realize custom tools with the desired material properties.

Most manufacturing processes require complex setup and calibration processes that consume significant amount of time. Robots can play a significant role in speeding up the setup processes. Many new capabilities have been added to robot manipulators over the last few years (e.g., Barrett Arm and Hand). However, significant advances will be needed in robot manipulators to match human dexterity, flexibility, and speed. Better user interfaces and diagnostic functions can also reduce the time needed to setup machines. Many processes require manual recalibration to ensure product quality. Low-cost sensor networks are enabling the possibility of creating machines that can calibrate themselves.

Most modern factories use programmable machines. Programming machines and robots often takes significant effort and expertise. We need to dramatically reduce the time needed to program machines and robots. Programming by demonstration appears to a very promising method for reducing the programing time. Baxter, a new robot from Rethink robotics is a good example of the progress being made on this front. We will need to make significant additional progress in the programming by demonstration field to ensure that this approach is applicable to a broad class of manufacturing, assembly, and material handling processes.

Efficient logistics is an integral part of high throughput manufacturing operations. We will need logistics technology that can be quickly reconfigured and scaled up or down based on the demand. Kiva system has developed technology to provide flexible logistics support for warehouses. This technology appears to be easy to deploy and configure. We need technology with similar capabilities for manufacturing shop floors. Manufacturing shop floors tend to be much more complex than warehouses. Significant new developments will be needed in the logistics technology to support burst production.

Many manufacturing challenges can be eliminated by carefully designing products. We will need to develop the design for burst production methodology to ensure that the sudden dramatic increase in demands can be easily handled. This will require carefully selecting processes and materials to ensure that they have low lead times. Using a large number of standard and common components would be a step in the right direction. Some lessons from the design for mass customization methodology will be applicable to this area and will need to be carefully adapted to meet these new challenges.

Burst production paradigm goes well beyond the mass marketed products. For example, vaccine manufacturing can also benefit from this paradigm. A disease outbreak may generate a large demand for a vaccine that needs to produced and distributed rapidly.

The digital world has created a new breed of customers with an expectation of instant demand fulfillment. The manufacturing world has to come up with a solution to meet this expectation.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

3D Printing: Hype or New Manufacturing Revolution?

Lately 3D printing has been in news a lot. People are talking about using 3D printing to fabricate a wide variety of artifacts including shoes, robots, drones, cupcakes, and kidneys. Is this just hype or a new manufacturing revolution? To answer this question let us review the desired characteristics in a manufacturing process. My personal wish list includes the following:
  1. No lead time
  2. No part-specific tooling
  3. No specialized expertise needed to run the processing equipment
  4. No setup time
  5. Low processing time (laws of physics prohibit wishing for zero processing time!)
  6. Low material cost
  7. Low equipment cost
  8. Low operation cost
  9. Ability to realize arbitrarily complex shapes
  10. Ability to process any material
  11. High accuracy
  12. No negative environmental impact
Now let us examine how 3D printing fares with respect to my wish list. 3D printing does not require any part specific tooling, complex process planning, or elaborate setup step. Instructions for driving 3D printers can be automatically generated from 3D CAD models in matters of seconds. Using most 3D printers does not require any specialized skills. Fabrication can begin within few minutes after getting the 3D model. So 3D printing looks very attractive in terms of items #1 through #4 in the list above.

3D printing is a slow process. So printing a large part takes a long time. Forming and consolidation processes such as stamping, molding, and casting are much faster in terms of processing time for making large parts. But for making small parts, 3D printing appears to be quite competitive because overall processing times are small. 3D printing is also quite attractive in terms of processing time for making large intricate parts in comparison to subtractive processes such as milling. For such parts, subtractive processes tend to be slow because they need to remove a large volume of material to create the final part shape.

Currently, many 3D printers use proprietary materials. So the material cost tends to be high. However, this is not an inherent limitation of 3D printing. As more companies compete in this space, the economy of scale should bring the material cost down.

Open source designs of 3D printers have led to a drastic reduction in prices for certain types of 3D printers. Currently there are 3D printers in the market that cost less than $1000. This development has made this technology accessible to a wide variety of users. High-end 3D printers are still very expensive. There are significant opportunities for developing low cost 3D printers that work with metals and high strength polymer materials.

The processing cost is a function of human labor cost, equipment cost, hourly operation cost and processing time. As discussed earlier, 3D printing does not require much human labor. Open source movement is bringing down the equipment cost. So the energy cost is the main component of the hourly operation cost. 3D printer power consumption is comparable to other manufacturing processes. So the main driver for the processing cost is processing time. As discussed earlier, 3D printing is a slow process. Therefore, processing costs tend to be high for making large parts. Most 3D printers require post-processing operations to clean parts. This step leads to additional costs.

3D printers are able to fabricate very complex shapes. Moreover, the increased geometric complexity of the part does not lead to increased cost in the world of 3D printing. This encourages use of parts with intricate internal cavities to enhance performance and reduce weight. The reduction in the amount of material used in the part also helps in realizing more sustainable products by minimizing the material use. However, designing geometrically complex parts manually using the current CAD systems is a very tedious and error prone task. So we will need to develop automated shape synthesis tools that can automatically create new shapes from the functional requirements to fully exploit the capabilities of the 3D printing technology.

Currently 3D printers offer limited material choices. In fact, most 3D printers only work with low grade plastics. There are few printers in the market that work with a selected number of metals. Increasingly, composites are being used in a wide range of products including aircrafts and automobiles because of their high strength, light weight, and corrosion resistance. The next generation 3D printers will need to be able to process polymer composites and a richer variety of metals.

3D printing is a process in which a part is build layer-by-layer. So layer thickness determines the part accuracy. It is possible to achieve reasonably high accuracy using 3D printing by using very small layer thickness. But this leads to high processing time and high processing costs.

Many different types of 3D printing processes exist with different levels of environmental impact. There exist 3D printing processes that have virtually no negative environment impact except the energy consumption. So clearly, eco-friendly 3D printers are possible. However, reducing the energy consumption will require significant further development in this area.

3D printing is expected to be useful both for in-home manufacturing and factory production. In fact 3D printing can be used to make tooling (e.g., mold and patterns) for traditional processes. It has already enabled e-commerce in the manufacturing sector. Designers are able to buy 3D printed parts over the Internet.

Facilitating the increased in-home use of this technology will require making this technology much more user-friendly. CAD systems are often used to create 3D models to be printed on 3D printers. People with limited technical expertise find CAD systems hard to use. CAD system user interface has to improve significantly in terms of user friendliness for a lay person to effectively utilize 3D printers for in-home use. The improved interfaces will enable the use of 3D printing in K-12 schools. It will also enable people with limited technical background to participate in the invention process.

So in summary, 3D printing has many desirable characteristics. It meets many unfilled needs in the market. So it is here to stay!

But let us remember that 3D printing is not a perfect process. In my opinion, 3D printing is a precursor to a new manufacturing revolution. Let us take inspiration from it and continue to look for a process that has all the desirable characteristics in the wish list presented above!

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

The Role of Engineering Educators in the Age of MOOCs

The traditional lecture format has significant limitations and leads to a high level of inefficiency in the learning process. Unfortunately, in the past, we could not come up with a better alternative. So the education process primarily relied on lectures as the medium for disseminating the knowledge. However, that changed with the advent of the Web. Increasingly, Internet and social media are providing new ways to revolutionize the learning process.

Delivering lectures in classes containing large number of students is always hard. The delivery might too slow paced for some students. Others might think that the instructor is going too fast. If a student is distracted for few minutes, he/she may find it hard to follow the rest of lecture. Reducing the class size and creating interactive lectures has been difficult due to resource constraints.

Massively open online courses (MOOCs) have potential to fundamentally change the learning process. MOOCs, at least in theory, can enable class sizes of “one”. Students can watch videos of lectures at their own pace and replay portions that contain unfamiliar content and fast forward familiar content. The advent of MOOCs is prompting us to rethink the traditional education model.

A change in the learning process will also require significant changes at the educational institutions. Some educators feel threatened by MOOCs and argue that computers and videos on Internet cannot replace human educators. We all will be better served if the conversation focused on how to take inspiration from MOOC movement and significantly improve the efficiency and outcomes of the learning process at universities. A step towards this goal would be to list all the functions performed by the university faculty and figure out how to improve the execution of these functions. My personal experience indicates that the main functions performed by engineering faculty include the following:
  1. Creating new knowledge
  2. Designing curriculum
  3. Selecting and/or generating instructional material
  4. Delivering the instructional material
  5. Individualized tutoring to clarify concepts/doubts
  6. Ensuring that students have mastered the content
  7. Challenging students through projects/competitions
  8. Inspiring and motivating students to reach their potential 
  9. Imparting non-technical skills (e.g., writing, presentation, project management)
  10. Mediating and resolving conflicts in group projects
  11. Helping students in being connected to the professional network and finding jobs
The first generation MOOCs are mainly targeting items (3), (4), and (6) in the list above. I anticipate that MOOCs will also play a role in item (2) in the future.

There are many questions about effectiveness of MOOCs and their long term financial viability. Most likely the concept of MOOCs will undergo significant changes as MOOCs are widely used and go through rigorous evaluations. But it is clear that the information technology will fundamentally change the education process and will hopefully replace traditional lectures with a much more effective knowledge delivery mechanism.

Rather then focusing on MOOCs in their current form, I am interested is exploring how the education revolution fueled by the advent of MOOCs will change the role of human educators. As the above list indicates, human educators will have several important roles to play in the education process. My experiences are confined to engineering education. So I am interested in exploring how we can enhance the learning process in the engineering education.

The increasing use of information technology will reduce the burden on faculty to deliver lectures to large classes. Hopefully, this will enable human educators to focus their energy on activities that enrich learning experiences for students. I see the following possibilities:
  • Engineering students can learn a lot by participating in competitions. Faculty advisers can play a major role in mentoring and coaching teams participating in competitions. Faculty advisers will also need to make sure that all members of the team are learning the engineering principles and skills as a result of participation in the competitions.  Currently, very few engineering students participate in competitions due to resource constraints. We should encourage majority of engineering students to participate in competitions.               
  • Engineering students learn a lot by participating in research projects. This allows them to create new knowledge or new products.  Mentoring students and guiding them through challenging research and design projects is an important role for the engineering faculty. Most faculty members already perform this role for their graduate students. We should start providing significant research and/or design experience for every undergraduate student. We should create an environment where every engineering undergraduate student creates something new before graduation!
  • Non-technical skills are extremely important for the professional success. However, acquiring these skills requires significant amount of practice and working with a dedicated mentor. Faculty members should mentor undergraduate students to ensure that they learn presentation, writing, communication, project management, and team work skills.  This will require that students have an opportunity to practice these skills with their faculty mentors in individual sessions.  
  • Many engineering students do not fully understand what practicing engineers do. Unlike medicine, many engineering students graduate without doing engineering internships.  Professional networks are very useful in providing students useful information and context about the profession and help them make informed career choices. Faculty members will have to play a major role in developing the right kind of professional networks and connecting their students to these networks.  This will require engineering faculty to be connected with practicing engineers in the local communities.         
The list above is just a start to get the discussion going. There are many other functions and roles for engineering educators that will become clearer as we start embracing new education approaches. Historically, the majority of engineering faculty members have focused on delivering traditional lectures. Many of them may not feel comfortable in new roles or functions. So we will need to make sure that engineering faculty members quickly acquire the right skills to be productive in the information age. I am really excited about being in the middle of new education revolution.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Increasing the Pool of Innovators

In a simplistic sense, innovation requires inventors (i.e., creative idea generators) and entrepreneurs (i.e., enterprising individuals who can convert inventions into viable businesses). I believe that many people have abilities to contribute to the innovation process. But the current socio-economic and legal environment discourages many people from participating in the innovation process.

Let us consider an example. A group of two students has come up with an out-of-the-box idea for a new product that may provide solution for a pressing need in assisted living communities. They explore the possibility of getting a patent on their product. But they do not have money to pay for the patent. They start talking to angel investors to seek funding to further develop their idea. But raising funds without intellectual property protection seems a challenging task. Both students have received good job offers and getting pressure from their families to get on with their lives. So they decide to put their entrepreneurship effort on hold. Unfortunately, life comes in the way and they never get around to launching a product based on their idea. These two individuals do well for themselves in their respective jobs. But a very good idea is simply wasted! Their idea in the right hands could have created a new company and many jobs. It would have improved lives of numerous people living in assisted living facilities.

Patents were very useful in accelerating the pace of technology development in the last century. They enabled creative people to share their inventions with everyone in the world without compromising their ability to make money from their ideas. Unfortunately, patents do not appear to be the right tool for increasing the pool of inventors in the current time. Acquiring a patent is simply too expensive and time consuming for people without deep pockets. Even when a patent is secured, it is often not possible to successfully market it and turn it into profits. So we need to find an alternative way to protect financial interests of inventors to motivate them to share their ideas.

The advent of Internet is presenting new ways for people to raise funds for executing their ideas. For example, Kickstarter enables people to raise money to realize their ideas. However, many people who have great ideas simply do not have either the interest or the time to actually execute their ideas. So they are unlikely to take the Kickstarter route.

I believe that many people are capable of coming up with creative ideas. But very few people have the time, resources, perseverance, and drive to translate their ideas into innovations. So the pool of innovators is limited. Some people argue that only creative people willing to work hard and take risk should be in the innovation business. Under this model, many good ideas are wasted and ultimately society is unable to reap benefits from them. So I strongly disagree with this model! We really need to expand the pool of inventors and opportunities for entrepreneurs. Expanding the pool of inventors will require us to figure out a way to get all the creative individuals in the world to share their ideas and get rewarded for doing so.

The advent of Wikipedia has truly revolutionized the way human knowledge is being collected and distributed through a highly democratic participatory process involving a large number of people from all walks of life. There are many services such as IndustryPigeon, NineSigma, and LinkedIn that do match making between engineering service providers and service consumers. Increasingly, it appears that web portals and social media might hold a key to bring new inventors to the table.

In my opinion, bringing new inventors to the innovation table would require decoupling earning a reward for a useful idea from the need to successfully execute it. A possible way to accomplish this would be to launch NewIdeas web portal that will enable people to post new ideas in the form of Open Rights Patents and be rewarded for sharing their ideas. Visitors to the web portal would be able to rate these ideas. The advent of social media has enabled everyone to express their opinions about virtually everything. So I am sure that people will be happy to check out new ground breaking ideas and figure out a way to identify the best ones.

The proposed model is different from web portals where site owners or editors post their favorite ideas. The proposed model will work if innovators themselves posted their ideas in sufficient details. The web portal will need to have infrastructure to scale up to millions of ideas and queries. So we will need Wikipedia type infrastructure and visibility.

Posting ideas on a web portal without any legal protection will certainly present risks. What if someone takes an idea posted on the website and patents it. I expect that if NewIdeas web portal gains popularity, then ideas posted on this web portal will start being viewed as the prior art and hence not patentable. Hence, the risk to the person sharing the idea will be eliminated.

An entrepreneur interested in commercializing an Open Rights Patent won’t have to pay the inventor or NewIdeas web portal any money. So how would inventors make money? The web portal will run advertisements to generate revenues. This web portal should attract a large number of visitors who will be interested in various aspects of new technologies. So the web portal should be able to run targeted high value advertisements. There are several Internet-based magazines that earn significant amount of revenue by using an advertisement-based model. The web portal can also raise funds from donors and private foundations.

Ultimately, money may not be an important factor in motivating people to share their ideas. “Likes” and “Views” are emerging as currencies of the social media. So perhaps, societal recognition itself might be an incentive for people to share their ideas. For example, people contribute articles to scholarly journals to get recognition. Clearly publishing a well “liked” and “viewed” idea would be a good addition to an individual’s resume.

A portion of the advertisement revenues should be reserved for offering a number of awards for best ideas. The judging can incorporate a combination of public and expert opinion just like the popular TV contests. This model will enable entrepreneurs to acquire new inventions without any financial commitment to inventors. This will significantly expand the available pool of ideas that can be commercialized and lower the barrier of entry for new entrepreneurs.

Often an idea requires several iterations to make it really work. In the current patent system, taking someone else’s patent and improving it is not financially attractive. It leads to derivative patents. To commercialize a derivative patent, the inventor needs to pay royalty to the owner of original patent and it often requires difficult and lengthy negotiations. The Open Rights Patents will encourage people to refine other people’s ideas. Doing so will increase the odds of winning financial awards for all parties that contribute to the original idea and help in refining it.

An idea based an Open Rights Patent will be available to everyone and offer no IP protection. Would entrepreneurs invest in an idea if they do not have IP protection? Ultimately how much money can be made from an idea depends on how well it is executed in the market. So clearly people who can execute an idea well would definitely be interested in commercializing it. Moreover, an entrepreneur can always secure a traditional patent to protect their way of implementing the idea.

Is this model viable? Who would contribute initial ideas to build the momentum for NewIdeas web portal? The US alone has hundreds of engineering schools and thousands of engineering programs. Students from these programs do thousands of capstone design projects every year - all aimed to create new or improved products. But most of these projects don’t see the light of the day. There are also thousands of high school students who come up with creative science fair projects every year. I am sure that these students can be easily convinced to share their ideas in exchange for a chance to win serious money. So building momentum for New Ideas web portal does not appear to be an insurmountable challenge.

In summary, an advertisement based model to compensate inventors will fundamentally change existing entrepreneurship and innovation models and enable everyone in the world to invent and contribute to world-changing innovations. I am convinced that TV and Radio would still be in the dark ages had it not been for the advertisement based model to pay for the programming. I hope that Google, Facebook, Amazon, LinkedIn, or Bing folks are reading this blog and willing to run with the idea described in it.