Responsible Innovation in Technology

I would like to open this new season of posts with a series on recent developments in technology development from the perspective of responsible innovation. The idea of responsible innovation (RI) has been around for about 20 years and is easy to understand: Innovation processes can be steered towards certain goals, and the technological products that come to market also.

A Bosch employee controls a deep field robot called “BoniRob” at a field in Renningen near Stuttgart, Germany July 29, 2016. REUTERS/Michaela Rehle – RTSL1NO

Examples are easy to find in our everyday lives. We all have a computer that we cannot upgrade because we can’t get into it. Talk of built in life spans, telephones without changeable batteries, systems that are no longer upgraded leading us to have to spend money and dispose of working machines that are full of hazardous materials.

On the other hand the development of open source software and large scale collaboration by experts in related fields seems to demonstrate a different approach. Sharing of data has helped in developing treatment for Eboli, human genome sequencing and across a host of other fields.

If we take a look at these examples it seems that their development processes were slightly different to those we are used to, and this is where the central idea of responsible innovation comes in. The aim was to arrive at a product or conclusion that would help to resolve a pressing problem, and not only to make a profit.

So the underlying idea is that innovation processes should work towards solving what the European Union call the Grand Societal Challenges. There are many of these, but looking after an ageing population, food security, climate action and smart transport technologies are just a few.

In order to promote this approach the European Union have placed the concept within all of their calls for funding until 2021. This means that anyone applying for funds to conduct research has to address the issue and to run their project within these aims. To give you an idea the last 7 years funding budget was of 80 billion Euros, so there is the possibility of pushing real change via this approach.

Part of the idea involves the open publication of data, and any project that is funded receives money to pay for articles to be placed in paid publications on open access or to be freely distributed. Information is power after all, the power to make a profit, with technology companies across the world fighting to be the first to announce their new developments and carefully safeguarding their data and processes. And this is one of the great sticking points, because this approach is inefficient both in terms of development and positive return for society.

Technology develops faster if everyone working in a particular field shares their data. But in a world based on profit how can this sharing come about without leading to loss of possible profit? There are plenty of examples here too though, ASUS collaborate with gaming company Tencent in order to produce a telephone designed with particular specification that will enable its user to make the most of their games.

So why not in other important fields? Data sharing seems to present a wealth of opportunities and advantages.

Next week I will offer an overview of some of the recent publications within this field.

Airvibes – Bluetooth Headphones Review

The Airwheel craze swept across the UK in 2015, with ridable technology becoming more popular than ever before. If you don’t think that riding along on a self-balancing unicycle makes you look flash enough on its own, then you need a pair of Airvibes! Airvibes are Bluetooth headphones designed for Airwheel users – although if you don’t have an Airwheel, they are still a pretty cool set of headphones to own.

No Wires

Airvibes plugged inAirvibes are Bluetooth headphones, meaning you can sync them with any Bluetooth compatible device, and ditch the awkward wires that run from your headphones to your phone. If you are a frequent (hi-tech) runner or cyclist you will know the problem I mean. Your smartphone is secured to your arm – as that way you can use a tracking app to keep a record of your run or cycle – and then you’ve got to run wires up your arm, under your cloths and up your neck in order to listen to your music. Airvibes only have one wire: the wire between the two earpieces. This makes connecting and disconnecting your headphones a much less stressful experience. I have been asked why they have the wire between the earpieces if they truly are wireless, to which I surmised that it would be really easy to loose one of your earpieces if they weren’t connected together.

Charge

So if these headphones don’t attach to your phone, then they must have a battery right, which probably has a pretty shoddy lifespan considering how small the earpieces are. Well Airvibes do run on battery power, yes, however the life span – considering they are both syncing via Bluetooth and playing music – is actually pretty impressive: around 5 hours. I’ve had my Airvibes over a week now, and use them regularly, however I’ve only charged them once; when I first opened the packet. Airwheel seem to be pretty good at making a little battery go a long way.

Airvibes headphone set

What you get in the Airvibes pack

Thankfully Airwheel realised that micro USB was the way to go in terms of charging, as pretty much every phone (Apple devices aside) sat-nav and digital camera you have ever owned connects and charges using this port. All your current chargers will therefore work with the Airvibes too; meaning it’s not a disaster if you lose the charging lead. That said I would expect the Airvibes to come with a means of charging, and a micro USB lead is included in the box, however it seems to be a growing trend that manufacturers expect you to own an abundant supply of USB wall-plugs, as like when I reviewed Samsung’s Wireless Charger, Airvibes don’t come with a wall-plug. Maybe we are expected to use our laptops USB ports as a means of powering devices. Or maybe because more goods are being sold globally, and the USB is a global port, whilst wall-plugs differ from country to country, it’s just easier for manufacturers to leave these out of product packages these days.

Ergonomics

I’ve been pleasantly surprised with how well the Airvibes have been designed. They fit really rather well into your ears, without much effort, and a little rubber loop just above the earbud keep them from falling out.

Airwheel earpiece

The Airvibes control earpiece

The sound quality is what you’d expect from a standard set of headphones: good, but not exceptional. The rubber around the earbud does a surprisingly good job of soundproofing, blocking out enough background noise to mean you don’t need to have your music deafeningly loud to drown out what’s going on around you. If you are a frequent Airwheel rider, you’ll be pleased to know that this soundproofing does a good job of blocking out the annoying beeping noise the Airwheel makes when it gets near the speed limiter!

The Bluetooth works pretty well, if you’re staying in one place, you can walk away from your phone a little (assuming it’s not in your pocket) and you’ll still pick up a signal. When using Airvibes on an Airwheel, they work just as well. Occasionally I have noticed a slight drop out, especially when going fast, but it’s quite rare and only momentary.

Controls

Being Bluetooth, the headphones can not only play music from your device, but they can also be used to control your device too. The functions are relatively easy to learn, although a glance at the instruction manual would do you some good, as it may prevent you accidentally calling people in your address book, as I did when I first tried the Airvibes out! A built in microphone matched with the function buttons means that you can make and receive calls through the Airvibes; a useful add-on feature. Volume up and down, skip track, pause and play are the key functions available.

When out riding an Airwheel, I have found the buttons are all reasonably easy to use, all being accessible on the one earpiece. I have sometimes found it difficult to press the play/pause button, and this could do with being slightly raised, or recessed, just to make it that bit easier to find.

Airvibes Verdict

Airvibes are a decent little set of headphones. If you have been looking for a good pair of wireless headphones, I can highly recommend you try Airvibes. The sound quality is good, you can control your music and make phone calls on them with ease. They currently retail at around £30 GBP which I feel is a fair evaluation of what they are worth.

My Airvibes were from Airwheel.direct, the same place that I bought my Airwheel from. If you’d be interested in finding out more about Airvibes, or want to get yourself a set, head over to their website.

The Future of Solar Energy

Sol-Term

Travelling Through Morocco

20 years ago my father retired from work, and to celebrate he gave me and my brothers £1000 each. I went to university and sat next to my buddy Sam, and asked her if she fancied going to spend the money on a holiday. I skateboarded to my favourite travel agents and booked flights to Morocco.

6 weeks, a long road trip. We divided the remaining money into daily allowance, $20 US per day. Not really enough. Well enough to eat, or travel, but not eat and travel. So on days that we travelled we only ate once, and on other days we ate twice. Not a lot though.

Anyway we wanted to go and see the sahara. We went from Casablanca via Radat and Meknes, down through Azru and all the way to Merzuga. It’s quite a thing to see. Then to Ouarzazate.

Now the Marocco of 20 years ago is not the country of today. And we were poor. We did not have enough money to take the national bus lines, we took the local buses, no windows, animals on the roof tied into canvas bags, goats inside. Today Ouarzazate is a world leader in solar energy.

Desert Solar Energy

Morocco wants to become a world leader in solar energy production. The development that is underway and newly online will eventually provide 20% of the country’s energy needs. It will be the largest concentrated solar power (CSP) plant in the world. The mirror technology it uses is different from the photovoltaic panels that we see on roofs the world over, but it will have the advantage of being able to continue producing power even after the sun goes down.

The system uses mirrors to heat an oil, known as heat transfer solution (HTF). Each parabolic mirror is 12 metres high and focussed on a steel pipeline carrying HTF that is warmed to 393C. It then goes into a heat transfer plant, is mixed with water that turns into steam and drives turbines.

In order to operate after dark excess heat is used to turn sand molten, the heat being released overnight allowing the plant to function for a few hours longer, and the plan is that in a couple of years time it will be able to operate 24 hours a day.

Distribution

If Morocco becomes self sufficient through solar wind and hydro, they will look towards exporting. There have been several projects involving laying power lines from North Africa into europe (Libia to italy comes to mind) but as far as I know nothing is currently operational.

For more details check out this article in the Guardian.