Ten interesting things we read this week

Apollo XI, whose golden jubilee we celebrate this weekend, may have been the audacious child of the Cold War but it created an epoch of innovation, leadership and development. Half a century later, India is also poised to take a 'giant leap' in its space programme with Chandrayaan-2

Published: Jul 20, 2019 07:46:19 AM IST
Updated: Jul 20, 2019 09:54:23 AM IST

g_118853_bg_reading_shutterstock_1454229140_280x210.jpgImage: Shutterstock

At Ambit, we spend a lot of time reading articles that cover a wide gamut of topics, ranging from zeitgeist to futuristic, and encapsulate them in our weekly ‘Ten Interesting Things’ product. Apollo XI, whose golden jubilee we celebrate this weekend, may have been the audacious child of the Cold War but it created an epoch of innovation, leadership (dominance?) and development. For India, it is a grand irony that exactly half a century after the moon landing, it is also poised to take a ‘giant leap’ in its space programme with Chandrayaan. While they do serve Governments’ diplomatic agenda, technological advancements and their commercial applications provide us stellar lessons in management – good planning, preparation, implementation, and leadership. This edition is a tribute to these very granular elements that form the bedrock of what is hailed as the ‘Triumph of Human Spirit’ – Moon landing changed world; Chandrayaan 2 shows India’s potential; Billionaires’ space plan.

Here are the ten interesting things we read this week, ended July 19, 2019.

1) How moon landing changed the world [Source: ranker.com; now.northropgrumman.com]
It has been years since Neil Armstrong, or the first human, set foot on moon. Since then, everything has changed. Though the race between the Soviet Union and the USA was won by the USA, the world benefitted the most with various inventions and discoveries due to this mission. Here is just a sampling of the many “spinoff” technologies, as NASA refers to them, resulting from space research and development that we now use in everyday life.

1) Global positioning system (GPS): It was originally developed by the military for precision navigation and weapon targeting purposes. Also, GPS will be there in the future to facilitate emerging technologies such as self-driving cars and package deliveries by drone. 2) Infrared ear thermometers: A NASA-derived advancement — it measures the amount of energy emitted by the eardrum in the same way the temperature of stars and planets is measured, using infrared astronomy technology. Artificial limbs have drastically improved using advanced space program shock absorbing materials and robotics. 

3) Better running shoes: Rapid improvements in athletic shoe technology in the 1980s and '90s can be directly traced back to the technology used in Apollo-era lunar helmets and visors. A process called "blow molding" gave Apollo lunar helmets superior impact resistance in the 1960s, but it wasn't until the late 1980s that the process was used to create footwear. 4) Computer chips: Commonly known as a computer chip or microchip, integrated circuits were made commercially viable thanks to our mission to the moon. The Apollo program was the largest consumer of computer chips from 1961 to 1965 and the rapid development of the technology helped to pave the way for personal computers.  

2) India's moon mission spurs startups to join space race [Source: Nikkei Asian Review]
India is set to launch its most ambitious moon mission Chandrayan 2. Its previous launch date was 15 July, but it got delayed due to some technical snag. If successful, India would become the fourth country to soft land on the lunar surface, following the U.S., Russia and China. ISRO Chairman K. Sivan said the mission has tech and manpower support from 500 universities and 120 companies. "It will foster a new age of discovery, increase our understanding of space, promote more global alliances, stimulate the advancement of technology and grow commercial opportunities in India and inspire future generations," Sivan said.

Many start-ups related to space tech are also springing up in India. "In future, startups will lead in the demand for space tech products as companies will try expanding their own businesses," said Gateway House research fellow Chaitanya Giri. "Startups in India will, therefore, complete the ecosystem that was built by ISRO in the 1960s." Bangalore-based small satellite manufacturer Dhruva Space is one of those startup companies seeking new opportunities. Sanjay Nekkanti, founder and chief executive of the company, pointed to the huge potential of the space industry as only 36 countries in the world have launched space programs in the last 10 years.

S. Rakesh, chairman and managing director of Antrix Corp., a commercial arm of ISRO, last year estimated that the small satellite business for India alone could potentially generate as much as 20 billion rupees ($300 million) per year over the following 10 years. Another startup Axiom Research Labs, better known as TeamIndus, is also being closely watched as it plans India's first private moon mission. TeamIndus is one of the many teams around the world that competed for the Google Lunar XPrize of $20 million for landing a rover on the moon. However, none of the teams were successful. TeamIndus is now part of a consortium of companies that will provide moon-landing services for NASA's next expedition in 2020.  

3) Business dreams powering a lunar race [Source: Livemint]
It was President John F. Kennedy’s vision of putting a man on moon. The goal that Kennedy had set space agency National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) was an incredible stretch target. But it was national pride at stake in a starkly bipolar world. In 1966, an astounding 4.4% of the federal budget was allotted to NASA. Even as the US went through upheavals that would change the country forever—the civil rights movement, the Vietnam war, and the rise of the counter-culture, the Apollo mission remained untouched, and public support undiminished. Today, the fact that men walked on the Moon just 66 years after the Wright brothers’ first flight seems like a miracle.

The renewed interest in space over the last half-decade has been sparked off principally by two factors: 1) a few super-billionaires who find their planet too small for their ambitions; and 2) the untold riches that could be harvested from mining extra-terrestrial bodies like the Moon and asteroids for high-value metals and other resources. Mega billionaires like Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk have set ambitious target to get to the moon. And people have already booked a seat to the space journey! The first Starship round-the-Moon trip, targeted for 2023, has been fully booked by Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa, who plans to take artists and performers with him, who will create works inspired by what they see. “If John Lennon could have seen the curvature of the Earth, what kind of songs would he have written?" Maezawa has said.

All the countries are eyeing the moon, and India is no exception. India launched its lunar orbiter Chandrayaan-1 in October 2008. On 14 November that year, its probe struck the lunar surface with the Indian tricolour. India thus became the fourth country—after the US, Russia and China—with its flag on the Moon. For about a year, Chandrayaan-1 surveyed the lunar surface, studying its chemical characteristics and developing a three-dimensional map of its topography. Its most important achievement was the discovery of the widespread presence of water molecules on the lunar soil. And India is again set to launch Chandrayaan-2. It is the world’s first mission to the Moon’s south pole.

4) Chandrayaan 2 shows India's potential, but we need to make it the 'Kennedy moment' for our engineering education [Source: Firstpost]
The successful launch of Chandrayaan 2 will showcase the prowess of India at the global level. It will be a befitting centenary tribute to its founder, Dr. Vikram Sarabhai, who envisaged harnessing the power of space science to find solutions to the problems India was facing in the field of communication, meteorology and education. The importance of historic missions like Chandrayaan 2 can best be juxtaposed and appreciated in Barack Obama’s eponymous statement made to the National Academy of Sciences “The nation that out-educates us today will outcompete us tomorrow”.

But, when it comes to education in space exploration and technology, does India have the best? Unfortunately, India’s higher education system, particularly engineering education, is in a real crisis. It is disconnected with the needs and aspirations of the industry, society and nation. It appears to be short-sighted and inadequate in developing young engineers to be innovative to deal with current technological requirements of society. Yet, we have witnessed mushrooming of engineering colleges, especially in the last two or three decades. Only a handful of students from top IITs, NITs and few other premier professional colleges, which are adequately equipped with requisite manpower, material and infrastructure, are trained to be successful in getting not just good jobs with excellent salaries, but few even manage to start their own enterprises.

If India wants to make its mark on the world, then it needs to invest in vastly improving higher science and technical education and aim for achieving what is called a “Grey Revolution”. This, besides addressing the needs of our industry, will also help in India’s continuing success in the fields of space, and other frontiers of science research projects including the multimillion-dollar mega science international projects in which India is a partner. President John F Kennedy, only four months in office, on 25 May 1961, proposed before a joint session of Congress that “this nation should commit itself to achieve the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the Moon and returning him safely to Earth.” Rest is history. Will Chandrayaan 2 be the Kennedy moment for India? Let us hope it is.

5) Billionaires are now already planning business strategies in space [Source: downtoearth.org, downtoearth.org]
Billionaires and business tycoons like Elon Musk, Richard Branson and Jeff Bezos are vying to make history as the first private companies to launch commercial passengers into space. “Almost 41% of the top 100 firms now have at least one space investment,” says Chad Anderson, chief executive officer of Space Angels, a financial services firm that manages investments in space ventures.

The excitement and prospects created by these disruptors have upended the way space industry and economy worked, just till two decades ago. A few governments that remained outside the old space player league are now setting up space agencies—over 25 countries have established space agencies since 2000; a dozen of them after 2010—and joining hands with private firms. It seems a level playing field is now ready for the space race.

And India is also in the race to get on the moon. Its much-awaited second mission to the moon, Chandrayaan 2, is set to launch in a couple of days. The mission will not only be a technological milestone in India’s journey of space exploration, but will also be a humble tribute by the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) to its founder, Vikram Sarabhai, as the lander has been named after him.

6) China leads India by massive margin in space race [Source: India Today; WSJ
India's conduct of an anti-satellite (ASAT) test on 27 March, 2019 showed that Delhi is taking seriously neighbouring China's own space capabilities. But, India is far behind China in the space race. China performed its own direct-ascent ASAT test against a weather satellite in January 2007, employing an SC-19 interceptor. However, that mission resulted in a large and hazardous field of space debris that drew the ire of the world. Even China's so-called civil space program, which has put a research lab in space and plans to put a man on the moon, is subservient to the military. The People's Liberation Army (PLA) is undoubtedly using the manned space program for military purposes. For instance, all Shenzhou space capsule missiles carried military payloads or performed military missions.

Of course, it is not easy to discern the veracity of what China is attempting in space, for its programs are cloaked in paranoid levels of secrecy. Nevertheless, Chinese scholars often publish articles about the need for "destroying, damaging and interfering with the enemy's reconnaissance and communications satellites". It is obvious that China, should it enter a conflict with a country such as the USA, would target enemy navigation and early-warning satellites to render them inoperable and so blind and deafen the enemy. This threat to orbiting satellites is now being treated very seriously by the USA.

Yet there is also a double-edged sword for China. As the PLA itself becomes more reliant on satellites, it becomes more vulnerable to American, - and now Indian - ASAT interceptors. India has just demonstrated to Beijing that it can create a viable force multiplier that places Chinese satellites at risk, despite the fact that this capability will remain nascent for the foreseeable future. No wonder, then, that Prime Minister Narendra Modi was pleased with India's first ASAT missile test.

7) Scientific breakthrough isn’t enough for an inventor [Source: HBR]
Coming up something unique or finding a solution to something complex is what all scientists and inventors yearn for. But when you discover, what next? This piece showcases how to identify seven common IP traps that unwary inventors (individuals and firms alike) fall into. 1) Public Disclosure: Most inventors can’t wait to announce their discoveries to the world. Others are virtually compelled to do so—for academics, publication is central to the research process. Unfortunately, public disclosure often prevents inventors from patenting their inventions. To avoid this trap, inventors should limit disclosure to the main result or to a description of the problem and refrain from revealing information on every step involved in the solution.

2) Neglecting Policeability: Process and method innovations are difficult to protect. Because most companies’ production operations occur behind closed doors, it is often impossible to tell whether a product was made using a particular process technology. Another way to protect the IP of a process innovation is to turn the process into a product. 3) Failing to Demonstrate Originality: In 2010, Philip Wyers faced this predicament when his hopes for a $9 million award from Master Lock were dashed by a court ruling that his invention of a locking mechanism (using a simple recombination of existing designs) was obvious. His patent was invalidated on the basis of the “common sense” principle. Inventors can avoid this fate by building additional proprietary features into their innovations.

4) Overrelying on Known Science: Scientists can bolster claims of originality by showing that an invention involves a novel application of materials. 5) Failing to Secure the Best Territory: Inventors should stake out the best IP territory early. If they carefully identify the most profitable potential applications of an invention and focus resources on developing them, they can improve the return on their company’s R&D investment. 6) Mismanaging Attribution: Inventors should make a clear distinction between inventive steps—the making of an original conjecture—and work done under supervision. 7) Falling into Funders’ Clutches: Inventor should file a provisional patent application before applying for funding, as this will establish their claims to the invention, making it clear that any funding is for generating data, results, and prototypes that have been outlined in the provisional application.

8) We would be able to upload education to our brains in future? [Source: Quartz]
If Elon Musk and other brainwave technology entrepreneurs have their way, brick and mortar colleges will no longer be relevant in the coming few decades. We will be able to download education from computers directly into our brains. Yes, you read it right. In plenty of instances, brainwave tech is already here. People fly drones using mind-reading headsets. Parkinson’s disease patients can use brain chips to calm shaking attacks. Machine interfaces let people silently communicate mind-to-mind with one another, or with devices.

Brainwave technology works by recording the brain’s thought patterns—configurations of neurons that fire in distinct ways for different thoughts—and replicating those patterns back into the brain via electrical stimulation from a nonbiological device. Hundreds, thousands and millions of dollars are poured into developing this technology. Google, Apple, and Facebook have people on staff to gauge how this type of technology works and will affect the world. Entrepreneurs like Brian Johnson, founder of Los Angeles brainwave tech company Kernel, think this technology will eventually end up inside our heads. Elon Musk has said he believes his Silicon Valley brainwave tech company Neuralink will have a consumer product that lets humans wander the cloud in their minds on the market within 10 years.

So, is there anything that we won’t be able to download in the future? No one has the answer to that yet, but already today, we’re able to implant memories in mice that allow them to find food based on a maze they’ve never seen before. We’ll also be able to download how to swing a baseball bat, perform the Heimlich maneuver, and distinguish a Merlot from a Cabernet. While this technology can revolutionize the world, there are a few questions. Who will do the teaching? Will downloading a Columbia University education will be more expensive than a community college download.
 
9) The past, the present and future of surgical bots [Source: The Hindu]
Use of robots in today’s world has become common. But when it comes to surgical bots, we haven’t embraced it yet completely. Recently, a cardiac surgeon, Dr. Tejas Patel, was in the news for conducting the world’s first telerobotic surgery on a patient in Ahmedabad, Gujarat. Sitting 32 kilometres away from his patient, a middle-aged woman with a blocked artery at Apex Hospital, Dr. Patel guided the robotic arms through a joystick to perform the coronary intervention. The surgery sounded rumblings of a shift in healthcare. Is robotics the way to go?

Instead of operating on the body himself, the surgeon can guide the robot to do so through a controller in a master-slave system: whatever the surgeon motions, the robot mimics. “Currently, in the Indian market, robotic surgeries are not technically done by robots,” says Detroit-based Dr. Mahendra Bhandari, Director, Robotic Surgery Research and Education, Vattikuti Urology Institute, Henry Ford Hospital. A robot, by definition, replicates human tasks on its own (autonomous). Right now, they are ‘dumb’. Also, a surgical bot’s cost is a disadvantage. A surgical robot such as da Vinci Xi (the most prevalent in India) costs upward of ₹14 lakh — something that will undoubtedly translate into costlier surgeries for patients. A complex robotic surgery is likely to be nearly ₹2 lakh costlier than a laparoscopic one.

Most of the surgical bots that are operational today are purely patented, and enjoy exclusivity. Once these patents expire, then only the cost of these robots can come down and be affordable to most. Dr. Deepak Subramanian, laparoscopic and bariatric surgeon, Fortis Malar, Chennai, is excited about what the future holds. “When I was in the US, I tried out a robot by TransEnterix. Everyone’s trying to break into the market once the patents are over. The future is robotic surgery!” he exclaims. Even Alphabet (Google) and J&J are joining hands to create robots with their platform, Verb Surgical.

10) 3 ways artificial intelligence is transforming business operations [Source: Forbes]
Today artificial intelligence (AI) has become a vital part of most of the businesses functional all over the world. And this piece throws light on how AI is transforming businesses for good. 1) Enhancing customer experience: Customer is truly the king. According to research by Walker, customer experience will overtake price and product as the key brand differentiator by 2020. Artificial intelligence can help businesses craft highly-personalized customer experiences. Artificial intelligence can ingest and aggregate all of the various touch-points a customer has with a brand and determine what’s driving customers’ behavior. AI-powered tools can monitor brand perception on social and social channels and predict customer sentiment. This all-encompassing view minimizes guesswork and allows business leaders to confidently predict where customers will plant their wallets next and why.

2) Enhancing hiring process: Strategic talent acquisition is central to business operations. Yet the hiring process is fundamentally flawed. Artificial intelligence is already helping businesses transform their hiring operations and processes. It can help businesses cast a wider net by scanning large volumes of resumes and other talent sources to pinpoint highly qualified candidates for specific jobs. It can review job descriptions, interview transcripts, and call logs to uncover and correct hidden biases in the hiring process and accurately assess candidates.

3) Enhancing employee engagement and retention: Talent is the most important asset for any business to succeed. According to a recent report by Gallup, the vast majority (85%) of employees are either not engaged or are actively disengaged at work. Artificial intelligence offers enormous potential in terms of boosting employee engagement and retention. Using sentiment analysis technologies, biometrics, and other emerging technologies, AI-powered tools can help businesses confidently understand employee engagement. 83% of executives believe AI is a strategic priority for their businesses today, while 75% of executives say that AI will allow them to move into new businesses and ventures. 

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