Last week some of the most influential technologists, entrepreneurs, academics, innovators and business strategists in the world attended the RE.WORK technology summit in London. Their focus went far beyond simply showcasing new technology, choosing instead to bring it into a contextual spotlight: the real issues that we face today, and those we will face tomorrow.
Among the interesting tech unveiled are several that really stood out. UltraHaptics, a haptic feedback system, which can mimic the sensations of touch using ultrasound waves. By applying different frequencies, they can re-create different textures. Their aim is to make virtual reality touchable. While this would be invaluable to the entertainment industry, it could also be applied as collision detection in cars and to assist blind people in mapping out their surroundings.
A video of an autonomous robot swarm also caused a stir. It showed micro robots moving together as one body, without colliding, much like flocks of birds or swarms of insects do. In order to achieve this, each tiny robot is equipped with long range infra-red sensors allowing them to communicate with one another and avoid collision. The hope is to develop swarms of small, cheap (they only cost £25 each) and autonomous robots for use in mining and agriculture.
Sporting an impressive beard, Aubrey De Grey, a leading British stem cell scientist, announced that he didn’t see any reason why the menopause couldn’t be eliminated in thenext 20 years. It is one of the predicted advancements of his extensive work in life-extending stem cell therapy. He is famous for challenging the commonly held view ageing is inevitable, arguing instead that it is a disease and therefore curable. The kinder of his critics are calling De Grey over ambitious, but big business is standing up for him, and letting their money do the talking through investment.
The idea behind RE.WORK is to create a platform for the discussion on how emerging tech can be best used to sustain and advance humanity in the face of its biggest challenges. Just prior to the London Summit, the founder of RE.WORK, Nikita Johnson, told Wired :
‘There's lots of expertise in the room so we want to make the most of that. After talks we'll bring audiences together so everyone has the opportunity to share ideas - if someone's an expert in nanotechnology, how can they talk to someone in education or transport, or healthcare? It's about trying to find different uses for different technologies . . .’
RE.WORK is future focused. Their goal is to encourage innovators and entrepreneurs to consider the merit of innovation, not just in a business sense – i.e., how marketable or profitable it is – but how ‘disruptive’ it can be, in a positive to sense, to industry and society. It’s about allowing that meeting between someone with a great idea and someone who knows how to get great ideas off the ground.
A recent RIFT Research and Development client has done just that. A highly respected technical expert in stem cell storage and a radio engineer have joined forces to create a stunning new solution for identifying and tagging stem cells. When the final obstacles to development have been overcome it will be a truly disruptive technology, and there are already a queue of potential investors vying to buy into the business. The beginning stages required significant investment, but rather than give equity away the company have gained R&D tax credits with the help of RIFT, which has allowed them to keep their shareholding intact. Many start-up companies could follow this lead and benefit from tax relief or cash back for time and resources they have already invested in innovation. This will help pave the way for new problem solving and technological discoveries.
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