A hearty discussion during the Looking Forward session at Con.Verge 2016, with Alexandre Godin of Airbus and Miguel San Martin of NASA, brought to light  the future of technology the world is waiting to see, and how teamwork and right talent are  important to accomplish innovation.

Approach to Innovation

Exploring emerging technologies with the trends that bring them in, should be a fitness exercise for organizations. Organizations should regularly assess what  technologies will bring value to their business strategy, but how would  organizations go about that? During the session, Gordon mentioned that Airbus believes in building prototypes first.  They set the technology they find interesting and start integrating the prototype to experiment, with the existing model and analyze if it will bring value to the business unit. If successful, they plan for its long term implementation.

When talking about how does innovation occur at NASA, Miguel San Martin mentioned  that working on a prototype or a solution as an answer to a problem, should be a continuous quest.  “One never knows when the moment of inspiration for the innovation will happen”. And most of the time, it’s the need which drives the innovation. For example, at  NASA and the Rover vehicle landing on Mars, was an idea conceptualized by the engineering team who figured out and brought certain instruments to make the scientists’ idea a reality.

Innovation’s first approach can be ‘build to discover’. While building functional prototypes, people go through trials and testing, learning through the process, adding value to the company as well as  evolving as individuals. The trial and testing path might not be perfect, but it is still something to work towards the right direction that might trigger various other useful thoughts and ideas.

Applying Emerging Technologies in Collaboration

Speaking of innovative steps ahead, NASA is in the process of building a space rocket that will take astronauts beyond earth orbit, to Mars with help of the private sector. The next mission is to build a robotic shuttle to bring a boulder from asteroid and put it on the lunar orbit for astronauts to visit, and make a provisional  ground to help astronauts access land and explore beyond earth voyage. This is not the first time NASA has collaborated with the private sector, the vehicle that put the man on moon was built by the private sector. Private companies help NASA with servicing the International Space Station (ISS), launching satellites, etc., services provided by SpaceX.  There are several benefits to working with the private sector, e.g., it leads to reduce expenses, efficient product development systems, cost efficiency, and decreased time  to build capabilities. Airbus is looking into Augmented Reality, and has already implemented the headsets of pilots with algorithmic assessments, and tablets with application for quality check of their products, as AR feeds the information into the headset of a worker. Organizations like Microsoft and Google are launching new platforms,  Airbus is getting ready to adopt said platforms and benefit of their value. Airbus utilizes these third party platforms for prototyping and testing. Airbus partnered with emodule which display in 3D and in real time the workparts that the employees are designing in Katia and using VR headsets like Oculus rift or HTC vive. The team can visualize how the workparts will look in reality on their own computers when finished, rather than spending money on expensive VR rooms. Thus saving on short term development cycles.

Short term development cycle is starting to appear in NASA to co-generate codes which are quite monotonous to rewrite, and tools to check softwares and processes.This is also a good example of sustainable coding. Even, Airbus reduces iterative processes which do not add value to the organization, consequently, reducing on energy and investment wastage.

Breaking the Silos and Tapping the Right Talent

You can  foster a culture of innovation in organizations through continuous team building, knowledge sharing of the disruptive technologies, and acclimating  the employees with the changes taking place within the organization. To break the silos, organizations can put together interdisciplinary research to create a team to lead a certain phase of a project. By providing this setting the perfect environment for socialization, teamwork, and flow of information is created  thus new ideas start taking shape while collaborating to develop a new solution model.  Similar patterns can be used for other phases of a project.

Organizations need to  be cautious when recruiting talent. A recruiting approach used by Airbus is to have the human resource team currently working on the project, help find the right people who will be a good fit for the work being done by Airbus.  The idea behind this strategy is that the team knows and understands the type of soft skills and competencies required for each project. Therefore, finding the people who will identify with the innovative culture of the company is key to the success of the projects.

What do we Hope to Achieve in the Future?

For certain manufacturing companies that produce and assemble  parts in different locations infrastructure can present a constraint. With disruptive technologies ahead, these assembling processes can be controlled and optimized, to produce relevant parts at relevant sites. If  manufacturing companies can hope to streamline the assembling processes in their respective industries then their efficiency would be optimized as a result. For example, NASA dreams of seeing humans walking on Mars, and testing samples of the planet through proper observation..

Miguel Martin from NASA gave a philanthropic angle to NASA’s achievements. He concluded by saying, that science has united people from all over the world. For the rover Mars landing, scientists from all over the world came together to work, and parts from different regions were brought to make the Mars landing a success. Technically the love for science has united so many people together, of different religion, ethnicity and nation.

You can watch the entire conversation here:

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