Thursday, March 20, 2008

New Technology for Energy Savings - Why Bangalore?

New technology innovation and adoption can sometimes happen faster in a developing economy - it has the economic support for investment in new infrastructure because current infrastructure is poor and/or expensive.
This topic came up a few weeks back, at a seminar I gave at Stanford about the economics of innovation. The example I used to make the point is for a technology I am intimately familiar with - the HPLabs "Smart" Data Center. It is a data center cooling technology that can cut down energy use by 40-50%. You would think HP would be debut this technology in an expensive place like Palo Alto, Right?- but no- HP has released it first in Bangalore, India - Why?
Because in Bangalore, just like in other big cities in India, with its poor infrastructure and intermittent power supply, you get data center up time of 24/7 by supplementing grid electricity with diesel burning generators - which is expensive - more so than grid electricity in PA. And so economically it makes more sense to refine/test it there. Additional benefits of course are emissions reduction etc.
So the lesson is - if you have great technology, and it does not seem economically feasible to innovate further in a developed economy, with its good, cheap, reliable infrastructure, try it in an emerging economy - there will be economic as well as environmental incentives, i.e. a double bottom line. For details -check out the Businessweek article.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Wage Peace: Submit Youtube video, win $250

One of my favourite courses at Stanford is around technologies for Peace. Here is an invitation from my colleague Adam Tolnay:

"I write to ask you to please spread the word on a contest we are running at the Persuasive Technology Lab. It would be amazing if person from the developing world would win!
Win $250 for identifying the best peace video on Youtube!
Sincerely, Adam"

deadline is march 31

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Energy from Tidal Waves: Gavin Newsom

San Francisco, California, Mayor Gavin Newsom has done it again - being controversial that is - his tidal energy project has lately been debated (or attacked) even by alternative energy supporters.

A while back (early 2006) Newsom announced that the City will explore the possibility of generating power from the tidal flow under the Golden Gate Bridge and launched a $150,000 feasibility study to examine the tidal energy project, which could generate up to 35 megawatts of power, according to the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) and the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission.

The issue is that early indicators point to less promising results and so of course many want to scrap the project.

To which Mr Newsom said something like - I heard this on NPR while driving so I paraphrase- "I understand the the arguments against it. I only want to hear the arguments for it because - somebody's gotta do it - and I'm gonna do it."

This is why you've gotta love Newsom - its not his looks or his gravel voice - its his convictions. And his long term thinking. Research is risky business but its rewards are proportionally great. To give up on a project at the first sign of an obstacle is short term thinking - and in the scheme of things - the investment in this project is modest. He has a goal of making SFO carbon neutral by 2020 (see video on second life) and I think it is a worthy goal. We should be leaders in this space not laggards.

I get his philosophy. At a speech Newsom gave to the Indian American community - he articulated why he loves San Francisco - he said the secret sauce that defines San Francisco is that it is a diverse city (39% born outside the US) where "Dreamers become doers".

So Mr. Treehugger analyst, I disagree with your advice to the Mayor - I do not agree that it is inappropriate use of money to invest in cutting edge research. I agree with Newsom -if we don't do it who will?

Thursday, March 13, 2008

The Tech Museum Awards - Technology Benefiting Humanity | Submit a Nomination

The Tech Museum Awards - Technology Benefiting Humanity Submit a Nomination
due March 24: Nominations and applications are evaluated according to the following criteria:
The technology application significantly improves the human condition in one of the five award areas: economic development, education, environment, equality, or health.
A serious problem or challenge with global significance is addressed by this use of technology.
The application of this technology, which may be either a new invention or an innovative use of an existing technology, makes a noteworthy contribution that surpasses previous or current solutions.
The technology application has the potential to serve as an inspiration or model for further innovation.
The technology application is in the field and has demonstrated a measurable benefit.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

India Billionaires: So why am I not ecstatic?

Forbes just released its list of billionaires and there are 4 (not 1 not 2.. but 4) Indians in the top 10 - at 4,5,6 and 8 we have Lakshmi Mittal, Mukesh and Anil Ambani and KP Singh. If you grew up in India like I did - where the only foreign coverage we saw was BBC pictures of starving children or worse stories of "Suttee" and "thuggery" this is great news- its about India "arriving", India "shining" etc. Not only that I am personally a beneficiary of their endeavors: I am thankful for my flat in Gurgaon, great phone connectivity everywhere in India and not to forget - that Reliance data card - slow as it is - that gives me internet access from anywhere, everywhere in India.

So why am I not ecstatic? Because India's dreams are not big enough. Because I can't help but think that India could do more- we are not living upto the innovation potential of the full billion people. Wouldn't it be great if Gurgaon had green buildings? Ones that wouldn't have to run Diesel generators but could still have power 24/7? Better infrastructure? Is there enough investment in new R&D suitable for India's climate? Like Solar? Wind?

Technology can create wealth - Bill Gates (and the rest) has proven that over and over again. How about now we employ technology that will also distribute the wealth instead of making the income gap larger - especially in India where a majority still lives on less than $4/day.

Monday, March 10, 2008

India Rail Story. Continued...get tickets with Mobile phones

A few months back when I was on my way to India, I made online reservations for a train journey in India sitting here in Palo Alto - something travel agents in India had a hard time doing. I wrote a blog on it. The point of the story, ofcourse, which many people missed - inferring from the comments, was how empowering the internet is but so many in India do not have internet access and are not expected to get it anytime soon.

Well here is the good news - my blog readers may have missed the point but the Indian Railways didn't (yes I take full credit for this development!). "In a rare example of action pre-empting intention, mobile rail ticketing had already been in use for several months before Railway Minister Lalu Prasad announced it as one of the highlights in his budget to modernize train reservations. The Indian Railway Catering and Tourism Corp Ltd (IRCTC), a division of Indian Railways which issues tickets to about 15 million passengers daily, launched IRCTCmobile (link to article) services to provide "cutting-edge technology" developed by C-SAM inc. IRCTCmobile, which is device and network agnostic, allows passengers to perform various services such as book tickets using credit and cash cards, view train schedules, check availability, get fares, perform inquiries and access many other associated information services through mobile phones. "

'"IRCTCmobile is a great example of how the most advanced mobile technology can be deployed in a country like India to benefit the masses, including people at the bottom of the pyramid," Pitroda said.

Given the size of the Indian Railways and the rapid growth of mobilephones in India, This stands to becomeone of the largest mobile phone applications in the world - benefiting all involved.

Give them technology!

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Can Text Messaging do Social Good? Ask NETWAS

Back in November 2007, in partnership with we launched a competition- to encourage text messaging for social good.

The idea was simple: more people have cell phones than internet so more people could innovate socially motivated phone system than an internet based system. So we invited NGOs from developing countries to submit a short proposal outlining how text messaging could make their job easier. At this time we're delighted to announce the winners of the inaugural nGOmobile competition. With over seventy entries from all corners of the globe, judging was a real challenge with the standard of entries incredibly high. Listen to the winners announcement on the BBC World Service here (MP3)

According to the Judges: "the sheer inventiveness of the submissions made judging the competition a real pleasure. We think we've chosen winners who combine creativity with the ability to deliver, and look forward to seeing how they progress" The top four are:

Entry name: Participatory rapid response forest management system
Organisation: Centre for Training and Integrated Research for ASAL Development Project Manager: Francis Kamau
Country: Kenya
Project summary: CETRAD is working with local communities to promote the protection and sustainable use of environmental resources. They plan to implement messaging services to help with reporting, field communications and to provide an early warning system to help combat poaching and illegal logging

Entry name: Ask NETWAS a water, sanitation and hygiene question and get an answer
Organisation: Network for Water and Sanitation
Project Manager: Cate Nimanya
Country: Uganda
Project summary: NETWAS plans to launch an SMS-based service for rural communities allowing them to ask a range of water-based questions on topics such as sanitation, hygiene, water harvesting, and water technologies

Entry name: SMS at the service of healthy forests and families and empowerment of women
Organisation: The Equilibrium Fund
Project Manager: Cecilia Sanchez Garduno
Country: Mexico
Project summary: This project seeks to help rural Central American and Mexican communities solve problems of deforestation, poverty, malnutrition, unemployment and the marginalisation of women using SMS to improve a range of communications and provide market data, training and advice

Entry name: Count to 5! Campaign
Organisation: Digital Development
Project Manager: Razi Nurullayev
Country: Azerbaijan
Project summary: This campaign will use text messaging to help grassroots and politically excluded people understand their human and legal rights, and to engage them further in the political process

Do check out details and pics on the ngoMobile site.
Many thanks to our sponsors. We will be doing this again and if you wish to sponsor in any way (laptops, phones, PR) we welcome your help