“We are now at a point in history where there is more invention and innovation happening worldwide than there has ever been before in the last thousand years of human history,” said Mike Steep, the executive director of the Stanford Engineering Center for Disruptive Technology and Digital Cities, during his keynote remarks at CRE.Converge 2022.
Steep, who has worked for some of the most prolific technology companies out there – Apple, Hewlett-Packard, Microsoft – for 35 years said he’s never seen anything like it.
“We are seeing a massive explosion in innovation crossing every major segment from robotics to converged hardware to behavioral technology that has never existed before,” he said.
But technology is advancing at a rate of which humans are just not capable of managing it. It’s difficult for businesses to understand the scope and breadth of technologies that exist and are being invented every day, and all the ways in which these technologies can converge and provide exponential insights and efficiencies for their business.
Steep shared an example of this challenge. The largest manufacturer of windows in the world, a billion-dollar European company, came to his Stanford team looking to collaborate on a new “smart window.”
“We said, ‘Do you have any idea what you really want to do? What’s the problem you’re trying to solve?” The company’s top three CTOs didn’t really have an answer. They didn’t know what technology was out there.
Steep said they sat down with the company and asked them if they’d be interested in being able to read the amount of energy loss in every single office location in an entire city, and then adjust that by changing the HVAC or increasing insulation or a combination of both.
A new type of enmeshed sensors (picture a hairnet) can be embedded in glass or metal or concrete and handle a range of temperature from 150 degrees Fahrenheit to 70 degrees below zero without interruption. It’s relatively transparent. It can also be programmed to count the number of occupants in a building or how efficient the lighting system is, or the security system. You could even look at the stress of the building and measure how much wear and tear there is, Steep said.
But how long does it actually take to develop that technology? A year? Five years?
Try two or three weeks. “In fact, we already have prototypes built in the lab,” Steep told the window company. He was met with absolute shock. In their company, in their environment, the average time to build a prototype is three years.
But you know the old adage: quality, speed or cost – you can’t have the best in all three, right?
Steep said installing the technology costs just 50 cents per square foot. “It’s not the material of sensors that cost money – it’s the managing of data,” he clarified.
The Stanford team helped direct the window company to some third-party vendors capable of analyzing the data collected, and even went as far as to suggest a business model for the window company – the smart window data analysis be a subscription service. “You charge for it and take a percentage,” Steep said.
This conversation with this one company can be repeated over and over and over again in every industry, Steep pointed out.
Overcoming whatever barriers to technology adoption exist – whether its legacy processes, stodgy board members, risk-averse staff – is paramount to making progress. Steep suggested that all organizations establish some bridge to Silicon Valley and/or his Stanford Engineering Center for Disruptive Technology and Digital Cities where they can stay abreast of all the exciting technology emerging at a breakneck pace.
“When we talk about integrated systems and all these things that are possible, the biggest problem isn’t that the technology can’t do what it’s supposed to do,” Steep said. “The biggest problem is figuring out how to get us to change our way of thinking.”