Electric car

A better approach to generating commercial returns from University Research

Recently, the Australian Financial Review ran an article about the CSIRO discussing why the people who pay for publicly-funded research should enjoy greater access to some of the tangible outcomes.

The author Adir Shiffman mentions that taxpayers essentially own intellectual property created by publicly funded research because taxpayers fund it. He goes on to suggest that a great way to increase the impact of these inventions would be to allow entrepreneurs access and use the intellectual property.

Adir also mentions that technology transfer people are difficult to deal with and I have my opinions in that space, but this is not the purpose of the article.

The purpose of this article is to provide an overview of how things are done then make a few suggestions that might increase the successful invention hit rate and also increase industry engagement which is minimal in Australia.

Normally a scientist would apply for research funding from a lab budget or grant. The funding is then used to look at some new phenomena, and if things go well then the technology transfer office may file a patent on any discovery or results and try to market it.

Marketing the invention might involve putting a brief summary up a webpage, presenting the results at some industry conference, trying to build a relationship between the scientists and industry through a series of events. All of this takes up lots of time and costs a lot of money. My understanding is few of these inventions get very far even when marketed using ‘entrepreneur and industry friendly’ schemes.

If you have funding and prefer more tangible research outcomes then there are a few things you can do before starting experiments to improve your odds of success.

First, you will want to identify a handful of companies in your industry with enough money. Yahoo! Finance can be used to identify publicly traded companies in your industry and determine how research-friendly they might be.

For example, if you are into electric cars Yahoo! Finance will tell you Tesla Motors (TSLA) “designs, develops, manufactures, and sells electric vehicles and electric vehicle powertrain components” and spends $232 million on research and development.

tesla model s photoPhoto by oskay

Next, it is useful to look at how Tesla might do things. Publicly-funded research often starts with a literature review, start yours by going to Google Patents and searching inassignee:”Tesla Motors, Inc.”

This will give you a good overview of Tesla processes and you might have a few ideas while reading them. Reading patents is also useful as someone needs to spend thousands of dollars just to file a patent while journal articles just need to get accepted.

Next, you will want to contact someone at the company. The front desk may not be good at following up and emails sent to generic email addresses may not get returned. Yahoo! Finance lists the names of key executives and Elon Musk is on LinkedIn.

If that doesn’t work there are a few other tricks. Make sure to keep things simple, a couple sentences asking to start a conversation on research into electric cars could get you a phone call, but remember to not disclose any ideas.

tesla model s photoPhoto by jurvetson

If you can get a meeting with a senior person in the R & D office, you might spend as much time as they will give talking about their biggest challenges and the areas they need to make breakthroughs.

This entire process might take an hour and if things go well after that you’ve got (1) a good idea of valuable research opportunities and (2) the attention of a key decision maker at a company that may partner with you or purchase intellectual property down the road.

Alternatively, one could continue to use current methods where most publicly-funded intellectual property gathers lots of dust, there is limited industry engagement, and after spending a pile of time and money you might get a phone call or meeting with someone who may not buy what you are selling.

A little bit of due diligence and spending more time on the problem rather than the technology in the early stages can pay dividends in the long run.



The week’s most interesting Tech Stories

Nasa puts Saturn Launchers up for sale

Dr Evil - Credit Austin Powers

Dr Evil – Credit Austin Powers babe

NASA has decided to put the historic Saturn Rocket Launchers up for sale. Megalomaniacs and world dominators can apply here http://www.nasa.gov/

It will be interesting to see if anyone actually has a spare desert island to put them on. But in all seriousness would it be better for a new space company to use the old units, or build new facilities? Has state of the art moved on? You would have to think NASA has learnt a lot in this time, but I guess in the world of big

The launchers have been in mothballs for some years and have had large quantities of parts removed and reused on newer programs.

Thunderbirds are go

Thunderbirds are go


Saturn Launcher in mothballs Credit NASA/Kim Shiflett

Saturn Launcher in mothballs Credit NASA/Kim Shiflett


Saturn Launcher on the way to launch Saturn V - Credit Nasa

Saturn Launcher on the way to launch Saturn V – Credit Nasa

The units are up for tender and whilst they have been cannibalising them they have left it intact for a commercial entity who wants to use this to launch a liquid fueled commercial rocket.

The question is, who is going to tow it?

Blade Electric Vehicle launches Pozible.com Campaign

Blade Electric Car Motor - Credit Blade Electric Cars & Pozible.com

Blade Electric Car Motor – Credit Blade Electric Cars & Pozible.com

Ross Blade has produced Electric cars for a few years but he now trying to ramp up production. The amazing thing about this is that he has managed to build 50 Electric cars without Government support. You can find the full history of his business here http://blade.id.au/

Ross is trying to get a workshop launched in North Sydney so that he can achieve his goal of producing 250 cars this year.

Ross Blade with one of his electric cars - Credit Pozible.com & Blade Electric Cars

Ross Blade with one of his electric cars – Credit Pozible.com & Blade Electric Cars

Whilst they are not that powerful and they are pretty expensive to buy if you power them on off peak electricity it costs about $3 per 100km. That is about 1/3 the cost of petrol. Probably perfect for Council cars and short commutes and as he increases volume no doubt he can drive unit costs down.

Blade Electric Car Pricing

Blade Electric Car Pricing

My dream is that you have something super sexy that runs off Solar Panels at your house so you could potentially run your car for nothing.

Personally I think Ross should consider retrofitting Mazda MX5s or Lotus Elise with a slightly more powerful version, 100kw would be enough to make them comparable to their original spec and make them sexy, more Tesla and less shopping trolley and more likely to get attention and free marketing (I am interested in this stuff and this is the first I had heard of it)

You can support his campaign here.


Makerbot announces 3D Digitizer

Makerbot Digitizer - Credit Makerbot.com

Makerbot Digitizer – Credit Makerbot.com

Hot on the heels of the announcement of the Makerbot 2X a bigger faster more accurate version of the original Makerbot Replicator comes the Makerbot Digitizer.

Makerbot 2X - Credit Makerbot.com

Makerbot 2X – Credit Makerbot.com

Often the application of 3D printers has been goofy little characters and things that are not particularly useful, primarily because building something useful requires a significant capability in 3D drawing software and some design and fabrication experience to know how to build things.

The Digitizer now makes it possible to put an object in and reproduce it on your Makerbot in a very short time. What it does is uses two lasers to build a point cloud of the object as it rotates, they capture 1000s of points which is then translated into a 3D model.

So if you want to reproduce a set of models or a part it can be done very quickly and easily. While the form factor is still relatively small on the printing side these are getting bigger and faster and using more sophisticated materials with smaller step sizes producing better finishes and great accuracy.

Makerbot is taking orders for $1400 www.makerbot.com

New Porsche Turbo S Released

This is nothing to do with Startups (except you get to buy one if you get a good exit) however I thought it was time for some great car porn. At $441,000 plus on road costs it will want to be a good exit 🙂

Porsche Turbo S Side - Credit Porsche Australia

Porsche Turbo S Side – Credit Porsche Australia

Porsche Turbo S Interior - Credit Porsche Australia

Porsche Turbo S Interior – Credit Porsche Australia

Autonomous Quadcopter uses a Smartphone to navigate and make decisions

Autonomous Quadcopter - Credit Vienna University of Technology

Autonomous Quadcopter – Credit Vienna University of Technology


A Student team from the Vienna University of Technology has designed and built a completely autonomous quadcopter. All the required computing power is provided by an off-the-shelf smartphone.

The quadcopter, which was developed at TU Vienna, can negotiate its way through a room completely on its own. It does not need any human interference, and in contrast to other models, it is not assisted by any external computer or controller. All the necessary computing power in on board; the image processing is done by a standard smartphone.


Autonomous Machines

Quadcopters have become a popular toy for academic research. The small aircraft, powered by four electric engines, are perfect for testing advanced feedback control systems, which make them fly steadily and safely. But beyond that, quadcopters are also used to test how machines can be made to perceive their environment and act autonomously.

The Virtual-Reality-Team at Vienna University of Technology has been working with visual data for many years. “Proceeding towards robotics and mounting a camera onto a quadcopter was just the logical next step for us”, says Hannes Kaufmann (Faculty of Informatics, TU Vienna). Usually, quadcopters are steered by humans or they send their data to a powerful earthbound computer, which then returns the necessary control signals. The Vienna quadcopter, however, does not need any external input.

A Smartphone as the Eyes and Brains

This is the Quadcopter-Team: Annette Mossel, Christoph Kaltenriner, Hannes Kaufmann, Michael Leichtfried (l.t.r.). Credit Vienna University of Technology

Quadcopter-Team: Annette Mossel, Christoph Kaltenriner, Hannes Kaufmann, Michael Leichtfried (l.t.r.). Credit Vienna University of Technology

The team decided not to buy an expensive commercial quadcopter-system, but instead to assemble a simple, cost-efficient quadcopter, using carefully selected components. The core element – and the most expensive part of the quadcopter – is a smartphone. Its camera provides the visual data and its processor acts as the control center. The quadcopter’s intelligence, which allows it to navigate, was coded in a smartphone-app.

ArduSat has launched a kickstarter campaign to allow you to run your own Space Experiments

Ardusat - Credit Kickstarter.com

Ardusat – Credit Kickstarter.com

Never thought about it before but it would be difficult to run space experiments without your own platform, I can’t imagine that Governments and major corporates would be that accommodating. Accordingly ArduSat has launched a kickstarter campaign to provide time on their Satellite for experimental purposes and so far has achieved $106,000 on a $35,000 goal with 670~ backers.

Libelium is a company that is using Ardusat to launch their Radiation Sensors and test them, you can see their story here http://www.libelium.com/libelium-sensors-will-reach-the-space-in-5-days/

Ardusat launches Libelium Sensor into Space - Credit http://www.libelium.com/

Ardusat launches Libelium Sensor into Space – Credit http://www.libelium.com/

Space is being democratised


Any stories I missed or if you have a story let me know in the comments or use the contact form


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