science to profits

Finding the killer app for that hot technology

Especially for the vast reservoir of cutting edge technology developed in places like the US national laboratories, a big challenge is often figuring out creative new “killer applications” for a technology, originally developed for non-commercial applications (eg military, space, etc). This post is about some recent success we had at the Acceleration Co-op in this area.

One of the Acceleration Co-op’s most successful case studies to date was in this area: leveraging our crowd of industry and application experts to brainstorm some potential “killer applications” for a technology developed at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratories (LLNL). It seems to me there must be others out there who could benefit from this type of interaction, and this post is a very brief case study. If you want to know more, sign up, or contact Acceleration Co-op.

If you are active at the interface between technical advances and business creation, you will recognize this situation. The technologist (or tech transfer person) gives a lengthy presentation all about some “hot new technical advance”. Sometimes it seems incredibly cool, and you think “that must be good for something. I wonder what the killer application is?” Unfortunately, most of the time the speaker does not have any very concrete understanding of exactly what that killer app. might be.

I have found that, if the technology relates to one of the industry verticals in which I have years of accumulated scar tissue, I not infrequently can immediately throw out some pretty relevant ideas. And further more, I often know all about prior failed attempts to solve some real customer need, and thus can outline just what type of performance might be necessary for a hot new technology to “meet the customer need” better than today’s alternatives. But that is only in “my” fields of expertise.

The idea is pretty simple. Why not get a collection of industry experts whose battle scars cover a broad range of applications, expose them to some new technologies in a systematic way so they can clearly understand the strengths and weaknesses and comparable advantage, and let them brainstorm together to come up with killer applications?

A few months ago, the tech transfer team at LLNL launched a thread inside the Acceleration Co-op in which they described in some detail a technology portfolio they had developed. This was all publicly available information, and it focused on a portfolio of technology in the field of Ultrawideband radar. This is pretty cool technology that lets you do quite a range of things, including applications like looking at images of people/things on the other side of a wall. You can imagine what it might have been developed for originally. But the LLNL team would like to find people/companies that want to develop commercial products based on this technology portfolio.

The initial discussion was about several potential applications the LLNL team knew of, and then they opened up the dialog with a request for new killer applications and / or more detailed definition of specific application niches.

The initial phase of the brainstorming was really a series of back and forth question and answers between various “experts” and LLNL. Typically these related to exact details about performance and potential limitations. Can it see through metal? How far can it see through dirt? Etc etc.

Then we got the first set of application ideas. These were typically ideas from one expert at a time. And they focused on ideas from within that person’s prior experience. So there was an idea for a communication application from one expert. And another idea for a medical device application from a second expert.

These ideas were valuable and interesting in their own right. But then the discussion entered a new realm. The experts started combining aspects of each other’s ideas. We got a product concept that involved both communication and imaging and filled a need in the medical device industry. We got an idea that combined communications and a fire department unmet need. And so on.

I came away feeling this is a powerful way to generate new application ideas. And remember. These are ideas from people deeply steeped in specific industries. So they take into account a vast array of background about how things operate today, how customers and industries work and so on.

Now this does not mean the ideas are flawless of course. Or even that they are good. Time will tell. But I think this “expert, cross disciplinary brainstorming” is a way to generate new killer applications that are far more likely to be real, than if the ideas just came from people with no prior understanding of the customers and applications.

I encourage anyone out there who has a technology in search of an application to consider trying this out.

And, before anyone comments to this effect, … Yes. I agree that ideas from people with no prior knowledge of a field are also valuable because they are more likely to think out of the box. Of course, in this scenario you get the best of both worlds. People from other disciplines who think out of the box, interacting with people with extensive domain expertise who can ground the discussion in reality and quickly identify potential “issues”.

Look forward to any comments/questions.

Post reprinted with permission from Acceleration Co-op.





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