Saturday, June 1, 2013

Unconnected Moves Smartly Joined Together May Lead to Great Future

In mid summer 2012 the Technical University Dresden (TUD) obtained the prestigious title „Excellence University“ out of a years-long process in competition with other German universities. It happens to be the only one in the East-Germany countries (besides Berlin) and with good reasons so it seems.

The region around Dresden, Chemnitz, Freiberg, and in more general terms Saxony has a long lasting legacy of technical invention, technology-driven innovation, research stemming from a time when the early ore reserves were found, and new materials were starting to be used in the energy producing fields.

Rudolf Sigismund Blochmann who not only was one of the founding fathers of the TUD but had brought the German-version of the gaslighting to wide use in Germany as an efficient energy usage for street lighting (which can also nowadays be seen in Dresden in action; info via StadtWiki). Around Chemnitz and Freital there had been intensive coal deep-ground digging with all ajacent innovation which spread to new transport infrastructures, and other innovations that last till today on which to build on for the future.

DRESDEN-concept, the future concept of TUD around a synergetic university combining different diverse, and not always obviously connecting, fields like material science, semiconductors, arts, entrepreneurship, libraries, life sciences, and not least, nor last energy creation. The intent of this partnership of these institutions is to not only draw out the best of all involved partners ranging from Fraunhofer, Helmholtz, Leibniz and Max-Planck Institutes but to facilitate the power of arts, and sozio-science fields for tackling the „grand challenges“ ahead of us with effective, and efficient for education, and making use of this knowledge across boundaries of disciplines, generations, gender, and cultures.

One of these „grand challenges“, energy, which also is one of the main fields of a university of a quite contrary kind, as its curriculum changes every six months which holds it back to be acknowledged as a „real“ university, yet called Singularity University, drew in 250 researchers, scientists, and executives to two days on the River Elbe last week to discuss new ways to create energy in sustainable, and new ways.

Fraunhofer IWS, one of several Fraunhofer institutes based here in Dresden due to the strong technology-based community, and future-orientated wise moves of a handful of institute leaders, and politicians after the reunification to make effective use of the available resources in the region, was host of this conference.

The pulling force of the conference has been the Dresden-based „Dresden Innovation Center Energy Efficiency DIZE“, funded by the Fraunhofer Gesellschaft and the Free State of Saxony. Apart from scientific research, and economic aspects the center focuses on the creation of future scientists, and engineers in the broad field of energy across disciplinary boundaries.

More on the conference can be found at the conference website "Energy in Future" and on Twitter.

The topics of the threads reached from thermoelectrics, solar energy, photovoltaics, energy storage, mobility, fuel cells and energy efficiency, and offered a wide range of insight into an amazing field for „outsiders“, as well as sparking ground for future collaboration, and creation of projects on bringing technologies into practical use for the "insiders".

Besides providing direct benefit for members of the research institutes as well as their direct project partners in the form of meeting and exchanging ideas in condensed matter, coffee breaks enabled the conversation across boundaries. It could be learned that public transportation companies with tram networks, such as the Dresdner Verkehrsbetriebe AG that is currently testing hybrid-electric busses, can offer electrical energy storage of a kind that has been not yet really tapped in. For providing the electric energy for the tramways continuous current at high voltage is provided by transformer substations (spread around the network within the city). These transformer substations can be further used in the future as electric storage stations for electric cars, e-bikes, and alike – the infrastructure is there, now it is time for innovation, and business model creation to set this potential to effective work for society.

As the just announced stop of operations of Better Place (which filed for bankruptcy in Israel), a company focusing on battery swapping technologies for electrical cars with headquarters in Palo Alto, and first prototype markets in Denmark and Israel showed once more the difficulty that "good technologies"despite good intent, and visions in a world of "normal energy providing" can eventually take. It takes bold visions, and smart moves alongside when technology innovation is going to become striving business models that last for decades, or centuries into the future. For sure is only that the future is unclear, full of surprises, and that new ways to tackle the great challenges of humanity (energy, food, health, housing, education, etc.) of which energy is amongst the most fundamental ones, it takes courageous steps out of the research, and prototype world to make a fertile business out of it, and generate the money to further fuel the future research in these fields, and create lasting economic wealth.

What could demonstrate this challenge better than the (rather surprising) announcement of closing of the Collaborative Research Center 804 at TUD due to not relieved funding for this cross-disciplinary spanning project that reaches also on the impacts of technology implementation in society. Dresden, and its citizens have the ability not only to power up economic wealth, and understanding the dynamics behind it by using its technology-based engine, but combine it with its legacy in social sciences as well.

The newly put into operation of UNU-Flores (part of the United Nations University) at WTC Dresden in joint cooperation with TUD is focusing on the education around integrated resources management, and doesn't the described situation provide a chance of the future that could be no better?

Integrating the technology, engineering approach with entrepreneurial visionaries, and glueing both by learning to see, perceive and understand the underlying dynamics by establishing a new institution at the TUD that not only generates its "own funding" by enabling entrepreneurs (these can be very well be former PhD students, or graduate students as well as university personnel) to build their (even though small in the beginning) companies.

The VISION is there to set to work, and Dresden could not be a better place for what the founder of the field system dynamics, Jay W. Forrester, envisioned in his "System dynamics - the next fifty years" talk at the ISDC 2007 in Boston.

If a new cross-disciplinary institute focusing on system dynamics here in Dresden could be outcome from these rather unconnected looking events then a "small step today may lead to bold moves into the future" soon.

The Team of HTxA