Villanova Innovation Update Day: the Morning Session

The 2nd Annual Villanova Innovation Update Day focused on scientists, technologists, and innovators who showcased emerging technologies that will change the markets and provide new insights into how we view our world.

Michael Tomczyk, an Innovator in Residence at ICE and Co-host of Innovation Update Day, began the day by looking at the notable innovations of 2015.  This year was a historic year for innovations from drones, driverless vehicles, hoverboards, NanoInnovation, humanoid robots, vaccines, and much more.  He stated that all innovations begin with very restricted functions and seem at first underpowered but are then refined and finally reach the point of being sold and purchased on mass markets. One powerful statement he said was that today’s acorns are tomorrow’s oaks; things that are currently in it’s infancy today will become tomorrow’s latest and greatest innovation.  There is always an opportunity to improve or optimize products or technologies through clever and ingenious ways to add value to the product.  One especially interesting product that became extremely popular this year were drones.  There are many companies currently trying to create drones but DJI, a Hong Kong based company, is the world’s largest drone company.  What is most intriguing about the company was that it was founded by a Hong Kong University student. It will soon be the first drone company to reach $1 billion and it has only scratched the surface of its capabilities since the drone only has a 30 minute battery life.  He also awarded the innovation of the year to the Epson Ecotank printer.  This printer costs under $400 and prints 2,000 copies per refill.  Not only is it cost-effective but it is high-quality as well.

Peter M. Hughes, Chief Technologist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, delivered the Keynote Address about innovation at NASA.  Before speaking about the innovations being created at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center and NASA he said that good fortune is the intersection of luck and preparedness.  This mindsight carries over to the innovative and mind-blowing work that he and his team of scientists are exploring and creating.  He named countless technologies like X-ray communication, 3D printing electronics, integrated phonotonics, quantum sensors, low density supersonic deaccelerator, and many more innovations that they are currently working on that will help for exploration and understanding of outer space but can also have real-world applications.  This includes their innovative work on the James Weber telescope which includes a new flight path that would be 1.6 million miles behind Earth.  He also spoke about how NASA is encouraging innovations among students at universities and throughout the world.  They are seeking innovative solutions to concepts that could change the possibilities of aerospace.  He said that the ultimate goal is to answer humanity’s biggest questions like what effect is mankind having on the Earth, how do we continue to survive, and how would we be able to live in space.

Dr. Hashem Ashrafliuon is the Director of Innovation in Robotics Research Laboratory and a professor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering at Villanova.  His presentation focused on the current status of robots now and in the future.  Robots operate similarly to the way that humans do.  They have to learn to answer questions of where am I and where do I want to go?  He explored the many applications of robots in education, industrial settings, autonomous vehicles, and medical robotics.  Robots can be used in education not only to assist children in learning about engineering but can also be used to act as teachers.  There were actually studies that showed that children learned better when being educated by a robot because it lacked emotions.  In addition, autonomous vehicles were shown to reduce accidents and traffic.  They are currently equipped with a steering wheel, accelerator and brake pedals, and a driver due to safety and ethical issues; he suspected that they should be on the market by 2020. One especially interesting innovation is a robotic exoskeleton that is currently being used to create super soldiers and to help rehabilitate patients. The exoskeleton would allow a solider to carry 200 pounds and run and are also are assisting paraplegics to walk. There are also settings where drones and robots to work together.  They could help to handle forest fires, hazardous material handling, and work on search and rescue missions.  He showcased student work done on unmanned surface and underwater vehicle lab.  The robot boats were able to autonomously and successfully navigate obstacles. His lab at Villanova is heterogeneous which means that they want to see how autonomous drones, boats, and ground vehicles could work together.  This has many applications for real-world problems.

These speakers shared one main value: an emphasis on innovation and the desire to constantly push the limits of our current realities. It is truly fascinating to see what the future holds in a world driven by these innovative ideas and products.