Saturday, May 03, 2008

Innovation in Many Places

On the hunt for innovation, I bumped into this article from the Edmonton Journal. I am excerpting a lot of it, but you can read more on the web site. I like the quote below by the Xerox president of its Innovation Group.

Emerging new technology products were shown this week at PARC of Xerox Corp. The centre has long been part of a Xerox corporate strategy of investing in long-range research. PARC incubates ideas that have the potential to become marketable products because they are dreamed up with partners from business, government and schools.

"We strongly believe whatever we think of will work," said Sophie Vandebroek, Xerox chief technology officer and president of Xerox Innovation Group.

Rare cell detector
Tucked away in the farthest PARC basement corner, biomedical research manager Dr. Richard Bruce places a microscope-like slide containing millions of white blood cells on a special scanner. The device shines a modified print laser blue light on cells that have been stained with fluorescent material. An attached scanner reads reflected light. Normal cells are a uniform solid colour. But abnormal cells reflect a different colour. The new, highly sensitive instruments can find a single rogue cancerous cell in a sample of more than 10 million cells in less than 30 minutes. The system potentially enables accelerated diagnosis and treatment of quickly spreading cancer cells. The detector is scheduled for tests at Stanford Hospital later this year.

The detector also has the potential to replace an invasive and sometimes hazardous method of testing body fluids in babies before birth known as amniocenteses. The new technology instead zeros in on embryo blood cells floating around in a mother's blood sample.

Erasable paper
Dr. Paul Smith, laboratory manager for the Xerox Research Centre in Missassauga, Ont., couldn't contain his excitement over results of PARC work that started as a Canadian project. The copying technology wizards are developing printable paper that wipes itself clean in 24 hours, or sooner if you decide to reuse it. The yellow base paper - coloured to distinguish itself from traditional, permanently printed paper - does not use ink. Smith said the specially coated paper produces dark tones when exposed to a certain kind of light the laser printer produces.
The effect fades away in 24 hours. The new variety of copier paper can be used up to 100 times, saving money and reducing office and household trash. Smith said a special hand-writing stylus is also in the works.

Solar concentrator
Developed with partner SolFocus, Inc., this is an array of clear plastic paraboliclike mirrors that miniaturizes solar panels. An array of the new type that is only the size of a large button can concentrate sunlight 500 times. The invention means potentially drastic reductions in the size of conventional solar panels and in the use of expensive silicon. It integrates the optical, thermal, and electrical aspects of solar panels to a single, flat, solid piece of glass. Scott Elrod, manager of the Clean Technology Program, expects this technology to cut the costs of traditional methods of harnessing sun energy in half.

Water purifier
Xerox's experience in handling powder-like toner material for its printers has led to a simple but effective method of separating solid particles from water. Particle-laden water is flushed through a spiral tube. As the material flows, centrifugal force separates solids from water. Elrod said water treatment plants can use this technology to remove solids from water and save time and space.