Sunday, March 15, 2009

Accelerating Robotic Development Needs an Innovation Action Plan

Thomas Kuczmarski suggested in two recent BusinessWeek articles a need for a Secretary of Innovation - a cabinet-level person to sharpen the focus on changes needed to stabilize and revive the nation's economy, and an innovation action plan to mobilize and coordinate all of our technology resources.  That presently unfilled position is called the U.S. Chief of Technology.  Perhaps the delay in choosing this key player in the Obama administration is because of the prevailing hunker-down mentality, or because they don't see the pressing need, or confuse the position with R&D and sci-fi.
Too many companies are choosing to hunker down, postpone investments in R&D, and avoid risk-taking until the market has stabilized.  The companies that continue to build an innovation culture and make modest investments to keep the innovation pipeline full will be the ones that enjoy a big competitive advantage a few years from now.
The process of innovation can have just as much to do with rebuilding a devastated economy as it does with rebuilding a product line.  It needs someone responsible for leveraging the talents, skills, technologies, and capabilities that we have as a country.
I think his seven-point plan has merit:
  1. Graduated tax credits for R&D investments
  2. Innovation booster grants
  3. Innovation awards
  4. National business incubators
  5. Innovation training
  6. Intellectual property auctions
  7. Innovation index fund
Innovation and robotics are buzzwords that are often misused.  Both words suggest enormous appeal and promise, yet both are also used to imply excessive research and long-lead hi-tech costs with associated developmental problems.

The business side of robotics is not invention; rather it is the result of research to identify needs, wants and problems and then the interdisciplinary turning of those issues into practical, useful, necessary products and services.  But the process desperately needs someone responsible for leveraging the talents, skills, technologies and capabilities that we have as a country.

The new Chief of Technology will help ensure that the full power of the innovation process will be used in the vital work of stabilizing the economy and for advancing technological change and innovation into the future.  He or she needs to be chosen and put to work right away.