I recently had the pleasure of taking part in an event attended by nearly 50 members of the media from eight European countries at our Analog Devices campus in Limerick, Ireland. During this special event, our executives informed and updated the journalists on a broad range of topics, including our corporate business strategy, technology road maps, and specific EMEA business strategies for the mobility, industrial and instrumentation markets. Over the coming weeks, ADI leaders will be posting a series of blogs highlighting the insights we shared at this event. Starting the series is my blog that looks at the distinction between invention and innovation.
ADI established a presence in Ireland more than 40 years ago, and last year expanded the Limerick site to include our new European Research and Development Center, a €50 million investment that brings together our R&D and manufacturing efforts. This pairing is very much in keeping with how ADI approaches innovation. As the renowned Austrian economist Joseph Schumpeter once observed, true innovation is about more than mere invention. Innovation demands a level of technical or organizational novelty and a means of efficient production.
What does it mean for ADI to apply an invention successfully? Sure, it requires technological expertise, but it also entails a deep understanding of industries and markets and strong customer relationships that provide us with insights into their most challenging system-level problems. I think our Limerick site is the living embodiment of this model.
Commitment to R&D
In sharing our innovation model with the media, I observed that ADI spends about $1.2 billion a year on R&D, and we do so across what we refer to as the three horizons of technology development. Horizon One relates to advancements in our core business, where we enable our signal chains and our broad sets of customers to access the highest-performing, lowest-power capabilities and products that are, over time, easier and easier to use. Horizon Two optimizes adjacent technology expertise which allows us to expand our capabilities to meet evolving customer needs.
Horizon Three focuses on future technologies that we ultimately bring into the fold, such as software-defined systems, AI in the edge and the cloud and advanced sensors. One way we are innovating for H3 opportunities is through Analog Garage, our technology incubator and accelerator whose mission is to find solutions to problems that might not be fully resolved for 10 to 15 years. Another way that we pursue H3 innovation is through a connection to universities and research institutions to leverage networks and talent that are outside of our four walls and grant us access to the best minds and creative thinking in the world.
Meeting the Evolving Needs of Security Systems
One compelling example of how we are applying innovation to help our customers become more successful relates to body scanners used in security applications. Most of us are familiar with these scanners as the devices we pass through at airport security checkpoints. While this use case has proven widely effective, the deployment of full-body scanners is still limited when it comes to schools, concert halls, sporting arenas and other venues where personal security is becoming increasingly important.
The reason is that these systems are very cumbersome to use. They don’t work well in crowded spaces, are too slow to process large numbers of people and they’re expensive. This rolls up into a signature challenge: How can we help our customers provide a higher level of security without negatively affecting their operations or inconveniencing patrons?
With that insight in mind, we knew that the millimeter wave RF technology underpinning these body scanners would have to be re-architected in a number of ways. We commissioned a group within Analog Garage to identify and address the series of problems that are impeding the widespread use of body scanners: how do we scan a crowd of people walking at a normal speed, instead of one person in a stationary position?; how can we reduce system size and cost?; what is the optimal level of integration and functional partitioning between the sensors and the electronics given the many different form factors in which scanners could be used?
The Analog Garage team also had to contend with the fact that rules regulating RF vary from country to country, which meant that they needed to ensure the sensing technology was flexible enough to accommodate a variety of frequencies, sensor positions, power levels, etc.
Our team in the Garage spent about 18 months understanding these problems, after which we were able to transfer the concepts into our business units and technology groups for product development. This also opened doors to our customers, including developing a prototype with a large European company specializing in electromagnetic and RF inspection systems.
Managing Greenhouse Emissions in the Cloud
Another, less intuitive effort we have been pursuing relates to the reduction of carbon emissions in commercial office space. Buildings account for nearly one-third of all greenhouse gases worldwide. Beringar, a U.K. real estate firm, was interested in adapting AI and machine learning to more efficiently manage building resources.
We began working with them nearly three years ago based on their desire to better understand where and how many people were in a given building at different times of the day and how well the building was utilized. This included measuring energy usage, and environmental factors such as noise, light levels, temperature and air quality.
With this data in hand, Beringar could make decisions about how to advise a tenant to better use their space and manage lighting, HVAC and other building control systems. ADI is providing the underlying technology that’s sensing and processing this information. And we’re respecting individual privacy by processing and storing images, audio and video at the edge, without sending it to the cloud.
Today, Beringar is engaging with their tenants in technology trials. At the same time, we’re working with them in areas adjacent to environmental monitoring and people counting by helping them think about how buildings can be run autonomously with an even lighter footprint from management, whether it’s self-diagnostics, self-operations or self-maintenance.
Insight to Innovation
Public safety and smart buildings are just two of several trends we explored with the media in Limerick that showcased the differences between invention and innovation. That expertise is grounded not only in our technology expertise, but in our knowledge of the markets and industries we serve, the relationships we have with our customers and the visibility we have into their most challenging system-level problems. This allows us to help them convert raw information into measured information that leads to cleaner, greener, safer and more successful outcomes.
Watch the complete video of the “Insight to Innovation” presentation I gave in Limerick here.
Our next "ADI Press Day in Limerick" post will come from Kevin Carlin, Vice President of our Condition-based Monitoring Business Unit. Kevin will discuss how factory automation and Industry 4.0 are reshaping the manufacturing industry.