The Davos World Economic Forum is in session. We don’t cover high finance here, but have a look at the annual list of Technology Pioneers. Thirtyfour companies named this year, in three sectors: biotech, energy & environment, and IT. With some cross-over, naturally.
Having worked in pharma for a dozen years, the one that most caught my eye was a service called mPedigree, from Ghana. The industry has been agonising for years over detection of counterfeits, particularly in developing markets where managing the issue is hardest.
At one stage, RFID was seen as the solution with tagging at least down to the pack level. But mPedigree uses a simpler solution: a scratch panel, and a mobile phone. Scratch the panel on your dispensed drug, text the code to a well-known number (1393), and a response tells you if it’s genuine. The same service can be used at the pallet and pack level, so wholesalers and pharmacists can gain the same assurance.
1393 is being rolled out across an increasing number of countries, helped by the fact that the mobile phone companies are multinational in Africa. And the codes are one-time use, so they can’t be cloned. Go to the mPedigree site and there’s a link to an interview on BBC World Service radio.
This is a classically innovative idea. Smart use of established technology to solve a real and critical problem. And originating from the market where it’s needed, not from outside.
What else caught my eye? Actually not a lot that seems truly innovative.
In the biotech section there’s a Japanese service called Lifewatcher that looks interesting, but its own website is in untranslateable Japanese so I can’t tell you much. The Tech Pioneers list says it provides "unique real-time mobile solutions for preventing and managing lifestyle-related chronic diseases". But text messages to remind you to take medication have been around for a while.
In the energy section, GreenPeak offers mesh-network technology for sense and control applications, working by "energy harvesting". But there are other companies that do that. I didn’t see anything on power management to match, for example, a major Silicon Valley campus visited by Leading Edge Forum, on their 2007 Study Tour. Capitalising on an existing campus-wide 30,000 sensor network, the company can not only monitor but manage their power usage. In a crisis, they could say to Pacific Power “We can reduce our power consumption by 70%, and we will manage it ourselves”.
In the IT section, apart from mPedigree, there doesn’t seem to be anything startling. SpinVox, which can turn voice messages into text and email them to you, has been around for quite a while. Etsy provides a marketplace for “all things handmade”, but it’s just a sales portal with a focus. Nivio provides a Windows Desktop environment running in the cloud (presumably, for most users, accessed via a Windows Desktop running on a real PC somewhere …). Take a look, and see what you think.
• Technology Pioneers Programme, World Economic Forum, Davos 2009, with links to all the award recipients
• 2007 Study Tour report, Leading Edge Forum (available to subscribers only)