Tom Keighley

World's top innovators crowned at London ceremony

From augmented reality, to blood vessel technology: some of the world’s greatest innovators were recognised last night at The Economist Innovation Awards.

Bdaily was at 195 Piccadilly, the home of BAFTA where the winners were crowned at a black tie ceremony.

Eight categories were awarded across computing, energy and bioscience amongst others, and winners joined the company of people such as Mark Zuckerberg and Bill Gates in receiving The Economist accolade.

First to the stage, for pioneering innovation in mechanisms of blood vessel formation, Napoleone Ferrara collected the Bioscience Award. Mr Ferrara’s work has led to breakthrough drugs used to treat tumours and vision loss.

In the Computing and Telecommunications category, Jack Dangermond of the Environmental Systems Research Institute (ESRI), and John Hanke of Google were on hand to pick up the award for their use of geospatial data in software.

ESRI are the leading GIS software developers in the world, and Mr Dangermond said: “This is an emerging technology and me and my team have worked hard with our customers and users around the world to turn it into something that is a remarkable innovation, a footprint of human progress.”

Mr Hanke is founder of Keyhole, the company responsible for the product which would go on to become Google Earth. He has also led development at Google of its Google Maps and StreetView technologies.

Within the consumer products category, Min Kao, co-founder of portable GPS firm Garmin, was called up to collect the award.

Together with Gary Burrell, Min founded Garmin, a firm that successfully pioneered global positioning systems for the consumer market, including the automotive, aviation and leisure sectors.

Next on the award roster was Yet Ming Chiang of MIT for his work on lithium iron batteries, which extends their life and improves safety.

Mr Chiang founded A123 Systems in 2001, which despite impressive technological success, has since gone into Chapter 11.

However, Mr Chiang said: “The irony is not lost on me. At A123 we had multi-faceted success.

“If you think of the last 10 years as being the second generation of lithium iron batteries - the first being laptops and cell phones - and the second being large scale devices such as power tools, buses and electric vehicle - the market simply did not grow enough at a time that was critical to our business. In order to reduce manufacturing costs and increase efficiency, it was necessary to scale, and the market simply wasn’t there at that time.”

With absolute belief in his work, Mr Chiang has gone on to lead 24M Technologies, developing further battery technologies.

The evening’s No Boundaries award went to internet billionaire Elon Musk, founder of PayPal and electric car firm Tesla Motors, who now heads the space exploration outfit SpaceX.

Economist digital editor Tom Standage asked Mr Musk what linked his vast swathe of projects and interests, to which he replied: “It’s in terms of what I think will most impact the future of humanity. Different people would come up with different lists, but I think the three things that will most impact the future of humanity are sustainable energy, space exploration and the internet.”

Mr Musk’s latest innovation is a secretive transport technology which aims to transport people between LA and San Francisco in less than 30 minutes.

He added: “This is going to appeal to some people and frighten others, but it’s a cross between concorde and rail gun.”

An ambition to retire on Mars has fuelled Mr Musk’s space interests. He added that it would be “cool” to be born on Earth and die on Mars.

Next on the roster was Marc Benioff, CEO of salesforce.com, an innovator in web-hosted software products, known as software-as-a-service.

Mr Benioff was not able to attend but sent a video message, in which he said: “This is an incredible time in our industry, it’s a transformational time. I’ve never seen the level of innovation and creativity as I have today.

“I belong to a young CEO group in San Francisco. I’m by far the oldest, I just turned 48. Most of these CEO’s, like Drew Houston, CEO of Dropbox; Dick Costolo, CEO of Twitter; Mark Zuckerberg, when they get together around the table, it must be reminiscent of a time very much like the renaissance. I don’t see these CEOs, I see the great artists, poets and sculptors, creating this amazing new world.”

From Procter and Gamble, Philip Souter and Greg Allwood collected the Social and Economic Award for their efforts in developing a powder that cleanses dirty water.

A small sachet of the powder removes dirt and kills bacteria to provide safe drinking water, and has been distributed as non-profit venture across third world countries.

The evening’s final award went to Google, under the Corporate Innovation category. Tom Standage introduced the award, saying Google had not only dominated internet search, but had lead the way in online advertising, web-based email, online maps, real-time translation and mobile phone operating systems, as well as self-drive cars and “wearable computing.”

John Hanke was on hand once again to collect the award on the company’s behalf, and said: “As an entrepreneur, when Google acquired my company I really didn’t expect to stay there that long. But credit has to go to Sergey and Larry (Google co-founders Sergey Brin and Larry Page) for developing a company that continues to take big, risky bets.”

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