First look at Research and Innovation in India


Happy Labor Day to all my loved ones at home in the US. Here in India, there was no such rest for the weary. The stream of incessant honking and motion begins at 4 in the morning and hardly settles until midnight.

On Monday we got to take our first plunge into business in India with a visit to the General Electric John F. Welch Technology Center, a $175 million complex dedicated to GE's global research projects across its eight primary business units.

The complex itself was impressive, and the people it housed, even more so: here there are 2000 research engineers and scientists, two-thirds of which have PhDs. Together they have produced over 3600 US patents and leveraged research technology to drive billions of dollars of revenue across GE's business units.

Our group was privileged to see GE's materials research and materials characterization lab along with their laser technology unit. Here, scientists study, model, and synthesize the composite metals that go into the world's most impressive turbine engines. The name of this game is all about developing novel materials that operate at high stress and heat, the main environment for airplane engines.

The laser unit worked on technologies that will characterize emissions from power plants all over the world. Pardon my butchering, but in its simplest form, a laser is passed through the gas coming off an emissions tower. The light from the laser is captured after its passed through the gas and the emissions concentrations of the gases can be discovered at a very precise level.

GE's team is working on increasing the resolution of these measurements. From a business perspective, this makes for an interesting case as GE also is one of the world's biggest power plant manufacturers. They make the plants... and they also make the technologies that help improve emissions and meet US regulations set by the EPA. The laser system being built is synced with an ammonia injection technology that helps maintain the emissions levels of harmful greenhouse gases, such as nitrous oxide, at the precise level set by the EPA. So instead of building more efficient power plants, GE has an invested interest in building profitable technologies that will keep emissions at the exact level set by the EPA -- technologies that must be bought by utility companies all over the US and the world. I wouldn't be surprised to see GE lobbying for stricter environmental standards under the EPA... its good business sense from the perspective of the technologies they offer.

Tomorrow we head to InfoSys and Embrace, the latter of which is a Stanford Design for Extreme Affordability founded venture.