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Space Health Innovation Challenge: questions on innovation start the final day

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The final day of the Space Health Innovation Challenge started off slowly as many teams came in late after a long night of innovation. Tired participants re-energized with a morning “astronaut exercise” program of stretching and strength training. After sitting for two days, the break was welcome. Teams then went back to finalizing their presentations for the afternoon competition.

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Fred Trotter and Brian Lang reported that the event has met the organizers’ objectives. They have been able to bring together a diverse group of talented innovators with a broad range of expertise. New out-of-the box thinking and great cross pollination has been on-going. Participants are engaged and enjoying their experience. Even if no intellectual property comes directly from bringing together this talented group of natural problem solvers for the event, the contacts and broadened thinking will be valuable. Even within innovation community, specialization often makes application of good ideas particularly difficult. The team working on the SMMID (Space Multi-Purpose Medical Imaging Device) discovered that they lacked technical expertise for developing a key part of an optical imaging device, the actual lens.

In the sustainability community, we often hear about the widening economic divide between the rich and the dwindling middle class. The current Russian oligarchy is a cautionary tale of where such a trend might end. Historically, there has also been a lot of concern about the digital divide between the poor, who lack basic access to computer and internet technologies, and the middle classes who own and use such tools on a daily basis. A discussion with Chris Vaukin of Evermed EMR solutions suggests that in the area of digital technologies, these liberal concerns have totally deflected attention from the real underlying trends. This has been viewed as an economic equity issue. However, inner city schools and public libraries how offer more new digital resources than hard copy books. The cost of web-enabled cellular technologies has dropped to the point that minimum wage workers now own the devices.

However, access to commercialized cutting edge technologies is less limited by economic factors than by psychological reluctance to embrace the modern rate of change. Western bureaucracies such as NASA have processes and procedures in position to maintain existing systems and technologies in place long beyond their useful shelf lives. Although modernizing technology in a large organization is often thought of as cost prohibitive, accurate comparisons with the escalating costs of maintaining aging technologies are seldom provided. In the general public, we are rapidly seeing a widening divide between those who are perfectly content with the technologies they have been using for years and a group of innovators and early adapters that are continually engaged in creating and using the next new thing. The world may be overflowing with better mouse traps, but few individuals or organizations actually have the capacity to make practical use of the latest technologies.

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