The allure of the ‘data is the new oil’ analogy

The commodities market is no stranger to data; a quick Google search will lead to streams of data showing price fluctuations and percentage deltas. Oil is back up to $70 a barrel and lithium is riding high on the projected growth of batteries and electric vehicles. One thing, however, that is not publicly traded on the commodities market, is data itself. A myriad of recent articles have hailed data as the new oil- the most valuable commodity over the last century. However, while the comparison of data and oil has some use, to label data as a commodity like oil is a misnomer.

The comparison is an attractive one. Data is seen as the fuel for our modern information economy. It is extracted in a raw and crude form and refined to produce something of real value. Yet, the analogy is overly simple and ignores some key differences. It is important that these distinctions are drawn to enable us to think about data and its value in the right way.

The data/oil/commodity analogy

For those of you who haven’t seen Billy Rey Valentine being condescendingly explained the commodities market in Trading Places, it’s probably good to start with a quick definition. Commodities are basic goods and raw materials that are extracted, exchanged and refined. They are agricultural products, coffee beans, gold, oil and of course frozen orange juice. As the alluring narrative goes, data too is mined and refined.

But, data lacks what economists call fungibility: the property of a good or a commodity whose individual units are essentially interchangeable. If I buy electricity from E.ON or EDF, I still expect both sets of kWhs to keep the lights on. In this case, crude oil is extracted, refined and barrelled for use in power generation and the value is the generation of power which is uniform in its output. That barrel of oil had the same teleological journey as the next one.

Data, on the other hand, is differentiated by type and quality. More importantly, the value of data comes from the insight and information one can extract from its raw form; these insights are highly subjective, largely influenced by methodology of analysis and therefore differ wildly through interpretation. Cambridge Analytica had access to a similar ‘barrel’ of data as everyone else. What they did with that barrel, the insights they drew, and their capitalisation of its value set it apart from others.

Another difference in the analogy is that once commodities are used, they often can’t be used again.  Data on the other hand is not a finite resource. It can be generated, used, reused and reinterpreted. Data can be stored and the accumulation of it is highly sought after in the modern information economy. Even when companies go bankrupt and assets get stripped, databases are often considered the most valuable assets. For example, when Caesar’s Entertainment- a gambling giant that pioneered its “Total Rewards” loyalty program- filed for bankruptcy, its most valuable asset was deemed to be this customer service database valued at $1 billion. No wonder companies are keen to get you to reply their GDPR consent emails!

So, as we have explored above, there are real limitations to the data/oil/commodity analogy. But why does it persevere to be alluring? The strength of the data/oil/commodity analogy lies in the fact that data is a valuable asset that is revolutionising business models and driving technological innovation. The ability to collect data and valorise its raw form into insight and information is the fuel of lucrative new businesses and innovative new models—much like oil was at the turn of the last century.

 

Data’s use

Of course, when people think about data it is the tech giants of the modern world such as Facebook, Google and Amazon that come up first. Although Facebook was slightly dented by recent events following the Cambridge Analytica revelations, data still reigns supreme. Google’s recent demonstration of their AI Assistant had people simultaneously in awe and shock at the pace of development of natural language processing and artificial intelligence.

It is not just in Silicon Valley and with internet companies where data is revered; industrial giants and deep-tech early stage companies alike are waking up to the strategic value of data and information. The two largest industrial giants, Siemens and GE are both preparing for the future of industry, where data and the services it can enable will form a key part of corporate strategy. Industrial behemoths like these are increasingly moving towards collecting data and utilising it to improve their ongoing customer relationships and open up new value-added services. This transition will lead to changing business models- a process already under way. Rather than industrial customers buying machinery (products) and maintenance contracts, the likes of Siemens and GE utilise data to provide a continued and long-term service to their customers. Contracts are no longer about just selling products, but delivering ongoing solutions that rely on data. It is an extension of Rolls Royce’s “Power by the Hour” concept developed- well, trademarked in fact- in the 1960s.

Data is spawning innovative technologies from the obvious smart algorithms to engineered hard technologies such as hydro-powered turbines to power smart water networks, novel approaches to asset monitoring and innovative ways to harvest energy to power the sensors that underpin these. Technologies span from smart approaches to data collection and methods to power sensors through to intelligent methods of analysis. The ability, appetite and vision to adopt these new technologies and develop models that the resultant data/information can enable, will lead to winners and losers across different industries. Data isn’t only the fuel of companies like Amazon and Google; it is a lucrative asset that will prove increasingly valuable industries such as energy, manufacturing and farming (to name just a few).

Conclusion

Data, then, can’t be called a commodity and it differs in comparison to sticky, black crude. It is an asset whereby its value stems from the interpretation and transformation of data into information. This information is an important component of our modern economy and will drive strategic diversification in some industries and kill of players who don’t move fast enough with it. Like oil was at the turn of the 20th century, data is a valuable asset that is changing the way our economy operates. It is no wonder that the reformist Saudi Prince, Muhammad bin Salman, pledged $45 billion to SoftBank’s Vision Fund whose focus is on the internet of things, robotics, AI and ride hailing.

Air pollution: a public health concern

Cycling home over Waterloo bridge a couple of weeks ago I was surprised by my breathlessness and coughing fit that ensued. At first I thought it was a testament to my fitness levels, but turning on the news that night my concern grew from its initial trivial and personal worry.

The cause of all this, as I am sure you have all been reading about, was the unprecedented levels of air pollution which set upon the capital earlier this month.

london smog

Some claimed it was a result of the weather: low wind and high air pressure. While weather contributes to high air pollution episodes, this isn’t an issue to be dismissed.

The UK has broken EU air quality regulations every year since 2010.[1] We often complain about China’s level of pollutants and smog which engulfs its cities. Well, on several occasions between 17th and 24th January, air quality was worse in the UK capital than in Beijing. It is estimated that air pollution causes almost half a million premature deaths in Europe alone.[2]

Hopefully my aggregation of recent news facts should convince you that this is a serious issue.

Indeed, more needs to be done on the international stage with stricter enforcement of legislation. Coming down hard on car companies involved in recent emissions scandals is a good start. Governments also need to be held accountable to ensure they stay under legal air pollution limits.

These reactive punishments will hopefully deter such practices in the future. However, to effectively combat air pollution a proactive policy is necessary; a policy at a political and institutional level but also at a personal one.

In a recent discussion about a circuit-level electricity monitoring technology we are working with, part of its value was neatly summed up by the simple sentence: “you can’t make decisions with your eyes closed.” The same sentence applies here too. A range of air quality sensors and geo-mapping technologies are being utilised to understand where and when pollution is at its worse.

This data alone, though, is not the complete solution to combating air pollution and technology will play a significant role in combating and limiting air pollution in our cities. Chemists and physicists are applying smart technologies to remove toxins from the air. For example, Metal Organic Frameworks, a class of porous nanomaterials, could be used to adsorb certain gasses from the atmosphere or to scrub waste gasses from industrial processes. These porous nanomaterials could also be utilised to make viable alternative fuel sources for transport e.g. Natural Gas Vehicles.

On the topic of transport and vehicles, the proliferation and uptake of battery technology will be significant over the next few years. Cars contribute greatly to the pollutants in the air, and advanced battery technology will enable Electric Vehicles viable for the mass market. Batteries will also be hugely significant in developing  sustainable grid infrastructure, unlocking flexibility in consumption and generation assets.

Air quality is a major public health concern. These technologies will play an important role in reducing the amount of pollutants in the atmosphere.

[1] http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/london-sets-modern-pollution-record-air-quality-sadiq-khan-a7550961.html

[2] http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-38078488

Blockchain beyond Bitcoin

Everyone has heard of Bitcoin, the digital currency which is created and held electronically and most have heard of blockchain, the technology behind it. However, blockchain shouldn’t be confined solely to cryptocurrency and payments; it enables value to be transferred through a digitised system which cultivates trust.

What is blockchain?

The technology is most commonly understood through the paradigm of currency and payments, which stems from its relationship to Bitcoin. While it is not the only application for blockchain, its cryptocurrency genesis is probably the best place to start to get your head around what blockchain is and how it works.

Put simply, it is a distributed ledger that records ownership through a shared digital registry. A record in the chain can only be changed if the majority of those involved agree to the change, thus creating a new block in the chain whilst maintaining a record of all previous blocks. It’s safe, confidential and verifiable.

In the world of payments and transactions, it means they can happen faster (by removing the need for a central ledger such as The Bank of England) and more securely.

 

BlockchainBlockchain 2

 

Indeed, the technology has the potential to disrupt the banking industry which is fully aware of the threat (and opportunity) this presents. Santander’s Innoventures predicts that block chain technologies “could reduce banks’ infrastructure costs […] by between $15-20 billion per annum by 2022.”[1] It is no wonder that the Bank of England and major global banks like JP Morgan, Santander and Barclays are investing time and money into blockchain technology.

However, the value of this technology extends far beyond Bitcoin and payments. A recent news article states that blockchain is a ‘machine for creating trust.’[2] Although trust is a key component of blockchain’s value, the verb ‘create’ is a misnomer. Rather than create trust, it decentralises it. Blockchain deconstructs the layers which exist within traditional systems where trust is a core function.

Payments are an obvious example of where blockchain has the potential to remove the need for centralised institutions authorising, verifying and acting as a trust arbiter. To focus on finance and crypto currencies, however, is to severely limit the true potential of blockchain.

The technology’s opportunity to disrupt lies in this decentralisation of trust and the digital transfer of assets and value it enables.

 

Blockchain outside of financial services

Before investing all of your savings in blockchain, do take note that some of these promised game-changing capabilities may never come to fruition, and, where they do, it could be a slow process. Nonetheless, it is a technology with a lot of promise and the potential to upheave traditional business models and create new ones.

Government institutions and the public digital databases they hold can operate more efficiently and securely with the use of blockchain technology. Land registries are a commonly cited application of blockchain being used to change how public databases are stored and updated. Sweden, for example, has recently launched a trial land registry system based on the technology, where real estate transactions are verified by blockchain. It authenticates contracts and securely stores the information.

Admittedly, a digital database confirming property ownership may not appear the most exciting thing from a UK perspective, but in countries such as India, Greece and Honduras, where land ownership disputes are commonplace, blockchain has the potential to transform legal ecosystems. The technology has the potential to be applied to electronic voting, tax returns, business registers, e-passports and to prove Intellectual Property ownership.

Beyond this, blockchain’s use to authenticate and authorise is resulting in a number of innovative companies utilising it as an anti-counterfeiting technology. It is being used to verify the provenance of fine art, authenticate high-end luxury goods and track supply chains. One start-up based in London, BlockVerify has focussed on using blockchain as an anti-counterfeiting technology and is gaining significant interest from the pharmaceutical world for its secure tracking of drug supply chains.

Where blockchain really seems interesting is when it is tied to those 4 words: the Internet of Things. Blockchain could become an integral component of virtual power plants, smart cities and device communication. A recent report by IBM entitled ‘Device Democracy’ sums up its power to save the future of the Internet of Things:

“Devices are empowered to autonomously execute digital contracts such as agreements, payments and barters with peer devices by searching for their own software updates, verifying trustworthiness with peers, and paying for and exchanging resources and services. This allows them to function as self-maintaining, self-servicing devices.”[3]

Devices could be connected to service providers utilising blockchain and following pre-configured smart contracts. Your smart fridge, for example, could automatically arrange a delivery from your supermarket when you are running low on milk and communicate the transaction automatically with your bank!

While blockchain technology is in its nascent stages of development, large companies are waking up to its value. RWE, the German power company, has partnered with a blockchain start-up to develop proof-of-concepts utilising the technology to lower expenses related to energy transmission. One interesting application explored in this partnership is blockchain-based smart contracts to authenticate billing for electric vehicle charging. The micro transactions blockchain enables, means that rather than pay for the number of hours at a docking station, the exact amount of electricity used can be charged.

Indeed, blockchain will be utilised as an important tool in our changing energy eco-system. Already there are examples of peer to peer grid balancing using blockchain. There are enterprises using blockchain to make pay-as-you-go solar in the developing world faster and more secure. The possibilities of blockchain are seemingly endless.

Up until now, blockchain has been disrupting the world of financial services.

It has the potential to do much, much more.

Sources

http://www-01.ibm.com/common/ssi/cgi-bin/ssialias?subtype=XB&infotype=PM&appname=GBSE_GB_TI_USEN&htmlfid=GBE03620USEN&attachment=GBE03620USEN.PDF

http://santanderinnoventures.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/06/The-Fintech-2-0-Paper.pdf

http://www.economist.com/news/finance-and-economics/21705831-new-technologies-will-make-society-richer-cultivating-trust-believing-seeing

https://www.evry.com/globalassets/insight/bank2020/bank-2020—blockchain-powering-the-internet-of-value—whitepaper.pdf

http://www.economist.com/news/leaders/21677198-technology-behind-bitcoin-could-transform-how-economy-works-trust-machine

http://www.technologist.eu/blockchain-a-technology-on-the-verge-of-revolutionising-society/

http://www.economist.com/news/finance-and-economics/21695068-distributed-ledgers-are-future-their-advent-will-be-slow-hype-springs

http://www.economist.com/news/finance-and-economics/21695068-distributed-ledgers-are-future-their-advent-will-be-slow-hype-springs

http://gridsingularity.com/#/

https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/blockchain-cryptoeconomics-disintermediation-trust-akmeemana-14-000-

http://www.twobirds.com/en/news/articles/2016/uk/blockchain-2-0–smart-contracts-and-challenges

http://www.coindesk.com/blockchain-innovation-trust-money/

http://www.bankofengland.co.uk/markets/Pages/paymentsystem/default.aspx

http://www.bankofengland.co.uk/publications/Pages/speeches/2016/878.aspx

https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/492972/gs-16-1-distributed-ledger-technology.pdf

http://brooklynmicrogrid.com/microgrids-101/

https://blog.slock.it/partnering-with-rwe-to-explore-the-future-of-the-energy-sector-1cc89b9993e6#.jkyys77t9

 

[1] http://santanderinnoventures.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/06/The-Fintech-2-0-Paper.pdf

[2] http://www.economist.com/news/leaders/21677198-technology-behind-bitcoin-could-transform-how-economy-works-trust-machine

[3] http://www-01.ibm.com/common/ssi/cgi-bin/ssialias?subtype=XB&infotype=PM&appname=GBSE_GB_TI_USEN&htmlfid=GBE03620USEN&attachment=GBE03620USEN.PDF

Will batteries charge an energy revolution?

As a historian by training I’m wary of making predictions about the future. But I am also working for a company that deals in ‘rapid innovation,’ so I think it’s important to ponder on emerging technologies and explore their possible future developments.

At university, certain supervisors inculcated that generalist, big picture history with predictions of the future should be avoided. It was dismissed by some stuffy types as “populist drool.”

In the world of business, however, an inference into the future is often labelled as vision.

Only 6 months into my career. I’m not going to declare myself a visionary quite yet. Nor am I going to use this blog space to make predictions about the future, which time will inevitably prove wrong. However, this blog will explore some ideas around developments in battery technology and how I believe it will significantly shape how we generate, consume and trade energy.

 

Battery technology

Most mobiles, laptops and cars are powered by lithium-ion batteries which were initially developed by Sony in the 1990s. While they have steadily improved since then, the pace of technological improvement in batteries has been relatively slow; just think of your latest smart phone dying at the most inopportune moments. A number of technological developments are under way with fuel cells, flow batteries, lithium air and lithium sulphur promising improvements in the efficacy of batteries. None, though are ready at commercial stage as cost is still a major barrier to scalability for these new technologies. Cost has also been one of the inhibiting factors behind the lack of technological development and user-adoption of lithium-ion batteries for energy storage.

Despite these barriers there is currently a lot of hype around battery technology and this is reflected in significant price hike of lithium carbonate in a current bear market for commodities [See Figure 1]. This excitement around developments in battery technology is not just driven by Prius drivers hoping to get a few extra hundred miles out of their car; battery technology will have a major effect on changing relationships in the space of electricity generation, distribution and consumption.

lithium ion

Figure 1 *

 

Batteries and the energy landscape

Electricity generation has changed significantly in the last 20 years. Even now, despite the seemingly ever-declining price of oil, renewable energy continues to grow worldwide. In 2015, solar and wind capacity added 121 gigawatts, while investment in renewable technology reached $329 billion.

Yet, renewable energy is far from being the dominant source in our energy mix and in the UK it accounts for 15% of energy generation. Indeed, one of the most common gripes with renewables is that its supply of energy does not correlate with demand. When it’s cold and dark outside there is little chance your solar panels are going to work and you can’t always be sure there will be gusts of wind when electricity is needed. While the growth in wind and solar technologies has been impressive, the future development of renewables lies in the ability to mitigate these intermittencies by combining with power storage.

Batteries can plug the gap between energy supply and demand.

At the domestic level, one of the most talked about developments in power storage has been Tesla’s announcement of the Powerwall. This technology will enable traditional energy consumers to store energy from the grid and/or store energy they create from renewable sources. Though I opened by talking about developments in lithium-ion technology, what is most interesting about the Powerwall is not the storage ability itself, but the technology’s connectivity to the grid and the implications of this. The Powerwall, for example, can smartly decide to store energy when electricity demand is low and its price cheap, and discharge this stored energy when electricity demand is higher and therefore more expensive.

This increased connectivity opens up channels of communication and data at the point of generation, supply and consumption. This ability will play a key role in connecting us to promised smarter grids. Batteries will extend the prosumer model, further blurring the traditional defined roles in the energy landscape. Previous consumers of energy will increasingly play the added roles of producer and broker of energy, while new channels of communication between consumers and utilities will become ever-more significant. Not only will electricity flow both ways down these channels, but data will become a key commodity to the highest bidder.

Battery technology has already seriously impacted on modern society. Batteries power our phones, tablets, laptops and are an essential technology in the automotive industry—both now with electric cars and with lead-acid car batteries. As batteries become more reliable and their energy density improves (ability to store more energy without getting physically larger), they should become an integral component of smart grids. Power storage technology has not sparked a whole new energy eco-system. Rather its domestic and commercial adoption will accelerate our transition to smarter grids and further distort current roles and relationships on the energy stage.

 

* Source for Figure 1: http://www.economist.com/news/business/21688386-amid-surge-demand-rechargeable-batteries-companies-are-scrambling-supplies

 

Entrepreneurship, UAVs and Star Wars: A conversation with Daniel Sola, CEO of Archangel Aerospace

We caught up with Daniel Sola, CEO and founder of Archangel Aerospace, an aerospace consultancy specialising in High Altitude UAVs (aka HAPS or High Altitude Pseudo Satellites) and space.

 

This is my first interview with an entrepreneur for Rapid Innovation Group’s “entrepreneur’s viewpoint” page. I am excited to see where our conversation takes us.

Well I will try and give you an “entrepreneur’s viewpoint.” I find that if I describe myself as an entrepreneur I suffer massive imposter syndrome [laughs].  Maybe that’s because I’ve spent a decent amount of time rubbing shoulders with extremely successful founders in Silicon Valley or maybe it is the curse of British self-deprecation.  Who knows.

 

Considering it’s the dream of imaginative children to get as close to space as possible, I’m interested in how you got into this line of work?

Well, I studied engineering at University even though I’m not an engineer by instinct. I almost studied History or Classics. In all honesty I was a terrible engineering student for most of my degree and I even attended PPE lectures instead.  We did a solar-electric high altitude drone project in my third year, I got enthusiastic about it and suddenly I was an engineering scholar and doing pretty well.  I am most interested in outcomes of projects that can have a big impact so even if I did choose an arts degree, I think I would have got to a similar destination in my career by a different route.

I always intended to work for myself, but after University I looked at my debts and options and felt the tug of The City.  As many graduates do, I felt there was a painful choice to either earn lots now to build something special later or do good work now, utilising my engineering skills. That is one of the things I enjoy about Silicon Valley. They have shown this is a totally false dichotomy and doing valuable things pays.

I decided to spend a few months in The City whilst my security clearances were coming through. I had planned to just earn some cash whilst waiting for clearances but it was something I found difficult to leave. The people were bright and energetic, it was fun and I was looking at something like a 60% pay cut at the graduate level to go and do science or engineering.  The City often talks up competition for top talent to justify bonuses.  This really misses the point. London banks aren’t competing so much with New York or Paris for top talent; they are competing with productive British industries and startups for the pick of graduates.  I think we will see this trend reverse as technology continues to disrupt old industries and inefficiencies though, so I’m optimistic for a resurgence in UK technical talent getting on with doing productive things.

 

So after working as a trader did you set up Archangel Aerospace?

No I spent 5 years gaining skills and experience before that. I began working for QinetiQ on three main areas. Asteroid deflection, infantry modernisation and high altitude UAVS.

It was at QinetiQ I got involved with the development of Zephyr, a High Altitude UAV. The last we developed with QinetiQ was Zephyr 7 and Airbus are now working on the Zephyr 8. Archangel Aerospace was founded to support the World Record flights in 2010 and we’ve continued to be involved since.

 

Can you explain your involvement with Zephyr further?

The story behind Zephyr is an interesting one. At the end of the First World War, Royal Aircraft Establishment was banned from making airplanes, so the engineers there pooled their own funds to develop an aircraft which they called Zephyr.

Similarly, this project began as an internal start-up with employees at QinetiQ putting their own money and time in to get it off the ground. The first prototype was called Zephyr 2 in homage. The Zephyr programme is somewhat bigger today and has produced a High Altitude Pseudo Satellite powered by the Sun and is unique in its ability to stay in the air for weeks or months. It holds three world records for altitude and duration. It started as a hobby which many dismissed as “it will never work”. Soon enough there were people tapping watches and asking “where is it?”

 

Bringing things back down to earth briefly, given your involvement with solar and battery technology on Zephyr, what’s your view on these two technologies in meeting future energy needs?

I think with regard to solar, the efficiency of the cells and scalability of production will be key. New production methods for amorphous triple and quadruple junction solar cells are really interesting. Scale in supply is a significant gap which needs to be crossed in order to lower costs and lead to widespread adoption. A lot of energy tech faces the same catch-22: scale is the way to lower prices and lower prices are needed for scale.

What Tesla did with its home battery (Powerwall) was significant in pairing cars and homes to batteries. The more this technology can be scaled up the faster it can lead to mass adoption. The basic Tesla Powerwall is quite undersized but even if it was sold at zero profit it still makes sense for Tesla do it to drive up scale and drive down the costs for car batteries.  One of Musk’s other companies, Solar City, will install solar cells on your roof that make more financial sense with some home storage so it is an easy upsell.  Regardless of how effective this particular home battery is, it’s a smart business move and it certainly makes the market more credible for other suppliers.

We’ve been told that fuel cells will be important for a while now.  The date changes but the rest of the slide deck looks the same. For most cases, fuel cells don’t make sense to me as the round trip efficiency is too low. Unless you were immediately going to use a substantial amount of the energy stored for heat generation anyway, batteries are the answer for home storage.  For cars the rapid recharge was attractive but rapid charging batteries are coming and you still don’t want all that heat.  For some bigger solar electric aircraft, fuel cells may well make sense with specific designs.

 

What are the applications of HAPS? How do you see them as addressing significant global issues?

HAPS of course have a military use for surveillance and communications but the commercial applications are probably more valuable. HAPS are cheaper than orbital satellites and produce better quality imaging and communications with better spectrum reuse. In a commercial capacity Earth monitoring could be applied to pollution monitoring, agriculture, border controls and sustainable fishing to name a few. The potential to sample weather and atmospheric composition directly, something satellites can’t do, is great. That side is exciting but it can be difficult to find a customer with cash for global scientific missions.

 

 R+D in this area is often military funded. Given the commercial applications of HAPS, do you see investment diversifying?

It’s hard to see where funding in HAPS will go. We have already seen huge amounts of money being poured into it by Google and Facebook given HAPS applicability to enable internet connectivity throughout the developing world. I expect that just like satellites the first customers will be (and have been) governments followed swiftly by commercial communications, which will come to dominate.  The science missions will wait for the economies of scale to drive the cost right down.

 

Business is often about mitigating risk and shaping perception. What risks do you see in terms of perceptions of UAVs in getting HAPS funded and widely deployed?

Unfortunately, the word drone gets used a lot and often these refer to quadcopters used by amateur photographers and hobbyists. They can pose significant threats in civil aviation and when a bad enough incident occurs there will be a backlash against all Unmanned Aerial Vehicles.

Having said this, regulators have been very accommodating in the projects I have worked on, allowing special permissions to fly within busy airspace in Europe and the Middle East for example. The safe answer is always ‘no’ so I have been really impressed with some of the enthusiastic efforts by these regulators to help us get to a ‘yes’.

It has been significantly harder to agree arrangements for regular routine flights, which is likely to involve legislative change. Right now, a lot of regulators are inundated with requests for flying multi-rotors straight off eBay (and that’s the operators who request permission). That workload is only going to increase so I feel quite sympathetic towards them.

 

What’s next for Archangel Aerospace?

Well, we are moving offices to Oxford. We are going to set up shop in Harwell, a hub for innovative space technology. Using our expertise and knowledge we want to carve out our own niche in the emerging HAPS market, as well as working on some lower level UAV and payload products. We think we are onto something special and have a pretty clear vision for the future but the key for us is to rapidly get to a testpoint for each product as early as possible.

 

Lastly, what did you think of Star Wars (the latest film instalment, not Reagan’s Cold War defence initiative)?

I thought they played it safe to be honest. It’s the 4th time they’ve blown up the Death Star or something similar so some new ideas would be nice. It reminded me why I wanted a lightsabre as a kid growing up in the 80s. It’s hard to hate on a Star Wars film so long as there is no Jar Jar Binks so I think it’s a thumbs up.

 

Consultancy: An education process

Having enjoyed teaching in South Korea in 2013, a career as a teacher seemed an attractive prospect. Yet I had spent the last 16 years in education and thought entering the world of business after university would provide a new challenge. The opportunity to work with entrepreneurs seeking to address significant global issues using innovative technologies was enough to persuade me to apply to RIG.

So, the summer before last I was sat in the RIG meeting room giving a presentation to four partners of the company on anti-counterfeiting technologies in the high-end luxury goods market. This was my final round interview for a job starting in September 2014. The presentation was full of interesting debate and some fiery objections. But it was the final question which particularly stumped me: “Do you have any other plans or offers?”

Earlier that week I had been offered a place as a volunteer teacher in Sri Lanka for 6 months, luring me back to the seemingly contrasting world of education. I explained my situation to the partners and was told “we will get back to you in a few days.”

If my interview at RIG was successful and they offered me a job, I would have a difficult decision to make. Would I be spending the coming year trying to convince my friends that an engine utilising shape memory alloys and low grade waste heat to generate electricity is, in fact, extremely interesting? Or would I be marking test papers on a beach in the tropics?

The fact I am writing this blog will probably lead you to assume that I got the job at RIG, decided to stay in London and have been working here for a year. Well, not quite. My seemingly tricky decision was made easier by the conditions of my offer. I was offered employment here but also advised to take up the opportunity to go to Sri Lanka to teach and return to RIG the following year. My experience teaching abroad, I was told, would add value to my career at RIG.

To meet the demands of working here I wasn’t wrong in thinking I’d need to adapt my skill set significantly. Nevertheless my experience teaching has certainly provided a useful set of transferable skills.

My first two months here have been the start of an exciting education process. The feedback from all members of the team means I am continually learning, engaging in intelligent thought processes, and adapting to a RIG mentality. Not only am I learning, the processes and skills I developed while teaching are proving valuable. In Colombo I often had to create lesson plans to describe to students an alien idea or concept. I find myself doing much the same thing here in London; complex and technical ideas must be conveyed simply, while presentations must be engaging. So far my work here has been fast-paced, challenging and most importantly, fun.

Of course, teaching and consultancy are not identical careers. But the skills they both demand and the behaviour one must exhibit in the classroom and the meeting room makes the connection between these two worlds abundantly clear.