Innovation is a word that is in constant use these days. A mark of its popularity is that the desirability of, and pride in, American innovation is one of the few ideas that every politician from Dick Cheney to President Barack Obama vocally supports.
I recently attended a panel discussion, "The Innovation Economy: R&D and a Crisis," where several high-profile pundits expounded on how to boost innovation. Articles on innovation, or the lack of it, abound in the popular media. Everyone wants more innovation.
These discussions generally leave me cold. Innovation, in the abstract has little meaning. According to the Merriam Webster dictionary, "innovation" is defined as:
1. The introduction of something new, and
2. A new idea, method or device.
The word simply means making new stuff, or coming up with new ideas. Is every new idea innovative? The iPod was innovative, even though it was not the first disk-based music player. The lava lamp was new, popular and found its way into a lot of dorm rooms, but I don't think we would call it innovative.
To be innovative, a product or service should have some tangible or intangible value.
Most new ideas are not very good, or at least not worth pursuing. Many are downright bad. That's why truly innovative ideas are so rare. There is never a shortage of new ideas, but there is always a shortage of good, new ideas.
Moreover, there is little commonality between innovative ideas. There is no formula for producing innovative ideas, and no set of criteria for judging them. It is hard to come up with a meaningful description of innovation, but like pornography, you know it when you see it.
In the EDA world, real innovation is as unusual as in most other scientific and engineering fields. Products considered innovative often have several common characteristics. Those I know combine ideas from different disciplines, and they approach a problem from the top, down "" that is, the problem comes first, and the solution, pieced together from ideas from other disciplines, is derived from it.
Example: Tesla Roadster
In contrast to the generalities heard constantly about innovation, the Tesla Roadster, designed and built by Tesla Motors, is a concrete example of an innovative product in the news recently.
In May, I took delivery of the Tesla Roadster for which I placed an order nearly two years ago. Like most EDA products, the car was over a year late. Late or not, this car is clearly an innovative product.
What makes it innovative? It has basic transportation characteristics: four wheels, two seats, brakes, standard controls "" steering wheel, pedals, lights, turn signals. However, its design intent resulted from a fundamental rethinking of the basic problem of moving a vehicle. That is, using a zero-emission propulsion system.
The decision to use stored electricity to power the car affects nearly all aspects of the design, providing both the opportunity and necessity for much new engineering. While electric cars have been around for 100 years, advancing technology has only recently made viable a competitive, volume-production electric car.
A large part of Tesla's early success stems from the observation of Tesla's founders that the automotive industry had outsourced a great deal of component development to independent suppliers. Components like body parts, suspension, brakes, steering gear, wheels, transmissions, seats and interiors make up automotive intellectual property, and that IP is available to a new auto design. Tesla Motors could focus on the design and engineering work required for the novel parts of an electric car, which centered on the battery, motor and the power electronics.
The design parameters of the Tesla Roadster were the starting point. The car was intended to have performance competitive with high-end sports cars. This primarily meant acceleration, since top speed over 120 mph is not very common, and handling generally does not involve the power train. With a target 0-60 time of under four seconds, the car could be competitive with nearly any expensive high-end sports car.