10-year plan: FutureX projects
Weldon told EE Times:
What we are really doing is returning Bell Labs to its original model -- solving big industry challenges, what we call game-changing research and cross-discipline "FutureX" projects, aimed at multiplying by 10x either speed or lower latency or lower energy consumption or simplicity or elasticity. And as we solve these problems, we are going to be on the lookout for serendipitous discoveries, such as fundamental limits in information theory or science or engineering that allow us to advance the cause of humankind while we are solving a practical communications or information technology challenge.
Weldon admits that Bell Labs has gone off-track since 2006 by focusing exclusively on applications problems, but that the corporate front-office was now behind a return-to-basics in its FutureX projects. Weldon continued:
Bell Labs had lost its way just a little bit, by not knowing which industry applications to focus on -- an over-the-top industry, or a service-provider industry, or a web industry. Technology was shifting so frequently that Bell Labs ended up solving more academic problems -- meaning problems not related to the day-to-day or even the five-year horizon of information and telecommunications.
In that way Bell Labs has been dormant a little bit, but has not in any way been lost in terms of the talent we have and the projects we are working on internally, which are incredibly interesting things. We just need to find a way to couple them to industry needs. My job in taking over Bell Labs while remaining the CTO of Alcatel-Lucent will be to stimulate our researchers to solve big industry problems, because I see what those problems are when I see how networks are evolving and when talking to customers -- I can communicate that back to Bell Labs by telling them what the world needs to look like 10 years from now.
So far, Weldon has come up with 10 big industry problems which he calls the "FutureX" (the X standing for 10), which include forward-looking endeavors such as "how will people communicate 10 years from now." Weldon cites Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and "all those types" of communications as having merit, but none of those, in his opinion, will be dominant 10 years from now.
None of those are the end state. They are all transients on the way to what will become the future communications methodology. So we're taking all the best parts of all those ideas and looking at the intersection -- it's when different ideas come together that something unique and magical happens. That is the power of Bell Labs, finding a unified way to communicate with people, things, objects, buildings, your car, friends, and colleagues. How can that be done in a unified way? Its a control plane problem more than a processing problem.
Once Bell Labs decides on what will be the unified way to communicate in 10 years, it plans to build prototypes for testing, then decide whether to manufacture, market, or license the technology.
"If its truly a revolutionary new way, we will want to commercialize it ourselves, but we don't want to constrain the problem by saying it must be something Alcatel-Lucent can commercialize directly or license to others," Weldon told us.
President of Bell Labs since Nov. 2013,
also remains CTO of Alcatel-Lucent.
Weldon has already defined 10 FutureX projects, including the future of communications, the future of wireless, the future of the datacenter, the future of communities, the future of physical objects and associating digital identities with those objects, and five more FutureX projects he declined to identify.
To realize that dream, Alcatel-Lucent plans to open satellite Bell Labs around the world in areas where engineers are plentiful, with three planned for 2014, the first to be located in Tel Aviv.
And to bring in researchers outside of Bell Labs, Alcatel-Lucent is also announcing today an annual Bell Labs Prize -- a competition among researchers anywhere in the world who have the most innovative ideas to increase a parameter in information communications and networking for their vision of the future in 10 years.
The first phase, starting today, will be for researchers to describe their proposals and submit them to the Bell Labs Prize site by July 15, 2014. Judges will pick 10 to 100 from among these proposals and match them up with Bell Labs researchers who work in those areas, and with whom the contestants will work to refine their ideas for the final award on December 2, 2014. Prizes will include the grand prize of $100,000; second place will be $50,000; and third place will be $25,000. Each will include a possible offer of employment at Bell Labs to perhaps develop the idea into a prototype.
— R. Colin Johnson, Advanced Technology Editor, EE Times