PORTLAND, Ore. — The Freescale Discovery Lab aims to invent the future by giving its most brilliant engineers the time and resources to realize their wildest dreams. On projects lasting from six months to two years or more, select Freescale engineers will be given free rein to prove that their visions of the future are doable, marketable, and will improve the world.
David Kramer, director of Freescale's new Discovery Lab, describes the company's hopes and aspirations.
"The Discovery Lab sponsors what we call high-risk, high-reward ideas," David Kramer, director of Freescale Discovery Lab, told EE Times. "When we accept any idea from one of our engineers, he then leaves his normal job and spends 100 percent full time on proving his concept in our lab."
The Discovery Lab started quietly last year, Freescale said, to iron out the kinks and be ready to launch at the official announcement today. If things had not worked out, Freescale could have killed the whole idea with no one the wiser. However, quite the contrary, of the first nine projects started at the lab, two will be announced later this year as becoming possible Freescale products. The other seven may not make the cut.
"We expect to have more failures than wins, but the wins will be home runs," says Kramer. "Toward the end of 2014, Freescale will announce what it believes are its first two home runs, each of which is about six to nine months old now."
To pick the first nine projects, Freescale sent out an internal memo to all its engineers describing the Discovery Lab and asking for proposals to join up.
"We sent out a call to all employees to come forward with bright ideas and got about 200 submitted, nine of which we accepted. Now we have 22 engineers working on those nine projects, four of which were international engineers brought to Austin to work on the project."
Two of the international engineers came up with their own ideas, and recruited local Austin engineers to join their teams. The other two international engineers were recruited to join Austin-led teams that needed their expertise. Freescale is keeping its cards close to its vest, but admitted that some of the projects are pursuing unique advances in the IoT (Internet of Things), SDN (software defined networks), and ADAS (advanced driver assistance systems).
"We are willing to consider any idea, but most of the ones that are accepted are aligned to a Freescale product group with the sales, the channels, and the marketing to make it work as a product. So far, eight of the nine projects are aligned with Freescale's existing businesses, but one is not. We accepted it anyway because if it works, it will be such a game changer that we are allowing the team to pursue it."
Each team faces regular reviews, the first after one month, looking for some kind of milestone toward a deliverable, then about every six months after that, looking for positive progress.
"We are not constraining the teams, since the discovery process is more like having a compass than a map -- you don't know the exact path ahead of time," says Kramer. "What we are aiming for is a technical proof of concept."
Since the success of the first Discovery Lab, Freescale has decided to open a second one later this month (Sept. 17) in Toulouse, France. If it is successful, Freescale plans to expand with multiple Discovery Labs at each of its major sites around the world. Each will employee about 20 to 30 engineers working on 10 to 12 projects.
— R. Colin Johnson, Advanced Technology Editor, EE Times