We had long hoped to hear success stories from the winners of the Russian Innovation Competition. Yet this year when participants began to succeed right after the winners were announced, we could hardly believe our ears.
Yuri Amosov, Irik Imamutdinov, Galina Kostina, and Dan Medovnikov
We started the competition out of despair. As journalists, we were aware of brilliant innovation projects that Russian domestic business was ignoring completely. Western venture capitalists repeatedly declared their genuine interest in Russian scientists and researchers but had no dealings with them, at least not in Russia itself.
We came up with the idea to get Russia’s best experts together, to objectively select the projects that were strongest by anyone’s measure, and to present them to the public. We were rather disappointed with the results of the first two contests, as many good innovation projects failed to become investment projects. Things seem to have changed this time. Two serious investments were announced immediately after the finalists were presented: AFK Sistema and Tekhsnabexport decided to fully fund two winning projects. Also, innovators heard the call we made last year to support the real sector. As a result, we now have a Best Industrial Innovation award.
All of a sudden, yet another award, the White Book (Belaya Kniga), also took off. It was introduced just this year. This book of honor will be the home of long-term (10-20 years) capital-intensive projects designed to have a critical impact on the national economy as a whole or its individual sectors.
Grand prix for pressing buttons
Physicist Martyn Nunuparov, founder of Qmodule Company which unites a group of specialists from half a dozen EU and NIS countries, presented a variety of instruments at the competition, such as wireless switches, door locks, and other devices. They all had one thing in common – their chips and transmitters ran off of the energy provided by human muscle.
Hand current generators, powered by cranking a handle or rod, have been in existence for nearly a hundred years. However, these cumbersome devices are of little use when just a tiny amount of energy is required by a very small device. Nunuparov and his colleagues designed a piezoelectric converter similar to those igniting gas with a spark in one-off lighters and mounted it under a switch button. Pressing the key generates very low current, yet this is more than enough for a modern chip.
It’s not a new idea that it is possible to derive electric power from everyday actions, like pressing buttons, in quantities sufficient to power electronic devices. Martyn Nunuparov’s main innovation lies in the converter diagram itself. Today, a line of products under the umbrella brand of Qmodule consists not only of switches and locks, but also modules for other electronics manufacturers. However, as Nunuparov told the panel of experts at the presentation, nothing is stopping scientists from developing a wireless keyboard or mouse, remote pressure and vibration sensors for construction and engineering, motion detectors for the military, or any other self-contained device for situations where mechanical energy is wasted. Their batteries will never run down, since there is nothing in a piezo-converter that breaks down with time. In environmental terms, a human finger is the cleanest alternative energy source, as it leaves no waste products in tow except a fingerprint. When presenting the Grand Prix to Nunuparov, the Competition’s General Partner AFK Sistema stated that it intended to make production facilities available to his team, fully fund the pre-production stage, and provide them with working capital to arrange pilot production.
Dmitri Rakov, a senior research associate at the Russian Academy of Sciences Engineering Institute, invented a new computer communication system designed for the blind and partially sighted and was awarded Intel’s innovation prize for the Best IT and Telecommunications Project.
The blind and partially sighted people rarely capture innovators’ interest (despite the fact that there are about a million such people in Russia alone). The last significant invention in this area was made in the first half of the 19th century. In 1826, a French man named Louis Braille invented an alphabet made of raised dots. Yet books written in Braille are enormous volumes nearly impossible to lift.
The invention of the computer hasn’t improved the lives of the blind much. So-called Braille displays – long panels with embossed Braille letters that can be connected to a laptop – are available but they weigh at least 1.2 kg. Input keyboards are large, heav