Prefabrication productivity

Offsite construction techniques gain industry momentum

Vicki Speed
18 November 2014

3 min read

From a residential high-rise in New York City to low-cost hotels in Europe, the application of prefabricated and modular objects and systems continues to capture the interest of owners, architects, contractors, fabricators and product manufacturers in the building industry.  

Around the world, prefabrication proponents are finding ways to apply offsite construction techniques that go way beyond repeatable systems such as bathroom pods or mechanical pipe rack to more volumetric, pioneering, semi-customized solutions that address a wide range of common construction challenges. 

“In some parts of the world, like Japan and the United Kingdom, owners and project teams have necessarily moved to offsite construction methods because of land prices and the cost of labor,” said Ryan Smith, associate professor and director in the College of Architecture + Planning at the University of Utah (USA), and chairman of the National Institute of Building Sciences’ Off-Site Construction Council (OSCC). “Amortizing land is prohibitive in these countries, so owners favor methods that facilitate faster construction schedules. Labor is more expensive, also necessitating quick turnaround on construction duration.”  

However, he added, the greater interest and application of offsite construction methods in recent years is largely driven by two ongoing challenges in the global construction industry: the need to improve construction productivity and skilled-labor shortages in some parts of the world.


Concerns about labor shortages are one of the primary reasons for increased interest in offsite construction in North America. In its 2014 US Markets Construction Overview, FMI, a global provider of management consulting, investment banking and research to the engineering and construction industry, predicts that modularization and prefabrication will play an increasingly vital role in the US construction value chain because emerging demand is outrunning the availability of skilled tradespeople. Meanwhile, many international contractors are looking to their European or Asian counterparts for ideas.  

Modular construction at the Corrections Corporation of America’s detention facility in Otay Mesa, California (Image © Sundt Construction, Incorporated)

“In our experience, prefabrication and modularization are primarily driven by our need to be more competitive and deliver a project at the lowest cost and schedule certainty – and the mechanical, electrical and plumbing (MEP) subcontractors have taken the lead in delivering effective solutions for good reason,” said Don Goodrich, director of preconstruction services at Sundt, a construction company based in Phoenix, Arizona (USA). “The MEP trades are facing a considerable labor shortage. The increasing use of Building Information Modeling (BIM) helps bring the prefabrication conversation to the forefront as well.”

Deciding when to use a prefab approach is based on the challenges of a specific project, Goodrich said. “We’re translating prefab and modular techniques that we learn from one job to other jobs as much as possible,” he said. In one case, Sundt transferred the modular technology approach from a private prison construction project to a much larger state prison project.


Similarly, UK-based Balfour Beatty, an international infrastructure lifecycle services company, relies on prefabrication and modular methods to construct a number of different structures to achieve considerable value. Some phases of the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham, England, for example, were completed a year early. Likewise, Belgium-based Inter IKEA Group, parent company of the IKEA furniture brand, teamed with Marriott International, a hospitality company headquartered in Bethesda, Maryland (USA), to create low-cost prefabricated hotels in Europe. 

FMI Senior Consultant Ethan Cowles expects the use of prefab and modularization to grow quickly in health care, lodging and education, as it already has done in the fast food market. 

OSCC’s Smith agrees. “We see full volumetric prefabricated construction mostly with owners of smaller structures, some housing and some industrial markets,” he said. “Owners of fast-food franchises, automotive service centers, daycare, data centers, hospitals, multi-family and mid-rise structures, and others with repeatable structural requirements, are becoming more engaged in design-build and integrated delivery and are not so dependent on open bid requirements.” 

Looking ahead, Cowles and Smith point to growing interest and demand for multi-trade prefabrication and modularization. “The success of a multi-trade scenario will depend on the owner seeing value and capable contractors coming together contractually to maximize the benefits,” Cowles said.


Despite the promise that prefabrication and modularization holds for the building industry, the approach is not without wrinkles – as witnessed by the lawsuits related to New York’s B2 Tower project.

Cowles and Smith noted that offsite approaches inherently require early coordination and decision-making to maximize the value. Offsite construction also requires that owners, architects and contractors rethink the conventional processes that have been industry standards for decades.   

“The building technology and methodology for offsite construction is not mysterious,” Smith said. “There’s very little technical challenge or complexity to the process, very little intellectual property, relatively speaking, in comparison to other manufacturing industries. The challenge has more to do with tacit knowledge related to the social, political, regulation and economic context in which offsite construction unfolds.”

Integrating prefabrication and modularization into the construction build cycle adds value, but it’s not a panacea, Smith said. “I don’t see these methods adopted on every project; but, most certainly, as components of an overall project build to minimize labor, increase productivity and improve schedules – in short, to add value.”

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Zero fuel

Solar Impulse co-founders attempt the first round-the-world flight with alternative power

Lindsay James

5 min read

The Solar Impulse team created the only airplane “able to fly day and night on solar power, without a drop of fuel.” Compass spoke to project co-founders and pilots Bertrand Piccard and André Borschberg about challenging the limits of sustainable transportation.

Swiss psychiatrist and aeronaut Bertrand Piccard has exploration in his blood. His grandfather, Auguste Piccard, was the first man to witness the curvature of the earth. His father, Jacques Piccard, traveled deeper into the earth than anyone else, diving to the bottom of the Marianas Trench – 10,916 meters (almost 7 miles) beneath the surface.

“Thanks to them, I met a lot of explorers and pioneers,” Piccard said. “I met Charles Lindbergh, Wernher von Braun, all of these inspirational people who made history. I wanted to have – like them – an interesting and useful life.”

Motivated by his early experiences, Piccard in 1999 achieved the first non-stop balloon flight around the world. “I started with 3.7 tons (3,700 kilos) of liquid propane and landed after 20 days and 45,000 kilometers with 40 kilos,” he said. “For the entire flight I was afraid that I wouldn’t have enough gas. I decided that the next time I flew around the world, I would do it without any fuel.” 


And so the idea for a solar-powered airplane was born. In the years that followed, Piccard spent countless hours working on his vision to circumnavigate the earth without fuel.

“In the 21st century, there’s a real need for new technologies to save energy,” Piccard said. “If you imagine a solar- powered airplane, which can fly day and night without any fuel at all, this is a demonstration that we can achieve the impossible with these new, clean technologies.”

In 2003, Piccard joined forces with Swiss entrepreneur and pilot André Borschberg, an engineer who graduated from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in Cambridge, Massachusetts (USA) with a degree in management and science and has more than 20 years of flying experience in the Swiss Air Force. Together they founded Solar Impulse, a multi-disciplinary team of 50 specialists from six countries, assisted by about 100 advisors and 80 industrial partners, in a mission as challenging as it was visionary.

“To make an airplane fly day and night powered only by the sun, it needs to be extremely big in terms of wingspan,” Borschberg said. “Solar Impulse’s wingspan is 72 meters (236 feet), which is more than a Boeing 747. It also needs to be extremely light – 2,300 kilos (roughly 5,000 pounds), compared to approximately 333,000 kilos (734,000 pounds) for a 747.” 

“There was no benchmark,” Piccard added. “We had to develop, conceptualize and design a completely revolutionary prototype. Then construct it, operate it and fly it around the world. It is a really difficult project, but this is why we are so passionate about it.”

BERTRAND PICCARD (left), Initiator, Chairman and Pilot, and ANDRÉ BORSCHBERG (right), Co-founder, CEO and Pilot of Solar Impulse (Image © Solar Impulse | Ackermann |


Solar Impulse 1 was completed in 2010, built to demonstrate the concept’s feasibility. By making the first-ever 24-hour flight without fuel, the plane accomplished that task in July 2010. Solar Impulse 2, which will attempt to circle the world in 2015, needed to be more reliable, delivering greater performance with less energy. 

“Normally, if you build a new airplane you use existing engines; if you want to test new engines you use existing airplanes,” Borschberg said. “But here the propulsion is new. The type of energy is new. The structure is new. So, the level of complexity is incredibly high.”

3D technologies have been fundamental to the project’s realization. “When we were starting the design of the flight controls, we discussed it with an advisor who was very knowledgeable in designing aircraft,” Borschberg said. “We told him that we were only using 3D software to work out how to integrate the controls into the wings and the cockpit. He said: ‘You are totally crazy! Nobody has ever done that. You will have a lot of problems, build a mock-up first.’ We said that we didn’t have enough time and that we believed in what we were doing. So that’s what we did… and it was successful.” 

“Of course you might fail. So what? The worst is not to fail; the worst is not to try.”

Initiator, Chairman and Pilot, Solar Impulse

The team is now conducting final tests. “It flies very well, but the systems are very complex,” Piccard said. “We have the number of support systems we need to fly for five days and five nights. All of these have to work perfectly well. So we are continuing testing over the coming months.”

The around-the-world mission will take place over five months in 2015, from the beginning of March to the end of July. A host city is being identified in the Middle East, which will serve as the departure and arrival point.

The plane will circle the globe slightly north of the equator. To switch pilots, stopovers will be made in India, Myanmar, China, the USA and southern Europe or northern Africa. 

“We will wait for good weather patterns to cross the Pacific,” Piccard said. “That’s five days and five nights minimum. Crossing the Atlantic will take three to four days and nights without stops.”


The 35,000-kilometer (nearly 22,000-mile) flight requires rigorous training. Piccard and Borschberg will take turns piloting the aircraft, accumulating about 500 flight hours in the unpressurized 3.8 cubic meter (approximately 134 cubic feet) cockpit – equivalent to the cabin of a small car. 

“As we can only have one pilot on board at a time due to weight limitations, we need to make the pilot sustainable as well,” Borschberg said. “We need to meet the challenge of how to rest, how to feed ourselves, how to meet natural needs – all in the cockpit. We spend three days and three nights in the flight simulator under the same conditions as in the airplane, except for temperature and altitude variations. We can only rest for a very short period; up to 20 minutes, which are allowed thanks to the autopilot system. This helped us to understand how we behave, how we feel, when we get sleep deprivation.” 

The seat is designed to fulfill different purposes, such as a reclining berth and a toilet. Survival equipment is put into the seatback. “The cockpit is small, but big enough to do some exercises. I do yoga postures here in this volume,” Borschberg said. 

“Everything has been pushed to the limits.”

Co-founder, CEO and Pilot, Solar Impulse

Without air conditioning and heating, the pilots will face extreme temperatures: from 30°C to -20°C (86° to -4° Fahrenheit). Piccard and Borschberg will be protected by high-density thermal insulation foam built into the cockpit.

“We have two ways to get prepared,” Piccard said. “One is to test-fly the plane to be absolutely proficient. The other is all the simulations. Our mission team is running simulations on a regular basis with real weather patterns in order to have this plane in the best routes, best altitudes, best trajectories and best weather systems. We are now quite efficient in knowing how to do it, and we will implement all this knowledge for the real flight in 2015.” 

For both men, the project’s lure is to demonstrate how pioneering spirit, innovation and clean technologies can change the world. 

“If we can fly an airplane using the sun only as a source of energy, we can certainly use these technologies for energy savings on the ground as well,” Borschberg said. “(Developing) countries are facing huge challenges in terms of pollution, in terms of shortages, so it is one of the top questions that they have to solve.”

Piccard agrees. “The real impact I would like to see is that people will understand they can also reduce their energy consumption with cleaner technologies,” he said. “If you can produce energy from renewable sources without the use of fossil fuels, then you can completely change people’s lives.”

Customized efficiency

Employing manufacturing principles to build distinctive structures

Vicki Speed

3 min read

The Permasteelisa Group, based in Italy, is a leading worldwide contractor in the engineering, manufacture and installation of architectural envelopes and interior systems. Compass spoke to Permasteelisa IT project manager Federico Momesso and communication manager Massimiliano Fanzaga about how the company is adopting more standardized technologies and processes to better meet the construction industry’s growing demand for customized building systems on short timelines.

Compass: What challenges do you face in meeting client expectations?

FEDERICO MOMESSO: Every building project is unique, requiring multiple companies – owners, architects, engineers, contractors, subcontractors and suppliers with different skills to come together. It’s a fragmented industry that does not yet apply the same advanced level of 3D modeling to move from concept to completion as other markets, such as the automotive or aerospace industry. Part of this is because of the inherent differences. In the automotive industry, one design is modeled and reproduced many times; in the building industry, every design is distinctive.

MASSIMILIANO FANZAGA: As well, projects are increasingly complex, as are the shapes of the interior/exterior elements. Even though every project is different, owners, architects and contractors want projects engineered, executed and built much quicker than ever before. Permasteelisa has the added challenge of adapting its services to meet the needs of a diverse range of customers from different cultures, each with very different expectations, resources and awareness.

What is your most common workflow?

FANZAGA: It has changed considerably over the years. Increasingly, the industry is shifting to an early-stage design review similar to the front-loaded design process in the automotive industry, to improve communication and collaboration between all parties, especially the architect and contractor. Ideally, we work hand-in-hand with the owner and project team at the earliest onset of design to engineer a technical solution that best meets the needs and budget of the project. 



MOMESSO: One of the biggest challenges in developing our technology framework is to find a (3D modeling) solution that is able to work with all the different modeling systems our global customers use. We must have the ability to capture more information and functionality to shorten lead time, reduce waste and rework and maintain our expectation of high quality. It’s a continually improving process.

How has technology helped meet market demand?

MOMESSO: We’ve relied on virtual design and 3D technology for many years. One of the company’s first applications of 3D modeling was on Frank Gehry’s golden fish sculpture for the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona, Spain. In those early days, the benefits of 3D modeling were primarily internal to Permasteelisa. Our project engineers and designers relied on the system capabilities for clash detection and quality production checks. Today, Permasteelisa uses the virtual model to communicate and share design concepts with customers as a way to help them visualize design intent and balance costs throughout the process.

FANZAGA: Our strength is our ability to apply the best resources for any job anytime, anywhere to meet the customized requirements of every project. Not that long ago, every one of our 50 offices would have used different CAD and other design technologies and approaches to complete a job. Today, we’re all speaking the same language thanks to 3D, regardless of geographic location. We have reached a point where all design/engineering are relying on a standardized IT environment, which allows anyone to work on any project at the same time. We’re also finding ways to pre-customize elements or use the same module on multiple projects.

How do you communicate to the installers which piece goes where?

MOMESSO: For every project, we provide detailed work instructions about how to install different modules, as well as installation maps that show the correct installation sequence for each floor/façade.

What if something goes wrong on site?

FANZAGA: Clearly, the world is not as perfect as we would it like to be and some problems can arise on site. In these rare events, our site managers decide the best way to adapt the modules to fit to the concrete structure of the building or, in the worst case, ask for new modules to be produced and shipped onsite. Luckily, those events are very rare!

How are you looking to advance your processes?

MOMESSO: For installation, we have been testing the possibility of using radio-frequency identification (RFID) tags to precisely indicate where each unit has to be installed, which would minimize the risk of an incorrect installation sequence. We’re also looking to extend the benefits of 3D to our customers and suppliers. Since those early days of 3D modeling in the building industry you can see considerable improvements, especially with the application of Building Information Modeling (BIM). As well, our clients are asking us to deliver solutions that can be connected to their 3D models. We are currently implementing product lifecycle technologies. They provide a collaboration-based project backbone that enables centralized project management, which helps us to expand our online creation and collaboration capabilities as well as to foster lean construction methods.

Vicki Speed is a Colorado (USA)-based freelance writer specialized in the engineering and construction market. dreaming big

The Foundation empowers through education

Cathy Salibian

5 min read

The children of Boyle Heights, east of Los Angeles, are heirs to a rich Hispanic heritage, but their neighborhood has been plagued by poverty and violence. The Foundation seeks to change all that. Founded by Grammy Award-winning musician, the foundation collaborates with government and corporate partners to educate and empower students.

Cynthia Erenas moved from Mexico to the Boyle Heights neighborhood east of Los Angeles when she was seven years old; by the time she reached middle school, she was notorious for fighting. Today, however, at age 16, Erenas is a robotics team leader with a gift for project management who dreams of college and a career in engineering. “I don’t tell myself excuses, I tell myself reasons to get where I want to go,” said Erenas, whose life was transformed through her involvement with the Foundation. “America needs 120,000 new engineers, and my dream is to become one of them.”

Enrique Gabriel Legaspi, who was Erenas’s eighth-grade history teacher, has known Erenas since she was in seventh grade. “She was a firecracker, always ready to jump into trouble,” Legaspi said. “Now she’s using her energy in a different way. She has purpose. The employer that taps an intellectual talent like Cynthia’s will have a leader who knows how to work hard and take smart risks.”    

The Foundation, which helped to change Erenas’s path, was created in 2009 by, a seven-time Grammy Award-winning musician, producer, director, entrepreneur and philanthropist who grew up in Boyle Heights and wanted to help reverse his neighborhood’s downward spiral. Recognizing that the problems of Boyle Heights are complex, the Foundation administers multiple programs: Scholarship provides college scholarships; Home assists with financial literacy and home mortgages; College Track addresses college preparation and student life; and Art aims to inspire creative ideas to solve global challenges. 

Building on its success in Boyle Heights, the Foundation is spreading its message of collaborative empowerment to New York and London, with aspirations to work anywhere that students need help to become the leaders of tomorrow. “Boyle Heights is the metaphor,” said Legaspi, who left teaching to become chief of staff of Boyle Heights. “If we can do it here, we can do it anywhere.”


Boyle Heights is one of Los Angeles’ oldest neighborhoods, home to many rich traditions of Hispanic cuisine, music, art and culture. But Boyle Heights has also been plagued by poverty, drugs, despair and 32 neighborhood gangs that recruit children into lives of violence. The documentary film Waiting for Superman characterized Roosevelt High School in Boyle Heights as the worst-performing high school in the United States. 

All that is changing, thanks to the community’s own efforts and support from the Foundation. “We are planting the seeds of rebirth for Boyle Heights through education, arts, music and mentoring,” Legaspi said. 

The cornerstone of the foundation’s strategy is collaboration, linking lawmakers, corporate leaders, educators and neighborhood activists to deliver win/win benefits for all. Legaspi – in addition to being a pioneering classroom teacher, hip-hop artist, deejay and poet – is a master at orchestrating diverse people to meet common goals. 

Like, Legaspi grew up in Boyle Heights. After majoring in business finance in college, he taught eighth-grade US history for ten years at Hollenbeck Middle School, located across the street from Roosevelt High. “I wanted to become the teacher I never had,” Legaspi said. 

During his years at Hollenbeck, Legaspi introduced social networking and other paperless technologies to the classroom, persuading companies to donate resources the school district could not afford to buy. “Mom always said, ‘If it’s free, take two,’” Legaspi said with a laugh. “Companies want to help if you can show them how to do so effectively.”   

When, whom Legaspi had known since he was 14 years old, visited Roosevelt High to meet with community leaders about how to reduce the dropout rate, Legaspi was holding a Career Day in his classroom, showcasing new careers invented in the past five years. He tweeted but received no response. Instead, he heard a knock on his classroom door; wanted to speak with Legaspi’s students in person. Soon after, Legaspi joined the foundation and helped launch College Track.


In today’s technology-driven world, students who want to succeed in the next-generation jobs of the future need STEAM – skills in Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math, Legaspi said. To that end, the Foundation partnered with leading global organizations, including JPMorgan Chase & Co., Dassault Systèmes, Raytheon Company, Google, HP, 3D Systems and NVIDIA Corporation, to create an after-school robotics program at Roosevelt High. Also at Roosevelt, the geographic information system (GIS) software company ESRI is helping students learn advanced mapping skills and create a sustainable GIS program at the school. 

“These students are super curious, eager to learn,” Legaspi said. “We should be ready for their new maturity; I’ve never seen anything like it. They have multi-faceted skills to read, write, collaborate and problem-solve. Companies need that leadership and intellectual capital for competitive advantage.” 

Legaspi emphasizes a three-stage experiential process – create, curate and share – to help students find their voice. (Image © Hollenbeck Middle School)


The Foundation is strategic and systematic as it works on ways to embed STEAM education into daily classrooms and after-school programs through teacher training. “Start with a pilot,” Legaspi said. “Train at least two teachers to provide evidence and testimony that the program works. Then scale it.” 

The foundation also is forging links with technical colleges to give high school students access to expert instructors and college credit for project work, opening pathways to higher education. 

“Target one school and share your resources and expertise to get students to a better 21st century.”


With students, Legaspi emphasizes a three-stage experiential process: create, curate and share. “You unleash imagination and back it up with skills to create content,” he said. “You curate the work to bring it to stage-ready maturity, and then you share it. It’s important for students to be mindful, to make sure the content is ready to broadcast. Then by collaborating in the cloud, they can reach a global audience in real time.” 

The Foundation too, is mindfully going global. “You don’t jump from local to global,” Legaspi said. “You build from local to state to national to global, building alliances. The Foundation is working with organizations in New York, London, China and elsewhere to scale our success.”  

As it expands globally, the foundation is working through established programs. It has partnered with the 100,000 Strong Foundation, an offshoot of a US Department of State initiative, to provide Chinese-language classes and study-abroad opportunities to the students of Boyle Heights. The Foundation also has donated US$780,000 to the Prince’s Trust to fund a technology program in the UK. The Prince’s Trust, formed in 1976 by the Prince of Wales, is a leading UK youth charity dedicated to improving the lives of disadvantaged young people. 

Corporate partners also play an essential role, Legaspi said, providing financing, hardware, software or time. “It’s more than writing a check,” he said. “It’s a relationship. To companies I say, ‘Commit to help one school in one neighborhood.’ That puts a face on it. Target one school and share your resources and expertise to get students to a better 21st century. Be an ambassador for your organization. It will strengthen your future workforce. It will change the world.”

Game on

Gamification creeps into the classroom as educators and parents debate its value

Jacqui Griffiths

5 min read

As gamification begins to gain traction in North American and European classrooms, educators and parents are assessing its contribution to the learning experience.

In 2013, a study by Netherlands-based Spil Games found that more than 1.2 billion people of all ages and genders (17% of the global population) play digital games. The statistic demonstrates that games have the power to capture the attention of young and old – and now educators are applying gaming principles in the classroom to help young learners build academic and life skills. 

“The culture around digital games is growing to encompass a substantial proportion of the world’s population,” said Samantha Adams Becker, senior director of the New Media Consortium (NMC), of Austin, Texas, a US-based international alliance of universities, museums and corporations that charts the landscape of emerging technologies for learning. “Major organizations, including IBM and the World Bank, have embraced gamification for its benefits in professional and academic growth,” Becker said. “Now, parents and teachers are increasingly recognizing its potential to engage learners.”


Gamification is the application of game-like mechanics – including point scoring, climbing a level as an award for achievement (known as “leveling up”) and the opportunity to earn virtual superpowers – to non-game environments. Gamification can include game-based learning (GBL); but while GBL involves games with a specific learning outcome, gamification aims to engage students and encourage behaviors such as teamwork, participation in class discussions, and creative and critical thinking. 

Various digital gamification tools have been developed especially for educators; for example, the behavioral feedback and reporting app ClassDojo and the online role-playing game Classcraft, which can be layered on top of existing lesson plans.

But the approach needn’t be high-tech. “Gamification involves using the most motivational aspects of games in non-game settings,” explained Michael Matera, a teacher of world history and international relations at the University School of Milwaukee in Wisconsin (USA). “It plays nicely with almost any other style of teaching and it can be used almost anywhere, from a low-tech to a no-tech school to a fully integrated online classroom.”


A key strength of gamification is that it puts students at the center of the learning experience, immersing them in a subject that might otherwise seem dry.

“World history can be one of the driest classes, or it can be a fabulous exploration of the story of humankind – our story,” said Matera, who has been “gamifying” his entire curriculum for two years. In Matera’s 6th grade world history course, for example, called “Realm of Nobles,” each class represents one of four houses striving for the throne following the king’s death. Each house comprises four “guilds” in which small bands of citizens work together on various challenges, discovering items, gaining new skills and uncovering mysteries along the way.

“Gamification helps my students see themselves as key players in their learning.”

Teacher of world history and international RELATIONS, University School of Milwaukee

“Gamification helps my students see themselves as key players in their learning,” Matera said. “They tackle side quests as well as group or individual projects that build greater content knowledge as well as life skills. Throughout the learning experiences, students are motivated to be extremely creative as well as critical thinkers. Students love it when history comes alive. For example, while we were studying the Middle Ages, I transformed the classroom into an Italian monastery where the students worked on illuminated manuscripts. Simulation days are always a huge hit and yield incredible dialogue.”

The results are evident in student achievement, Matera said. “By all measures, my classes became more academically rigorous. For example, I used to do things like give a study guide and allow a note card during tests. In my gamified classroom, I’ve done away with all that, yet my class averages have increased on all assessments in both years. I attribute much of this success to the role of feedback and ‘learning from mistakes’ in gamification. In a game experience, students receive frequent micro-feedback that helps them make micro-decisions. Over time, they feel more comfortable independently operating, thinking and creating.”


Where gamification is in use, parents and educators are focused on the best way to apply gamification in schools – and how to measure its effectiveness. 

“Parents, educators and learners are open to new approaches if they have a clear view of the learning outcomes,” said Kevin Glesinger, a teacher of geography at Brooke Weston Academy in Corby, UK. “Behavior for learning and levels of progress are key strands for educational standards bodies such as Ofsted in the UK, and gamification addresses these areas.”

But Sean Hampton-Cole a teacher of geography and thinking skills at Crawford College Lonehill in Johannesburg, South Africa, worries that gamification could cement educational practices he opposes, including most traditional forms of measurement. 

“Before moving to gamify a classroom, teachers and schools should consider whether they are truly innovating, or simply entrenching problems that already exist,” Hampton-Cole said. “Done right, gamification can enhance the 21st-century classroom. But there are problems with a system based on externally focused measurements, data, performance and grades. Gamification, with its rewards-based framework, may hide those problems behind what looks like a more fun, relevant and immersive experience.”

Glesinger anticipates another potential objection, but this time from schools that excel at meeting traditional achievement measures. “Some establishments, such as an academy trust with a strong brand identity, might hesitate to move away from traditional teaching methods,” Glesinger said.

“Before moving to gamify a classroom, teachers and schools should consider whether they are truly innovating.” 

Sean Hampton-Cole
Teacher of geography and thinking skills, Crawford College Lonehill

“But even if gamification isn’t used in the core curriculum, it could be valuable for off-timetable projects.”

For Debbie Morris, the parent of a 5th-grade girl in Norwich, UK, the measure that matters most is gamification’s value to her child. “My daughter loves computer games, and if gamification helps her to learn and develop life skills at school, I’m all for it,” Morris said. “But I would discuss the teacher’s plans with them to make sure my daughter and I are happy with the approach.”

Michael Matera, a teacher of world history and international relations at the University School of Milwaukee in Wisconsin (USA), uses gamification to make history come alive. Here, his students recreate the Battle of Marathon, which pitted the Persians against the Greeks in 490 BC. (Image © Michael Matera)


Gamification is a relatively new trend in education, but it is likely to grow. 

While gamification has gained the most traction in European and North American schools, it is attracting interest across the world. In Singapore, for example, the National Institute of Education has developed a videogame to support the chemistry curriculum, while gaming company Rockmoon and FutureSchools@Singapore are collaborating to promote a mobile app that supports self-directed, immersive learning. 

Gamification may take longer to establish in some regions, but interest in game- based learning is strong. In Brazil, for example, the NMC noted the development of digital games for specific learning scenarios, as well as research into educational methodologies such as teaching game design to K-12 students.

“Major companies, such as Microsoft with its Kinect technology, are working with schools and educators to integrate gaming in the classroom,” Becker said. “Simulation-based learning is also a trend to watch, and we may see more enterprise/academic partnerships with gamification as a mission.”

The trend is helping to change public attitudes toward gaming, which traditionally has been seen as a time-waster, Becker said. “Games may have initially been viewed as a distraction, but it’s now clear that there are exciting applications for gamification in teaching and learning.”

Web science

Researchers are close to synthesizing one of nature’s strongest substances

Rebecca Lambert

5 min read

Spider silk’s exceptional toughness, flexibility and biocompatibility make it one of nature’s most remarkable materials. Today, researchers are developing commercial applications and making strides toward mass production of synthetic spider silk.

In a laboratory at Hanover Medical School in Germany, scientists are exploring how silk from spiders can be used to treat wounds and repair torn tendons and nerves. Recently, they succeeded in bridging a 6-centimeter (2.4-inch) tibial nerve defect with spider silk in a large animal model. The nerves regenerated in just ten months.

“We have been investigating the uses of spider silk in surgical applications such as sutures and nets and as a means to stimulate nerve and skin healing,” said Kerstin Reimers, a biological professor in Hanover’s Department of Plastic, Hand and Reconstructive Surgery. “Spider silk is stronger than nylon, but it is also of low immunogenicity and has a remarkable effect on the healing process.”

Tougher gram for gram than steel and Kevlar and more elastic than rubber, spider silk is also antimicrobial, biocompatible and completely biodegradable. These properties - plus many more - have helped to make spider silk one of the hottest fields in material research, being tested for medical and military applications including bulletproof armor, and for industrial uses such as high-strength cables, thin films and coatings. 


“There are numerous types of spider silks, and many of them are strong, stretchy and durable,” said Cheryl Hayashi, a professor of biology at the USA’s University of California, Riverside, who has been studying the genetics of spider silks for more than two decades. “The combination of these attributes makes these silks amazingly tough, especially considering that silk is nearly weightless. Silks can be used by themselves to make superb filaments and yarns, and they can be blended with other materials for all sorts of medical, industrial and consumer applications.”

The biggest hurdle is producing the material in sufficient volumes. Unlike silkworms, spiders are cannibalistic and cannot be raised in concentrated colonies. Their silk output also is low. For example, it took eight years and more than 1 million Madagascar Golden Orb spiders to produce enough silk for a 2-meter (6.5-foot) shawl and cape displayed at London’s Victoria and Albert museum in 2012. 

Hanover Medical School breeds its own spiders, extracting silk threads in a painstaking process. A single spider can provide up to 200 meters (656 feet) of silk in a single thread, but not enough for commercial applications. Therefore, scientists have been exploring ways of producing synthetic spider silk, bypassing the need for actual spiders.

“Monster Silk” silkworms produce a hybrid spider silk. (Image © Kraig Biocraft Laboratories)


Randy Lewis, who joined the Synthetic Bioproducts Center at Utah State University (USA) in 2011, is a pioneer in synthetic spider-silk production. When investigating spider-silk gene sequences, he succeeded in isolating the gene that produces spider-silk proteins. While a professor of molecular biology at the University of Wyoming (USA), Lewis transferred the gene to other organisms, including transgenic goats that produce spider-silk proteins in their milk. When extracted from the milk and spun, these proteins yield a fiber that contains some of natural spider silk’s properties.

“Spider silk is stronger than nylon, but it is also of low immunogenicity and has a remarkable effect on the healing process.”


Lewis and his team also are exploring methods for producing silk proteins from bacteria. In 2014, they achieved two breakthroughs. “The first is that we have achieved a four- to six-fold increase in the amount of bacteria that we are able to produce in a fermentation vessel,” Lewis said. “The second is that we’ve been able to quadruple the amount of protein that each bacterium produces. As a result, we’re seeing an increase in our production capacity of at least a factor of ten.”


Spiber – a company spun off from Japan’s Keio University – has produced Qmonos, a material created from synthetic fibroin, a class of proteins that form natural silks, including spider and silkworm silk. Qmonos is created with a microbial fermentation process, can be fabricated into fibers, films, gels, sponges and powders, and is being developed for applications in the automotive, aerospace and medical industries.

“Spiber has designed and synthesized over 400 variations of Qmonos to date,” said Kenji Higashi, the company’s head of marketing. “In November 2013, we launched the first prototype production plant to test and tune our production process, and we expect the first industrial Qmonos products to enter the global market within the next few years.”

“Silks can be used by themselves to make superb filaments and yarns, and they can be blended with other materials for all sorts of medical, industrial and consumer applications.”

Cheryl Hayashi
professor of biology, University of California, Riverside

German firm AMSilk, meanwhile, has completed pre-clinical testing of its proprietary silicone implant coating made from recombinant spider-silk proteins. In March 2013, it announced that it had developed a proprietary process for producing spider-silk fibers on an industrial scale. Since November 2013, AMSilk has sold its spider-silk proteins to the cosmetics industry.

“Of all the many applications for spider silk, the spinning of a viable commercial fiber has always been technically the most challenging,” said Lin Römer, AMSilk’s managing director and head of scientific and technical development. “With the current process, we have shown that a commercial spider-silk fiber is possible.”

This Golden Orb weaver sits on a spool of spun spider-silk protein produced by Utah State University’s transgenic goats. (Image © Utah State University)


Another spider-silk frontrunner is US-based Kraig Biocraft Laboratories of Lansing, Michigan. Its transgenic silkworms can produce a number of spider-silk proteins and manage the hard task of assembling those proteins into strong fibers. The company is already working with US-based protective-materials manufacturer Warwick Mills to jointly develop textile products from synthetic spider silk.

“While others had managed to synthetically produce spider-silk proteins, they had not solved the problem of engineering the protein fibers on a large scale,” said Kim Thompson, Kraig Biocraft Laboratories’ founder and CEO. “It made perfect sense to use silkworms to produce the spider silk, as they
are already a commercially viable silk-production platform.” 

Working with Dr. Malcolm Fraser, a professor of molecular biology and genetics at the University of Notre Dame in Indiana (USA), Thompson used a gene-splicing technique to create his spider-silk silkworms. In 2010, he hatched the first batch of “Monster Silk” silkworms, which produce a hybrid spider/silkworm silk. Since then, Thompson’s team has focused on preparing for commercial production and creating new silk fibers with different properties. 

“Since we launched our commercial program in October 2013, we’ve already managed to double the amount of silk we’re producing,” Thompson said. “Our near-term goal is tapping into the textile market. The silk industry alone is worth around US$5 billion a year. Regular silk usually costs US$100 per kilogram, and we have a super silk that can be produced at the same price.”


To date, no one has produced a synthetic silk that matches all the properties of natural spider silk. But they are getting close. “Right now, our best fibers are equivalent to Kevlar, but about half as good as natural spider silk,” Utah State’s Lewis said. Spiber is also optimistic. “Some of our Qmonos variations are outperforming natural spider silks in terms of toughness,” Higashi said. “As we invent new Qmonos designs every day, we expect to achieve even better properties.” 

Thompson predicts that Kraig Biocraft is not far away from producing synthetic spider silk with properties equal to the real thing. In fact, he believes Kraig’s synthetics have the potential to outperform natural spider silk. 

“We’re at a point now where we can theoretically take a gene sequence and plug a different protein into it to add a new property to the silk,” Thompson said. “For example, we could potentially create a silk with antibiotic properties. Nature is the inspiration for everything we are doing, but it’s not the limit.” ◆

Tom Dixon

Galvanized by industrial design

Rebecca Lambert

2 min read

From bass player in the British band Funkapolitan to internationally acclaimed furniture designer, Tom Dixon’s path to success has been unconventional – in fact, he says he fell into design by accident when he taught himself to weld. Compass talked with Dixon to discover what inspires the man that international home decor tradeshow MAISON&OBJET named Designer of the Year 2014.

Compass: When did you start to pursue a career in design?

TOM DIXON: I was a late developer. I have no training in design. I started making objects when I was a musician – I had many hours free during the day, as my work was mainly at night.

Early on in your career, what was your source of inspiration?

TD: Bridges, planes, museums, travel, sculpture, space exploration, music and metalwork.

That’s a wide-ranging list. As you’ve diversified and developed as a designer, how has that source of inspiration changed? 

TD: I find inspiration everywhere; I see things out of the corner of my eye when I’m driving – buildings and structures. Contemporary sculpture by artists such as Anish Kapoor also inspires me. And I’m fascinated by manufacturing processes, the factory floor and raw materials, including scraps.

Who has had the biggest impact on your career, and why? 

TD: My collaborations with Giulio Cappellini (the owner of Italian furniture design firm Cappellini) were extremely interesting. Working with him, I learned how important design is to industry and how Italian craftsmen and industrialists really respect design as an intrinsic component of life and work. Going on to become creative director at Habitat, a British contemporary furniture distributor, opened up a whole world of new opportunities and exposed me to areas I hadn’t encountered before, from international manufacturing and craft to retail and shop environments, branding and logistics.

What do you think is your biggest design accomplishment to date?

TD: I am still waiting for it.

Can you outline a recent challenge and the solution you decided upon?

TD: I don’t know really, but challenge is what I like about being a designer. I encounter different challenges every day and see them as a new palette of possibilities. I work on a very broad range of products from luxury to ‘high street’ goods, involving textiles, electrical and domestic furniture. For me it’s like having access to a massive toy box!

How does it feel to be named MAISON&OBJET’s Designer of the Year 2014?

TD: It is a great honor, of course. Strangely, it feels like I am at the beginning of my career, and so I haven’t yet done a great deal to deserve it! 

For more information:

Mining matters

Social issues get top priority on CEO’s agenda at Anglo American

Tony Velocci

4 min read

After working in leadership positions for a variety of multinational mining companies, Mark Cutifani in April 2013 became chief executive of UK-headquartered Anglo American plc, one of the world’s largest mining companies and the parent organization of De Beers, the preeminent name in diamonds.

Anglo American plc Chief Executive Mark Cutifani’s principles of leadership are remarkably simple and clear: Measure what you value, partner with the communities where you operate, inspire your workforce and be relentless in the pursuit of process improvement.Every company would do well to aspire to such precepts, but few pursue them with as much conviction as Anglo American, the world’s largest producer of platinum; a major producer of diamonds and bulk commodities including iron ore and coal; and of base metals including copper – and Cutifani sets the tone.

When discussing how he defines business success, for example, Cutifani starts with safety and environmental performance, followed by how well the company is honoring its commitments to communities. Only then does he pivot to more familiar business issues, such as cost control, meeting customers’ demands and delivering competitive returns on investors’ capital.

“Diversity is in our DNA.”

Mark Cutifani
Chief Executive, Anglo American PLC


Cutifani, 57, was born in Wollongong, Australia, and has devoted his entire professional life to mining. In 2013 he joined Anglo American, whose  revenues were about US$29 billion. Over the years, he also held senior executive positions at half a dozen other multinational mining companies, including serving as CEO of AngloGold Ashanti Limited, headquartered in Johannesburg, South Africa.

US$29 billion

Anglo American’s 2013 revenues were approximately US$29 billion.

Mining was not Cutifani’s initial career preference, however. He first thought he wanted to become a lawyer. But after enrolling in Wollongong University in New South Wales, Australia, he signed up for engineering-related mining courses. His eureka moment came after two years of studying minerals and the science of extraction. “I started to really understand all of the potential opportunities that mining offered – world travel, engineering, the human resources side,” he recalled. A part-time job at a mining company also gave Cutifani the means to pay for his own education.Articulate and straight talking, Cutifani could be mistaken for a human resources professional instead of a captain of industry. For example, he is positively passionate about what it takes to motivate and realize the potential of a workforce, which relates to his definition of leadership. Former US Secretary of State Colin Powell best expressed it, Cutifani said, paraphrasing: “Leadership is the art of accomplishing more than the science of management says is possible.”


Cutifani has found that the best way to optimize the many processes needed to run a large enterprise is by involving the people who live them every day. “Usually they can find ways to squeeze more out of (a process) than you could ever have thought of, because the commitment of people to what you are doing will always give you the (competitive) edge,” he said.Anglo American has about 120,000 employees working across six continents. “To be brutally honest,” Cutifani said, “not all of them are universally motivated. It’s not that they don’t want to give their all, but we’re a long way from where we could be.” The opportunity for Anglo American, he said, is to connect with people in every part of the organization. “There is a 30% to 50% productivity improvement available in our processes if we can make that connection. We’ve got to be clear in articulating our vision.”Of course, it takes more than a well-articulated vision to inspire employees to do their best work, Cutifani noted. Management must make sure employees have a meaningful role that they understand, provide direct feedback and recognize good work. “It’s about us making personal connections and making sure people feel a part of it,” he said. “It’s important that people know you care.”Cutifani is a big believer in hands-on management, so it should come as no surprise that he personally engages employees whenever he gets the chance. “Probably the only real feedback you get is from the shop floor, because they can tell you whether the message that you are delivering through six or seven layers is getting through,” he said. “If it’s not, I learn pretty quickly at a (work) site.”ezembed


‘Connecting,’ whether it’s with workers or communities, is a skill that Anglo American has developed by managing the diversity of its products, markets and presence around the world. Many years ago, Anglo American was involved in manufacturing, owned sugar mills and ran a forestry business. But community outreach is one of its top accomplishments. For example, Anglo American was the first company in South Africa to offer anti-retro viral treatment to HIV-positive people, and it has been a groundbreaking company in providing health care for its employees, even operating its own hospitals.

“The shop floor . . . can tell you whether the message that you are delivering through six or seven layers is getting through.”

Mark Cutifani
Chief Executive, Anglo American PLC

“We have a unique history of understanding diversity, global business and how to connect with communities, even in remote areas, and so diversity is in our DNA,” Cutifani said. Because many of the company’s sites are located in remote, difficult-to-access regions, “we understand the need to work with local communities in trying to make a positive difference.”Business-wise, Anglo American’s extensive experience in southern Africa and remote parts of South America equip it to operate in a wide range of business environments, regardless of location and local culture – an invaluable skill for a multinational company.


Another one of Anglo American’s particular skills, Cutifani said, is conceptualizing how to effectively compete in a dynamic environment, and thus be more innovative. For example, the company will make use of next-generation business-application software to stimulate innovation and improve operating efficiencies.Anglo American’s business innovation platform and its approach to the design of its business go hand-in-hand since both help people visualize and develop ideas. Ordinarily, identifying and prototyping ideas can be very time-consuming, Cutifani said, so the ideal IT platform should enhance and put three dimensions around concepts, providing the means to dynamically test ideas and pull concepts together more rapidly. Anglo American’s business innovation platform has shown that it is up to the task, Cutifani said, proving its worth. The challenge for the mining industry as a whole, he said, is to develop individuals with the foresight and ability to use such technologies. “The beauty is (our innovation platform provider) has the people who can help us get there.” 


For Cutifani, optimizing underlying processes is critical to running a successful business. The potential upside is huge: If a company can learn how to extract full value from its process technologies, Cutifani said, it has the potential to boost revenues by up to 20%; on top of a 20% margin, he said, such an improvement could double the value of a business.As important as it is to keep investors happy, Cutifani believes it is only one component of success. “You have got to think about the metrics that you set for the business in demonstrating your vision, your mission and your values,” he said. “People need to understand that what’s important to you is delivering outcomes for all of your stakeholders, not just your shareholders.”

A new reality

From gaming to education and medicine, virtual reality offers promising applications

Sean Dudley

6 min read

Facebook’s recent purchase of Oculus VR is only the most high-profile acquisition in a growing list of significant investments in virtual reality (VR) technologies. While video gaming is an obvious application, the technology also could impact most industries, including education, health care and manufacturing.

Twenty years ago, virtual reality (VR) involved putting a microwave-sized contraption over your head to enter a pixelated, semi-3D world. It was intended to provide video gamers with a new immersive experience but failed to deliver on its promise.

The technology has come a long way. Over the past year, VR investments from some of the world’s biggest, most influential corporations have set off an explosion of interest in VR technologies for applications that range from gaming to education and alternative, drug-free medical therapies.

Facebook started the groundswell in March 2014 with its US$2 billion purchase of Oculus VR, the Irvine, California-based company behind Oculus Rift, a VR headset in limited release to videogame makers and movie studios. At the time, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg described his vision for VR use, including “enjoying a courtside seat at a game, studying in a classroom of students and teachers all over the world or consulting with a doctor face-to-face – just by putting on goggles in your home.”

A few days later, Sony announced its competing Project Morpheus headset add-on for Playstation 4. Then, in September 2014, Samsung announced Gear VR, a new mobile VR headset using the Galaxy Note 4, created by Samsung and powered by Oculus. All headsets will be available for purchase by 2015.

With the trend clearly established by technology’s biggest names, numerous companies and startups are eager to grab their own piece of the immersive VR market.


One company looking to meet the anticipated demand for VR games is nDreams, a game developer and publisher based in Farnborough, UK. After its founders experienced the first Oculus headset and Sony’s Morpheus prototype last year, the company committed to focus exclusively on VR.

“VR offers a sense of ‘presence’ – the feeling that you’re actually somewhere else,” said Patrick O’Luanaigh, CEO of nDreams. “You believe you’re in another space. This makes emotional reactions much more powerful. I remember trying the new Alien: Isolation game on the Oculus DK2 at a game show this year. I actually ripped the headset off in fear as the alien rushed in for the kill. Because you believe you’re there, everything is so much more intense.”

That intensity offers a new ingredient in an already lucrative global gaming industry where every competitor is looking for an edge.

“VR isn’t great for every game, but for games that place you into another world, games with story and narrative and any game that wants players to experience something, VR is a significant step above a TV or monitor,” O’Luanaigh said. “I think there is a genuinely huge future for virtual reality, and that’s why we’re backing it.”


The sense of being in another world presents opportunities for applications beyond gaming, however. One of the most promising uses of VR is in education, a movement being led by companies that include zSpace, a Sunnyvale, California-based technology provider focused on learning through immersive exploration.

The company developed the zSpace STEM Lab, an interactive, 3D virtual educational platform designed to promote STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) education for students from kindergarten through 12th grade. The combination of the zSpace platform and intuitive STEM education software aims to provide educators and students with a personalized learning experience.

“When we open up the 3D world and deal with information in the way that we are wired to – spatial rather than flat – it unleashes all this potential.”

Dave Chavez
Chief Technology Officer, zSpace

In education, “we are restricted by 2D technology, and we’ve just come to accept it,” zSpace Chief Technology Officer Dave Chavez said. “When we open up the 3D world and deal with information in the way that we are wired to – spatial rather than flat – it unleashes all this potential. Kids aren’t afraid of it at all; they get in there and they’re completely immersed and engaged.”

zSpace is developing apps focused on STEM topics that include mechanics, electromagnetism and electricity. But Chavez believes the potential for VR in education is virtually limitless.

“With VR, you can (safely) do things that are dangerous, or you can do things that are impossible in the classroom, but you can also do really straightforward assignments,” Chavez said. “For instance, you can set up a complex experiment for 30 minutes and then flip a switch to ‘clean it all up’ and start back with it the next day, because you’ve got this virtual workbench.”

Image © Passion for Innovation Institute, PARIS3D


The ability to create a virtual working environment in VR has potential for industry as well. The AppliedVR division of Los Angeles-based marketing research consultancy firm Lieberman Research Worldwide is exploring the use of VR in numerous areas, including public health, market research and marketing services.

Lieberman Research Worldwide CEO David Sackman points to behavioral health as one of the fields where VR technology will be most beneficial.

“We are using VR to better understand the unconscious and emotions in a variety of contexts,” Sackman said. “We think that, beyond gaming, the area of behavior change can benefit the most.”

Academic researchers have successfully experimented with a range of treatment areas that use VR to change unhealthy behaviors. These include phobia treatments, post-traumatic stress disorder, drug addiction recovery and work on self-confidence and self-esteem.

“Since VR affects your unconscious and shows (that) your rational mind cannot control everything, it should make behavior change easier,” Sackman said. “Because you’re in this immersive environment that can affect your unconscious, we believe that it’s going to be much easier for people to learn the motivation and skills they need to lose weight, for example. Users don’t have to force themselves to lose weight; instead they’ll have absorbed (the training) and it’ll become much more a part of them.”

AppliedVR is currently working on a variety of behavior-change applications and is in discussions with numerous large organizations about health, wellness and medical-related applications. One notable example comes from international risk management firm Travelers Insurance, which is creating an industrial safety solution to reduce accidents in factories and warehouses.

“One of the reasons this solution has so much potential is that it can break the laws of physics,” Sackman said. “Using VR, people can fly around a warehouse identifying accident points and helping co-workers. This increases their empathy, sensitivity and team orientation and will reduce the number of potential accidents. It certainly changes the way people are thinking about safety in the workplace.”

VR experiments also are being conducted in hospital settings to provide pre-admitted patients with virtual tours of where they will be treated. This helps prepare patients for surgery, for example, by providing a view of the surgical room, the recovery room and hospital room, potentially reducing the stress of the unknown.

“Our idea is to build a business that can do good in the world,” Sackman said.


The year ahead is critical for VR technologies, as the public begins to assess initial applications in gaming and other industries. Research firm MarketsandMarkets of Dallas, Texas (USA), predicts that manufacturers of VR and augmented-reality hardware will generate US$1.06 billion in revenue globally by 2018.

“I think you’ll see new kinds of VR products launch that only make sense in VR,” nDreams’ O’Luanaigh said. “That’s part of what excites us the most – it won’t just be ‘traditional games’ using VR, but entirely new experiences. And the best games in VR, as with any new platform, will have been designed specifically with VR in mind.”

The use of 3D will help narrow the gap between the real and virtual worlds, zSpace’s Chavez said. “That flat representation we’ve all come to accept is really artificial and we’ve accepted it because the technology hasn’t allowed us anything else,” he said. “Companies are starting to see the value, and now the question is how to get it to people. I think (adoption) is coming quickly as the fundamental value of this kind of interface is being recognized.”  ◆


EVE: Valkyrie, developed by CCP Games of Reykjavik, Iceland, is a multiplayer shooter game set in a virtual universe; UK-based Creative Assembly will soon release Alien: Isolation, a survival horror stealth game that forms part of the Alien franchise.

Health Care

The University of Southern California’s Institute for Creative Technologies, based in Los Angeles, is working on numerous clinical psychology applications, including an exposure therapy to treat soldiers with post-traumatic stress disorder.


Podrift, a virtual meeting space in development by a global team of volunteers, aims to make online meetings more engaging with the Oculus Rift headset.


EcoMUVE, a curriculum research project at the Harvard Graduate School of Education in Cambridge, Massachusetts (USA), teaches middle school students about ecosystems in an immersive virtual environment; Irvine, California-based EON Reality’s VR labs cover subjects that include chemistry and geography.


Aerospace company Lockheed Martin, based in Bethesda, Maryland (USA), uses virtual avatars to design and build a range of satellites and aircraft, saving on expensive and difficult flight testing; Ford Motor Company, based in Dearborn, Michigan (USA), uses virtual reality to design both interior and exterior design features of new models.

Mining for advantage

Anglo American CEO advocates sustainable innovation in natural resources

Tony Velocci

2 min read

The term “sustainable development” may seem like an oxymoron in mining.  But Mark Cutifani, chief executive of global mining leader Anglo American plc, believes technology and innovation can strengthen and sustain the industry’s critical contribution to modern life. 

COMPASS: Many of the products that Anglo American extracts are critical to life in our world today. What is your perspective on the importance of mining to global prosperity?

Mark Cutifani: Without mining, life as we know it couldn’t exist. The smartphone you’ve got in your hand has 76 different minerals in it. If I put that into economic terms, we represent 8% to 10% of the world’s gross domestic product (GDP). The service industries that support the mining industry contribute around 18% to worldwide GDP. When you take into account the products we produce and the critical importance they have to other industries, (mining) directly or indirectly drives 45% of the world’s economy.

On the other side, (mining) is one of the least environmentally invasive industries in the world. We produce the products that make the water you drink drinkable and clean the air that you breathe. We take up less than 1% of the earth’s surface. We generate less than 2.5% of the world’s carbon gases, and fertilizers that we produce have allowed us to feed the world using half of the landmass that it otherwise would have taken.

You can clean water and regrow trees, but you can’t put back minerals once they are mined. Do you worry that we’re depleting the earth’s resources?

MC: Technology developments over the last 5,000 years have supported us in three ways. First, they have helped us extract resources more efficiently, enabling us to extract lower-grade and poorer-quality resources to deliver what we need to sustain life. We are nowhere near depleting the world’s resources. 

Second, the development of material sciences has allowed us to use a lot less metal than we were using even 100 years ago to achieve the same outcome, which means our consumption (of mineral resources) per person has declined. In all likelihood, we won’t need iron ore in the volumes we’re using today for certain applications, for example, because we will have found other materials that can satisfy the need more efficiently. 



Third, there’s such a big inventory and technology moves so rapidly. We can’t imagine the future. A century from now we will be able to source materials using technologies that we can’t even imagine today. We might even mine the moon. Who knows? The level of intellectual horsepower that will be applied to solving those problems will find a way.

You have been very outspoken about the mining industry’s need to learn from what you call “the restless innovators” in other industries. What can mining learn from discrete manufacturing? 

MC: As time goes on, there are less of the really great deposits to be found, so being the first to identify the potential of a resource and extract it more efficiently could give us a five-year advantage. The manufacturing sector has been in the position for the last 70 to 100 years where competitive advantage rests on your ability to innovate, how you run your underlying processes and being super-responsive to markets. We’ve got a lot to learn from our colleagues in other industries on all three fronts. 

Are there particular skills that you think the mining industry needs to apply to be more innovative?

MC: There are three areas where we have a lot to learn. The first is conceptualizing and modeling how we can be more innovative. To model scenarios that help us be more effective in a dynamic environment will really help us understand how to innovate. The second is building employee-generated ideas into our processes, as demonstrated by Toyota’s management system. And finally, we need to improve our processing technologies so that we can generate greater value from our products for customers and shareholders. In those three areas, I think, mining has a lot to learn from other industries.

Who owns the IP?

Patent disputes and management costs may stall growth in the Internet of Things

John Blyler

4 min read

Complex semiconductor electronic systems – like the Internet of Things – are only possible by combining widely available hardware and software in innovative new ways. But proving who owns the intellectual property behind these technologies is becoming an increasingly difficult hurdle to clear.

If you had to pick one phrase that has captured the imagination of today’s high-tech community, it would be the Internet of Things (IoT). Synonymous with connectivity, the IoT will connect everything to everybody with applications that few of us today can imagine. The secret that few users appreciate about the IoT is that its greatest strength might also be its greatest weakness: namely, the innovative combination of intellectual property (IP) from multiple sources. The IoT phenomenon is flourishing today thanks to the availability of inexpensive, low-power, yet feature-rich electronic hardware combined with relatively free software development tools. 

All of this technology is based upon a foundation of IP that allows the sharing and reuse of hardware and software – from circuits on chips and boards to software firmware and application code. IP can also be part of the integration and manufacturing processes. But as companies scramble for competitive advantage, “sharing” of IP is giving way to lawsuits that could hamper the IoT’s growth.


“IP-related lawsuits are increasingly being used for competitive advantage,” noted Mark Davis, principal at Deloitte Consulting, based in New York City. “The growth of ‘patent troll’ activities requires firms to manage IP tightly and be able to defend against claims.” A patent troll uses patent rights to threaten other companies in an attempt to collect licensing fees, but does not use those patents to actually improve or create new products.

The semiconductor electronics industry is well acquainted with the basic concepts of IP management. But the degree of management needed – especially to handle larger and more complex systems like the IoT – is not yet fully appreciated. Traditionally, IP was curated internally from discrete blocks of technology derived from a company’s previous hardware and software projects, or it was purchased from external, third-party suppliers. But today’s globally distributed and collaborative development teams and diverse IP offerings require a more robust management system.



“The concept of a ‘lifecycle’ is a good way to think about the range of activities, risks and costs associated with IP for a semiconductor company,” explained Warren Savage, president and CEO of IPExtreme, a US-based company licensing IP and methodologies for system-on-chip designers. “Today, we see amazing levels of IP reuse to create complex devices at lower and lower costs. But as time goes on, the attention will turn to some of the hidden costs associated with creating, buying, using and supporting IP. We see a lot of big companies struggling with these things today.” Those hidden costs will only increase as designers use more and more third-party IP to improve product performance, add new features and meet the ever-shrinking time-to-market windows.


Managing IP from product development through manufacturing and distribution requires a company-wide focus involving both technical and business teams. The scope of this task mandates an enterprise-level approach to IP management that includes documenting everything from the discovery and creation of internal company IP to searching, acquisition and integration of external IP. Accomplishing these tasks requires a comprehensive way to catalog and grade the quality of all IP types across the organization and throughout the company’s supply chain. 

Defects and bugs found during development by multiple design teams must be tracked with versioning control. On the business side, third-party IP licensing and royalty payments must be made based upon the IP type involved and the product families in which it will be used.

The business and legal issues of product IP is just as daunting in scope as the technical ones. “Managing catalogs of licensed and proprietary IP across numerous product lines is becoming a challenge in the semiconductor industry,” said Eric Nguyen, director of Business Intelligence at Jama Software, a computer software company headquartered in Portland, Oregon (USA). Due diligence requires that firms conduct patent and technology checks to ensure they are not violating IP agreements. Additionally, firms must handle the payments of licensees.

Knowing what IP is legally safe to use will also affect the engineer’s design choices. Generally, the hardware IP blocks – like microprocessor cores from ARM and Intel – are well established with IP protection. But the software side can be more difficult to manage. 

“A main concern for using third-party software IP is to ensure that it does not open any volatility or backdoors to the product,” cautioned Patrick Sullivan, VP of Marketing, MCU Business Unit for Atmel, a US-based designer and manufacturer of semiconductors. “This is important for protecting the data of the device’s end user, as well as protecting the IP of those that create the device.”

The optimal product design choice will depend upon the right mix of a company’s internal IP and third-party offerings, said Richard Wawrzyniak, senior market analyst for ASIC & System-on-Chip (SoC) at Semico Research, a semiconductor marketing and consulting research company located in Phoenix. “Firms may be required to license specific IP to accomplish a product feature desired by customers,” Wawrzyniak said. “On the flip side, they may choose to invest more time in R&D/Engineering to invent something that goes beyond existing IP to ensure they are free and clear from patent claims.” 

Enterprise IP management will help hardware and software teams make the right IP choices so that no hidden costs impact the evolution of the IoT or any other innovative technology.

John Blyler, an affiliate professor of systems engineering at Portland State University in Portland, Washington (USA), writes, teaches and speaks on technology, science and science fiction and serves as chief content officer of Chip Design, Solid State Technology and Embedded Intel Solutions magazines.

Power innovation

As co-creation and crowdsourcing gain ground, it’s time to get in the game

4 min read

Bluenove, which provides consulting and services in “Open Innovation” to companies worldwide, conducted a study on collaborative innovation and its applications, particularly in the context of social issues. Martin Duval, President and COO of the firm, shares his vision of Open Innovation’s future based on his experience working with companies of all sizes.

The concept of “Open Innovation,” developed by Henry Chesbrough, professor and executive director of the Program in Open Innovation at the University of California at Berkeley in 2003, involves pooling tools or platforms to share ideas and stimulate innovation. Today, business innovation is more collaborative than ever, making Open Innovation, also known as crowdsourcing, increasingly relevant.

With the increasing complexity of the environments in which we all work, including tight budgets and resources for innovation in all sectors, the rapid pace of technology changes (mobile, web, connected devices, etc.), and sustainable development challenges, among many others, mastering collective intelligence and promoting collaboration in the processes of co-innovation and co-creation – not only between employees inside the company but also with their ecosystem (startups, SMEs, suppliers, customers, universities, associations, etc.) – is critical to survival.

Five trends to anticipate as new ways to implement an Open Innovation strategy in the future include:


External collaboration platforms will offer gateways to – or even merge with – internal idea management platforms, allowing for external ideas to be combined with in-house ideas as they move through stage-gate processes, or for outside communities to test ideas that originated internally.

SFR, for example, the French telecom operator, tests ideas generated by in-house marketing and innovation teams with external communities of users and customers in its self-developed platform, In the future, more new ideas will be developed by an internal “innovation community,” which will interact with a group of external partners (clients, startups, developers, researchers, students, suppliers and other large companies or small businesses) using a platform that is moderated and can be used both to generate new ideas and to collect feedback on ideas developed internally.


Co-creation methods will rely on complementary online and offline components to elicit new concepts for services and products more quickly and efficiently, with a broader scope than any one team or company can generate on its own. Participants and contributors can be employees, customers, experts, designers or developers.

Some key success factors to implement this mix include:

• Devoting as much effort to profiling and selecting contributors / innovators as to working on actual ideas / content, via both online platforms and offline workshops;
• Distributing and scheduling the phases of competition and co-creation appropriately;
• Organizing online activities and offline participation to complement one another.


Contests are an increasingly popular way of generating ideas and solving challenges. In the future, most of them will be jointly organized by groups of non-competitor companies hoping to share the risks and related costs with their partners while increasing the contest’s impact and reach.

For instance, the emergence of open data, which is data that can be freely used, reused and redistributed by anyone, has resulted in numerous contests for developers to create innovative applications. These have had some degree of success, both in eliciting original ideas and in generating new products and services. 

Choosing one or more suitable partners to help organize, run and co-brand the contest / challenge is critical to success. The best contests pool the partners’ contributions and resources to manage various aspects of the contest, including communication, the ideation and selection process and identifying / reaching target communities. Establishing a healthy collaborative spirit will protect intellectual property while maintaining the agility required for success.




At the beginning of an idea-management process, key contributors will need to be selected for each phase to avoid monopolizing all participants through the entire process. Likewise, rewards and incentives will need to be carefully selected, defined and awarded in relation to each participant’s level of contribution.

As more companies expand their use of both external crowdsourcing and internal contests, the agreement of mutual trust between the organizer and the contributor is a common stumbling block. To clearly define the relationships, expectations and benefits:

• Only involve contributors in those parts of the process where their qualifications allow them to fully contribute. Bringing them in too early or too late wastes resources and creates frustration.
• Use contributor profiling to evaluate how much effort to ask of participants at various steps in the process, while maintaining effective group dynamics and leadership.
• Structure the incentives / rewards for both internal and external contributors carefully, remembering not to underestimate the value of feedback loops within the process, taking full advantage of existing levers and adding reusable elements.


The very concept of Open Innovation implies disruptive innovations, which are most likely to come from a field or sector outside the company’s “core business.” It is crucial, therefore, that major companies and institutions learn to excel at initiating and implementing complex collaborations that address such sweeping issues as technology acceleration, sustainable development and globalization.

With all the challenges companies face, the need for innovation is increasingly urgent, especially given the intense pressure on stakeholders’ resources and budgets in the wake of the recent global economic slowdown, which has affected virtually every company, sector and vertical.

To address these challenges, major groups and institutions will need to learn to initiate and implement complex, multi-partner, large-scale collaborative projects such as Smart City, which unites players from transportation, energy, architecture, telecommunications and other sectors in addressing urban infrastructure challenges.

In such collaborative ventures, it is critical to assess each potential participant’s “partnership profile” (Fortune 500, startup, etc.) and level of motivation to form a partnership. Approaching potential partners based solely on their industry positioning or current products is not enough. Once a partnership is formed, focus on quickly delivering a few success stories to keep the project on a positive note. Using pilot phases, testing / prototyping / mock-ups as much as possible allows you to “Try Often and Fail Fast,” helping you to accumulate learnings and progress quickly.

In such an environment, the concept of Open Innovation will stretch and we will see greater convergence of Open Innovation, social responsibility and collective intelligence through the rise of new-generation platforms.

Power to the people

Engaging with empowered consumers makes brands stronger

Jacqui Griffiths

3 min read

Social media has given consumers a public voice. Brands are not only listening – they’re realizing that engaging in a two-way conversation is essential to success.

In 2013, almost one in four people worldwide (1.73 billion) were social network users, a figure that will reach 2.55 billion by 2017, according to New York -based digital media research firm eMarketer. Each of those users is a consumer who, empowered by mobile technology, can shout their opinion worldwide within seconds – and brands are realizing that they need to engage in the conversation. 

Examples of the damage done when companies talk on social media but don’t listen are common. Fast food chain McDonalds, British Airways and fashion retailer Abercrombie & Fitch are just a few of the brands that have taken Twitter and Facebook abuse from their customers.

“The digital age has obliterated the scripted, one-way flow of information that existed when there were fewer channels,” said Gregory Carpenter, faculty director of the Kellogg Markets and Customers Initiative (KMCI) at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois (USA). “Corporations and consumers are now engaged in unplanned, unscripted discussions across a wide range of social media.” 

Those discussions can be both risky and profitable, Carpenter said. “Executives have realized that any person can create a profit-threatening crisis just by hitting ‘send.’ At the same time, social media activities are generating massive amounts of data that can offer insights into consumers’ lives.”


A recent report by London-based social-selling consultant Buyapowa noted that the average large company spends US$19 million a year on social media, but many are not yet realizing its potential for engaging consumers. Buyapowa identified three stages of social media maturity: collecting an audience, engaging that community, and building a social sales channel. While many brands are still in the first stage, Buyapowa identified Scottish craft beer company BrewDog as a pioneer of the third stage.

“Executives have realized that any person can create a profit-threatening crisis just by hitting ‘send.’”


“Everyone has a view online these days, and it would be foolish to ignore that,” said Sarah Warman, BrewDog’s digital marketing ‘master gunner.’ “But pushing content out isn’t enough – you’ve got to give consumers a reason to engage with you.”

BrewDog has engaged its consumers in developing and naming new beers and choosing artwork for labels, posters and t-shirts, Warman said. “Our social media followers decided every element of our #MashTag beer, which has just completed its second year as the world’s most crowd-sourced beer”, she said. “We’ve also raised over £7 million (US$11.7 million) through our crowdfunding scheme. We now have over 4,000 shareholders, an amazing community of people who are all vocal and involved in our beer, business and brewery.”


The LEGO Group, headquartered in Denmark, also exemplifies the role of social media engagement in building brand value. The past decade has seen LEGO transform from a struggling, out-of-date toy brand into one with revenues of US$4.5 billion in 2013 and sales in more than 130 countries. 

“The brand needs to exist in the mind of the consumer,” Peter Espersen, head of global community co-creation at the LEGO Group, said at the 2014 Festival of Media Global in Rome. “If it doesn’t exist there, does it really have any value?”

LEGO engages fans through social networks that include Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. Among its own social sites are Brikipedia, which provides fan forums, and the LEGO Ideas crowdsourcing site where fans can submit suggestions for new sets and vote for the ones they want to see produced. Its ReBrick site also provides a window into the best of LEGO’s web presence through bookmarking of images and videos from multiple sites.

Espersen said that LEGO sees itself as part of an ecosystem where value is created by the brand and its users. “Users have become makers; they push boundaries and fill out all the holes where LEGO doesn’t go,” he said. “All this value creation happens in and out of LEGO communities. We’re currently in contact with 200 independent user communities around the world. We try to work with them through digital initiatives and offline initiatives as well.”


Getting customers to ‘like’ your brand is a great start, but responsive service is crucial to a successful two-way conversation between a brand and its consumers. A recent survey of UK consumers by the UK-based independent complaints mediation service Ombudsman Services, for example, found that more than a quarter of customers who complained about a product or service shared their complaint via social media. 

A speedy, helpful response to queries and complaints can result in recommendations – for example, a glance at LEGO’s Twitter feed reveals quick responses to queries and tweets praising the brand’s customer service. But failing to satisfy customers might lead them to air their frustrations for all the world to see.

“Many consumers now use a brand’s social presence as an easy-to-find – and very public – customer service channel,” said Ed Gray, client services director at UK-based global promotional risk manager VCG Promorisk. “It’s important to resource handling and customer service functions appropriately so you can provide an immediate response on these channels and consumers can see that you will work to resolve issues quickly.”

Establishing a two-way dialogue with consumers is difficult, but rewarding. “Embracing a consumer-centric approach is neither quick nor easy – but it is imperative,” said KMCI’s Carpenter. “Companies that fail to adapt will struggle to survive, but this change creates new opportunities and it will produce new winners.”

Ethical apparel

Sustainability is the hottest new trend in fashion

Jacqui Griffiths

3 min read

Fashion brands are finding that a sustainable supply chain is not only good for people and the environment – it’s also a business essential when dealing with today’s well-informed consumer. Ensuring sustainability progress requires continuous vigilance, a shared industry commitment and sophisticated systems for tracking the supply chain’s activities.

Fashion businesses are used to facing the pressure of fast-changing consumer demand for their products. But increasingly, with unprecedented access to information about brands’ operations and media coverage of events such as those in Bangladesh – the Dhaka factory fire of 2012 and Rana Plaza factory collapse in 2013 – consumers also are scrutinizing the fashion supply chain. 

“Growing consumer demand for higher social and environmental standards across the board has increased the need for supply chain transparency in the United States and in Europe, affecting the textile and garment industry in the process,” said Maximilian Martin, founder of Impact Economy, a Switzerland- based impact investing and strategy firm with operations in North and South America. “Trends such as the rise of Asia (as a manufacturing hub for fashion), fast fashion and increased transparency of supply chains are raising the bar for better social and environmental performance.”


Ensuring sustainability is a multifaceted challenge for apparel brands. They need to know how every stage of the supply chain might impact individuals, communities and the environment so they can avoid negative consumer backlash against their products.

“Global supply chains are highly challenging for companies committed to trading ethically,” said Esme Gibbins, head of media and communications at the Ethical Trading Initiative (ETI), a global alliance of companies, trade unions and non-governmental organizations that promotes respect for workers’ rights. “For example, the labor rights issues that exist in many supply chains are often deep-rooted, widespread and incredibly complex for any apparel brand or retailer to tackle on its own.”

Sustainability requires transparency at every level of the fashion supply chain. (Image © Inditex)


Leading brands are working toward sustainability with help from the tools and voluntary codes of conduct provided by organizations like the ETI, Sustainable Apparel Coalition and Solidaridad. “Ethical trade is about working with other companies and stakeholders to help drive long-lasting improvements, and sharing your progress,” Gibbins said.

For example, with the launch of its Plan A 2020, UK-based fashion retailer Marks & Spencer has extended its sustainable business plan across its operations worldwide. In addition to their individual sustainability commitments, Swedish fashion retailer H&M and Inditex, the Spanish fashion group behind Zara, have jointly committed to improve factory safety conditions and to eliminate endangered-forest fibers from their rayon and viscose clothing. 

Sustainability reports also are becoming more common in the fashion industry as brands measure themselves against their objectives and codes of conduct – and sophisticated IT systems are giving them the visibility they need
to monitor progress. 



“Driving sustainable fashion business requires a conscious effort to define objectives and then consistent measurement against those goals,” said Leslie Hand, research director at global consulting firm IDC Retail Insights. “Supply chain IT supports this work by enabling visibility into factory audits before orders are placed; to sources of supply for materials; to the goods in motion; and to all the inputs to the carbon footprint of goods, so that this can be calculated. It also enables efficient and smart selection and utilization of materials.” 

Many advances are being made in ensuring sustainability throughout the supply chain, Hand said. “For example, from a design perspective, being sustainable requires the design of clothes with the preservation of nature in mind, leveraging recycled or natural fibers, minimizing waste and reducing the use of water and energy. 3D design and visualization and other carbon-tracing tools can help with this. Product Lifecycle Management (PLM) enables efficient design, minimizing waste and reducing sampling. And analytics solutions are helping organizations to plan for the effective design of products that will sell through, thus reducing landfill.”

Measuring impacts across the lifecycle of apparel or footwear – such as material, production, packaging, use and end of life – requires collaborative efforts to aggregate data across the value chain.  In addition to improving design and production, PLM allows suppliers, brands and retailers to partner on a common platform toward a more sustainable, circular economy.


The systems that support sustainability can deliver significant business benefits too. In its report “Supply Chain Top 25 for 2014,” global consulting firm Gartner recognized the sophisticated technologies that support H&M’s aggressive growth path, as well as Inditex’s rapid prototyping and time to market, while acknowledging the firms’ sustainability commitments. Inditex/Zara’s “highly integrated supply chain also leverages social networks and product scarcity to sense and shape demand,” the report said; it also identified H&M’s supply chain as a “key enabler” of the retailer’s growth.

“There is an enormous hidden value- creation opportunity in sustainability,” Impact Economy’s Martin said. “In many cases, water consumption in global apparel production could be lowered by as much as 50%, energy by one third and the use of chemicals by up to one fifth. These changes could unlock massive value and, accompanied by modern management techniques that engage with workers, provide the economic basis for improving working conditions and environmental footprints. To seize this potential and take manufacturing to the next level, we need to start treating sustainability as a key driver that can help achieve both business success and long-term value for society.”

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