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Inventive Data: Brilliant Machines Take the Cake on Edison’s Birthday

Thomas Edison received 1,093 patents during his lifetime for inventions spanning everything from the tattoo machine to the electric grid. His innovative mind inspired President Ronald Reagan to celebrate National Inventors’ Day on the anniversary of Edison’s birthday on February 11.

Edison’s curious spirit never the left the company he started. Three GE scientists received the Nobel Prize over the years, and three other Nobelists ran experiments at GE Global Research, the company’s flagship lab in Niskayuna, NY. Their colleagues have built the first American jet engine, designed the first full-body MRI machine, and invented the LED.

GE spends more than $6 billion annually on research and development, and its global lab network employs 3,000 people, including 1,125 PhDs.

Today, a lot of innovation involves the Industrial Internet, a digital network that links people with data, machines and software. It is changing the way we live, making everything from airlines to hospitals and power plants operate faster and more efficiently. The gains could add between $10 and $15 trillion – the size of today’s U.S. economy – to global GDP over the next 20 years.


GE has connected gas turbines (see above), locomotives, medical scanners and other technology to the Industrial Internet.

Consider that bad winter weather has cancelled 40,000 flights so far this year. We can’t control weather, but airlines can use data and software to manage their planes and minimize unplanned downtime. “The aircraft is clearly the airline’s biggest and most important asset,” says Andy Heather, vice president of engineering at Taleris. “Traditionally, however, the aircraft has not been well connected into the airlines’ digital systems, operations and maintenance to the same degree, leaving significant potential value unrealized.”

Taleris is a joint venture between GE Aviation and Accenture. It helps customers like Southwest Airlines and Etihad Airways predict, prevent and recover from disruptions like those caused by storms.

Taleris launched only two years ago, it was one of the reasons why Fast Company just put GE again on its list of the world’s most innovative companies, and named it the most innovative enterprise in Big Data. “General Electric is best known for its machine making,” the magazine wrote, “but it’s gotten smart and branded itself as a big-data company, too, by pushing its vision for an “Industrial Internet”—the notion that machines should be connected like the web in order to increase efficiency and reduce downtime.”

Edison used to say that “discontent [was] the first necessity of progress.” He would be happy to see that his legacy now resonates more than ever before.

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