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Forging ahead: GE Research expands its technical footprint

Forging ahead: GE Research expands its technical footprint

Imagine this: A group of researchers with expertise spanning multiple technical domains and industry experience have an idea. An incredible—maybe even exponential—idea. They want to pursue this idea further because they believe it will be disruptive to industry. What if they were able to focus solely on developing their idea for a period of time in a workspace that was outfitted for their specific needs? Enter GE Research’s Forge Lab.

Conceptualized in 2017, the Forge Lab’s mission is to explore and demonstrate what’s possible at the edge of technical feasibility. “We created the Forge Lab with the vision of creating tactile demonstrations of how exponential technologies can be contextualized towards impact on an industrial asset or ecosystem,” says Ben Verschueren, growth leader of the Forge Lab at GE Research in Niskayuna, New York.

“Around that idea, we built a contemporary physical space that can be reconfigured to support whatever missions we take on as well as showcase the technologies.” Derived from its name, the Forge Lab’s focus is on building; beginning with an idea, connecting to a specific outcome, and creating functional demonstrations of industry-challenging technology integrations.

By leaning on our interdisciplinary, mission-based teams of researchers to tackle technical problems, we are able to build a portfolio of diverse technology missions that span different capabilities, domains and applications.

 

What makes a Forge Mission unique?

The Forge Lab has created a visual representation that captures the lifecycle of a mission, called “The Forge Way.” The map, mounted on a wall at the entrance of the Forge, outlines the essential components of every mission. A mission can either start from a promising fundamental technology paired with innovative ideas or from a perceived need in an industry that necessitates a combination of concepts and technical expertise. Once the framework of the “concept car” is determined by the team, the journey of building is filled with fundamental questions, conversations, and iterations unique to each project. The journey culminates with tactical outcomes in which the project can be handed-off to patrons for industrialization and commercialization or can endow employees with further capabilities and prototypes for future innovation.

the-forge-way

We strive to make the Forge an energetic and dynamic place to work, where the vibrancy of new ideas and pace of change within the lab push the cutting edge of technology. In a span of six to twelve months, our teams are able to drive towards showing feasibility of these technologies and applications.

Since its establishment, the Forge has emerged with several mission wins across a diverse set of technology domains.

 

Major Mission Wins

Blockchain+

Mission: How do we contextualize a technology such as Blockchain to transfer its fundamental properties to a relevant industry?

Blockchain goes well beyond cryptocurrencies and its popularity in Bitcoin—it is an opportunity to expand its critical enabling technology to creating a fundamental trust fabric for digital infrastructure and will help lead to the democratization of centralized assets and institutions.

This mission focused on demonstrating how to take the fundamental Blockchain architecture and push it beyond its perceived limitations, particularly through industrial use cases. These uses included monitoring real-time sensor data on a gas turbine, showing how energy can be safely and securely transacted between decentralized points of generation, storage, and use, and building an industrial-grade implementation running over an unbreakable, quantum-secure network.

The team developed a first-of-its-kind hardware and quantum secured blockchain capable of collecting data and executing smart contracts at the frame rate of a gas turbine. This system allows for authenticity validation of received data by operational analytics that are not co-located on sensors—securing creation, movement, and storage of data within a trust fabric. The team also built a platform to perform formal verification and validation of smart contracts. Smart contracts are pieces of code that are executed automatically as transactions occur. Being able to prove that a smart contract has no loopholes or unexpected behavior is critical towards building a trusted system.

Takeaway:  After separating Blockchain from the hype of cryptocurrencies, the team was able to showcase industrial Blockchain applications—driving strategic, tactical, and value discussions around the potential for the technology to enable entirely new business models and create a secure and trusted additive supply chain. Their demonstration of how Blockchain, in conjunction with other technologies like Quantum Key Distribution, can create a “trust fabric” across machines led to an invitation to present the work at the Consensus 2019 conference as well as an award for their work: the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM) 2019 Manufacturing Leadership Award for Supply Chain leadership.

Autonomous Imaging

Mission: How can we transform a specialized technology such as ultrasound to be an instrument that can be utilized by novice users and enable widespread growth of diagnoses in the medical field?

Ultrasound technology has rapidly shifted toward low-cost and miniaturized implementations over the past several years, laying the foundation for its widespread adoption. It is a non-invasive technique used to capture internal images of the body for diagnostic purposes, presenting a 2D cross section of any internal organs or tissues that are scanned. The image produced by ultrasound technology is highly dependent on the angle and precision of the instrument. Therefore, a skilled sonographer is still required to perform and interpret a successful scan, limiting its utilization to a trained operator.

If we can enable novice users (general medical professionals, doctors, nurses, people throughout the developing world, and even someday people in the home), ultrasound can provide improved quality of care in its widespread growth. It can initiate increased access to basic screening exams, reduction of unnecessary referrals to high-cost imaging modalities, and reduction of scan time and variability of diagnosis.

The team explored a fusion of many technologies, such as sensing systems, probe and patient tracking, image processing, atlas-based registration, deep learning, anatomy modeling, AR visualizations, and robotics to realize this vision. For their first milestone, the team performed a demonstration that allowed Kieran Murphy (GM of GE Healthcare and untrained ultrasound operator) to detect the volume of a live subject’s kidney in less than a minute. The team also developed a demonstration integrating patient tracking, anatomy modeling, probe guidance, and AI image processing that enables novice users to measure the diameter of a fetus’s skull to determine the age of the fetus. This project culminated in the creation of a mobile app that builds an anatomy model of a patient with only the phone’s camera and shows an Augmented Reality overlay for probe guidance.

Takeaway: This team was able to launch an end-to-end demonstration at GE’s Global Leadership Meeting after three months of research, highlighting the speed and capabilities of researchers that collaborate across technology domains. They transformed an aspiration into a visual demonstration, energizing the mindset of the Forge’s tactile journey through technology as well as lending a new dynamic to presenting research.

 

Future Forge Missions

Digital Womb

Mission: How can we provide GE Healthcare with a revolutionary medical instrument that minimizes negative touches to premature babies in the NICU?

Premature infants need to focus their energy on growing and developing once born. Growth and development are optimal when infants can sleep and experience maximum opportunities for “kangaroo care” (when an infant has skin-to-skin contact with their mother). In the NICU, babies must undergo intrusive testing to monitor their vital signs, measurements, and activities. These tests often involve “negative touches” such as prodding, pricking, or affixing sensors to the infants. These negative touches, which disrupt optimal development activities, can lead to long term developmental issues.

The goal of the Digital Womb mission is to help infants grow, while minimizing negative touches in the process, by creating sensors that can monitor infants without touching them. This mission was kickstarted in June 2018 when the Forge Lab hosted its first-ever Forge Hackathon. Customers from GE’s Maternal Infant Care group and over 50 researchers from across all technology domains at GE Research came to the Forge Lab to brainstorm ideas and prototypes for a novel incubator and contactless sensing. In the following six months, the team had assembled a prototype system of smart mattress and video analytics as well as created a demonstration mockup of a platform to integrate the monitoring data in the NICU and develop parameters.

With the data from the progression of this project, new parameters and new insights can be developed to improve how neonatologists provide care for premature infants. This will extend beyond the walls of the hospital, allowing families to check in on their new loved one even when they can’t be with them.

Soteria

Mission: How can we translate personal health wearables to an industrial application in the interest of employee safety?

As personal health wearables such as smart watches, smart rings and smart clothing have exploded in the technology atmosphere, the industrial space is ripe for similar growth. Coupling the opportunity of having much more instrumented personnel with intelligent environments, the fusion of industrial wearables with things like video analytics and localized sensing can enable individual safety to be monitored real-time in hazardous environments.

The mission Soteria, named after the Greek Goddess of safety and protection, is looking to build analytics targeted at outcomes that center on a fusion of sensors. We are building models of personnel, of the environment, and of hazards or scenarios, which in combination will allow us to monitor what is happening in real time as well as play out potential scenarios to predict the future and alert of the possibility of imminent danger.

 

What’s next for the Forge?

“As we continue to cultivate a dynamic portfolio of missions in the Forge, we are maintaining a focus on how to translate the capabilities, knowledge and excitement we generate into outcomes for GE Research and GE,” says Ben Verschueren.

“We have numerous successes now in translating these ideas from seeds to fully formed concepts and funded programs with our line of sight trained on real world impact for GE and our customers and partners, and we are feeding back all that we learn from the process into the Forge methodology and culture.” The Forge Lab will continue to be a space for our passionate researchers to freely explore industry-challenging ideas with the goal of bringing together expertise from across technology domains to offer high speed solutions.

We’ve expanded the innovation powerhouse of GE Research by launching a second Forge Lab in Bangalore, India. The second location, with more than 5,000 square feet of dynamic collaboration space, will harness the guide for successful Forge missions in conjunction with a strong focus on the exponential markets present in India.

Exemplifying the energy and dynamics of a Forge Lab, the second location will push the boundaries of technology and run six active missions: Inspection Services, Energy Management as a Service (EMaaS), Leading Edge Protection (LEP), Electric Vehicles (EV), Residual stress by Ultrasound Microscopy (RUM), and AI for Materials.

The teams are pulling together their cross-functional expertise to design, innovate and deliver a unique exponential technology solution portfolio. The Inspection Services mission will be designing customized inspection services for heavy industry with the hope that their learnings will apply to other external missions. The Electric Vehicles mission, with EV grid integration planning and design tool as their objective, is designing web-based EV charging station placement tools.

“For an interdisciplinary ecosystem like the John F. Welch Technology Centre in Bangalore, India, the Forge Lab is a great place where people can come together to work for our customers,” says Alok Nanda, CEO of GE India Technology Centre and CTO, GE South Asia. “We all should be very proud of having such a world-class lab at JFWTC, where we are creating solutions of exponential nature for exponential growth markets.”

With two Forge Labs in existence, GE Research is focusing on giving their researchers the ability to disrupt industry with exponential innovations in the technical realm.

"We created the Forge Lab with the vision of creating tactile demonstrations of how exponential technologies can be contextualized towards impact on an industrial asset or ecosystem.” -Ben Verschueren, growth leader of the Forge Lab at GE Research in Niskayuna, New York
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