Fairmont lab turns data "trash" to treasure; GST helping the National Weather Service improve its forecasts.
Eric Eyer, Reporter
February 27, 2010
The Global Science & Technology Innovation Lab is equipping buses and trucks across the nation with sensors. The sensors measure road surface temperature, barometric pressure, relative humidity and other factors. The Mobile Platform Environmental Data observation network (MoPED) is being tested on 50 moving vehicles that travel across bridges, highways, mountain peaks and valleys. By this fall, the network - a $1 million project - will expand throughout the nation.
"It's like having more eyeballs out there," said Brian Bell, who founded the Innovation Lab at the Alan Mollohan Innovation Center in Fairmont. "The more data you have to feed the forecast model, the more enhanced the predictions."
The Innovation Lab opened earlier this year. A grand opening is scheduled for April 1 - a fitting day, as Bell and his co-workers jokingly refer to themselves as "innovation fools."
In 2005, Apple founder Steve Jobs told Stanford University graduates to "stay hungry and foolish." The Innovation Lab embraces that credo.
"We have adopted that philosophy as our own," Bell said. "We are hungry and foolish."
The Innovation Lab houses about eight employees now, with room to add several more. The office has soft lighting, large-screen televisions, a wireless network, free coffee. Employees sit in a large open room. No cubicles. No private offices. Everyone's contribution is valued equally. The Lab is a community where concepts emerge, where ideas are generated.
"It's like a high-tech playground," Bell said. "My 10-year-old son said, 'Dad, this isn't like going to work. This is fun. Can I have my birthday party here?'"
The Innovation Lab started as a Global Science & Technology working group three years ago. GST employees would meet over lunch to talk about ideas and how to transform them to commercial applications. The lab's main objective is to take large amounts of data and turn them into meaningful, relevant information that can be used to make informed decisions. Bell said people are bombarded with more and more data these days, but rarely derive better information from the data.
"We turn data 'trash' into information treasure," said Bell, vice president of GST's Technology Enterprise Group. "Deriving meaningful and relevant information from the data and delivering it to the right person in the right way at the right time is our mission and passion."
The Innovation Lab juggles several projects at a time. The group is working on another weather forecasting application with West Virginia University's unmanned air vehicle program.
"We could capture weather observations from the ground up to a half mile up in the air," Bell said.
The lab also has developed a "mobile tagging" system that would allow people to use mobile devices to scan bar codes - called "To-Go tags" - on products and have detailed information delivered instantly. For instance, homebuyers could scan tags on real estate "For Sale" signs and learn a house price, square footage and other information. Car shoppers could go to dealership lots after hours, scan a tag and secure a detailed list of the vehicle's specifications.
"All the information is delivered right to your phone," Bell said.
The Information Lab also has developed a "Personal Medical Exercise DVD" system in which patients receive an individualized physical therapy routine.
"A lot of what we do, it's being able to take loads of general data and customize it for the individual," Bell said. "It's mass customization of information. It empowers you and provides relevant information."
Bell said the Innovation Lab wants to stay entrepreneurial - and continue to collaborate with business and government, bringing people together to solve problems, share ideas, find funding, build prototypes and expand commercial potential.
"We're blurring the distinction between work and play," Bell said. "This is our passion, and we love to do it."
Reach Eric Eyre at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-348-4869.