Agilent CTO Darlene Solomon Discusses Global Trends Expected to Influence the Future of Measurement
January 29, 2008
In this article, Darlene Solomon, Agilent chief technology officer, discusses the significant global trends and measurement needs expected to influence the future of measurement technology.
What is the role of Agilent Labs in the company's future technology planning?
Solomon: Agilent Laboratories, the central research organization of Agilent Technologies, dates back to 1966, when it was part of Hewlett-Packard Laboratories. Agilent Labs is the one organization in the company that focuses entirely on the future. Labs is chartered to look at the long-term measurement market and identify, invest in and enable technologies in areas that will power next-generation solutions.
Can you provide an example of how Labs identifies and helps Agilent prepare for future trends?
Solomon: One example is Agilent's genomics business. Agilent DNA microarray products first shipped in 1999, but the research process actually began in the early-1990s at, what was then, Hewlett-Packard Labs. Based on an expectation that molecular biology would be important in the future, Labs began hiring molecular biologists and biochemists into its advanced research team. The extended research program leveraged HP's inkjet printing capability as a flexible and scalable platform to develop DNA microarrays in partnership with what is today Agilent's bio-analytical measurement business. Agilent now has a growing, profitable business in microarrays with an extensive range of state-of-the-art microarray and genomics products across the entire measurement workflow. Labs continues our research in genomics technologies and applications to define the breakthroughs that will help Agilent's life science customers continue to advance their research goals.
What do you see as the current global trends and what role do those play in Labs' approach to identifying future measurement needs?
Solomon: In order to continue to make significant contributions with Agilent's technology solutions, we must look at what's happening in the world and consider the implications of global trends to new measurement needs.
Today, global economic, demographic and climate changes are happening at unprecedented rates. These trends provide a foundation for global measurement needs going forward. As a result, Agilent Labs is considering measurement solutions and technologies that can help nurture the health of the world's people, environment, and economies while increasing the company's market opportunities and profitability well into the coming decade.
Based on these global trends, what do you see as potential future measurement needs?
Solomon: We've identified three over-arching themes that are likely to drive new measurement technology innovation.
Near-to-Sample Measurement -- The world needs dedicated, near-to-sample, and easy-to-use measurements in order to make timely decisions and take action. It is often more desirable to obtain measurement understanding near to where the sample has meaning -- at the well that provides drinking water for example -- as compared to sending that sample to a centralized laboratory and waiting to receive the analysis.
This is increasingly important in health care where infectious diseases are re-emerging with accelerated reach and consumer-directed health care initiatives create new opportunities for decentralized biological measurements and consumer-diagnostic products. Mobile phones, which are now used mostly for communications and entertainment, might become another device for bio-analytical measurement. Imagine if cell phones could collect health information that indicates when you need to see your doctor.
Wireless, Low-cost, Pervasive Measurements -- The world needs distributed, wireless, low-cost, networked measurements for communication and to address large-scale problems like climate change, energy distribution and the health of critical infrastructure such as transportation and water systems. Integrating information from a large number of distributed sensors can provide early indication of issues that may need special attention.
For example, increasing population, urbanization and standards of living stress the ability to supply resources such as water and agricultural products. Increasing urbanization also brings transportation congestion. Even in cities that make vast investments in public transport, road congestion is increasing dramatically with population and economic activity. A traffic monitoring and management solution with networked low-cost sensors could map and communicate traffic patterns and highlight areas that need increased management.
At the same time, carbon emissions and energy usage are contributing to critical global climate changes. Measurement solutions that entail extensive distributed networks of reliable, low-cost sensors can help monitor and manage these large-scale challenges that require careful planning and distribution.
Data Management Systems for Insight -- In this digital age, huge amounts of heterogeneous data are available across industries. As customer problems become more complex, data-types from multiple measurement sources will need to be integrated and visualized in innovative ways in order to facilitate insight. To extract knowledge and insight from this vast amount of data, we will need more sophisticated data management and visualization systems.
Improved data analysis systems will, for example, increase our understanding of biological complexity and treatment of disease. Today we are just on the cusp of being able to measure, model and understand living systems in terms of the complex and dynamic interplay of many biological pathways. Ultimately, with this understanding will come a next generation of personalized medicine and molecular diagnostics. We'll be able to classify complex diseases more accurately and develop therapeutic drugs with higher efficacy and reduced side effects.
Are there any implementation challenges in addressing these new measurement needs?
Solomon: As we consider these three broad opportunities for new measurements, we meet an important paradox. Our customers are asking increasingly complex questions that require new levels of measurement capability, but many people who will use next generation measurement tools will not have technical training. So the overarching challenge will be to design products that are easy for everyone around the world to use and maintain. Achieving this simplicity requires Agilent's tremendous technical expertise as well as deep insight into customer measurement problems and use models.
Do you have any thoughts on Agilent's role in the future of measurement technology?
Solomon: With Agilent's broad and deep competencies across the entire measurement process, we are well-positioned to contribute to the world's emerging measurement needs and continue as the premier measurement company. Agilent's businesses are focused on electronic and bio-analytical measurement, and in the future, many important and emerging markets will require solutions that are electronic and bio-analytical in nature. This is where Agilent will naturally excel in the measurement market. In addition, ongoing innovation and research throughout the technology industry will create new and emerging measurement needs that will provide many opportunities for Agilent to continue to create the future of measurement.