Areva T&D’s Secret to Innovation

By Kate
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Energy.  Some people predict that our next wars will be fought over who has possession of energy and its distribution.  The planet’s population and energy appetite is growing, but our resources are not.  What to do? 

Ramping up to next week’s National Innovation Directors Meetings, I wanted to see if I could learn the secret of innovation as it pertains to the Energy Industry.  We’re all told we need innovation to build a sustainable future, and this couldn’t be truer for energy. 

DSC_0074 copie_JLHere’s a little interview with Areva T&D’s (Transmission and Distribution) Eco Design & Innovation Director, Jean-Luc Bessède, also a speaker at the event. 

I also threw in a question about the future of eco design

Note that Areva T&D’s mission is to offer “reliable, efficient and environmentally-friendly solutions to improve network stability and make electricity available everywhere.”

1. Your title is Innovation & Eco Design Director. Where do you separate the two? Isn’t Eco Design where we must focus all of our innovation today?

JLB:  Of course, we must focus all of our innovation today towards eco-friendly solutions.  This is particularly the case in our energy sector, where the increase of renewables, the need for energy efficiency and the reduction of the CO2 emissions will be major drivers in the years to come.

At Areva T&D, our eco-design program formally began more than 10 years ago.  However, eco design is still a new area for engineering, and our program aims at giving tools and methodology to our design teams to enhance the capability of the designer to create innovative eco-friendly solutions that would also fit with customer expectations.

In our search for Green solutions, we also have to deal with cost reductions, improvement of performance, better reliability, tighter development planning or more stringent qualification programs. And our global innovation strategy and programs stand for these.

2. What are the most innovative eco design projects that you’re working on right now?

JLB:  First of all, we are developing a Green Services offer.  We are also developing innovative electrical network management tools that will allow us to improve the global energy efficiency and power quality deliveries to the end-users.  Additionally we are developing eco-friendly solutions for power transformers or swithchgear.
3. What’s your secret for innovation, and how do you ensure you’re always pushing the limits further?

JLB:  Unfortunately, there is no secret . . . and innovation is mostly a question of perspective.  It could be considered as a process, as the result of a development strategy, as a commercial success, a technological breakthrough, a sociological change, etc. 

However, three parameters appear to be essential in order to always be in the position to push the limits further :

  • Strong expertise in our core business but also regarding the business of our customers;
  • Numerous and deep relationships with external partners (universities, regulators, other companies…), including term collaboration agreements ; and
  • Heavy investments in R&D.

4. Do you use 3D software and collaborative research platforms to invent your products? If so, how does this impact your innovation cycle? If not, why?

JLB:  3D software and collaborative tools are already used and some developments and deployment are running throughout the company. We take benefit from 3D software, to improve the reliability of our equipment and reduce development time through improved electrical and mechanical dimensioning.

Collaborative platforms are necessary for us, due to the spread of our R&D community in many countries and continents.

5. What do you think is the future of eco design?

JLB:  Eco-design is already a reality and applied in the everyday engineering job, in many industries.  But good and efficient tools which could simplify and accelerate the job are and will be more and more necessary.  This is, for sure, an area where further developments will appear.

Merci beaucoup Jean-Luc! 

Any questions you’d like me to ask Jean-Luc at next week’s National Innovation Directors Meetings ?



Expo in Shanghai . . . and the Virtual World

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Fireworks at Shanghai World Expo

It was a sleepless night in Shanghai.  When the spectacular fireworks rocketed into the sky, weaving brilliant pictures upon the 5.3 square-kilometer Expo Park, the first World Expo hosted by China unveiled its curtain.

In the meantime, in the virtual world, over 300 virtual Expo pavilions finally opened their doors to greet visitors from any corner of the world.

“We are expecting about 100 million visitors online,” said by Mr. Wang Li Ping, Chief Operation Officer of Expo Website Management Office.

Call me biased, but after a quick visit of the physical and virtual Expo, I found the French Pavilion among the top of all pavilions both on the Expo ground and in the virtual world.  When I first entered the physical French Pavilion, I strongly experienced the power of “See what you mean,” “See it before it even exists.”

For the past six months, I’ve walked through the virtual French Pavilion numerous times.  It indeed felt surreal when I found myself actually standing inside it.  “This is exactly the same!”  I almost screamed at the entrance…

That day, May 1st, the first day of Expo Shanghai, 100,000 out of the 200,000 visitors of the Expo experienced the French Pavilion.  The opening ceremony of the French Pavilion was held at its beautiful roof garden, where it greeted Alain Delon and the famous Chinese actress, Gong Li. Philippe Forestier and Christian Nardin were also among the VIP guests.

For those who will attend this year’s PLM Forum in China, you will be at this romantic garden enjoying the French banquet in just one month!

Up till yesterday, about 1.5 million visitors went to the Expo ground; 500,000 of them visited the Chinese Pavilion (only 50,000 allowed each day) and 700,000 experienced the French Pavilion.  In the meantime, over 30 million people around the world have paid their visit to the first “virtual Expo.”

I was one of them.

However, I wasn’t a “normal” visitor because I was very anxious t to find out what’s inside the 24 pavilions that used 3DVIA to create their online 3D version.

Indeed, there were lots of nice surprise and great findings. These are some of my favorites:


French Pavilion (Zone C): not only one of the most beautiful pavilions, but also one of those that are easiest to navigate through.  The virtual tour to Musee d’Orsay to see the paintings in 3D will definitely be a nice surprise for the visitors! Kudos to Frederic PY for all the hard and great work!


Jilin Pavilion (Zone A- inside China Pavilion): A dreamy pavilion presenting the spring and snowy seasons of the Jilin province. Many cute 3D real-time interactions, for example, when you step on the snow, you see your own foot prints while hearing the sound of each step; you definitely don’t want to mess around with the snowman because he will throw a snow ball right to your face! And definitely don’t forget to make yourself some popcorn and eat it “virtually”!


Taipei (Zone E – Case Joint Pavilion 4-3): Another easy-to-navigate pavilion where visitors can experience fun real-time 3D interactivity.  You can contribute to a cleaner river in Taipei by touching the water; you can also play with the famous Taipei 101 building in your hand in 3D!


Shandong Pavilion (Zone A – inside China Pavilion): Shandong is the cultural hub of the old China. It’s the hometown of Confucius and many historical figures. As you climb the famous Tai Mountain in 3D, you are introduced to the historical figures and their stories. The experience of climbing this virtual mountain reminds me of the movie, Avatar.  This pavilion is not fully completed yet though; in the later version, visitors will be able to see the future city of Shandong where it’s green and sustainable.

What do you think?  I’d love to hear from you to learn which online pavilions you like best!

Meanwhile, happy virtual Expo!




5 Questions for Humanoid Nao’s Maker, Bruno Maissonier

By Kate
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I’d like to introduce you to Nao.

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Although he could, Nao (also pronounced ‘now’) won’t be speaking at the upcoming National Innovation Directors Meetings.  Instead Noa’s maker Bruno Massonier will contribute to a discussion entitled “Product Conception for the General Public; Combining Low Cost and Very High Performance”.

Dassault Systèmes is one of the event’s partners, so I’ll be live blogging the first day.  Meanwhile I wanted to give you a taste for the innovators who will be present, starting with the President and Founder of Aldebaran Robotics.

Did you know the 21st century robotics industry will be more massive than the 20th century automotive industry?

Read the 5-question interview to learn why:

Q1.  In 2007, Albdebaran Robotic’s “Nao” robot was selected by the prestigious RoboCup organizing committee to replace Sony’s “Aibo” as the league standard robot.  How did your French start-up outsmart and beat the robotic giants?

BM: We were a very small company in 2007, with less than 20 people working for Aldebaran Robotics. I think that we prevailed thanks to these points:

maisonnier2Among the robots presented to the RoboCup committee, Nao was the only humanoid. The RoboCup’s aim is to get a team of humanoid robots able to beat a human soccer team before 2050, and the choice of a humanoid seemed to be more convenient.

Moreover, as we started to design Nao with a mass market goal, we were able to offer Nao cheaper than any other opponent. And amongst these two advantages, even if Nao was still a prototype, it was the most advanced product showed in Atlanta.

From my point of view, the main error of our competitors was to develop a specific product for the RoboCup and trying to make this market profitable, while it is a marketing investment for us as we do not earn any money with the RoboCup.

Q2.      You’ve been quoted as saying the 21st century robotics industry will be even more massive and impactful than the 20th century automotive industry.  Why?

BM: Actually, the economic office of the UNO plans it. The survey says that in several years there will be as many robot units sold than TV screens. Just like the automotive industry, the robotics industry will be an incredible economic growth engine, creating millions of jobs and a lot of other connected industries like electrical motor, battery or even software and personal assistance.

The main reason for this is that the occidental populations are getting older and there won’t be enough active workers to take care of our old people. Robots won’t replace humans but they will be excellent tools to give back autonomy to dependent individuals.

Q3.      What innovations are missing to help the robotics industry leap to the future (robots everywhere for our personal assistance, entertainment and surveillance)?

BM: It is not really innovations we are lacking, but dedicated components. For example, two main electric motors exist. One of them is very cheap but limited to a few hours of usage, and mainly used for automatic car windows. The other is very robust but very expensive as well! Robotics will need a better mix between robustness and price. Another example is batteries, mainly developed for computers or phones. Robots will need more power, but for an equivalent weight.

Q4.       Do you use 3D software and collaborative research platforms to invent your products?  If so, how does this impact your innovation cycle?  If not, why?

BM: Of course, our mechatronics design team is fully equipped with your SolidWorks solution. It helps us a lot to work collaboratively as all the parts are shared on a single server and everyone may modify or integrate those parts. By the way, since there are very few robots that exist, we had to imagine new solutions, step by step, for our specific problematics and the simulation software included was more than helpful!

Q5.      What does innovation mean for you?

BM: As we are not a research lab but an engineering company that develops commercial products, I think that innovation, here at Aldebaran, is everything : We always designed Nao on a “Customer-driven” basis which means appropriate solution for specific problem, robust, functional and not expensive, to offer the best price to our customer.

Merci Bruno!

Now tell me, what type of robot would you like to have in your home within the next few years?

(I know someone who just bought a robot vacuum cleaner.  She sets him loose and vroom!)



P.S. Please let me know if you’ll attend the event on May 25 & 26 so I can meet up with you.

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