Car battery of future: inside IBM’s coolest lab

This article is reprinted from Building43, Rackspace’s lab where we discover bleeding edge technologies and companies.

The days of $1.50 gasoline are long gone, and high costs coupled with environmental concerns have ignited a search for the battery that will power the cars of the future. IBM is at the forefront of this effort with its development of the lithium air super-battery.

The goal “is to create a battery that will power the typical family car about 500 miles between recharges,” explains Winfried Wilcke, Senior Manager, Nanoscale Science and Technology with IBM. “Today’s batteries…fall short of this goal by quite a factor, with [the best batteries] only lasting approximately 200 to 240 miles.”

Bridging this gap requires drastically increasing the battery’s energy density by making it lighter. IBM reduces the weight by getting rid of the heavy transition metal oxides like cobalt oxide or manganese oxide and replacing them with a lightweight, high-surface carbon structure.

The lithium air battery represents “the highest energy density of any imaginable system,” says Wilcke, “but it’s not easy to do. It’s a long-term project currently in its early science phases, but in the last six or seven months we have gotten a lot of positive results, which make me cautiously optimistic that this can actually work.”

Wilcke hopes to have a lithium air battery in cars by 2020. A battery that could power a car for 500 miles would certainly be worth the wait.

More info:

IBM Research – Almaden web site:
IBM Research – Dr. Winfried Wilke:


The new compensation: going to anti-hoarders?

Yammer's founder, David Sacks

Today Rocky and I visited Yammer’s headquarters and had an interesting chat with founder/CEO David Sacks.

Don’t know what Yammer is? Two-and-a-half years ago they won Techcrunch 50 for its enterprise collaboration system (think Twitter for businesses). Now they are a lot more than that, and growing fast. Tons of big businesses like Chevron are using Yammer to help people work together.

That interview will be up soon, but during our chat I asked him when companies would be compensating people based on the value they are pouring in the system.

I got a very strange look.

A year ago I asked Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff the same question and got the same strange look.

Tells me I’m onto something.

Here’s what I am thinking of.

If someone adds a lot of value into a company’s internal system Yammer could keep track of that (thanks to engagement, etc) and when yearly bonuses get handed out management could just look to see who has put the most value into the system.

Fairly straightforward, but it’s interesting that both Sacks and Benioff don’t want to push this potential use of their systems. At least not in public.

Why would that be?

Well, they are both in adoption mode. They are still trying to convince people and companies to use these systems instead of more private email.

Remember back when I worked at NEC (a huge world-wide company?) When I left there all my email was private. I don’t have access to it anymore. Neither does the company.

Lost value.

But now Yammer and a host of other companies are trying to convince people to do their work “in the open.” In other words, instead of writing down some detail about a sales account in email, or in a contact manager only one person has access to, put that up on a news stream and into a contact manager everyone can see.

This freaks many employees out.

Why? Being open is antithetical to how they were trained. Many people think they are compensated by the value they hoarded.

Think about a lawyer. They went to school to gain exotic knowledge that they hoarded. People paid them for this hoarded knowledge.

Today? We’re asking people to blog, Tweet, put up YouTube videos, and to use Yammer and other systems like Salesforce.

That’s scary for a lot of people.

So, when I go and ask whether we should compensate people based on the information they SHARE with a company, that’s a topic these new CEOs aren’t quite willing to talk openly about.

Why? It freaks the information hoarders out and makes them less likely to change to information sharers. In such a world old systems like Microsoft Sharepoint stay relevant and new systems like Yammer don’t get adopted.

I’m quite convinced though that in the future at least some of big-company compensation will come from whether you have good knowledge sharing skills.

It’ll just take a couple of years to get there. In the meantime these new CEOs will remain a bit cagey about the potential for compensating people based on how good their Yammering is.

Oh, and now you also know why they are watching reputation systems like the ones that Quora just put in place.

Photo credit: David Sacks photo shot by Robert Scoble in Yammer’s San Francisco headquarters.

UPDATE: Brian Solis talk at lift, called “Digital Currencies” gives a further hint as to what this world might look like.