The future of R&D

Our brains think linearly, and we expect the future to be one step better than the past. Thirty linear steps would follow the sequence 1, 2, 3, 4 and so on, and we’re wired to think tomorrow’s technology will only be linearly better than today. However, digitized technology works exponentially. If you were to take 30 exponential paces, meaning 1, 2, 4, 8 and so on, you would literally circle around Earth 26 times. The future of R&D is exciting!

We cover large ground in this post, so feel free to skip to the section most relevant to you. We’ll talk about the various areas of R&D, in which we believe technology will have an impact: software as a strategy, predictions of chemical reactions, labs on demand, laboratory automation, supply chains, team structure and re- and upskilling.

Predicting the future of R&D

Software as a competitive advantage (or disadvantage)

Satya Nadella, CEO of Microsoft, says ‘Today no company can survive or thrive without a foundation, an infrastructure and a strategy built on software.’ It’s not enough to just find some software and apply it for processes, it has to be a fundamentally thought through system and strategy for that software. It is fundamental for successful R&D in companies. For example, in Tesla, cars can change physical behavior via a software update, which is radically changing the concept of a car and giving Tesla an advantage until all the others catch-up.

Building a layer of software as a foundational strategy for your company is what places you in the right position for the future. The cost of starting a software company has dropped significantly in the last few years. In the 90s it was $10 mln and today it is only $35 000. It means that if you don’t go out and take ownership of the software part of your business, then chances are someone else will. The digital foundation has to be an essential part of the strategy for every R&D team that wants to stay relevant for the future.

Predictions of chemical reaction before picking up a pipette

In the future, it will be possible to have predictions of chemical reactions before picking up a pipette. There are already papers that predict the outcome of chemical reactions with much higher accuracy than trained chemists. Thanks to major breakthroughs in sensor technologies we can actually start building digital twins of labs or physical assets and we can try things in the digital realm before implementing them in real life.

Laboratory automation

It is estimated that the market for laboratory automation systems will double from 5 billion to 10 billion by 2026. As we merge the field of AI and robotics, we will have smarter lab systems, saving labor time and costs.

Labs on demand

As more lab work is fully digital and labs being automated, you can end up not needing to be physically in the lab. It means that the lab could be absolutely anywhere. Any advanced and expensive lab equipment could be shared between multiple companies or research groups, which would drastically reduce costs of R&D. If doctors can already do long-distance heart surgery, there is no reason why a robotic lab couldn’t be shared remotely by a number of different researchers. 

Your team will change

There are four specific areas where we believe that teams will radically change: fluid organizations, team autonomy, crowdsourcing and startups, and agile players. All organizations have to become more fluid. Employees must be able to work with more partners and not as one rigid hierarchical organization anymore. The R&D team will have more autonomy to collaborate with different entities, and the future teams will not be about hierarchies but about networks. 

Continuous re- and upskilling as requirement

Constant reskilling and upskilling will define a successful company. The famous researcher, John Seely Brown, said that the half-life of a learned skill is five years. Therefore, employees will have to learn how to adapt to new tasks to better perform. With new technologies emerging rapidly, companies must be able to adapt to stay on top. Every next step will require a different skill set. Even if the process might still be the same, the skills needed to navigate certain cases radically change.

All the insights at your fingertips

Many people realize that there is too much knowledge and information and we need better ways of handling it. The idea is to have an AI that we can have a conversation with to help you find exactly the information that you’re looking for. This is at a very early stage now, but it is something that is developing rapidly.  

The research papers and patents of the future will look nothing like today

Blockchain is one potential area in this realm where it’s a system that can track every contribution made to science, or anything that was written. This system can track without changing ownership of an idea. Then it could distribute the financial outcome of those ideas accordingly. That could radically change the pace of innovation.

Key takeaways

The future is already here and if we don’t continuously embrace it, someone else will jump in and build something better. We are a part of this future and there are going to be interesting times ahead.