There are few companies currently operating which have more impact on global development in energy and industrial technologies than General Electric of Fairfield, CT. The recent third quarter financial report published by the corporation indicated a better-than-expected 11 percent growth in profits, mainly owing to large increases in orders for industrial equipment like jet engines and rail locomotives from all over the world. GE may be looking to raise capital as a recent filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission indicates that the company is looking to sell 75 million shares directly to the public for about $2 billion. General Electric is also making a foray into the growing world of 3D printing manufacture with its recent announcement that it would build a 125,000 square foot 3D printing facility for $32 million in Findlay, PA.
General Electric is a regular feature of the Companies We Follow series. What we saw today in the patent applications filed by this company with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office showed us that research and development at the company is very focused on industrial and medical sectors. Many of the technologies we discuss in more detail below pertain to railway and other vehicular technologies. A few patent applications discuss improvements to electrical utility systems, including one technique for monitoring plant activity near electrical grid components to identify exactly when to clear vegetation away from power lines.
The strong patent portfolio enjoyed by General Electric enjoyed a number of important additions in recent weeks. Some of the most intriguing that we saw today involve medical innovations, including systems for the synchronization of imaging data collected during a procedure to better guide a medical professional during a procedures. We’re also sharing a patent protecting a useful technology for locating defects in an underground cable to ensure consistent delivery of electrical utilities. Gas turbines and another innovation regarding railway tech is also explored more deeply in today’s column.
General Electric’s Patent Applications: From Railway Tech to Medical Innovations
In terms of engineering new energy systems and technology infrastructure services, General Electric is one of the most innovative companies in the world. The corporation boasts a research and development team of about 36,000 professional technical staff members and it operates five R&D facilities worldwide, one each in New York, Rio de Janeiro, Munich, Bangalore and Shanghai. The company is supporting various initiatives to discover answers to challenges in 3D printing of aircraft engine materials and sustainable seawater desalination processes, among other projects. General Electric itself publishes an Innovation Barometer which measures how GE views the strength of innovation within countries from around the world. GE’s focus on innovation even extends to its funding activities; General Electric Capital Americas, a commercial lending and leasing subsidiary of GE, schedules a few hours each Friday for innovation and ideation among employees to identify areas where the company should be investing its time and money.
Railway systems might not strike many of our readers as the most innovative technology sector in our world, but we found plenty of patent applications filed by General Electric to protect inventions related to this field. More intelligent methods of providing energy to railway cars which are connected to electrical systems are discussed within U.S. Patent Application No. 20140330460, entitled Method and System for Controlling Energy Demand of Vehicles on a Network. The patent application would protect a method of monitoring the energy available through an electrical power grid and the energy demand of multiple vehicles so that the vehicles can be controlled without draining excessive power from the grid. This method of modifying energy usage plans is intended for use with railway cars but could be implemented on a variety of electric vehicles, including off-road vehicles, automobiles and marine vessels. Greater control of the extreme forces experienced by a long line of railway cars is the focus of U.S. Patent Application No. 20140316618, titled System and Method for Determining Dynamically Changing Distributions of Vehicles in a Vehicle System. The method that would be protected is capable of determining handling parameters of a vehicle system for various groups of vehicles which are operably couple to each other during a trip and whether to change operational settings for a vehicle group at change points while a trip is in progress. This system achieves dynamic throttle and braking options which can prevent braking forces from damaging a group of rail cars as they come to a stop on top of a hill, for example.
We were also intrigued by the GE technology for electric agricultural and industrial vehicles, which is laid out within U.S. Patent Application No. 20140277884, filed under the title Drive System and Method for Driving a Vehicle. The invention is intended to address issues in which changes in the electrical loads for air conditioning systems or hydraulic pumps within a vehicle can affect the speed of the vehicle. The patent application would protect a drive system with a control unit configured to receive a load variation signal and generating a traction torque which is used to drive a vehicle.
Electrical distribution systems were the focus of a few other GE patent applications which we noticed today. Techniques for monitoring the growth of vegetation surrounding components of an electrical system are at the center of U.S. Patent Application No. 20140324506, which is titled Systems and Methods for Estimating Reliability Return on Utility Vegetation Management. The patent application would protect a utility analytics system which can derive a reliability return value on an investment to manage the vegetation associated with the power grid. This system could help maintenance crews determine when they should clear vegetation from the site of an electrical grid component to prevent electrical failures from occurring.
Analysis of electrical systems to improve the delivery of utility services are also disclosed by U.S. Patent Application No. 20140310138, filed under the title Methods and Systems for Estimating Recoverable Utility Revenue. The utility analytics system of this invention is configured to derive the probability of non-technical and technical utility losses as well as the probability of recovering revenue in case of a utility loss. The invention is intended to ensure that energy deliveries across electrical grids do not go unbilled by energy providers.
We were also intrigued by a couple of patent applications featuring technologies with implications for the healthcare and medical sectors. Methods of limiting the risk of infection among patients are the focus of U.S. Patent Application No. 20140303996, which is titled System and Method to Manage Delivery Healthcare to a Patient. This patent application would protect a method of managing delivery of healthcare to a patient through a plurality of resources that involves tracking the ingress or egress of resources relative to a sterile zone. The activity monitoring techniques designed to reduce infection risks in hospitals is also useful in other medical settings, including ambulatory, home or inpatient settings. We also noted a novel technique for the detection of prostate cancer discussed within U.S. Patent Application No. 20140314299, titled System and Method for Multiplexed Biomarker Quantitation Using Single Cell Segmentation on Sequentially Stained Tissue. The computer-implemented method that would be protected through this patent application enables analysis of tissue types, cell units and sub-cellular units to determine the expression levels for specific biomarkers. The invention is intended to segment, group and quantify molecular protein profiles at the sub-cellular level, which can enable the correlation of spatial and molecular cell configurations with molecular information of different cancer types.
Issued Patents of Note: Plenty More Medical Inventions and Improvements to Energy Systems
General Electric is consistently one of the most innovative corporations profiled on our Companies We Follow series. In 2013, the company received 2,086 patent grants from the USPTO, the 12th-most among any global entity during that year; this number represents only a slight 2.3 percent increase in patents earned by GE in the previous year. The total R&D budget spent by General Electric during 2008 was $4.3 billion. General Electric’s R&D activities represent an incredibly wide array of technological development in an incredible diversity of fields from flight systems to nanotechnology to home appliances. In today’s survey of patents recently issued to this company, we found a range of intriguing medical and vehicular innovations that may be of interest to our readers.
As we saw in the patent applications recently filed by GE, medical technologies were a persistent theme among the patents issued to this company over the past few months. Techniques for providing useful data to medical practitioners while in the midst of a procedure is the focus of U.S. Patent No. 8879808, issued under the title Synchronization of Medical Imaging Systems. The patent protects an imaging method for synchronizing a first dataset with a second dataset, both of which represent a region of interest within a patient which have been examined using multiple medical devices. The system is designed to better provide medical staff with information collected simultaneously from a medical imaging system as well as intravascular sensors to diagnose and treat issues like stenosis. Collaborations among multiple members of a medical team for determining diagnoses through medical imaging procedures more quickly is at the center of U.S. Patent No. 8886726, which is titled Systems and Methods for Interactive Smart Medical Communication and Collaboration. The invention is intended to create a strict workflow for the diligent interpretation of complex two- and three-dimensional medical images captured by magnetic resonance imagers (MRIs), ultrasound machines and more. The patent protects a computer-implemented method for accepting a communication input from a collaborator regarding clinical content and performing a syntactic analysis of the input to identify instructions to be executed. A novel technique for gathering feedback on user experiences with healthcare software is disclosed and protected by U.S. Patent No. 8869115, issued under the title Systems and Methods for Emotive Software Usability. The patent protects a method of improving software usability by logging feedback pertaining to a user’s activity and gaze which can be interpreted to determine user emotions during software use. This is meant to support a better feedback system for the improved development of user interfaces for software tools provided to healthcare practitioners.
Rail vehicles were another recent area of R&D focus for General Electric which we saw reflected in at least one patent issued recently to the corporation. The mitigation of safety risks posed by speeding rail cars is discussed within U.S. Patent No. 8874345, which is titled Method and System for Identifying an Erroneous Speed of a Vehicle. The patent protects a method of deriving the speed of the rail car and comparing the derived car speed to a reference car speed and adjusting the speed of a rail car through application of an adhesion-varying material to a rail surface. This rail safety system improves on conventionally known systems that may not collect accurate readings of wheel diameters, which can cause an operator to be provided with an inaccurate reading on current speed.
General Electric is a major developer and manufacturer of gas turbine technologies, a field of focus which we saw featured in U.S. Patent No. 8876485, which is titled Turbine Nozzle Airfoil Profile. This innovative gas turbine component is designed to meet certain goals in thermal and mechanical operating characteristics which ensure low cost and a long service life. The turbine nozzle protected by this patent includes an airfoil shape which achieves a nominal profile in accordance with Cartesian coordinate values, resulting in a turbine nozzle ranging from 5 inches to 50 inches in height which forms part of a stage of a turbine. This technology can be used with gas turbines which operate on natural gas, syngas or other fuels.
Finally, we wanted to share one last interesting GE development in the field of utility management to ensure the consistent delivery of energy services to all residential and commercial customers connected to an electrical grid. U.S. Patent No. 8868359, entitled Device and Method for Detecting and Locating Defects in Underground Cables, protects a method for determining an insulation defect in a cable that involves the collection of multiple signals which can be used to perform principal component analysis as well as calculations on the cumulative wavelet energy being transmitted. The innovation is intended to simplify the processing of repairing or replacing underground electrical wires by enabling more accurate detection of the location of a defect occurring along a length of wire.