Innovation and Adjacent Technologies

By Rosemarie Szostak, Ph.D., Senior Nerac Analyst

A picture of a car engine, showcasing innovation.
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In the late 1800s, steam, electric, and internal combustion challenged the status quo for transportation. Ever wonder why only one survived?

Interest in the automobile began in the late 1800s as a new industry emerged to fill the need to replace the highly polluting horse-drawn vehicles.  Three technologies competed for dominance in the automotive sector: steam powerelectric, and internal combustion.  So why did only the internal combustion vehicle survive?

Advantages of Steam-Powered Vehicles

  • Faster than the other technologies at the time
  • Safer and more reliable
  • Longer range of travel
  • Could be started with a match

Disadvantages of Steam-Powered Vehicles

  • Inconvenient: had to wait at least ½ hour for the water to get up to pressure
  • Driver had to monitor a myriad of gauges while driving, leading to distracted driving
  • Noisy
  • Vehicles were cumbersome

Advantages of Electric Vehicles

  • Easy to drive
  • Quiet
  • Reliable

Disadvantages of Electric Vehicles

  • Limited range
  • Inconvenient: had to wait for the battery to charge or carry a spare battery
  • Heavy

Advantages of a Internal Combustion Vehicles

  • Longer range of travel
  • Liquid fuel provides more energy per unit mass

Disadvantages of a Internal Combustion Vehicles

  • Hand-crank to start was difficult
  • Unreliable
  • Noisy

By the turn of the 19th century, half of the vehicles in the US were steam-powered, and a quarter were electric. What changed?

Success was due to innovation and the incorporation of adjacent technologies.

Innovations in the automotive industry tipped the balance towards the internal combustion engine. The three primary innovations were the invention of the assembly line, interchangeable parts, and electric ignition. Ransom Olds patented the assembly line in 1901, but Henry Ford improved the process by putting the vehicles on a conveyor, so the cars moved, not the workers. Ford’s automobile could be manufactured more quickly by an order of magnitude. Improved efficiency in production made the automobile affordable. Clockmakers and musket-makers used interchangeable parts for two centuries; incorporating this concept into automobile manufacturing made the car more reliable and quicker to repair. The development of electric ignition by General Motors made it easier to start on demand. Consumers liked the convenience.

Though the electric vehicle was quieter and more straightforward to operate, even Thomas Edison could not improve the capacity of lead-acid battery technology to increase driving range or shorten the time to recharge. Battery technology improved 80 years later with the advent of Lithium batteries.

How Can Nerac Help?

What tools are available today to help companies stay on top of innovation?  What are their competitors innovating? What adjacent technologies might revolutionize a well-established technology? Nerac can help. Nerac analysts can evaluate competitors' patents and press releases, identify emerging innovations, and capture potentially relevant adjacent technologies that could substantially impact your technology. With Nerac's help, clients can position themselves to improve their technologies and successfully commercialize their innovations.

Let Nerac help you.

About the Analyst

Rosemarie Szostak, Ph.D.

Rosemarie Szostak, Ph.D., advises companies on technology, patents, innovation and disruptive technology. She has 20 plus years of experience as a thought leader and analyst with broad technical knowledge in chemistry, materials and chemical engineering.

Academic Credentials

  • Post Doctoral Fellow, Chemical Engineering Department, Worcester Polytechnic Institute
  • Ph.D., Chemistry, University of California Los Angeles
  • M.S., Chemistry/Physics, Georgetown University

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