Brenda Discher (00:00): 

They can't test taking people up and down in the space. They've got to be able to trust that it can actually simulate the space environment, optimize everything that may or may not be happening, and then be able to manufacture this balloon, and reuse it over and over again. 

James Kotecki (00:16): 

This is CES Tech Talk. I'm James Kotecki. CES 2023 is January 5th through 8th in Las Vegas. We are here to get you hyped, and get you smart about the world's most influential tech event. Today, a look at the manufacturing innovations that can help us grow food under the sea and see our planet from space. The theme of CES 2023 is human security for all, and we're having an ongoing conversation about how technology improves our lives. Today's guest is a leader from Siemens whose industrial software automation, infrastructure and mobility solutions are improving lives around the world, and now they're going underwater and into space. Let's find out more about that with Brenda Discher, SVP Business Strategy and Marketing at Siemens. Brenda, so excited to talk to you. I know that you're going to show off some really cool stuff at CES 2023, so first just set the scene for us, describe what people walking up to your section of CES will see and experience. 

Brenda Discher (01:23): 

I'm so excited to be at CES this year, James. Siemens, were one of the very original startup tech companies, we started in a garage in Berlin 175 years ago though. So a startup, we're 175 years young. And as you said, we're all about driving digital transformation across massive places like big industry, infrastructure grids and mobility with what we call our digital business platform accelerator. And at CES we're super excited to show off some of the ways our technology is going to enable companies to really dream of a new product or a new factory or a new idea, but actually make it and manufacture it, that's what makes us unique. And one of those examples we're going to show is called Nemo's Garden. And they're an Italian non-profit who is using Siemens' technology, the hardware and the software to dream and make and now operate an underwater greenhouse where they're growing of all things herbs and strawberries. 

James Kotecki (02:20): 

So when you say you're showing off this technology, what are people going to see? Is there a model of the greenhouse or how does that look in the booth? 

Brenda Discher (02:27): 

Yeah, so when they enter our booth, what they're actually going to see, believe it or not, is what we call a digital representation, which we call a digital twin of what is this underwater biosphere. And let me tell you what that underwater greenhouse really looks like. And these are installed off the coast of Italy right now and they actually look like it's hard to do this when we're in a podcast, but picture if you would, a giant jellyfish that's actually clear because it's made of, it's a sphere and it's a large clear dome that you could see inside of, it's tethered, it's attached to the bottom of the ocean, they're not too far offshore, so they're getting a lot of sunlight. It's like a giant upside down contact lens. And this dome is submerged underwater, creates an air bubble, and then it's attached to the ocean floor. And sunlight is penetrating through the dome. 


As the water condenses inside, it creates fresh water so that inside, not in the water, but inside the clear space plants can grow and they're growing in an amazing new way, not just because of the technology, but more importantly because it's the perfect environment that allows people to actually grow food in an interesting place where 70% of the earth is covered with water. And when you're in the booth at CES, we can't suit you up, which underwater, but we will use a digital twin, which is actually a virtual representation of exactly how it works and how you can see it and walk through it and immerse yourself in what would be this underground biosphere. 

James Kotecki (03:59): 

This is definitely something people need to see for themselves. So I'm imagining there's an underwater dome, there's an air bubble underneath the contact lens. Are the plants floating somehow on the surface of the water that's underneath that air bubble. How are the plants, what are they growing on? 

Brenda Discher (04:16): 

Yeah. So the way the technology has allowed us to create the perfect environment is we use the digital twin to simulate how do we get the most possible space in this environment, not underwater so that the actual dome is submerged underwater. But in the air pocket there are shelves that are actually above the water so you actually could get under there, dive under and breathe. All those shelves have all these plants growing on the different shelves. And the dome has been actually designed in a way that we get optimal space in order to make sure that we can grow these plants. And the biosphere actually harnesses an amazing amount of positive environmental factors from the ocean. So oceans are very temperature stable. There's an evaporating fresh water generation in them. CO2 absorption, there's protection from any pests. So it's the perfect environment, but it also, it allows places in the world where they don't have airable land to be able to grow. And the food that's grown is really nutrient rich. So tons of benefits, but also the ability to actually leverage our natural resources in a really, really creative way. 


There's two different big pieces of innovation. There's this thing called the digital twin and there's this thing called automation like robotics and IOT. So think about the first one, the digital twin. So that first off, the digital twin allows innovation to happen in the virtual world free from having to build a physical prototype and free of the limitations of a traditional approach. And so if you think about this, we built a digital twin of this picture, this giant jellyfish like dome. We also built a digital twin or a digital representation of the bay, the Bay of Noli off of Italy where the first biosphere was built. And it enables the team to really push the limits on the design and the construction of the biosphere and imagine making it better with things like 3D design and actually simulation. 


So the sphere was something that through modeling and through simulation, the team was able to determine how you could elongate and make the... It's actually a very wide flat jellyfish so that we could increase the number of plants, reduce the thickness so it makes the structures lighter so it's easier to get them out and put them in the water and take them back and it's easier to stimulate and scale the operations. And then with any type of farming, there are all kinds of factors that really affect plant growth. And in the underwater biosphere that growth could be impacted by the sunlight or humidity, oxygen, CO2, et cetera. And while there were cameras installed, Nemo's Gardens did use divers to monitor the health in the growth rate of the plants. But eventually using sensors, using remote monitoring like IOT, machine learning algorithms that were adapted from traditional farming methods, AI can automatically now adjust without any diver ever showing up the humidity, irrigation meter. And so this will really be a foundation for the future of how the ocean can be used for all kinds of things. 

James Kotecki (07:18): 

So you're definitely convincing me that this would not be possible without this advanced Siemens technology, but where does Siemens actually enter the picture? Does Nemo's Gardens show up at your doorstep and say, "Look, we have this crazy idea for underwater greenhouses, we have no idea how to get started." Or do they come with some kind of sense of the technology they need and they just know that they can work with you as a partner to do that? 

Brenda Discher (07:39): 

Yeah, it varies by customer and by industry. And so in this case, Nemo's Gardens, they were using some pieces of some traditional technologies and through partnership with them and through partnership in the local region, because Siemens is such a global company with so much presence, they were using some of our design technologies and we were able to expand the use into other parts of our portfolio from our automation portfolio on IOT, not just from design. And so really allowing them to think about the true use of what's called a digital twin. 


And again, I keep referring to this thing called a digital twin, James. This is really a digital representation or a digital model of eventually what you visualize to be your final product or your plant or your process. And we think that's something pretty unique for us. Nemo was using some of our design tools. They really weren't using the full breadth of a digital twin. So once we understood what they were trying to do and got more involved, it elaborated their adoption of our tools. And it's such a cool story. It really became a testament to us for the building blocks of not just a digital twin or what we call a comprehensive digital twin, which is one that can interact with an update based on data in its environment. Eventually this can be part of a metaverse where anyone, you and me, and this is what we'll be able to do at CES, I can immerse myself in the dome, in the virtual world to understand what the diver might be experiencing. So that takes this technology a whole new level. 

James Kotecki (09:11): 

And the implications of this concept of a digital twin are really far reaching both really within your industry and really for everybody. So I guess the idea, is do it large, if you are planning on building or doing anything eventually and probably right now in many cases, you'll be able to model that with a digital twin in a computer environment and just see how it would interact. It's almost as obvious, I suppose, as designing blueprints for a building. The first architect who figured out how to design standardized blueprints and of course after that everybody was going to do that. It doesn't really seem like we would ever go back to an era before digital twins if this thing is possible. 

Brenda Discher (09:50): 

I don't know why we would either. It's funny, I'm in the process and this is a Siemens again in our infrastructure design, in our infrastructure business there are so many customers now that aren't just designing blueprints or drawings, they're designing in the virtual world, which allows you and I to experience what is the light going to feel like when it comes through the window? What is the environmental effects of this building? What are the analytics that are getting produced about the usage of the building or the flow, the computational fluid dynamics, which is a simulation capability. I can actually track how the air flows going to work through a building. So who would ever go back to the traditional methodologies? And one of the ways we're highlighting the digital twin even further at CES in addition to the Nemo Garden digital twin of the biosphere is through a company called Space Perspective, which is actually a pioneer of sustainable space tourism. So it is so fascinating to watch what companies are doing with digital twins and creating a more sustainable business for themselves. 

James Kotecki (10:55): 

I can't wait to talk about Space Perspective, but I do first want to say one thing because you brought up the metaverse. I think people sometimes just conflate the metaverse with a goofy looking human avatar in a sterile world that has no practical utility and it's maybe fun for 15 minutes but then you move on other things. But there are so many practical implications like what you're talking about of the reason that you do all this stuff in the virtual world is often not an end unto itself, but to actually impact what's going on in the real world. And I assume that's how Siemens understands and sees the metaverse. 

Brenda Discher (11:25): 

Yeah, so more importantly... So I agree with everything you said, James and I would take even a step further. Not only is it to understand, but it's to be able to actually design and optimize in the virtual world so I reduce the requirement on all my resources in the physical world. There's such a sustainability play here. So if I can immerse myself in a factory and I know in that factory what the autonomous vehicles are going to do or where the humans are going to be or what the machinery's doing, and I can collect data and information in a virtual factory before anything is ever built, think of the resources, the time and the impact on the planet that I am actually saving and preserving because of the fact that so many more iterations can happen in the virtual world without ever having to produce anything and using precious raw materials. And so the sustainability impact is another big, big benefit here. 

James Kotecki (12:21): 

Are there any big missing puzzle pieces? If you were to talk about this 10 years ago, 20 years ago, we might say, "Oh well we can't figure out how to model wind in the virtual world or there'd be something that we couldn't do yet because the technology wasn't there." I assume seems like the basic building blocks are in place, but is there any missing puzzle piece that's just over the horizon that will fully solidify the ability to model things in the virtual world or are we already there? 

Brenda Discher (12:43): 

Yeah, so I think we're already there with the tools of technologies. I think it's now up to us to trust it. If anything in the last 24 months hasn't taught us, you don't know what the next crisis is around the corner. And so what do you do to be more resilient and to be more adaptable? And to me a digital twin makes you so much more resilient and able to do what if scenarios because you can do so many things in the real world and test so many hypotheses so quickly and with data and with confidence. And so I think that technology's all there. It's now up to us as individuals and humans to embrace it in a way that we trust it. 

James Kotecki (13:21): 

All right, we've waited long enough, we got to talk about Space Perspective. I am so excited about this one, I looked it up. It is something I'm very excited to do myself one day and probably many of our listeners will too. So explain to folks what Space Perspective this company that you're working with is actually building. 

Brenda Discher (13:37): 

Space Perspective is such a cool company. They're trying to transform and allow everybody, you and me to go to space and they're doing that in a weightless balloon and they're taking people to the edge of the atmosphere and they're doing that through the design of their spaceship called Neptune. It looks like a balloon, an actual balloon. It's a six hour, pretty incredible ride from everything I've seen in their digital twin. It's a two hour they ascend and then you spend two hours literally on the edge of the atmosphere looking down on earth and then two hour descend back down and it's all carbon neutral. And they're using again our Siemens accelerator digital platform to make this dream a reality. 


Again, back to the question we were talking about a few minutes ago, because they actually know they can't test taking people up and down in the space. They've got to be able to trust the digital twin that it can actually simulate the space environment, optimize everything that may or may not be happening with the performance to the experience and then be able to manufacture this balloon and reuse it over and over again. And so that's all about optimizing your and I's experience, the sustainability requirements and all the factors that might be happening outside so that you can actually go into space and trust the technology and simulate as close to physically possible what's going to happen. And so they're not ready to launch yet. The first flights are expected in 2024, but visitors at CES will get a good idea of what that experience is going to be and they're going to see it again through a digital twin. So are you going to come learn about that one? 

James Kotecki (15:17): 

I think I have to. Not only that, but just to get in line and to put my name on the email list so I can sign up when it's my time. 

Brenda Discher (15:24): 

My understanding is they have been pre-selling seats because it's a small capsule. I think there's a dozen people per actual trip. So they've been pre-selling for monthly trips, they're already pre-sold the whole first year and they're into the second year of pre-selling things in 2024. So I got to get my tickets soon. That's what I was just going to tell you. You might want to send that email in soon. 

James Kotecki (15:44): 

I think folks are going to be really excited to see this at CES as well. What I've seen of the capsule and the balloon, it looks like this elegant, luxury, for lack of a better word, space age, futuristic design, as it should and it's poised on the edge of the earth's atmosphere and you're seeing the curvature of the earth. Beyond the digital twin and the modeling elements of this, are you also helping to build different components of this or design and actually create the physical things that are going to go into this space balloon? 

Brenda Discher (16:14): 

So Siemens' strength and heritage is in the manufacturing and in the automation, both in producing the factories that produce these elements, but also in the manufacturing processes. We drink our own Kool-Aid here. We have built our own factories that use our own technology, some use digital twins. So with folks like Space perspective. And by the way, even true of Nemo's Gardens, they are using our technology both on the automation space from PLCs to motors to some of the drives that are inside the components that are actually going to allow things like the dome to actually function underwater. Like the balloon to actually be able to ascend and all the requirements of that. But more importantly then they're using not only the machinery and all of the manufacturability and all of the requirements to make these things, they're able to then simulate everything through the digital twin, which is all done in the digital world through our software. 


So that actually to me is what's pretty unique about Siemens and pretty unique about Siemens Xcelerator, our new digital business platform. We allow you and we have tools and they're integrated now between what you want to do in a digital world in terms of simulation and in terms of designing and understanding the multi-physics based models. And then in the real world when you actually have to produce manufacturer and service the production elements or the factory that these things are built in. We live in both worlds. In fact, we're a world leader in automation and a world leader in industrial software. 

James Kotecki (17:46): 

Do you find that when big dreamers, especially maybe when they come from the world of software, maybe a more abstract space come to Siemens seeking help to put things into physical reality, do you find that folks like that have some lessons to learn or there's maybe some misconceptions that you find yourselves clearing up when it comes to bridging the gap between the dream, the digital and the physical? 

Brenda Discher (18:10): 

Yeah, so it's interesting that you asked that question. So I think the people that are coming into Siemens and especially the next generation, I am actually surprised at how it's actually the opposite of the way you asked it. They are much more comfortable in the dream, in the imagine, in the virtual. They actually do not have an appreciation or understand some of the manufacturing and automation knowhow because a lot of the next generation is they start digital, they stay digital, they've grown up in digital. And so it's actually the opposite right now. But to me the beauty is in really the two worlds seeking to understand one another because the benefit is in what I call the round trip. So there is so much information that is contained once something is manufactured, but there's a ton of information that'll make sure what's manufactured, be manufactured correct the first time if it's designed in the virtual world correctly. 


But if you can figure out how to design it and then manufacture it through a digital twin and then through optimize that entire process, you then can service that product. You can actually think about the next generation of that product much more predictably. That's where the whole cycle becomes increasingly valuable. And the integrated solutions that are literally collecting data and information about a physical product and putting it all the way back into the digital world so that it can actually adapt to its environment. We call that an executable digital twin, James. So it's actually the digital twin changes based on the execution of how it works in the real world. That's when things get really, really interesting and there's a ton of value in that concept. 

James Kotecki (19:55): 

I think we have time for one more quick story and that's in the area of prosthetics. So can you just tell us quickly what Siemens is enabling there? 

Brenda Discher (20:02): 

So the last story is another customer of ours. This customer's called Unlimited Tomorrow. And Unlimited Tomorrow their CEO is young, mid twenties, actually fell in love with technology as a child and was actually at a science competition when he was like 16 or 17 years old and met a young lady who had a prosthetic arm and started to understand how prosthetics work and knew a lot about technology because again, a very science inclined kid. His name is Easton. And he realized that boy, there's some technology available that he had in school that he was playing around with in his classroom, which was Siemens technology. And there was some technology available easily on the market through 3D printing. 


So he looked at new types of manufacturing processes and came up with this idea that he could use 3D modeling, 3D scanning to scan the limb that the individual had, so the good arm instead of the arm that might be missing to be able to scan the other arm and using new manufacturing processes like 3D printing. And he could turn an industry, the prosthetics industry upside down. And he turned the industry upside down by producing prosthetics for children who need a new prosthetic pretty much every year because they're growing so the prosthetic doesn't fit very long. And so he did it at like 90% cost and five times as fast through using a unique set of technologies. Again, 3D modeling, 3D scanning and 3D printing, the set of technology that comes together to what is called additive manufacturing. 


And so his company's exploding. In fact, the coolest thing that just happened about Unlimited Tomorrow is partnering with us. They came to us with a challenge and said "There's war going on between Ukraine and Russia and we think we could donate a bunch of prosthetics to children. Would Siemens be willing to help out?" And so through our partner organization, Siemens Caring Hands, which is a non-profit organization, we were able to raise a quarter of a million dollars to fund them, to be able to go do a whole bunch of help for young children that are being affected over there with prosthetics. So again, another digital twin in the digital world now I can scan something, I could scan a leg or an arm or a finger and then again, through really cool technologies and using a digital twin in a new way, completely change in industry, 

James Kotecki (22:26): 

The functioning limb that they're able to actually use and as part of their body doesn't get more personal than that. 

Brenda Discher (22:31): 

It's personalized for the individual. So think about the technology. It used to be something that was mass produced. We talk about mass customization many, many years ago. This is personalized manufacturing for something extremely critical produced in the physical world in a practical, scalable, sustainable way. So really, really cool invention using a mixture of technologies. 

James Kotecki (22:55): 

And this idea of helping people individually and helping the world with processes that are more sustainable to come up with these innovations. It does tie into the CES theme of human security, the CES 2023 theme. Is human security a framework that you think is useful for understanding the work that you do at Siemens? 

Brenda Discher (23:14): 

I absolutely do. So we have a unique position at this intersection of these two worlds as we've been talking about the whole time here, the real world and the digital world. Connecting products and processes across all these big industries that we plan, whether it's industry, medical, pharma, automotive, aerospace, infrastructure, mobility. So if I think about all these industries and the transformation that has to happen. And because our technology is so widely used, we have the scale, we're globally dispersed and we have a very broad set of technologies and we really are a unique company bringing these two worlds together, the real and the digital world, that I think we can have such a profound impact to help our customers through the use of these tools, make really sustainable choices. 


All of these examples we've been talking about do that, whether it's underwater food, whether it's making flight for you and I instead of pilots in a sustainable way or whether it's doing prosthetics and completely transforming an industry. But I think this is why and how we can advance and have such an impact to be able to do some of these things that really will let the world innovate sustainably in different ways and just be much more resilient and further advance what they call human security, I think, which is the agenda. Absolutely, I think so. 

James Kotecki (24:33): 

Well, Brenda Discher at Siemens, thank you so much for coming on the show. 

Brenda Discher (24:37): 

Thank you for having me. 

James Kotecki (24:38): 

That's our show for now, but there's always much more tech to talk about. Here's a preview of our next CES tech Talk. 

Speaker 3 (24:47): 

Putting that product on you have an excellent sound quality. Being able to stream music, turn off the world with active noise cancellation and have an immersive sound experience. And then in the medical device, we've taken that and simplified it so that it reaches hearing impaired consumers regardless of age. 

James Kotecki (25:03): 

Please subscribe to this podcast so you don't miss a moment and get more CES at That's CES dot T-E-C-H. Our show is produced by Nicole Vidovich with Mason Manual and Kristin Miller. Recorded by Andrew Lynn and edited by Third Spoon. I'm James Kotecki talking tech on CES Tech Talk.