Rich History, Poor Future? TEDx Explores NJ Innovation

“I’m going to talk about the endangerment to our technological environment, and something about the superstar human creatures on our shores.” - Dr. Robert Lucky

Monmouth County has a rich history of invention and innovation, including development in the areas of radio technology, satellite signaling, and the creation of transistors. TEDxNavesink speaker Robert Lucky highlights some of the greatest technological innovations that have conspired in Monmouth County history, and speculates whether future advancement will happen once again in the future.

Robert Lucky is an engineer known across the globe for sharing his expertise about technology and society. He has worked in research laboratories, including Bell Labs and Telcordia Technologies, while being active in professional, academic, and government roles. With a career grounded in technological development, Lucky presented the groundbreaking advancements that took place in Monmouth County over the last century, and explains the cause for the area’s decline in these advancements in recent years.

TEDxNavesink speaker Avi Karnani suggested that New Jersey could become the Silicone Valley that was dreamed of 50 years previously by Fred Terman, the dean of Stanford’s School of engineering. Lucky himself was in the very same room with Terman, and was excited about the prospect of creating a successful center of innovation in NJ. Unfortunately, the Stanford that Terman dreamed about was never built, but this did not stop other advancements from taking place in the Garden State, and it did not halt the ambitions of people like Lucky and his colleagues.


“There’s a theme that’s permeated today,” he said, “it’s overcoming adversity, obstacles, endangerment, the will and the ability to do that; whether it’s the pollution of the ocean, the erosion of our beaches, the rising tides, economics, even social adversity. Cindy Ziff started us out this morning by talking about the endangerment to our ocean environment, and she mentioned the superstar creatures out there off our shores. I’m going to talk about the endangerment to our technological environment, and something about the superstar human creatures on our shores.”

In order to analyze the obstacles that exist today, Lucky takes the audience back through Monmouth County’s history of technology from the inventor of the radio,Guglielmo Marconi, who sent the first radio signals in America, from Highlands down to the Sandy Hook Bay, up through 1962 when Bell Labs opened in Holmdel, and optical fiber communication and fiber optics research were pioneered.


With all of these remarkable advancements in the field of technology, Lucky questions what could have happened to the environment that once existed in these places of invention and discovery. The loss of Bell Labs and the closing of Fort Monmouth caused the loss of about 20,000 technical jobs in the county. How did this happen, Lucky speculates, and what are the prospects for future innovation and entrepreneurship?

Now that Fort Monmouth is empty, state legislature established an authority to work on the redevelopment of the fort, an effort that Lucky was appointed the chair of. This authority offered a hopeful opportunity to potentially create a whole new town in Monmouth County, and create useful open space, and new jobs for the community. The project began seven years ago, and is still in development stages.

“We are bringing in tech companies and a lot of resources that will be good for Monmouth County,” said Lucky. “There were aspirations of bringing in a new university and possibly a graduate school, and there is still tremendous potential for such advancements to take place.”

The old model of giant laboratories no longer exists today, and with this fact Lucky’s speech resonates back to Karnani, who called for a culture of collaboration, which would stimulate innovation. “Part of the problem with New Jersey is that we didn’t have a bunch of little vibrant companies interacting, we had giant isolated islands of companies,” Lucky explained.

He compared Monmouth County’s current situation to a bike trip he once took across Normandy, France, where he was extremely lost. As Lucky approached a road map sign, he realized it was not very helpful at first, but he found a way to negotiate it eventually. As he remarked in comparison to Monmouth County’s current technological environment, “I did find my way out, and so will we.”

You can watch Robert Lucky’s full talk here.

Join us May 10 at Two River Theater in Red Bank at TEDxNavesink 2014: PLAY. We’re hosting 24 presenters who harness the positive power of play every day in technology, education, design and more. Limited tickets available for this all day event, which includes catered lunch, networking opportunities and evening reception. Click here to get your ticket.

Don't Miss A Beat - Get our Newsletter!
  • Learn about new TEDxNavesink Events
  • Discover local change-makers
  • Get fresh content from our blog
Enter your Name and Email to Subscribe!