Resource-based Technology Innovation in South Africa: Mines and Medicine: Lodox Low Dosage X-ray

by GOSTNER, K. , 2005
Research Report, Employment Growth & Development Initiative, Human Sciences Research Council

This is a case study of lateral migration of technology from resource industries in South Africa. The introduction to a story on, dated 12 June 2003, reads: ‘A digital X-ray system once used to search South African miners for stolen diamonds will now allow Baltimore trauma doctors to scan a patient’s entire body in 13 seconds.’ This paper tells the story of how this technology was developed and brought to market over the course of the last 13 years. At the most superficial level it is an outstanding story of how the prevention of theft of a rather valuable stock – diamonds – created a technology that has revolutionised emergency room treatment. At a deeper level it is a story of how a confluence of regulatory and institutional dynamics, together with intellectual networks and personal dynamism, created a unique set of events that led to the emergence of a technology that substantially increases medical staff’s ability to save lives. The Lodox story is a story of innovation, but perhaps more importantly a story of commercialisation, in other words, of the process by which the idea became a technology, which became a product. The innovation challenge lay not so much in the creation of new technology but in its commercialisation. The initial ‘eureka’ moment set a series of events into motion, but there were others events that were vital too: if they had not occurred we would not today be examining the innovation in Lodox. It is for this reason that this paper will explore the innovative journey from the sound of ‘eureka’ echoing through the halls of a South African mining house to the operational use of Lodox in a Baltimore emergency room. It is hoped that, by both telling the story and peeling back the layers of events, coincidence and personality, this paper will provide some insights into the drivers and facilitators of innovation in South Africa’s resource and mineral energy sector.