WITH THAW, SMARTPHONES CAN SEAMLESSLY INTERACT WITH WHAT'S HAPPENING ON LAPTOP AND TABLET SCREENS. AND THAT'S ONLY THE BEGINNING.
When we need to send a command or a file from our smartphone to our laptop, we do it through menus. But imagine if we didn't have to send something to another device by dragging it to a file, or selecting it from a menu. What if we could use our iPhones as a magic lens instead, so that our smartphones could seamlessly interact with what's happening on the screens of our laptops and tablets?
This is the vision for THAW, the latest project to emerge from the MIT Media Lab. THAW can see and interact with what's happening on other screens, allowing your iPhone to download a song from your laptop just by looking at it through the camera, or to literally "pick up" a video game you were playing on your television console and seamlessly continue playing it on your smartphone. And that's just for starters.
"We live in an increasingly digital world, but that world is fractured between many screens and interfaces. The question we wanted to try to answer with THAW was how can we combine these computer interfaces and screens into a single seamless experience."
THAW works by placing a color grid on the monitor, and using the iPhone's camera lens as a way to detect what part of the monitor it's hovering over, similar to the sensor on a computer mouse. But THAW is much smarter than your average mouse: it can see what's underneath it, and use the phone's screen to interact with it. To not distract users, the team devised a way to hide the color grid everywhere except directly underneath the iPhone camera.
Although the THAW's position-detecting mechanism for the iPhone is relatively simple, the interactions it enables are surprisingly complex. A lifelong fan of Super Mario Bros., Leigh programmed up a simple video game that shows how THAW can be used in a variety of ways that put the likes of the Microsoft Kinect and Nintendo Wii to shame. These are video game consoles that can see you, sure, but what they can't do is see the other screens in your life. And that opens a lot of gameplay possibilities.
In Leigh's game, the goal is to move a polar bear to a flag at the end of the level, but each level has a different mechanism. In one level, you might have to cross a pit full of spikes by using your iPhone as a physical platform for your bear to jump across; in the next, you might capture the bear in your iPhone, physically shake the device, then shoot him over to an island across the world like a champagne cork.
The concept of THAW is inherently interactive: smartphones overlaid upon tablets overlaid upon laptops overlaid upon desktops.That's why Schoessler and Leigh think that the first use of technology like THAW that people see in the wild will probably be in video-game development. Imagine sharing a file with someone by "snapping" a picture of it with your iPhone on your laptop screen, pointing your iPhone at someone else, and flicking it across the room to share with someone else. THAW--or technology like it--could make that possible.
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Schoessler says, alluding to the popular file-sharing app that allowed users to share contact info, files, and photos just by bumping their devices together.
As for Leigh, his dream is very different: he'd love his game-design hero, Shigeru Miyamoto, to use THAW to make the next cross-platform Mario game. He laughs.
"And I hope Nintendo asks me along for the ride."
COMMENTARY: If you are interested in learning more about MIT Media Lab's THAW project you can download their whitepaper titled, "THAW: Tangible Interaction With See-Through Augmentation For Smartphones on Computer Screens" by clicking HERE.
“It is not a coffee shop, it is not an office. But if you are a mobile worker, it is something much better than both things together.”
More people are working remotely than ever before, which is bad news for coffee shops. Once the province of college students and stoned poets, suddenly they’re teeming with everyone from copywriters to pushy corporate types willing to raise fisticuffs over a free electrical outlet. What’s a cafe owner to do?
You could ban laptops -- the favored route of New York coffee houses nowadays -- or you could make the cafe more conducive to work. That’s the approach at Urban Station in Buenos Aires's hipsterish Palermo Soho district. With copious desks, conference rooms, and electrical outlets in spades, the place feels like a trendy workplace that happens to serve coffee and croissants. From the company press release:
“It is not a coffee shop, it is not an office. But if you are a mobile worker, it is something much better than both things together.”
So how does Urban Station make money? It rents desks. We don’t know the exact pricetag but they tell us it’s “less than a promotional breakfast in any Palermo bar.” The conventional wisdom is that charging for anything in a cafe is a bad idea; that people won’t even pay for wireless, let alone a seat.Urban Station’s trick is to throw in a raft of perks: Wi-Fi channels; food and drink included in the cost of the hour; printers; fax machines; scanners; lockers; and even a couple of bikes you can bang around on when you need a break.
There’s a real and growing market for this sort of thing. Seventeen million to 26 million people work remotely at least some of the time depending on how you calculate it. And the figure will only swell as companies look to cut costs and workers increasingly eschew desktop computers for mobile technology. Freelancers and part-timers already spend hundreds of dollars a month -- or more -- on co-work spaces. Urban Station’s the same idea, but with free food.
One quibble: The design, while cheery, feels a tad unpolished. (A green futon with purple earplug tables? This is not a Deee-Lite music video, people.) Corporations are always prettying their offices, then holding them up as company billboards; if Urban Station is going to be the workplace of the future, it might wanna do the same.
COMMENTARY: I love the Urban Station office cafe concept very much. To my knowledge, I don't believe we have anything similar in the U.S.
I don't believe they are going to get a lot of college students, who spend very little at cafe's offering free WIFI, and very often bring their own food, and tend to hog the tables for hours on end. Many cafe's in the U.S. have gone the other way, and stopped offering WIFI in order to discourage these practices.
Urban Station's concept provides a lot of value-added features, offering an environment designed specifically for the mobile office worker. Instead of tables, they are more like workstations. Patrons pay for the food and beverage and for actual spent working at their "workstation".
This is a very cool idea, but Urban Station does did not divulge whether they are actually making any money with that concept. Just the same, I sent off for some information.
Graphene transistors visible on a piece of flexible plastic. Graphene is not only the hardest material in the world, but also one of the most pliable. (Click Image To Enlarge)
I just want to say one word to you. Just one word.
No, fans of “The Graduate,” the word isn’t “plastics.”
Graphene is the strongest, thinnest material known to exist. A form of carbon, it can conduct electricity and heat better than anything else. And get ready for this: It is not only the hardest material in the world, but also one of the most pliable.
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Only a single atom thick, it has been called the wonder material.
Graphene could change the electronics industry, ushering in flexible devices, supercharged quantum computers, electronic clothing and computers that can interface with the cells in your body.
While the material was discovered a decade ago, it started to gain attention in 2010 when two physicists at the University of Manchester were awarded the Nobel Prize for their experiments with it. More recently, researchers have zeroed in on how to commercially produce graphene.
Graphene, often touted as a miracle material, is also as brittle as ordinary ceramic and susceptible to crack. (Click Image To Enlarge)
The American Chemical Society said in 2012 that graphene was discovered to be 200 times stronger than steel and so thin that a single ounce of it could cover 28 football fields. Chinese scientists have created a graphene aerogel, an ultralight material derived from a gel, that is one-seventh the weight of air. A cubic inch of the material could balance on one blade of grass.
Dr Aravind Vijayaraghavan, Lecturer Nanomaterials, University of Manchester (Click Image To Enlarge)
“Graphene is one of the few materials in the world that is transparent, conductive and flexible — all at the same time. All of these properties together are extremely rare to find in one material.”
So what do you do with graphene? Physicists and researchers say that we will soon be able to make electronics that are thinner, faster and cheaper than anything based on silicon, with the option of making them clear and flexible. Long-lasting batteries that can be submerged in water are another possibility.
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In 2011, researchers at Northwestern University built a battery that incorporated graphene and silicon, which the university said couldlead to a cellphone that “stayed charged for more than a week and recharged in just 15 minutes.” In 2012, the American Chemical Society said that advancements in graphene were leading to touch-screen electronics that “could make cellphones as thin as a piece of paper and foldable enough to slip into a pocket.”
Dr. Vijayaraghavan is building an array of sensors out of graphene — including gas sensors, biosensors and light sensors — that are far smaller than what has come before.
Scientists at Samsung's Advanced Institute of Technology (SAIT) and Sungkyunkwan University in South Korea discovery a new method for growing large area, single crystal wafer scale graphene. (Click Image To Enlarge)
And in April 2014, researchers at the Samsung Advanced Institute of Technology, working with Sungkyunkwan University in South Korea, said that Samsung had figured out how to create high-quality graphene on silicon wafers, which could be used for the production of graphene transistors. Samsung said in a statement that these advancements meant it could start making “flexible displays, wearables and other next-generation electronic devices.”
Sebastian Anthony, a reporter at Extreme Tech, said that Samsung’s breakthrough could end up being the “holy grail of commercial graphene production.”
Samsung is not the only company working to develop graphene. Researchers at IBM, Nokia and SanDisk have been experimenting with the material to create sensors, transistors and memory storage.
When these electronics finally hit store shelves, they could look and feel like nothing we’ve ever seen.
James Hone, a professor of mechanical engineering at Columbia University, said research in his lab led to the discovery that graphene could stretch by 20 percent while still remaining able to conduct electricity. He said.
“You know what else you can stretch by 20 percent? Rubber. In comparison, silicon, which is in today’s electronics, can only stretch by 1 percent before it cracks.”
“That’s just one of the crazy things about this material — there’s really nothing else quite like it.”
The real kicker? Graphene is inexpensive.
If you think of something in today’s electronics industry, it can most likely be made better, smaller and cheaper with graphene.
Berkeley creates the first graphene earphones, and (unsurprisingly) they’re awesome. (Click Image To Enlarge)
Scientists at the University of California, Berkeley made graphene speakers last year that delivered sound at quality equal to or better than a pair of commercial Sennheiser earphones. And they were much smaller.
Another fascinating aspect of graphene is its ability to be submerged in liquids without oxidizing, unlike other conductive materials.
As a result, Dr. Vijayaraghavan said, graphene research is leading to experiments where electronics can integrate with biological systems. In other words, you could have a graphene gadget implanted in you that could read your nervous system or talk to your cells.
But while researchers believe graphene will be used in next-generation gadgets, there are entire industries that build electronics using traditional silicon chips and transistors, and they could be slow to adopt graphene counterparts.
If that is the case, graphene might end up being used in other industries before it becomes part of electronics. Last year, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation paid for the development of a graphene-based condom that is thin, light and impenetrable. Carmakers are exploring building electronic cars with bodies made of graphene that are not only protective, but act as solar panels that charge the car’s battery. Airline makers also hope to build planes out of graphene.
If all that isn’t enough, an international team of researchers based at M.I.T. has performed tests that could lead to the creation of quantum computers, which would be a big market of computing in the future.
So forget plastics. There’s a great future in graphene. Think about it.
COMMENTARY: Graphene may be one of the strongest materials on the planet, but a new study raises questions about the limits of using it in the real world.
When material scientists measured the fracture toughness of imperfect graphene for the first time, they found it to be somewhat brittle.
While it’s still very useful, graphene is really only as strong as its weakest link, which they determined to be “substantially lower” than the intrinsic strength of graphene.
An electron microscope image shows a pre-crack in a suspended sheet of graphene used to measure the overall strength of the sheet - The Nanomaterials, Nanomechanics and Nanodevices Lab-Rice University. (Click Image To Enlarge)
A pre-cracked sheet of graphene was suspended and pulled apart - The Nanomaterials, Nanomechanics and Nanodevices Lab-Rice University. (Click Image To Enlarge)
Ting Zhu, an associate professor at the Georgia Institute of Technology, says.
“Graphene has exceptional physical properties, but to use it in real applications, we have to understand the useful strength of large-area graphene, which is controlled by the fracture toughness,”
Zhu and Jun Lou, an associate professor at Rice University, report in the journal Nature Communications the results of tests in which they physically pulled graphene apart to see how much force it would take. Specifically, they wanted to see if graphene follows the century-old Griffith theory that quantifies the useful strength of brittle materials.
It does, Lou says.
“Remarkably, in this case, thermodynamic energy still rules.”
PERFECT VS. IMPERFECT
Imperfections in graphene drastically lessen its strength—with an upper limit of about 100 gigapascals (GPa) for perfect graphene previously measured by nanoindentation—according to physical testing at Rice and molecular dynamics simulations at Georgia Tech.
That’s important for engineers to understand as they think about using graphene for flexible electronics, composite material, and other applications in which stresses on microscopic flaws could lead to failure.
The Griffith criterion developed by a British engineer during World War I describes the relationship between the size of a crack in a material and the force required to make that crack grow. Ultimately, A.A. Griffith hoped to understand why brittle materials fail.
Graphene, it turns out, is no different from the glass fibers Griffith tested.
“Everybody thinks the carbon-carbon bond is the strongest bond in nature, so the material must be very good, but that’s not true anymore, once you have those defects. The larger the sheet, the higher the probability of defects. That’s well known in the ceramic community.”
A defect can be as small as an atom missing from the hexagonal lattice of graphene. But for a real-world test, the researchers had to make a defect of their own—a pre-crack—they could actually see.
“We know there will be pinholes and other defects in graphene. The pre-crack overshadows those defects to become the weakest spot, so I know exactly where the fracture will happen when we pull it."
“The material resistance to the crack growth—the fracture toughness—is what we’re measuring here, and that’s a very important engineering property.”
Additional researchers from Rice, Georgia Tech, Nanyang Technological University in Singapore, and at Tianjin Polytechnic University in China collaborated on the project, which received support from Welch Foundation, the National Science Foundation, the US Office of Naval Research, and the Korean Institute of Machinery and Materials.
CELLPHONES? WE GOT THOSE. BUT WE'VE ALSO GOT SOME FUTURISTIC TECH, SOME UNEXPECTED HARDWARE, AND A VERY WELCOME REDESIGN OF ONE OF THE WORLD'S MOST SUCCESSFUL PHONES.
Barcelona's Mobile World Congress is the biggest annual mobile-only electronics show. This year, companies unveiled a whole bunch of perfectly marketable products, but here are the five that really cut to the heart of where mobile is headed next.
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Samsung Gear Fit
Like its competitor the Nike Fuelband, the Samsung Geat Fit has a pedometer, stopwatch, timer, and, unusual for fitness trackers, a heart-rate monitor. But like a smartwatch, it can connect to your cellphone and receive little bits of information, like missed calls, texts, app alerts, and updates. It also looks cool, with a stretched, curved screen that wraps around your wrist. Only problem: it's facing the wrong direction! The text runs perpendicular to your arm, rather than parallel, which might make it hard to read.
Takeaway: A welcome blend of the fitness tracker and smartwatch.
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Google Project Tango
Google's Project Tango has a depth tracker and visual sensors in a phone to track your surroundings. It could be used to create a really detailed indoor map, make complex augmented reality games, or even help visually impaired users better understand their environment. No word on release date or price or anything like that--this is all research.
Takeaway: A phone that sees the world even better than you can.
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Samsung Galaxy S5's Back
Samsung's obvious attempts to match the updates in the newest iPhone 5S (a fingerprint scanner, a new gold color). But the biggest change might be one of the cheapest: a brand-new back. Samsung's Galaxy line has long been dogged with the accusation that the low-cost plastic used in its body feels cheap and flimsy, not befitting a major manufacturer's flagship product. But instead of going the aluminum-and-glass route like Apple and HTC, Samsung's newest Galaxy S has a rubbery, rippled back, very similar to that of Google's Nexus 7 tablet.
Takeaway: The world's most popular Android phone may finally feel like it deserves the title.
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The new Nokia X makes sense when you see the big picture--longer explanation here--but it was still a surprise. The phone has a new kind of Android software, made by Nokia specifically for this line, and it blends the looks of modern-day Nokia with the compatibility of Android.
Takeaway: Nokia's first Android phone is like nothing else.
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The Yotaphone's electronic paper screen or elecrophoretic display gives you a longer lasting, more comfortable reading experience even in bright sunshine. The Yotaphone is basically, a phone and a Kindle in one. Why would you want that? Well, electrophoretic screens don't emit any of their own light, so they're much easier on the eyes than a regular smartphone screen. Plus, they use hardly any battery life at all--YotaPhone says the electrophoretic display can get up to 68 hours of battery life, which is just nuts. Of course, you won't want to do much more than read books on the ebook-reader side; those types of screens are black and white, and can't handle video or images very well.
Takeaway: A smartphone and an ebook reader, all in one little package.
After 12 years at Apple leading the design of the iPod and iPhone, Tony Fadell told his friends and family he was leaving one of the most valuable companies on the planet to make thermostats. (Could there be anything less glamorous?) Not surprisingly, his move elicited a collective, “Are you insane?”
But yesterday Google announced it was forking over $3.2 billion in cash for Fadell’s company, Nest, which makes a smart device called the Learning Thermostat and a smart smoke detector called Protect. Not such a crazy move after all.
Chet Geschickter, an analyst covering energy management at research and advisory company Gartnersays.
“My initial reaction was ‘wow,’ Google would need to sell a lot of thermostats to get that money back, probably too many to validate the price.”
Geschickter believes the move is part of a broader strategy for Google. He says.
“They’re probably making a play at what we call the connected home, a ubiquitous networking with low-cost sensor devices, and they’ll start building all different kinds of functionality inside modern domestic environments. The fact that they paid $3.2 billion for a company created with a very attractive product that’s getting traction — it’s a very large investment, even for Google. My take as an analyst is, this is part of a bigger strategy for home tech.”
But Google is acquiring so much more than thermostats and smoke detectors that go for $250 and $130, respectively. It’s getting a learning algorithm that’s integrated in Nest products, which interact with homeowners rather than just implementing their commands. Geschickter says.
“They’re purchasing the customer base and brand name, which Nest has done a good job of popping up very quickly. When you break it down, there are a couple of different key pieces of intellectual property that have legs.”
Fadell (shown) founded the company with Matt Rogers, another Apple alum.
When a behemoth tech company like Google places its chips on the table, everyone starts to listen, and this could be the big break that the home tech sector has been looking for. Architect Steven Randel says.
“I’m really blown away by this news. I think that Google sees a huge lapse in the technology in this specific area. They’re going to try and move in on it because no one else is doing it. All these different home tech devices, nothing is coordinated together; that’s what Google is trying to go for. You’ll see them begin to integrate all these different devices, and they’ll communicate to one source.”
Home tech writer Mike Elgan points out that Google had actually been working on a smart thermostat of its own and may have abandoned those plans. He says.
“The company is interested in home automation and the ‘Internet of things’ because Google’s specialty is better living through algorithms. The Nest thermostat, as well as the company’s smoke detectors, are intelligent. They learn and adapt. Eventually all these smart things in the home will be connected to each other and to the people who live there through smart phones and wearable computing devices.”
Fadell and Rogers had set out with their company to make home products that users can control with smart phones, but also that learn on their own. The thermostat, for example, learns homeowners’ living patterns and adjusts accordingly for the just-right temperature — allowing the homeowners to save on monthly energy bills.
But if Rogers and Fadell gave the fledgling smart-home and energy-management industry a much-needed makeover, Google just gave it an arena in which to perform. After all, it’s an industry that Geschickter says a lot of venture capitalists have all but given up on. He says.
“Many of these companies have not done very well. My prediction was about 60 to 70 percent would be out of business in two to three years. On the flip side, you can call Nest a winning racehorse. This is going to lead to a serious rethinking of the venture community home management automation space. It definitely shifts the playing field.”
The company purchase makes sense. Nest’s relationship with Google goes back to 2011 (decades in the world of Silicon Valley start-ups.) Google Ventures led Nest’s series B and C rounds of funding. Plus, Google isn’t entirely a stranger to the home design industry.
In 2011 Google retired Google PowerMeter, its flirt with providing a free energy monitoring tool for which users provided smart meter data. Geschickter says.
“They couldn’t get any traction with it. But now it seems they’ve come back around and jumped in with both feet.”
What’s more, in the early 2000s Google acquired a little-known software company called SketchUp, which makes a modeling program that lets architects create quick and easy designs they can share with clients. It later sold the software, but the program is ubiquitous among architects today. Randel says.
“Google’s money and power got the name of the product out there.”
Geschickter believes home security could be the next step for Google’s Nest venture. The home security systems out there — take Xfinity home, for example — are bundled services that include home security, broadband (Internet and cable) and energy management. He says.
“It’s a triple play.”
Google could recoup its investment through a combination of product sales and recurring service streams. Again, a push into home security could be the next logical leap. Geschickter says.
“If you look at a basic ADT home security service, it’s $20 to $40 per month, plus you have to buy the home security hardware. There are something like 150 million residences in America. If you get a small percentage paying a subscription fee, that’s good money.”
The move opens up potential partnerships with utility companies, too, Geschickter says. Companies like Opower currently provide utility companies with data about energy usage. He says.
“Many utilities in America have obligations to pursue and implement energy-efficiency programs; regulations require it. So this could be an opportunity for Google.”
Elgan points to other possible opportunities for Google to integrate Next technology in its own initiatives. He says.
“There’s some evidence that Google’s Android @ Home initiative will be associated with Google Now, which is its preemptive search engine and virtual assistant. So, for example, Google Now might help control the thermostat by checking both the weather and also the family calendars — knowing when nobody will be home. It might watch your commute to turn the heat up just in time for you to walk in to a warm house — that sort of thing.”
The NEST app being used on a smartphone to control the NEST thermostat. (Click Image To Enlarge)
But not everyone is welcoming the Google buy with open arms. Questions of privacy have already come up, although Nest said in a statement that its commitment to privacy would not be affected by the sale. One has to wonder, though, what a company like Google will do with the vast amounts of data that Nest products collect. Could we see a future where hackers are able to break into our homes? Or use data to see when we’re away on vacation?
Geschickter is quick to throw cold water on that fear. He says.
“There’s a lot of talk about occupancy and watching patterns and targeting households that appear nobody’s home, but it hasn’t really come to pass yet. Doesn’t mean it’s not a legitimate concern; it just hasn’t cascaded into some larger event.”
COMMENTARY: According to the GSMA report "Vision of the Smart Home -- The Role of Mobile in the Home of the Future," connectivity is generally regarded as a high-end novelty in home devices, such as utility meters, thermostats, security cameras, TVs and Blu-ray players, rather than a feature for the mass-market. This view will become out-dated as we move to a future where connectivity is pervasive and embedded in virtually all household devices. Many analysts believe that the smart home of the future is likely to contain 15 to 30 connected devices and sensors, all linked via a home area network and connected to service providers’ back-end systems and the Internet. Connected devices will range from ordinary household appliances through to solar panels and electric vehicle charging infrastructure that both consume and generate electricity.
The combined revenue from the smart metering, home automation and home energy manage- ment (HEM) segments will be worth more than $44bn in 2016, according to the combined forecasts from market analyst companies ABI and Berg Insight. The overall revenue potential of the smart home, however, will be considerably higher as devices from the entertainment, health and home security sectors also become connected.
Mobile connectivity will be a crucial ingredient in bringing together the different parts of the smart home puzzle. Without mobile networks’ extended coverage, smart home services will only be available in limited locations and will miss the mass-market opportunity. The mobile handset is emerging as a key interface and consumers’ constant companion for remote monitoring and control of smart home services. With deep expertise in technology change management and a long-term technology roadmap, mobile operators are attractive partners for smart device and service providers.
The smart home services market is not an entirely new opportunity. Home automation and home energy management companies already cater to wealthier niches of the overall market. However, in order to put together a package of smart home applications for the mass-market, different providers of devices and services will need to collaborate.
In some areas, companies from different sectors see themselves competing for “ownership” of the consumer: utilities companies have a route to the customer via smart meters; telcos can base their proposition on broadband hubs and set-top boxes; security companies can leverage connected security systems; and gaming providers can develop new applications for connected set-top boxes. But many of these companies will also need to co-operate to realise the full potential of smart home services. In fact, collaboration will be a must for the success of the smart home services market.
Courtesy of an article dated January 16, 2014 appearing in HOUZZ
Amazon Prime Air drones will deliver packages weighing up to 5-lbs using robotic drones like this one. (Click Image To Enlarge)
On a 60 Minutes segment last night, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos revealed a plan that would put all other rapid shipping options to shame:a fleet of little drones that could carry items from a warehouse conveyor belt to a buyer’s doorstep, all within half an hour.
Hardware limits, safety questions, and FAA rules are all keeping Jeff Bezos' dream from becoming a reality
Like Google’s driverless cars or, on a grander scale, Elon Musk’s Hyperloop, the project — dubbed Amazon Prime Air — seeks to revolutionize how things and people move, offering speed, convenience, and the futuristic experience of a flying octocopter postman. Suggesting it could be possible in four to five years, Bezos said.
"I know this looks like science fiction. It’s not."
Close-up view of Amazon's Prime Air robotic air drones. (Click Image To Enlarge)
But in order to turn its ambitious concept into a reality, Amazon has a lot of work to do.
Amazon has said that its unmanned aerial vehicles [UAVs] should be able to carry a 5-pound package up to 10 miles within 30 minutes. To do that, it’s going to need a lot of battery power. Octocopters on the market today are often built to carry cameras heavier than 5 pounds, but they fly only a fraction of the distance; the SteadiDrone EIHG8, for example, is meant to carry between 2 and 13 pounds, but only for a maximum of 15 minutes and less than 1 mile — the heavier the package, the worse the performance. Aerial robotics company Skycatch, which has been working on a similar drone delivery project, sees the solution as swapping batteries automatically throughout the flight while traveling in an airspace corridor dedicated to unmanned vehicles.
Missy Cummings of MIT’s Aeronautics and Astronautics program thinks an Amazon drone would require a big leap in technology. She says.
"Unless Jeff [Bezos] has made some kind of amazing breakthrough in battery life, which I kind of doubt, the flight time is going to continue to be a problem."
Some have speculated that Amazon is building off hardware and software from Chris Anderson’s UAV company 3D Robotics, pointing to a GPS and compass module in the concept video; 3D Robotics declined to comment on this possibility. If Amazon is able to build a strong enough battery and account for variables like wind, the octocopters could fly semi-autonomously with a human supervisor, who Cummings suggests could manage up to 20 or 30 of them at a time, though the FCC’s rules are still largely unknown.
Once you build an octocopter that can make a 10-mile trip in half an hour and create a system to manage it, you start getting to the really interesting questions. How, for example, would you stop people from taking down Prime aircraft and stealing their cargo? Ryan Calo of the University of Washington’s tech policy lab. There’s also a more low-tech option: shooting the drones. Cummings says.
"Instead of shoplifting, we may begin to see delivery hacking. If you saw a drone flying fairly close overhead, maybe you could whip out a gun. Maybe you could whip out a slingshot. They would have to stay high long enough to basically either be out of sight or not in range of a weapon."
While protecting its drones from hijacking, Amazon has some major safety concerns to work out.Any plane can crash, and the octocopters wouldn’t have the same possibility of pilot error, but they'd also do something risky and virtually unprecedented: drop from a potential height of a few hundred feet, possibly with almost no human direction, right onto your driveway. Or your herb garden. Or, if you’re particularly unlucky, your dog. The sensors that keep planes from hitting each other in midair aren’t built to avoid tiny obstacles on the ground, though Amazon could use semi-experimental lidar systems like the ones on Google’s driverless cars to avoid obstacles. An Australian company could provide a test case — called Zookal, it plans to let urban buyers order textbooks and then wait outside for a drone to drop its package while hovering above the ground. Since its pilot program won’t start until next year, though, it’s hard to say how well this plan will actually work.
One potential answer is to combine this program with something like the Amazon Lockers deployed at 7-Elevens and drugstores in a few test cities. In a blog post, Skycatch describes what Amazon needs to make Prime Air a reality, including safety and anti-theft measures. After making most of its journey high in the air, it says, an ideal UAV would drop inside "authorized pick-up and drop-off stations" that would prevent theft and reduce the chances of a bad landing. It’s not as charmingly futuristic as a machine delivering something right to your door, though it’s still a lot more convenient than traditional shipping, and it’s probably what we’ll get in the foreseeable future. Skycatch’s Christian Sanz says.
"No one is going to fly a drone like the [Amazon] video suggests; too many things can go wrong. Props can take someone's eye out, batteries don't last long so you need an automated way to swap them, power issues are the main cause of UAVs falling off the skies, so you need a way to manage that. If the UAV falls from the skies you need a way to soften the landing."
All of this, of course, is making the vital assumption that the FAA will allow the program in the first place. Amazon has been vague about when exactly we’ll see Amazon Prime Air deployed; an FAQ says that it "will be ready" when the FAA’s deadline for commercial UAV guidelines comes up in 2015. But although the FAA is making slow progress towards figuring out how to certify UAVs and their operators, it hasn’t even completed a basic, early step: officially approving a set of six flight ranges to test its rules. From there, it’s going to slowly ramp up a pilot program, and by 2015, it’s not required to do much more than tell companies how to responsibly fly a commercial UAV and help them start testing. Amazon might well be ready at that point, but "ready" won’t mean one-click drone shopping.
Amazon is also taking aim at one of the most sensitive regulatory issues: letting drones fly above our cities and suburbs. Despite all those great cityscapes that filmmakers capture with UAVs, even hobbyists aren’t supposed to fly in populated areas; if you want justification, look no further than the quadrotor that dropped a few dozen stories and barely missed hitting a Manhattan businessman this fall. While this raises problems for Amazon, though, having a huge company take on the issue is probably good news for other UAV proponents. The company is a lobbying heavyweight in the tech sector beloved by American politicians, and it’s all but certain to push the FAA for faster rulemaking and more permissive policies, as long as it can demonstrate that looser rules won’t pose a significant safety problem. Whether this will actually speed the FAA’s decision is a matter of debate.
For the rest of the commercial drone world, Amazon Prime Air is a huge publicity coup.At best, small UAVs have been seen as potentially helpful novelties in the past; at worst, they’re associated with ubiquitous surveillance or the much larger military craft responsible for bloody airstrikes in places like Yemen and Pakistan. Now, though, Amazon is promoting its octocopters as a convenient and futuristic shipping option for its massive user base. For anybody with serious privacy or safety concerns, meanwhile, the plan is an incentive to speed up work on meaningful regulations. Senator Ed Markey (D-MA), for instance, has used the Amazon announcement to promote his UAV privacy bill. He said in a statement,
"Before our skies teem with commercial drones, clear rules must be set that protect the privacy and safety of the public."
If anyone’s drones are in a position to teem, Amazon’s are. In 2012, the company said it shipped 15.6 million items on its busiest holiday shopping day; based on Bezos’ claim that 86 percent of packages are under 5 pounds, that could add up to a peak of 13.5 million eligible shipments per day, a number that will likely only grow over the years. Amazon’s FAQ says.
"One day, Prime Air vehicles will be as normal as seeing mail trucks on the road today."
But a sky swarming with yellow octocopters is still far, far away, especially in the US. Cummings says.
"There will never be a time in our foreseeable lives where we look up in the sky and see a bird-trail of UAVs flying back and forth. I suspect that within the next 10 years, you will occasionally see one going by."
Within five years, she thinks the FAA might let Amazon send delivery vehicles between approved fulfillment centers; for anything like Amazon’s door-to-door concept, more like 10 to 15 if it happens at all.
That doesn’t mean, however, that we might not be seeing Prime Air drones in the sky sooner — it just won’t be over American soil. Besides Australia’s Zookal, Chinese company SF Express is reportedly testing a delivery UAV, albeit only in remote areas. Cummings says.
"Amazon is not stupid. They’ll go to other countries."
Bezos, meanwhile, has made clear that his company is in this project for the long haul. He said in 60 Minutes.
"I don’t want anybody to think this is just around the corner. This is years of additional work from this point."
But it will almost certainly take more than his optimistic estimation of a half-decade before the drones arrive at our doorsteps.
COMMENTARY: I remember what people were saying when Jeff Bezos announced that Amazon would be producing the Kindle, it's highly successful book eReader. Then he announced that Amazon would be producing its own tablet, the Kindle Fire. Well, folks. Never underestimate Jeff Bezos. The guy is a genius when it comes to developing great new ideas and products, and I would take Amazon's Prime Air robotic drone delivery service very seriously. Obviously a lot of kinks still need to be worked out, and the FAA has to establish guidelines for commercial UAV's like Prime Air, so I don't see this happening for several years. Having said this, I can definitely see a company, if not Amazon, using commercial UAV's to make deliveries of goods or provide services.
Courtesy of an article dated December 2, 2013 appearing in The Verge
So what did they come up with, exactly? A compendium of innovations that we've seen glimmers of in prior coverage on Co.Exist. (Click Image To Enlarge)
Smart refrigerators, faucets that detect bacteria on produce, and 3-D printed dishes are just some of GE's predictions for the kitchen of 2025. Don't pass them off as unrealistic: GE has been right before.
A typical product development cycle for corporate industrial designers lasts two to three years, which means today's designers are working on products that won't hit shelves until 2015 or 2016.
In GE's appliance unit, four teams of industrial designers were asked to dream up what kinds of products they might expect the company to release in 2025 to suit the domestic lifestyles of the near future. More conceptual than practical, the Home 2025 challenge invited designers at GE Appliance's home base in Louisville, Kentucky, to combine research on cultural and demographic trends--like an aging U.S. population, the decrease in demand for larger homes, and the increasing demand for fresh produce--as well as technological shifts to imagine how products should evolve to match a new American life. The results are both tangible and thoughtful.
"The kitchen is sort of disappearing," Lenzi says, at least in the sense of a territorially bounded space. "Now it's part of the overall environment. [...] Kitchen appliances need to become part of that overall connected system." (Click Image To Enlarge)
While some critics have questioned the necessity of a Wi-Fi-equipped toaster, GE's project sheds some light on the motivations for why we'd even want to have interconnected kitchen systems. (Click Image To Enlarge)
Lou Lenzi, industrial design director for GE Appliances, explains.
"Each group was assigned not just a living environment. But we also asked the teams to break up and look at personas or do some scenario-planning."
Those scenarios include a house for empty-nesters, another for a young, tech-savvy couple, a third for young people living in an "emerging urban environment" like Detroit, and another for an adult taking care of an elderly parent.
As homes shrink, you can save space by finding appliances that do more than one thing, like an entertainment center that also has cooking capabilities, for example. (Click Image To Enlarge)
Or a refrigerator could be part of a system that takes inventory, suggests recipes based on what's about to go bad, curates shopping lists, and places orders for food delivery. (Click Image To Enlarge)
So what did they come up with, exactly? A compendium of innovations that we've seen glimmers of in prior coverage on Co.Exist. While the teams focused on the whole home, their take on the kitchen was particularly interesting.
Lenzi says, at least in the sense of a territorially bounded space.
"The kitchen is sort of disappearing. Now it's part of the overall environment. [...] Kitchen appliances need to become part of that overall connected system."
That "system" is what you may have heard called the "Internet of things" (or the "industrial Internet" in GE-speak) by futurists and designers.
"You may set up a relationship with a local grocer or produce stand that would allow you to inventory-manage through the appliance," Lenzi explains (Click Image To Enlarge)
Deliveries would show up on demand and bring food directly into the home via an externally accessible fridge, so no one would need to be there to receive the order. Rinse produce in the sink, and the faucet's sensors would detect the presence of pernicious chemicals or bacteria. (Click Image To Enlarge)
While some critics have questioned the necessity of a Wi-Fi-equipped toaster, GE's project sheds some light on the motivations for why we'd even want to have interconnected kitchen systems. As homes shrink, you can save space by finding appliances that do more than one thing, like an entertainment center that also has cooking capabilities, for example. Or a refrigerator could be part of a system that takes inventory, suggests recipes based on what's about to go bad, curates shopping lists, and places orders for food delivery.
Other innovations focused on sustainability, like repurposing grey water from the dishwasher to circulate through other appliances, as well as educational apps to make home gardening easier. (Click Image To Enlarge)
GE is considering turning some of the 2-D renderings created for the project (and currently on display at the Cressman Center in downtown Louisville) into 3-D objects. (Click Image To Enlarge)
"You may set up a relationship with a local grocer or produce stand that would allow you to inventory-manage through the appliance."
Deliveries would show up on demand and bring food directly into the home via an externally accessible fridge, so no one would need to be there to receive the order. Rinse produce in the sink, and the faucet's sensors would detect the presence of pernicious chemicals or bacteria. (No organic labels needed.)
Other innovations focused on sustainability, like repurposing grey water from the dishwasher to circulate through other appliances, as well as educational apps to make home gardening easier.
One particularly promising concept is for a technologically connected kitchen island. (Click Image To Enlarge)
Asked how much change is actually possible in a 12-year period, Lenzi replies that "in 2001, we did a kitchen-of-the-future project with Wired, and you saw the emergence of connectivity. And now we do have connectivity in our products." (Click Image To Enlarge)
"I think there's great value in this whole notion of personas and scenario-planning as we think about the future, and frankly speaking, I think this is just a great way to promote a dialogue about where we think the home is going on a larger scale."
GE is considering turning some of the 2-D renderings created for the project (and currently on display at the Cressman Center in downtown Louisville) into 3-D objects. One particularly promising concept is for a technologically connected kitchen island.
Of course, we'll have to wait until at least 2025 to cook or clean with any of these appliances. Asked how much change is actually possible in a 12-year period, Lenzi replies that "in 2001, we did a kitchen-of-the-future project with Wired, and you saw the emergence of connectivity. And now we do have connectivity in our products."
More telling is a comparison between a similar project at GE in the 1960s. In a photograph, Arthur N. Becvar, the guy who had Lenzi's job 50 years ago, is sitting in his vision of the kitchen of the future. Appliances include an "electronic oven," "a frozen food locker," the "ice water and ice dispenser," and the "automatic plastic dishmaker." The first three--a toaster oven, freezer, and ice machine--are now standard in every kitchen. (Click Image To Enlarge)
A typical product development cycle for corporate industrial designers lasts two to three years, which means today's designers are working on products that won't hit shelves until 2015 or 2016. (Click Image To Enlarge)
More telling is a comparison between a similar project at GE in the 1960s. In a photograph, Arthur N. Becvar, the guy who had Lenzi's job 50 years ago, is sitting in his vision of the kitchen of the future. Appliances include an "electronic oven," "a frozen food locker," the "ice water and ice dispenser," and the "automatic plastic dishmaker." The first three--a toaster oven, freezer, and ice machine--are now standard in every kitchen. The plastic dishmaker hasn't come around yet, but according to GE's designers, we'll finally get to make our dishes at home in 2025, using 3-D printer technology.
In GE's appliance unit, four teams of indsutrial designers were asked to dream up what kinds of products they might expect the company to release in 2025 to suit the domestic lifestyles of the near future. (Click Image To Enlarge)
More conceptual than practical, the Home 2025 challenge invited designers at GE Appliance's home base in Louisville, Kentucky, to imagine how products should evolve to match a new American life. The results are both tangible and thoughtful. (Click Image To Enlarge)
"Each group was assigned not just a living environment," explains Lou Lenzi, industrial design director for GE Appliances. "But we also asked the teams to break up and look at personas or do some scenario-planning." (Click Image To Enlarge)
COMMENTARY: The ideal kitchen "system" should incorporate smart technology, especially apps like a meal planner based on the specific needs and requirement of the consumer or household. It should focus on a balanced diet and the nutritional needs of each consumer or members of the household. Meals would be scheduled automatically throughout the week or month. And the system would provide information about the fat, salt, calorie contents for each meal by serving size. I also think that besides meal planning, the kitchen system of 2025 should include a meal budget, allowing consumers to establish food spending budgets. The system would then plan the meals around that budget, insuring that spending is kept within those limits, but insuring optimal nutritial values for each meal.
Technology buying decisions made by small businesses are influenced more by attitudes and beliefs than by demographic factors such as industry, revenue, and years in business, according to a recent report from Infusionsoft.
The study, which was based on a nationwide survey of nearly 1,200 small businesses with 25 or fewer employees and revenue of more than $100,000, identified four distinct types of small business technology buyers: Strivers, Customizers, Maximizers, and Supporters. Each group, segmented based on similar attitudes and beliefs, makes up roughly a quarter of all buyers.
Below, key insights and data points for each segment identified bythe study.
Strivers seek technology that can help them overcome their sales and marketing challenges, move beyond their existing capabilities, and support the growth of their business.
43% of Strivers spend less than $500 per month on marketing.
78% say they need help in building automated sales and marketing processes.
78% say they need assistance with evaluating effective marketing content.
Strivers have the smallest social media presence of the four groups and often lack a clear social media marketing strategy.
The report identifies Customizers as those who seek technology that can help them automate existing sales processes and scale their business in a way that doesn't compromise their ability to deliver personalized customer service.
Customizers use social networks like Facebook and Twitter to market to customers and use LinkedIn for networking.
51% spend more than $1,000 per month on marketing.
53% say they need help in selecting the right sales and marketing tools.
54% need help developing effective marketing strategies and evaluating messaging.
Maximizers say technology can provide a competitive advantage and help them achieve consistency and efficiency, resulting in greater success.
61% spend more than $1,000 per month on marketing.
57% of Maximizers say they need help in choosing the right sales and marketing tools; 60% say they need help in building those tools.
61% say they need assistance in evaluating effective marketing content.
Maximizers have the most diverse social media platform reach: 49% use Facebook, 36% use Twitter, and 31% use YouTube.
Supporters are proud of their small business identity and want to work with vendors that understand their challenges, which they feel differ from those of larger companies.
57% of Supporters spend less than $1,000 per month on marketing, and 34% spend between $0-$500 per month.
59% say they need help with evaluating effective marketing content.
59% of Supporters tend to favor Facebook for social media marketing, with Twitter coming in second at 31%.
For more findings from the report, check out the following infographic.
Click Image To Enlarge
About the research: The report, The American Dream: What Really Motivates Small Business Owners, was based on data from a survey of 1,200 small businesses. Only companies with 25 or fewer employees and revenue of more than $100,000 were surveyed.
COMMENTARY: It is imperative that technology marketers understand the Technology Adoption Curve (also referred to as the Technology Adoption Lifecycle). The technology adoption curve describes the adoption or acceptance of a new product or innovation, according to the demographic and psychological characteristics of defined adopter groups. The process of adoption over time is typically illustrated as a classical normal distribution or "bell curve." The model indicates that the first group of people to use a new product is called "innovators," followed by "early adopters." Next come the "early and late majority," and the last group to eventually adopt a product are called "laggards."
Atomic Learning created the following infographic which describes the attributes of each adopter group, best approach to market to each group, their motivators and the degree of professional development (technology training and education). Marketers should clearly understand the differences within each adopter group and develop appropriate marketing strategies.
Click Image To Enlarge
Technology adopters tend to be the most active users of social media and mobile digital devices. It is not unusual for technology adopters to subscribe to more than one social media network. Having said this, here a few pointers as to how technology marketers should use social media to engage with technology adopters.
Chicago writer Margo Rowder was one of the few selected to try Google Glass, and here she is at Google HQ trying them out for the first time (Click Image To View Video)
During the month of May 2013, Google has been handing out the first editions of its much-anticipated Glass wearable computer devices to a select group chosen to try it out.
One of them was avid bicyclist and science-fiction writer Margo Rowder, who was invited to pick up the high-tech eyewear at a Google office in Los Angeles. All those selected to buy the glasses must pick them up at a Google office and go through a Google initiation-like process.
Rowder allowed me to tag along and experience the whole process with her.
She applied to receive an invitation to the Google Glass Explorer program in February, telling Google she was interested in using the device to help her get around Los Angeles on her bike.
In her application, Rowder also said Glass would make it easier for her to record any thoughts that came to her that would be useful for the book she is writing called "Thirty Decibels," which is about a futuristic society where most people are forbidden from speaking any louder than a whisper. Rowder said she was very excited to receive her invitation to purchase the $1,500 glasses because in her book, which she began writing in 2009, she imagined a device that's very similar to what Google has made.
Riding on her blue Raleigh hybrid bike, Rowder pulled up Wednesday afternoon to Google's offices in Venice, located inside the Binoculars Building, designed in the 1980s by architect Frank Gehry.
Google office in Venice Beach, California (Click Image To Enlarge)
A look at the sleek interior of Google's Venice Beach, California (Click Image To Enlarge)
The cafeteeria at Google's Venice Beach, California office (Click Image To Enlarge)
Inside we were greeted by half a dozen Google employees, all wearing Glass.
After Rowder finished putting on her contact lenses (you can't wear prescription eyeglasses while using Glass) we were escorted to the Glass team's wing of the building. Along the way we got an inside peek of what employees have access to: a Google L.A.-imprinted burgundy pool table, a large snack room and an open courtyard complete with a human-size chess board.
The team’s room looked like an Apple store that had been converted into a theater dressing room with vanity mirrors. On one side were counters with numerous glasses in various colors, and on the other, were vanity tables with black bags labeled with the “Glass” logo. Google's staffers offered drinks and hors d’oeuvres.
Rowder had no interest in the white, black or gray glasses and instead focused on those that were in orange (tangerine) and blue (sky).
Glass is essentially made up of five parts: a titanium frame, two nose pads that hold up the frame, a counterweight on the back right side of the device, the main component which sits next to the right temple of a user's face and doubles as a touch pad, and a glass cube, which houses the tiny screen.
Once she picked out her color, Rowder was taken to one of the vanity tables, where she was presented with an encyclopedia-sized white box. She opened the box slowly, hoping to take in the full experience like a tech geek unboxing a new device. Once she got to the Glass, she lifted the device and examined it before putting on her very own head-mounted display for the first time.
Pat, a Google Glass team member, asked Rowder how the device felt before giving her tips on the proper way to wear it: The frame should sit straight across her brows and once she turns it on, she should be able to see the screen in the glass unimpeded.
"Oh I see it."
Pat asked her.
"You see the screen already?"
Rowder said with an excited chuckle.
Another Glass staffer asked if I would like to try on the device. We went to the stand and I picked out the shale gray model -- I've always gone with dark and cool colors when it comes to my devices.
Margo tries on a light blue pair of Google Glass glasses and checks how the new augmented reality glasses look on her in a mirror. (Click Image To Enlarge)
Margo Rowder wears her new pair of Google Glass glasses for the first time (Click Image To Enlarge)
After putting it on and turning it on, I had to tap the touchpad on the main device (quickly tilting your head 30 degrees also works) to bring up a floating screen with a transparent “OK Glass” written across it. It was like looking through a heads-up display on a fighter jet.
Along with “OK Glass” the see-through screen displayed the time of day. The display of “OK Glass” signaled that I could give it commands, to take a picture for instance.
“OK, Glass, take a picture.”
And the device snapped a photo, which I could see immediately on my display screen.
With the touch pad, I could scroll the screen left or right using a finger. Scrolling to the left displayed various information, including weather. Scrolling to the right, I found the picture I had just taken.
After a few minutes, my eyes were beginning to strain -- I felt a little bit overwhelmed by the new technology -- so I took it off and handed it back to the staffers.
I rejoined Rowder as Pat helped her set up the smartphone app that works with Glass, check out the website where she can adjust Glass' settings, and add Glass apps (or Glassware as they are officially called). Rowder tried out all Glass’ functions, shooting video of us, searching images of actress Julia Roberts and sending her first Glass-written text message.
Rowder said aloud, specifying the punctuation marks, which Glass transcribed, turned to text and sent to her mom.
“Hi mom I'm talking to you from Glass. What do you think!?”
After about half an hour spent setting up the device, Rowder was finally good to go. The Glass team walked us out and gave her as much information as they could before we said our goodbyes, like a couple of parents sending their daughter off to college for the first time.
Outside, Rowder popped on the sun visors that came with the Glass, put on her helmet, and hopped on her bike. For a moment, though, she seemed in an odd daydream-like state as she tried to get the Glass to give her directions.
I told my colleagues all about this weird instance that must surely happen to all Glass users as they scroll through their device looking for information. We came up with a term for it: Glass-eyed, as in,
“That girl’s totally Glass-eyed right now.”
COMMENTARY: Sure looks like Margo Rowder had a great time experiencing Google Glass. Here a few of our Google+ posts shortly after she began using her glasses.