Category Archives: Gadgets

Tech related toys, phones and computer related equipment. I’m a self confessed apple fanboy.

United Nations helps company build crowd control drone that shoots 20 paintballs per second #skynet

crowd control droneOh, what a tangled web the world weaves. A South African firm Desert Wolf (that sounds friendly, right?) who counts the UN, among others, as clients has just announced the availability of a world first crowd control drone. 

While the idea of using a flying robot to control crowds seems a bit messed up, considering the number of times that footage has appeared of things just going badly, it might be good to have robots dishing out the justice. This way, we human beings can all feel comfortable and also, “Hate the robots,” rather than the policemen who get caught up in the unfortunate circumstance of shooting rubber bullets or using a taser. Abstracting ourselves from the implementing of certain things makes them feel a lot more impartial and, truly, takes the concept of equality much further. So maybe it’s a good thing that we’ve got drones, robots at our disposal soon to deal with this?

Robots like this could target equally, based on the settings, marking targets with various color paint pellets. Distinguishing among classes and groups of targets does sound nifty. Having just watched the latest X-men movie about how mutants were singled out based on their genes, or their propensity to have offspring with the mutant genes, made them eventual targets of the crazy robots. Terminator, Matrix, you see where this is all going right?

Even still, it’s the United Nations among the British and other countries that count Desert Wolf desert wolf securityas a supplier and provider of services which they pay for. When considered in that regard, it is more, “Human,” to dispense with things like gunning down a series of protestors with paint balls rather than more extreme measures, which the company makes reference towards. So this innovation seems designed to save lives, which is great for society overall.

Let’s not forget that Google, the cute advertising company, also owns tons of robot drones

The future is here, and it’s being mechanized, automated and scaled faster and faster. Over the past few years, Google Inc, whose fortunes are dominated by their advertising programs, acquired multiple robotics companies not too dissimilar to Desert Wolf. These firms also had contracts with DARPA, Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, which if you read Marvel comic books, might as well be S.H.E.I.L.D, given their track record of investments and influencing technology way ahead of it’s time.

Maybe I spoke too soon about the X-men movie, DARPA and the state of drones. When we stop off at the DARPA home page, check out the image that’s presented today:

robot from darpa home page

Now let’s look at the bad guy robots from X-Men: Days of Future Past:

x-men sentinel

Ya, I don’t see a resemblance either. Good thing, too. Otherwise, I’d start to think that (spoiler alert, don’t read next the rest of this paragraph) Wolverine hadn’t succeeded when he went back in time via Astral Projection. Of course, for fans of the comics like me, the places where reality did not line up, or there were open ended questions never answered, that happened in the comic books, too, when I was growing up with Wolverine. It was a handy plot device for the Marvel team, I think, to experiment with different story lines and possibilities with characters we all loved.

Getting back to the theme of using a drone for crown control, or public safety, the question is not, “Will we have the technology?” but, “How do we best engage with this technology in a way that benefits the whole of society?”

 

Google bought Nest to acquire high value customers: period

next-billion-dollar-purchaseI’ve seen more than a few articles on Nest. Ironically at work, I was explaining to people over lunch the reason why the, “Tweeting fridge,” isn’t a pie in the sky idea. It’s going to happen, whether you or I like it or not. Similarly, Nest getting acquired by Google was inevitable to a degree, just like Zappos getting acquired by Amazon was going to happen whether customers liked it or not.

While I have worked in digital marketing for a long time, it’s my product management hat which makes me stunned at the purchase, and the zillion pundits who’ve gotten the details wrong.

Nest subscribers are the highest value customer segment on the planet

If you live in an environment to make Nest, the adaptive thermostat, work for you…then you’re already one of the world’s 1%. On top of that, if you actually bought one, you own the place you live and the savings, the benefits, from using the *only* product in that category, you’re never, ever going to switch. So what’s the ROI on a customer who buys today and uses your product for the life of their mortgage? Banks look at things from a 30 year perspective. Most digital companies can barely stomach a three year customer lifetime value model (CLTV for those geeky enough).

That heading above and paragraph that followed was the marketing training, the marketing roles, I’ve had over the years shining through. Really, what motivated me to have the tweeting fridge discussion, what drove me to write this, was my product strategy hat. Having invented both AdSense and Delicious, as well as a list of other products, I know a thing or two about digital strategery. (AdRevenue was the product; launched before AdSense and finished with a lawsuit for Trademark infringement with Miva…Delicious was Makunu, in 2001, several years before Delicious came and went – tag based navigation was a great idea a long, long time ago).

Let’s circle back to Nest. The closest write-ups I have seen is one where people said, “Google is a robotics company,” but that’s a gimme. Given the spate of acquisitions in the category the past year, it wasn’t a question if Google needed or wanted robotics or not. It was a no brainer. Kiva Systems, the $750 million dollar Amazon purchase, showed in spades the value of networked robots in the physical world to investors, punters and tech geeks alike.

However…dealing with a network of robots is fundamentally what web search engines have been doing for nearly twenty years. There are scores of academic papers on how networked, autonomous systems work. It wasn’t because Google, somehow, just realized a year ago that a network of robots was even more efficient than robots working in silos. Companies, teams of real people have long realized the benefit of working together, rather than in silos. Isn’t it a cliche to say, “Break down the silos?” 😉

Let’s take the network of robots analogy one step further. What Google needs and drives them is to automate the tasks of everyday life. John Battelle said a while ago, “Google Now is the most strategic project at the company.” There was a cartoon years ago that showed a fictional, real world Googlebot indexing a guys apartment…if you imagine a Roomba crossed with the robot, “Bender,” then you can imagine what that visage. Eric Schmidt, a few years ago, said that Google wants to not just give you information, but know what’s next and suggest, advise, plan your life for you and present you the sequence you’re going to need.

That’s huge. But to help me in the real world, I can’t engage with a screen twenty-four seven. If my home is my most valuable possession, what better way to keep it secure than with Google Fiber running the fastest internet in the US, Google Home Security with motion sensors, Nest Thermostat and Nest Smoke Detector?

While Google is a robotics company (that much, one article had right – but they’ve been a robotics company since the 90’s when they first started with Backrub…), there are limits to the human condition. One fundamental limit is that we can only keep five to seven things in our head at the same time. Whether this limit is because of our five senses or something else, but, Google’s brand can only extend and stretch so far. Google can’t be the system in my house that monitors my temperature, air quality and water usage. That has to be something else, because Google is also the brand that I use when I want to download an app to my janky phone (cough, sorry – Android ICS and below sucks if you’ve only used an iPhone).

It’s Nest that monitors my house, Youtube that delivers my entertainment, Google that drives the car and helps me get to where I need to go. While on the way, Google gives me updates, information and apps that help me with my life.

See? If it was Google monitoring my house, then transitioned to driving my car and helping me at work…it’d be creepy as all hell. By partitioning out the brand (Xbox, hello???), to the various states of my life, it *feels* as if they aren’t taking over. Even if they are, the feeling, as a product in their system consumer of their services, isn’t as nefarious as it might be otherwise.

By the way, having taken a quick look at John’s take on the Nest buy…he has one detail right, but also wrong. Google won’t buy or get into the clothing business. They will end up competing with the quantified self companies, one way or the other. While this is inevitable, they can’t launch a, “Google Clothing,” line because again, that would freak all of us the f–k out. Instead, they’ll do it via acquisition and maintain the brand, same as Nest, Youtube or Adsense.

If you’re curious who Google will buy that gets them into the quantified self game, it’s Athos. Either Google or Nike will scoop up this company. Just don’t look surprised when it happens.

Usually, people who make investments add disclaimers or some statements. I’m not involved in any of these companies, but I know people at Federated Media, have met John Battelle once upon a time (but then, most people have, right?) and know more than one or two current and ex-Google employees.

In the future, everybody will own a personal pick-up drone

800px-Predator_Drone_021While there are a few companies that have talked about having drone based delivery services, it’s in the consumer’s best interest to own a pick-up drone instead of having to rely on the delivery service of another company. Today, we all own cars. Some of us also own bicycles, so we have multiple modes of transportation. Some for their own brand of utility.

We also have multiple computers per person right now, some used for one task, like writing, and others used for phone calls, like my iPhone. Still we have Google Glass and other computers that we might wear elsewhere on our bodies, or sensors. Cheaper, more convenient ways of stitching together a more comfortable, simple existence are part of the evolution of modern society.

The control over our environment first started with thermostats will finish with the kind of background, convenient automated feeds and streams of data that flow into purchase decisions that happen in the background of our lives. Sure, we’ll still customize things but based on those preferences, we’ll save so much time managing our lives…the future will be an awesome place with so many robots at our beck and call.

Where’s my tweeting fridge???

450px-LG_refrigerator-editIt’s CES right now, apparently. What I want to know is, where the bleep is my tweeting fridge? Twitter’s now public, right? So shouldn’t my fridge be tweeting, “Yo, Jeremy needs milk!”

After my Samsung fridge tweets my grocery needs, I want my Samsung car to drive *itself* to the store, pick up my bag, and then drive itself back home. I want my Honda Asimo to pick up the groceries, put them away, and my Roomba to start cleaning my floor.

Then after my Samsung car drives me back home (while I catch up on reading the latest Jay Williams story), I want my Nike Fuelband to start uploading how few calories my desk job burned to the cloud.

Oh, yes. It’s CES and I’m already bored.

Fun fact: the quote about, “The future is here. It’s just unevenly distributed,” is so accurate it’s scary. Ever wonder why it’s becoming so unevenly distributed in the USA? 😉

Another quote. “Those who don’t learn the lessons of history are doomed to repeat them.”

Once my fridge can help me out with those quotes, it’s game over. Call me Neo and plug me in.

Update to this: after more consideration, a scenario that I can easily see happening is the following. I have a personal drone for running errands, after Amazon said that 90% of the items they send are less than five pounds, I was thinking. I could get a lot of shopping done, “One off,” for convenience and always get very fresh items from places around my area if I had a personal pick-up drone. Then I realized, the tweeting fridge was really just sending push notifications to my pick-up drone, which then flew out, armed with a wifi integration into my bank or credit cards, picks up items based on a scan of my fridge and recipes I’ve used.

This picture means that the fridge acts to scan a feed from a Google, Amazon, Walmart, Whole Foods, Sprouts or similar with offers and discounts on things I’ve bought. Each part of my living space would be equipped with sensors, integrated into a new, “Home OS,” that also included a feed from the bathroom to the bedroom. This would ensure you’d be on top of your health, fully quantified, as well as your energy bills and more. Spending would be optimized as you could link multiple stores and the drone pick up done round robin to ensure you spent the least on items you purchase on a regular basis.

Similar to how we have the computer fragmentation today, personal assistant and robots will fragment into a series of specialized machines. The roomba for the floor, the drone for the groceries, the intelligent car for larger items and personal transportation, the Nest for the heating and cooling bill, the crap feed for the bathroom and more. It would be dozens of large corporations with access to various, “Life streams,” of data about each of us. If this sounds creepy, we’re already there with TransUnion, Experian and other data providers. The hope is that you have privacy settings in this future state, where you can control which companies get what access to your data and how it’s shared.

 

Backups, data validation and redundancy: once is brittle, twice is good

Lesson learned last summer, from the loss of a hard drive. Then again last night, from my phone freezing (no, it hasn’t been backed up for a while, either). Sigh.

The parallel here with my hard drive, and flash drive, issue that is for work related systems, people management, you need redundancy. Why? To ensure throughput, to ensure goals are met and to ensure the vision is that much closer to real. Take analytics, for example. Twice now, I have been a part of a project at two large companies to move from standard, “A,” to standard, “B.” I worked as a consultant to another large and now public company when they were migrating from, “A,” to, “B.” Every time, the ironic thing is, people want to re-invent the wheel. “But we’re different…” no.

Are there redundant systems in nature that we should look to for how to design robust, fault tolerant systems?

You betcha. A few examples I can think of off the top of my head:

  • Branches on a tree – yep, trees will survive, by & large, without one of their branches.
  • Litters born to most mammals – often times, at least one offspring will not survive, see, “Runt of the litter.”
  • Cellular reproduction in any given living organism – take hair, for example. I’m positive if every living creature lost any given, single hair tomorrow…not a single thing would change for the tigers, lions or bears 😉

If you finish up in a conversation without a backup strategy…check yourself before you wreck yourself. Backups are key. On the bright side, the Apple store always seems so…high tech. I’ve already made my appointment with a genius to sort things out 😉

Amazon’s kindle: now starring in commercials on television

If you haven’t heard of the Amazon.com Kindle before, you’re probably living under a rock – but that’s OK. In sum, it’s a compact digital reading device, about as long as a #2 pencil and only slighly thicker. The screen is the size of your average paperback novel (I prefer Sci-fi / Fantasy myself). And if you read Amazon’s earnings announcements for the last few quarters, you’ll hear that the Kindle is their #1 product in history.

Many people are crazy excited about the Ipad, which gets far more coverage in tech/geek/mainstream press. But the truth is that in terms of shifing behavior, shifting perception and shifting buying patterns the Kindle is a much bigger story. Recently, Borders announced it’s filing for bankruptcy, Barnes and Nobles has been exploring ‘strategic options’ while they launched (late) their own e-reader technology. The mainstream is finally catching up to what those who’ve had a kindle have known for years: it’s simply a better reading experience.

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The iphone four has made me take more videos than photos.

When I had the Iphone 3g, (my second, after the first generation) I took a fair number of pictures, probably about 3-5 / week. Of course, with the regular camera my wife and I take thousands of photos when we’re on vacation or visiting someplace new. The hit ratio for us isn’t that high as neither one of us is professional a that kind of thing.

So the iphone photos I’ve always taken where basically there just for online usage in a blog, FunAdvice post or similar. Sometimes I’d be taking a photo just to capture the memory as we forgot the camera and I didn’t want to forget a cute moment of my kids climbing a rock or hanging with friends.

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