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Beyond bitcoin and the blockchain to booming business

Widespread blockchain adoption requires understanding between developers and domain experts.

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Editor’s note: this post is part of our investigation into the future of money. The full video compilation from our first event, Bitcoin & the Blockchain, is now available.

The vision for bitcoin and the blockchain is unabashedly optimistic, though already it is being realized. More and more technologists, venture capitalists, financial institutions, and even regulators are seeing its long-term potential to transform industries, from financial services to data management to the Internet of Things. In the medium term, there remain hurdles to overcome before blockchain technology can offer sufficiently compelling solutions for the complex financial and technological world we live in, but there is progress to date — and it’s promising.

Blockchain-based remittance vehicles offered by Coins.ph, BitPagos, and BitPesa, though early stage, aim to take a chunk of the $450 billion remittance industry by offering speedier, more efficient, and cheaper alternatives to traditional solutions. BitPay offers bitcoin/fiat payment processing for merchants as well as bank integration. Increasingly, private investors are diversifying their portfolios by purchasing bitcoin alongside traditional assets. Most recently, Coinbase even received funding from a group of blue-chip investors, including the New York Stock Exchange, and launched its own exchange, signaling both greater acceptance by the financial services industry as well as confidence in its future value. Ripple Labs has taken a very different approach with its protocol, permitting the decentralized transmission of practically any currency type — cryptographic or fiat — like an SMTP for money, and circumventing traditional payment networks. And to this end, it’s already inked agreements with Cross River Bank (New Jersey), CBW Bank (Kansas), and Fidor Bank (Germany), with more on the horizon. Read more…

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The VR growth cycle: What’s different this time around

A chat with Tony Parisi on where we are with VR, where we need to go, and why we're going to get there this time.

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Consumer virtual reality (VR) is in the midst of a dizzying and exhilarating upswing. A new breed of systems, pioneered by Oculus and centered on head-worn displays with breakthrough quality, are minting believers — whether investors, developers, journalists, or early-adopting consumers. Major new hardware announcements and releases are occurring on a regular basis, game studios and production houses big and small are tossing their hats into the ring, and ambitious startups are getting funded to stake out many different application domains. Is it a boom, a bubble, or the birth of a new computing platform?

Underneath this fundamental quandary, there are many basic questions that remain unresolved: Which hardware and software platforms will dominate? What input and touch feedback technologies will prove themselves? What are the design and artistic principles in this medium? What role will standards play, who will develop them, and when? The list goes on.

For many of these questions, we’ll need to wait a bit longer for answers to emerge; like smartphones in 2007, we can only speculate about, say, the user interface conventions that will emerge as designers grapple with this new paradigm. But on other issues, there is some wisdom to be gleaned. After all, VR has been around for a long time, and there are some poor souls who have been working in the mines all along. Read more…

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The next big thing sits between tech’s push and consumers’ pull

Pilgrim Beart on AlertMe, and IoT’s challenges and promise.

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Register for Experience Design for the Internet of Things, an online conference from O’Reilly being held on May 20, 2015, where Pilgrim Beart will present a session, Getting to simple: Deploying IoT at scale.

I recently sat down with Pilgrim Beart, co-founder of AlertMe, which he recently sold to British Gas for $100 million. Beart is a computer engineer and founder of several startups, including his latest venture 1248.

Identifying the gap between technology and consumers: How AlertMe was founded

I asked Beart about the early thinking that led him and his co founder, Adrian Critchlow, to create AlertMe. The focus seems simple — identify user need. Beart explained:

I co-founded AlertMe with Adrian Critchlow. He was from more of a Web services background … My background was more embedded technology. Over a series of lunches in Cambridge where we both lived at the time, we just got to discussing two things, really. One was the way that technology was going. Technology push — what changes were happening that made certain things inevitable, and also consumer pull. What were the gaps that technology wasn’t really addressing?

To some extent we were discussing at quite a high level the intersection of those two, perhaps not quite in that rational way, but as we talked about things we were interested in, that’s essentially what we were doing. We were triangulating between the technology push and the consumer pull, and trying to spot things that essentially would be inevitable because of those two things. Then that led us to thinking about the connected home platform and what could the killer apps for the connected home be, and isn’t it strange how, if you compare the home to the car for example, cars have a large number of computers in them, and the computers all work together seamlessly and invisibly to keep you safe, keep you secure, save you energy, and so on.

In the home, you have a similar number of computers, but they’re not talking to each other, and as a result, it’s really far from ideal. You have no idea what’s going on in your home most of the time, and it’s not energy efficient, it’s not secure, etc. We saw a huge opportunity there, and we saw the potential for some technological advances to help address those problems.

Read more…

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A new dawn of car tech: customization through software, not hardware

Three ways entrepreneurs can bring the rate of progress we’ve seen in computing and communication to car tech.

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BMW’s Vision ConnectedDrive concept car. Image: BMW.

Throughout much of early-to-mid 20th century, cutting-edge design and technology found its way into cars. Following the invention of the integrated circuit, chips and bits started displacing pistons and gears in the hearts and minds of engineers. Silicon Valley’s gravitational force began stripping Motor City of its talent, compounding with the success of every tech startup. Not long after the birth of the Internet, Silicon Valley experienced unencumbered prosperity, while Detroit struggled to hold on for dear life. As automakers rise through the ashes of bankruptcy and corporate hot-potato, I expect our best and brightest entrepreneurs and engineers to be building car tech companies.

Skeptics will cite the arduous three-to-six-year automotive design cycles, onerous qualification requirements, and thin margins that plague the automotive value chain. By attracting the greatest engineers and entrepreneurs, the car business of the early 20th century took us from horseback to stylish coupes within a generation, soon to be followed by tire-smoking muscle cars. Cars built during and after the late 80s pollute less over their lifetimes than their predecessors did parked. Sound like Moore’s Law to you? Read more…

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What are iBeacons?

How to get started with proximity sensors.

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Register for Sean O Sullivan’s free webcast, to be held on April 29 at 10 a.m. PT. This is the first post in a three-part series looking at beacon technology and the burgeoning beacon ecosystem.

Apple galvanized the whole area of proximity-enabled applications and services when it launched iBeacon at WWDC in June 2013. When iOS7 launched later that year, it was the first time support for a variety of proximity use cases was both designed in — and available at scale in — a mobile platform.

Since then, hundreds of companies have become involved in different ways in the iBeacon ecosystem — what I call the “Beacosystem.” These companies are making beacon hardware, offering proximity/iBeacon software platforms, creating shopper marketing platforms, using beacons to deliver signals for location analytics and mobile marketing solutions, powering indoor location services, and more.

This post introduces proximity and iBeacon, covers some background on how it works, and explains why there is some excitement and hype around the uses of proximity in various verticals, including retail.

Read more…

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Talking shop with Other Machine Company

The O'Reilly Solid Podcast: Danielle Applestone on running a machine tool startup and empowerment through desktop manufacturing.

Register for Solid 2015, where you can see Danielle Applestone’s session — How to make an Othermill: From milk jugs to your door — and much more.

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An Othermill. Photo: Other Machine Co.

For this week’s episode of the Solid Podcast, Jon Bruner and I sat down with Danielle Applestone, CEO of the Other Machine Company — purveyors of one of my favorite personal digital fabrication tools: a desktop CNC router called the Othermill (see a demo video).

Grown out of the Machines that Make project at MIT’s Center for Bits and Atoms and incubated at Saul Griffith’s Otherlab in San Francisco, Other Machine Company launched a successful Kickstarter to finance completion of the Othermill back in May of 2013.

For readers not familiar with this particular type of kit, I’ll go into a bit more detail: a CNC (Computer Numerical Control) mill is a machine tool that can be controlled by a computer to move some kind of rotary cutter (such as an endmill or drill bit) to remove material from a workpiece. This is a type of “subtractive manufacturing” process.

With all of the fuss around 3D printing (known in the industry as “additive manufacturing”) these days, I personally don’t think that CNC machining gets enough attention. Although 3D printing is certainly an exciting technology in its own right, it cannot currently compete with CNC machining in terms of cost, supported material types, and range of applications. Read more…

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