- $1 Gesture-Recognizing Device (GigaOm) — the AllSee is the size of a quarter, harvests RF for power, and detects the variations in signal strength caused by gestures.
- A Conversation with Sydney Brenner — The thing is to have no discipline at all. Biology got its main success by the importation of physicists that came into the field not knowing any biology and I think today that’s very important. I strongly believe that the only way to encourage innovation is to give it to the young. The young have a great advantage in that they are ignorant. Because I think ignorance in science is very important. If you’re like me and you know too much you can’t try new things. I always work in fields of which I’m totally ignorant.
- Android Almost Impenetrable to Malware — multiple layers of defence, including signatures of known-bad systems found in the wild, necessary to retain an “open” marketplace vs Apple’s lock-down.
- TrustyCon (YouTube) — video of the speakers at the conference that was set up by speakers who withdrew from the RSA conference. (via BoingBoing)
Why the dearth of imagination — we need to get beyond different flavors of spyware.
“The best minds of my generation are thinking about how to make people click ads,” as Jeff Hammerbacher said. And it’s not just data analysts: it’s creeping into every aspect of technology, including hardware.
One of the more exciting developments of the past year is Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE). Unfortunately, the application that I’ve seen discussed most frequently is user tracking: devices in stores can use the BLE device in your cell phone to tell exactly where you’re standing, what you’re looking at, and target ads, offer you deals, send over salespeople, and so on.
Color me uninterested. I don’t really care about the spyware: if Needless Markup wants to know what I’m looking at, they can send someone out on the floor to look. But I am dismayed by the lack of imagination around what we can do with BLE. Read more…
The Rational Pregnancy, Arts Innovation, Driverless Cars, and Frolicking Robots
- Expecting Better — an economist runs the numbers on the actual consequences of various lifestyle choices during pregnancy. (via sciblogs)
- Business as Usual in the Innovation Industry — the only thing worse than business plan contests for startups is innovation wankfests for small arts groups. [T]he vast majority of small and mid-sized arts organizations are not broken so much as they are in a constant state of precarity that could largely be addressed by reliable funding streams to support general operations and less onerous grant application processes that would allow them to focus more on delivering services and less on raising money. Hear! (via Courtney Johnston)
- Driverless Cars Are Further Away Than You Think (MIT Technology Review) — nice roundup of potential benefits. experiments involving modified road vehicles conducted by Volvo and others in 2011 suggest that having vehicles travel in high-speed automated “platoons,” thereby reducing aerodynamic drag, could lower fuel consumption by 20 percent. And an engineering study published last year concluded that automation could theoretically allow nearly four times as many cars to travel on a given stretch of highway.
- Portraits of Robots at Work and Play (The Atlantic) — photo-essay that is full of boggle. (via BoingBoing)
Despite reports of breakthroughs in battery technology, the hard problems of battery innovation remain hard.
Lately there’s been a spate of articles about breakthroughs in battery technology. Better batteries are important, for any of a number of reasons: electric cars, smoothing out variations in the power grid, cell phones, and laptops that don’t need to be recharged daily.
All of these nascent technologies are important, but some of them leave me cold, and in a way that seems important. It’s relatively easy to invent new technology, but a lot harder to bring it to market. I’m starting to understand why. The problem isn’t just commercializing a new technology — it’s everything that surrounds that new technology.
Take an article like Battery Breakthrough Offers 30 Times More Power, Charges 1,000 Times Faster. For the purposes of argument, let’s assume that the technology works; I’m not an expert on the chemistry of batteries, so I have no reason to believe that it doesn’t. But then let’s take a step back and think about what a battery does. When you discharge a battery, you’re using a chemical reaction to create electrical current (which is moving electrical charge). When you charge a battery, you’re reversing that reaction: you’re essentially taking the current and putting that back in the battery.
So, if a battery is going to store 30 times as much power and charge 1,000 times faster, that means that the wires that connect to it need to carry 30,000 times more current. (Let’s ignore questions like “faster than what?,” but most batteries I’ve seen take between two and eight hours to charge.) It’s reasonable to assume that a new battery technology might be able to store electrical charge more efficiently, but the charging process is already surprisingly efficient: on the order of 50% to 80%, but possibly much higher for a lithium battery. So improved charging efficiency isn’t going to help much — if charging a battery is already 50% efficient, making it 100% efficient only improves things by a factor of two. How big are the wires for an automobile battery charger? Can you imagine wires big enough to handle thousands of times as much current? I don’t think Apple is going to make any thin, sexy laptops if the charging cable is made from 0000 gauge wire (roughly 1/2 inch thick, capacity of 195 amps at 60 degrees C). And I certainly don’t think, as the article claims, that I’ll be able to jump-start my car with the battery in my cell phone — I don’t have any idea how I’d connect a wire with the current-handling capacity of a jumper cable to any cell phone I’d be willing to carry, nor do I want a phone that turns into an incendiary firebrick when it’s charged, even if I only need to charge it once a year.
Do minds, money, markets, or manufacturing matter most?
I sat down with Jon Bruner in New York City this week to talk about where innovation happens. Concentration still seems to matter, even in a networked world, but concentration of what? Minds, money, markets, or manufacturing know-how?
Links for things we mention:
- Highway One, hardware incubator.
- WeChat, fast growing voice chat application from Tencent.
- International Startup Festival
By the way, we clearly aren’t the only ones making comparisons between Silicon Valley and Detroit. Seems to be entering the zeitgeist. However, if you are interested in Detroit as a model for the unraveling of a dominant concentration of innovation, pick up a copy of the classic American Odyssey by Robert Conot or the more recent Detroit: An American Autopsy by Charlie LeDuff.
Pseudo Memetics, Top Pinch or Bottom Pinch, Innovation Cartography, and Awesome Compilation Hackery
- Anatomy of Two Memes — comparing the spread of Gangnam Style to Harlem Shake. Memes are like currencies: you need to balance accessibility (or ‘money supply’) and inflation. Gangnam Style became globally accessible through top-down mainstream sources (High Popularity), but this gave it high social inflation so it wasn’t valuable to share (Low Shareability). However, scale sustained its long term growth. Harlem Shake was not as easily accessible because it was driven more by small communities (Low Popularity), but for the same reason, being less easily accessible, it remained highly valuable (High Shareability). Lack of scale was what made Harlem Shake growth short-term and eventually killed it prematurely. Caution: contains fauxconomics.
- Handedness (Github) — determine left or right handedness from pinch gesture.
- Innovation Cartography — video of a talk by Richard Jefferson of Cambia’s lens, on the imperative to innovate held at the Skoll World Forum on Social Enterprise. His story of maritime cartography (starts around 5m50s) is awesome.
- Statically Recompiling NES Games into Native Executables with LLVM and Go — or “crack for Nat” as I like to translate that title.
Internet Filter Creep, Innovating in E-Mail/Gmail, Connected Devices Business Strategy, and Ecology Recapitulates Photography
- Australian Filter Scope Creep — The Federal Government has confirmed its financial regulator has started requiring Australian Internet service providers to block websites suspected of providing fraudulent financial opportunities, in a move which appears to also open the door for other government agencies to unilaterally block sites they deem questionable in their own portfolios.
- Embedding Actions in Gmail — after years of benign neglect, it’s good to see Gmail worked on again. We’ve said for years that email’s a fertile ground for doing stuff better, and Google seem to have the religion. (see Send Money with Gmail for more).
- What Keeps Me Up at Night (Matt Webb) — Matt’s building a business around connected devices. Here he explains why the category could be owned by any of the big players. In times like this I remember Howard Aiken’s advice: Don’t worry about people stealing your ideas. If it is original you will have to ram it down their throats.
- Image Texture Predicts Avian Density and Species Richness (PLOSone) — Surprisingly and interestingly, remotely sensed vegetation structure measures (i.e., image texture) were often better predictors of avian density and species richness than field-measured vegetation structure, and thus show promise as a valuable tool for mapping habitat quality and characterizing biodiversity across broad areas.
I just read a Forbes article about Glass, talking about the split between those who are “sure that it is the future of technology, and others who think society will push back against the technology.”
I don’t see this as a dichotomy (and, to be fair, I’m not sure that the author does either). I expect to see both, and I’d like to think a bit more about what these two apparently opposing sides mean.
Push back is inevitable. I hope there’s a significant push back, and that it has some results. Not because I’m a Glass naysayer, but because we, as technology users, are abused so often, and push back so weakly, that it’s not funny. Facebook does something outrageous; a few technorati whine; they add option 1023 to their current highly intertwined 1022 privacy options that have been designed so they can’t be understood or used effectively; and sooner or later, it all dies down. A hundred fifty users have left Facebook, and half a million more have joined. When Apple puts another brick in their walled garden, a few dozen users (myself included) bitch and moan, but does anyone leave? Personally, I’m tired of getting warnings whenever I install software that doesn’t come from the Apple Store (I’ve used the Store exactly twice), and I absolutely expect that a not-too-distant version of OS X won’t allow me to install software from “untrusted” sources, including software I’ve written. Will there be push back? Probably. Will it be effective? I don’t know; if things go as they are now, I doubt it.
There will be push back against Glass; and that’s a good thing. I think Google, of all the companies out there, is most likely to listen and respond positively. I say that partly because of efforts like the Data Liberation Front, and partly because Eric Schmidt has acknowledged that he finds many aspects of Glass creepy. But going beyond Glass: As a community of users, we need to empower ourselves to push back. We need to be able to push back effectively against Google, but more so against Apple, Facebook, and many other abusers of our data, rather than passively accept the latest intrusion as an inevitability. If Glass does nothing more than teach users that they can push back, and teach large corporations how to respond constructively, it will have accomplished much.
Is Glass the future? Yes; at least, something like Glass is part of the future. As a species, we’re not very good at putting our inventions back into the box. About three years ago, there was a big uptick in interest in augmented reality. You probably remember: Wikitude, Layar, and the rest. You installed those apps on your phone. They’re still there. You never use them (at least, I don’t). The problem with consumer-grade AR up until now has been that it was sort of awkward walking around looking at things through your phone’s screen. (Commercial AR–heads-up displays and the like–is a completely different ball game.) Glass is the first attempt at broadly useful platform for consumer AR; it’s a game changer.
Could Glass fail? Sure; I know more failed startups than I can count where the engineers did something really cool, and when they released it, the public said “what is that, and why do you think we’d want it?” Google certainly isn’t immune from that disease, which is endemic to an engineering-driven culture; just think back to Wave. I won’t deny that Google might shelve Glass if they consider unproductive, as they’ve shelved many popular applications. But I believe that Google is playing long-ball here, and thinking far beyond 2014 or 2015. In a conversation about Bitcoin last week, I said that I doubt it will be around in 20 years. But I’m certain we will have some kind of distributed digital currency, and that currency will probably look a lot like Bitcoin. Glass is the same. I have no doubt that something like Glass is part of our future. It’s a first, tentative, and very necessary step into a new generation of user interfaces, a new way of interacting with computing systems and integrating them into our world. We probably won’t wear devices around on our glasses; it may well be surgically implanted. But the future doesn’t happen if you only talk about hypothetical possibilities. Building the future requires concrete innovation, building inconvenient and “creepy” devices that nevertheless point to the next step. And it requires people pushing back against that innovation, to help developers figure out what they really need to build.
Glass will be part of our future, though probably not in its current form. And push back from users will play an essential role in defining the form it will eventually take.
Hardware is back and makers are driving it. Here are some of the signals.
Chris Anderson wrote Makers and went from editor-in-chief of Wired to CEO of 3D Robotics, making his hobby his side job and then making it his main job.
A new executive at Motorola Mobility, a division of Google, said that Google seeks to “googlify” hardware. By that he meant that devices would be inexpensive, if not free, and that the data created or accessed by them would be open. Motorola wants to build a truly hackable cellphone, one that makers might have ideas about what to do with it.
Regular hardware startup meetups, which started in San Francisco and New York, are now held in Boston, Pittsburgh, Austin, Chicago, Dallas and Detroit. I’m sure there are other American cities. Melbourne, Stockholm and Toronto are also organizing hardware meetups. Hardware entrepreneurs want to find each other and learn from each other.
Hardware-oriented incubators and accelerators are launching on both coasts in America, and in China.
The market for personal 3D printers and 3D printing services has really taken off. 3D printer startups continue to launch, and all of them seem to have trouble keeping up with demand. MakerBot is out raising money. Shapeways raised $30 million in a new round of financing announced this week.