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An experience with Google Glass

September 14, 2013 Leave a comment

I had an experience with some step-change technology recently that reinforced how sometimes your opinion is worthless until you’ve actually tried something.

I’m talking about Google Glass. Last month I had the great privilege of visiting Google’s  Googleplex campus in Mountain View, San Francisco, and found myself wearing a pair of the internet connected eyeware.

Like every other person on the tech-obsessive-geek-scale I had read much and watched as many videos as I could when these glasses were first announced. I had followed Google’s founder and Head of Innovation Sergey Brin as introduced Google Glass through a team sky-diving from a Zeppelin, filming their descent live on the internet using Google Glasses.

I had also looked at the media around the first prototype, bulkier versions and thought – “no way”. And I’d certainly had more than a few water-cooler conversations around the potentially socially-awkward nature of talking to someone else while wearing a pair of glasses behind which you may or may not be searching information on that person or filming them.

“Remember when video cameras first came on phones and everyone was worried you’d be filmed in the changing room”, remarked one male colleague.

“What if you’re standing by a children’s playground wearing one of those? How could you prove you’re just looking at the sports results and not some videophile.”

The whole action of someone’s eye’s flicking upwards and away from you to look at an invisible screen while in conversation just silently screamed as being socially unacceptable.

And to be honest my encounter with Google Glasses at Mountain View couldn’t answer those questions completely. But what I did learn was that as a user the experience was quite amazing and which left me hungering for more. The experience was so positive any previous doubts suddenly vanished into the air like soap bubbles.

The frames are very very light, stylish but robust. I wear glasses everyday and they felt just as comfortable as my frames do.

The right hand frame arm is where the glasses gear is kept and that was barely wider than some designer frames you get on regular glasses.

To fire up Google Glass you simply say “Ok Glass” and suddenly there’s a screen that seems about the size of a widescreen TV hovering at what appears a metre or so away from your eyes, slightly up to the right. When you look up at it the screen it appears to move down into your path of vision.

You can use a number of voice commands to call up maps; Google search; take a picture and other commands to send or share via Google+, Facebook or Twitter. Or you can tap and swipe down with your fingers on the right hand frame.

Sound comes through sound waves going through your cranium, rather than via your ears. It feels a bit weird at first but then is quite natural. And apparently the Project X team at Google have had reports from deaf users that they can now hear things again – an amazing and unexpected spin-off.

You are suddenly hands-free on everything your smartphone can offer you. It really is like the first time you take your hands off the handlebars of a bike – it’s a rush! You act a bit crazy.

After a few minutes it was amazing how comfortable it felt having the internet literally right in your face. I felt like a learner driver – and my New Zealand accent was giving the glasses some pause for thought – but very quickly it had gone from feeling like a sci-fi experience to one of usefulness and joy.

Sergey Brin’s vision right from the start of founding Google was that one day search queries would be irrelevant – the right information would just come straight to you. He believes Google Glass is that vision made manifest. He talks more about the philosophy of Google Glass in this Ted Talk.

I believe there is one set of Google Glasses in New Zealand being worn by an artist somewhere down south. He was given them by Google to aid with sculpture but now apparently uses them in every part of his day. He told them he couldn’t go back to life without them.

If I’d read that before wearing them I probably would’ve scoffed at that remark. Google Glass are definitely the shock of the new – and I guess sometimes you just have to physically experience the new for it to make sense.

Banks, big data and doing the right thing

July 21, 2013 Leave a comment

How comfortable are we about our banks mining personal data?

Banks around the world are wrestling with the complexity and the opportunity around big data as a way to deepen their relationship with customers online.

According to a study earlier this month by Infosys nine out of 10 people would be happy sharing some data with their bank if they received more customisable offers or experiences.

The study compared consumers attitudes to sharing data with retailers, banks and doctors and, probably predictably, banks came out as slightly behind the other two sectors when it came to data trades.

However, despite the finding above the study clearly shows consumers are in some conflict over the benefits and drawbacks of banks using big data.

Almost half  (49%) also say they do not want their purchase and transaction data used to offer new services based on their habits but, almost in the same breath, 48% of bank customers would be happy for the bank to use email or social media to provide them with updates or insights.

The study also finds consumers are more concerned with their account security. Around four fifths (82%) want their banks and financial providers to mine their data to detect anomalies from identity thieves, with the same amount (82%) expecting their banks to already be doing this.”

It is such an important issue that just over three quarters (76%) agree that they would consider changing banks if one offered assurances that their data and money would be safer in their systems.

Financial services futurist – and co-founder of MovenScott Bales has an interesting theory that following Edward Snowden’s revelations the strength of feeling around how our data is used could create a new social and political movement around transparency.

Digital natives will come to demand complete transparency on how their data is being used not just by governments, but by corporates as well.

He says: “The reality of the modern world is that if your doing something wrong behind closed doors. The Facebook Generation will find out,  they will share what your doing, and you will be held accountable.”

The Infosys study shows consumers expect better deals from retailers in return for sharing personal information and better attention from their doctor’s office for a similar trade. But banks don’t have a great track record in utilising what they know about the customer: e.g. “Would you like insurance with that?”

Post-GFC, trust in banks generally is going to take some time to recover – particularly in Europe and the US where bank failures have destroyed consumer confidence. One UK survey predicts it will take a generation before banks are trusted again.

How banks use big data to interact with their customers online (and by online I really mean mobile) in the next few years is going to be critical to the relevance of banking and the securing of trust in the minds of a new generation of customers.

There is an amazing opportunity for banks to use the data opportunity to transform their customers online experiences for the better. Instead of going down the retail route of using the data just to flog more products what if banks decided their focus would be purely on using insight to create ways to make customers richer; safer and happier?

But above all there is an incredible opportunity for banking to use big data in a way that embraces openness. That combination of deep insight and transparency could be the difference between banks continuing to be relevant to a new generation of consumers. Or not.

Tesla and wireless electricity – a 157th birthday commemoration

July 10, 2013 2 comments

Who knew the internet was envisioned in 1908 – five years after the Wright Brothers flight and the year New Zealand completed its first North Island end-to-end passenger rail service?

Nikola Tesla holds balls of fire

Nikola Tesla – luminary in all respects

In 1908 the Serbian-American physicist and electrical engineer Nikola Tesla in predicted: “It will be possible for a businessman in New York to dictate instructions, and have them instantly appear in type at his office in London… An instrument not bigger than a watch will enable its bearer to hear anywhere… music or song [or] the speech of a political leader… delivered in some other place, however distant.”

Tesla was definitely a man out of his time – a visionary and inventor in the same league of Da Vinci, and today would be his 157th birthday. As well as envisioning the internet Tesla’s list of inventions is incredible – radio (US Supreme Court recognised his precedence over Marconi in 1943); remote controls; alternating current and the AC motor.

So my post today is in honour of this great man who, like Turing, was treated badly by his time. For more on this there’s a great, vitriolic Oatmeal post on on why Tesla was the greatest geek that ever lived.

Nikola Tesla

Nikola Tesla holding a gas-filled phosphor-coated light bulb which was illuminated without wires by an electromagnetic field from the “Tesla Coil”.

But while I am in awe of Tesla’s inventions such as AC and radio – it’s his work in wireless electricity that really really spins my wheels and, because it’s his birthday, I wanted to profile that stream of his genius and where it is today. While Tesla achieved fame his inventions never received the backing to achieve their vision. He died on January 7th, 1943 in the Hotel New Yorker, where he had lived for the last ten years of his life.

As I write at my desk my mind is immediately drawn to the web of of wires that powers the six entertainment devices in our living room and the multiple other electrical things around the house. But mainly the constant, half-starved nature of my smartphones that crave electricity on a daily basis like ultra-marathon runners crave carbs. Imagine a world free of wires and in which devices magically power up without ever having to plug in.

Tesla successfully proved wireless electricity in 1891 – the same year he became an American citizen.

At his lab, Tesla produced streams of electricity 135 feet long. People walking along the street observed sparks jumping between their feet and the ground. Electricity sprang from taps when turned on. Light bulbs within 100 feet of the lab glowed even when turned off. For Tesla I would imagine the vision of our world literally wrapped in wire would have been nightmarish.

While Tesla was famously predicting an unprecedented global industrial revolution from wireless electricity in 1906 – in 2013 the focus is more how this technology can address specific commercial and personal painpoints.

A New Zealand company is leading the world in delivering the vision of a wireless electronic future.

PowerbyProxi is a start-up that’s come out of Auckland University’s engineering department and which has taken some ground-breaking wireless power technology innovations and created business and consumer products. They say wireless power today is a proximity based system – to do things efficiently power can be transmitted over a maximum distance of about 8 inches. So customer benefits and value have to be derived from within that fundamental design envelope.

The company was founded in 2006 by Fady Mishriki and Greg Cross – 101 years after Tesla closed up shop and laid off his staff after losing backing for a 187ft tall tower in New York that would transmit both signals and power without wires to any point on the globe.  The huge magnifying transmitter would turn the earth into a gigantic dynamo which would project its electricity in unlimited amounts anywhere in the world. His financial backer, J P Morgan, infamously pulled the plug on this by declaring: “If anyone can draw on the power, where do we put the meter?” (Source – Tesla society biography)

So fast-forward to 2013 and Power By Proxi has invented a way to wirelessly transfer efficient power in the most difficult places: from a miniaturized receiver inside a AA battery to a mission critical solution in the demanding and hostile environment of a wind turbine control system. The company has worked with customers on over 50 real world projects initially focusing on complex industrial applications.

Power by Proxi

But it also has created the first commercial wireless recharging system capable of 3D power transfer, regardless of how the device is positioned in the recharging unit.

In the US in 2006, Marin Soljacic, a physics professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, sent wireless electricity across a room to light a 60-watt bulb. Soljacic used electromagnetic induction, but with a twist. By tuning the sending and receiving coils in his electromagnetic field to resonate at the same frequency and engage only at that frequency (the way glass will shatter when struck by sound waves of just the right pitch), the current is focused and bypasses everything else, humans included. Resonant coupling, as Soljacic’s process is known, is far more efficient than Tesla’s attempts, and safer too.

Soljacic has a company called WiTricity, and he can now send 3,000 watts across a room—or a garage, since 3,000 watts can charge an electric car. You can see a compelling demo of wireless electricity by WiTricity in this TED talk.

I find it fascinating that a technology demonstrated over a century ago is now being taken seriously by science and business. And today I salute the genius of the 19th Century-born Nikola Tesla who pioneered what seems like such a 21st Century concept.

Triage – an app that lives up to its hype

April 24, 2013 Leave a comment

There are two possible explanations when the best thing of your week turned out to be the discovery of an email productivity app.

One is that it was a very bad week – and last week wouldn’t be collecting an award for the most stellar seven days of my life, not the worst – but definitely sitting middling to poor.

But the other explanation is that I actually discovered an app that lives up to its hype  – and that is no small thing.

It’s called Triage and it’s from Wellington innovation house Southgate Labs. It is awesome. Period.

Triage email app

Triage by Southgate Labs

Triage is so simple. Once you sign in with your Gmail, Yahoo, ICloud or any other IMAP email account it gives you a screen with your emails represented as cards with just enough information to be able to see what the email is about. The ones you want to keep you swipe up the ones you don’t want you swipe down. You can click on an email to read the full thing. And that’s it.

It’s not about engaging with the individual emails (although you can write brief replies if you want to) – it’s about organising your inbox so you are left with only the important emails. The aim is that you can then can go into your inbox later and suddenly it’s all sorted and relevant. The app is only available for IOS at the moment but judging by the international blogging and media attention it’s getting I would imagine Southgate Labs would be building on its success on other platforms.

Southgate Labs founder Rowan Simpson has written an engaging blog about the genesis of the idea – which is well worth a read for an insight into our innovation is born. The final spark came from his colleague Michael Koziarski (Koz) who asked:

“Imagine if there was an app that let me use a spare 5 minutes here and there to quickly filter out all of the emails which I can just read and delete, so that when I get back to my desk I only have to deal with the messages which require a bit more thought and attention”.

“Wouldn’t it be better if the inbox on your phone was just the new messages which have arrived since the last time you checked.”

“What I really need is something which forces me to do something with each message one at a time, rather than presenting an overwhelming list of unread messages, that I just end up scrolling back and forth through without ever really dealing to at all.”

Triage does that. It’s so simple it’s genius. Apply First Aid to you inbox now – get it here.