Aido – the friendly robot

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Personal assistant gadget space has always been a niche market for big and small firms all around the globe. It seemed like a nature transition from smartphones and tablets,when the world started to rely heavily on the connected web of information. According to a survey conducted by PewResearch Center in 2015 there has been an incredible increase in the use of smartphones across the globe, and more specifically in the developing nations with an average increase of around 16 points over the last two years. What that means is, people look at their smartphones as they open their eyes in the morning and they refuse to let them go until they fall asleep at night. And hence as the world starts to get busier, it only seems natural that they seek for a more personalized “controller” of their life.

Broadly, there are two methodologies adopted by companies who are regarded as players in this market. Some take the route of apps built into the the smartphones that can alert, remind, control and automate your life. Apple’s “Siri”, Microsoft’s “Cortana”, Facebook’s M and Assistant.ai are just a few examples of the so called “embedded” assistants.

Then there are others such as Amazon Echo and the sweet Alexa backend which is a standalone gadget. Cubic is another example of a standalone gadget that is trying to enter this playground. Now in my view these are gadgets which serve as a “speaker” with a personal touch to it. In fact Amazon Echo sales figures were compared alongside the traditional speakers such as Bose and Sony.

So what does it mean to have a personal assistant? He/She should be alongside you at all times – perhaps one of the reasons why “embedded” assistants are more heavily used than their “gadgetized” counterparts. Aido, the robot promises to do just that to a certain degree. While it might be an overkill to think about robots walking alongside you on the road, as the science fiction books and movies so eloquently portray. Aido can start as your partner in crime at one location – be it home or office.

Launched two days ago at Indiegogo , Aido definitely has promise, raking up an incredible 180% of their initial target funding in just 3 hours.

Watch out for more as I wait to get my hands on one of them…

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Influence of Crowd funding – CES 2014

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When most of the top consumer product manufacturers where burning the midnight oil to solve the smartwatch mystery, that has been a growing trend over the last few years, one company quietly sneeked in a product in 2013 that took the world by surprise. Rather unheard off in every way, Pebble started off as a dream in an upcoming crowdfunding organization called Kickstarter . When traditional venture capitalists failed them, Pebble looked towards crowd funding in April 2012. And soon it turned into a cult raising around 10 million from around 70,000 users around the world, becoming one of the highest crowd funded projects till date. It wasn’t long before they started mass production with a release date of January 2013. With around 200,000 units sold by the end of 2013, Pebble announced their second iteration of the smartwatch – The Pebble Steel at CES 2014 in Las Vegas.

But we are not here to talk to Pebble and its growing success, when companies like Apple and Samsung are still struggling to enter this market of watches. Rather I wanted to focus on what made Pebble possible – Crowd Funding. At least 4 of the gadgets that won the CES 2014 Awards were crowdfunded, with Oculus Rift “Crystal Cove” , the most notable amongst them. Reports suggest that Eureka Park at CES, the launchpad for startups, saw an increase of around 40% in the number of startups with exhibits. And what more, there was even an Indiegogo Zone at the venue with hoards of hardware startups flaunting their jaw-dropping ventures.

Starting a company has traditionally been expensive, when it involves hardware manufacturing. Finding an investor has been even more arduous if you just have a concept or a dream. Most investors for a manufacturing venture require a well chartered business plan stating the plan of action. This has kept a lot of startups stale for long periods of time. Crowd funding has changed all that. Through certain incentives to the crowd that funds the project, these startups have now found a way to bring their dreams to reality. Statistics show that Kickstarter has 128,244 projects registered with around $940 million pledged by close to 5 million users across the globe and around 55,000 projects among them have successfully taken off. Although Indiegogo have not published their statistics yet, I’m sure they have started to see heavy investments from users all around.

A little bit of trivia while I leave you to mull over the next venture you plan to start, CES 2014 took crowd funding rather seriously. So much that even their live streaming was crowd funded!

Is google’s obsession with bringing out half baked products good?

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Albeit being an Apple fanatic, I must admit, Google has been a pioneer in bringing out some of the best innovations. Starting with the search, gmail, the glass, driverless cars, online word processing, chromecast all followed suit. But in every one of these, you cannot help but notice a similarity (wonderfully pointed out in the book Dogfight by Fred Vogelstein as well). All of them were released to the masses (or scheduled to be released in the case of Google Glass), half baked. As the book says, it is the nature of how Google was in the past that is taking a toll on its new market – the art of product manufacturing. Google inherently has been a web based company, with its search engines and its gmails thriving primarily on the fact that users have an operating system and an internet connection to connect to their services. What that entailed was, Google could easily make changes and add on new features on the fly, without actually disrupting the users ability to work with them while doing so. Having said that, I still maintain the fact that gmail being left in its “beta” form was partially due to someone forgetting to take it out of beta!

As Google started to expand its horizons to consumer products, this trend of “beta” releases seemed to drag along as well. If Android in itself was not a good example, Chromecast was more appropriate. I would rate chromecast as perhaps one of their better releases, for the price and the potential. Having a “flash drive” like product capable of “airplaying” videos and presentations out of a smartphone or a tablet is groundbreaking. But the fact that it was released with just Netflix and Youtube, brings out the “service” based mentality. Agreed chromecast did break a lot of expectations through its sales especially during the holiday season , with me personally buying a few of those as gifts. But to me, it looked like an unfinished beta, at the time of the release.

The beta model works perfectly for a software only solution/product. Releasing a product such as gmail to the masses as beta works wonders, when users do not need to purchase anything. But when it comes to hardware, this rule breaks down. Common man would resist purchasing a beta, unless you are a gadget freak, especially when you have to pay money to buy a product.

Having said all those, Google certainly took a different stance with the Glass, through its Explorer Program (a glorified name for beta testing). It accomplished two things – one, the fact that they have an exhaustive beta testing phase on the hardware itself with a small subset of “gadget fanatics” and two, the anticipation levels of the consumer community grew exponentially.

The book, Dogfight, describes this perfectly. It says that Google is still learning the art of hardware product industry. But it is learning fast. And soon a lot of industries and their incumbent organizations will need to hit the panic button. Google Fiber will revolutionize the cable industry; Google Glass will change the way people live; Google cars will shake up the car and transport industry, albeit the myriad of hurdles it still needs to hop through. And a day will come when “Don’t be Evil” will be on the banner boards across the globe, as Google completes its world domination!

Let me know your thoughts…

Ngrams and Google

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When talking about Big Data, one initiative is worth a mention – The Google Ngrams . Google, in its on magnanimous way, started an program to digitize every single printed document, within the copyright limits back, in 2004. Started as a partnership with some of the well-known libraries around the globe such as the New York Public Library, the Harvard University Library and
 Bodleian Library at University of Oxford , the plan was to make high resolution digital images of all printed documents – books magazines et al – and save them in a huge repository that is searchable through books.google. com.

As the collection grew, Google realized the potential to actually digitize them one word at a time. Through a tool known as reCAPTCHA they then started to extract every word from every single image that was scanned. What was born out of it was an amazingly large data set from words dating back to 1500. By 2012, they had almost 15% of all the printed books digitized and that amounted to almost 700 billion words! What came out of this was Google Ngrams !

An “ngram” is a sequence of letters of any length, which could be a word, a misspelling, a phrase or gibberish

Google Ngrams is a searchable word repository, which graphs the occurrence of a word or a phrase in a “corpus of books” (as Google themselves puts it). It then plots those occurrences across time and the result is a visualization of how frequent the words were used over time.

As curious as I was, I decided to try out a few of the “jargons” of today to see how far back it was used. The results were alarming!

Internet

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The word “technology” (keep in mind the search is case sensitive) was used as long back as early 1500s, which is ok considering it is quite a defined term in the English dictionary. But what was even more puzzling is that the word “Internet” was used in the 1590s! Now what can that be referred to! Also, although the whole slew of ARPANET and packet switching started to evolve in the 1960s it wasn’t until 1990s when the word “Internet” started to be used widely in printed form!

The quest for an ultimate “smartwatch”

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There was a time when the watch industry was ruled by the Casios and the Seikos, with occasional luxury watches such as Rolex and Omega emerging as a distant dream. With the emergence of cell phones, their charm started to fade away. Time being more accurate on a cell phone, the menace of changing time manually when traversing across different latitudes started to be seen as tedious. And the smartphone market killed it all. Watches started to fade away from the phase of the earth, occasionally revealing itself on the wrists of the richer elite.

Along came iPod Nano, the VI in 2010. Although it failed to impress as a music player, simply due to it’s surprisingly small touch screen and its slightly bulky form factor. But the square shape and the watch dials that it offered quickly sparked the creative minds of the geek world. And they soon built a watch strap around it. And I, for my own biased reasons, quickly jumped on the concept and bought myself one. I must say I have not been terribly disappointed so far.

Although the iWatch aka ipod nano did not kick off as much, the concept of a “smart” watch slowly started to emerge. Need I say, the gadget elite such as Apple, Google, And Samsung quickly jumped into the race for the ultimate smartwatch. And soon enough, prototypes and concept mockups started to mushroom at different parts of the web world.

Hype has been unimaginably high. Yet, so far there has been just one decent contender and surprisingly it is not one of those gadget giants. Instead it was a startup known as Pebble Technology that has taken the giant leap.

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Built with an impressive SDK for the developers and a seamless integration with Android and iOS, Pebble comes at a unbeatable $150 price tag along with the alert features from a smartphone. Now, anything that Apple hints at is no longer a secret. And along came the rumors of a secret apple team working on an iWatch . Soon enough, Samsung announced that they are making a smart watch too!! Google did not want to be left behind as well, and they announced the Google Time .

At this point, I must make a mention about Microsoft SPOT Watch , announced back in 2003, launched in 2004 and withdrawn in 2008. And as always, Microsoft decided to play the catch up, by announcing its own smartwatch, 2 days back .

The future is promising. Just like the Phablets , the watch industry is no longer confined to the Rolex and the Casios and the Omegas. And for a person like me, who prefers to wear a watch regardless of the umpteen time gadgets around, this is a welcome change. Let me leave you with one of the concept videos amongst the hundreds that are floating around, that impressed me.

As always your thoughts are welcome ……

Gesture Technology – Pointgrab

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I spoke about touch screen walls sometime back here. Although still in its formative years, using Microsoft Kinect and a household projector, presentations suddenly became a lot more “magical”! Taking it a step further, PointGrab recently introduced the Hand Gesture Recognition Software (HGRS) using a standard 2D camera. Based in Israel, Pointgrab introduced two new mobile (encompassing both tablets and smartphone) apps – CamMe, for gesture based photography and PlungaShot, a gesture based bow and arrow game on February 25th 2013 at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona . Again, it is in its nascent stages, but the possibilities are amazingly abundant. Primarily in the presentation area, this could become a game changer, with its ability to deliver presentations from a distance without a remote control or aid from a colleague.

I personally downloaded the CamMe application, both on my ipad and iphone. For long I was searching for a decent app, with the with the ability to perform time- based photography. Although a bit buggy right now, CamMe takes things even further than a timer-based methodology, to snap a picture a second after you asks it to, from a distance.

With its SDK being open to application developers, I can very well see this being picked up by the imaginative elite to develop games, customized user interfaces, what all and what not!

Think Geek item of the week

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From gestures we go to telepathy! NeuroSky Mindwave Mobile lets you play games with the power of your mind!

Second life – Is it ailing?

It was back in 2006-2007 when Second Life started to get a lot of media traction. I, at one time being a self proclaimed addict of Multi User Dungeaon , immediately jumped in to give this a shot. The concept was promising. Although it ran like a snail on my iBook G4 back then, I still continued to drag my way through the world, exporing cities and social life within. But it was only a matter of time before I decided to abandon it, simple due to the performance issue on my antique system.

Then I heard companies started to “buy” land within the Second Life to setup their own Silicon Valley. Startups found Second Life as a launchpad for their ventures . Educational Institutions started to operate and offer courses within this “virtual reality”. Linden dollars as the currency was known within this virtual world, had its own exchange rates with real world money. The concept started to grow like an epidemic. It was amazing, at the same time scary.

And then the hype started to die down. Along with the technical glitches that challenged its progress, regulators (in all spheres of life) started to see potential loop holes that needed to be fixed. Crime, Sex and Gambling became easy alternatives to make quick money. Then I heard 30% of its staff were let go . And slowly it started to disappear from the face of the earth.

Mitch Wagner wrote in computer world back in 2010 – “I use Facebook and LinkedIn to connect with people I already know, and I can occasionally meet new people through Twitter, but Second Life is unparalleled as a way to make new friends and meet people through your computer”.

And its user popularity started to die down . But all is not lost says Linden Lab CEO Rod Humble – “This year the focus is adding more life to the world – artificial life, things like path-finding which hadn’t existed before – and then enabling a suite of tools that will allow people to make things like their own massively multiplayer role-playing game.”

In the words of Rob Humble – “For me, generally, our [business] is shared creative spaces; that’s generally what the company does, but also the weirder the better, I think. If we had a motto, that would be it”.

With a better UI (web based), a more regulated environment and more educational institutions and companies starting to move their “webex” sessions to a “real” second world session, things will start to improve.

And it won’t be long before I take my plunge back in. I’m sure it wouldn’t be as hard to get the world back on its feet.

Think Geek item of the week

Back in the days when phones were a luxury, I remember holding my hand against my ear and mouth to mime a phone call. Little did I realise that think geek would actually make that concept a reality.

Bend it like Beckham!

First came a “cordless” mobile phone . Then its size started to shrink and before you knew it began to flip. Then it became a smartphone. The smartphone turned into a touchscreen. And now the world of smartphones has taken yet another leap – bendable phones!

The rumors started to come back in 2011 and Samsung promptly denied those rumors. Things went quiet for a while, amidst the smartphone war between Apple and Samsung and the launch of Galaxy Note and iPhone 5.

And now they gave it a tentative release time in 2013!!

It uses the flexible OLED Technology along with a plethora of rumored plausible features such as a high-resolution 800×480 flexible AMOLED screen, a processor of 1.2 GHz and 1 GB of RAM and a form factor that measures 221mm x 67mm x 8 mm with 16GB and 32GB capacities.

While I leave you with that thought, here is a mind blowing concept video that Nokia came out with, back in 2011.

Think Geek item of the week

For those arcade loving Apple loving geeks out there, here is a new offering from Think Geek – a “Joystick-it” for iPad

Aakash 2 – the world’s cheapest tablet

It was touted as an “iPad” challenger in India, simply due to its pricing at around $35. Aakash simply was not able to keep up with its initial hype received at its launch in 2007.

While there are several theories debated amongst the elite politicians and technologists in India and outside, including questions raised on India’s innovation capabilities, the Canadian based company, DataWind , which has invested heavily on this product, has already announced the launch of part 2, in this saga – The Aakash 2 . Expected to have double the specifications of its predecessor, the manufacturing of this product is set to start in August.

With the failure of this Android-based version 1 mainly attributed to the lack of planning and management of the supply and demand and the amazingly high percentage of failures on the few that actually made it out to the consumers hands, I guess I will just sit back and watch where the version 2 takes us, before actually getting overly excited about it.

Think Geek item of the week

For a person such as me, who just moved into a new apartment and who just manages to wake up and run to office in the morning, a 3 in 1 breakfast station such as this will be just ideal!

These wise men from the mountains say, “The world is shrinking… you may have heard the adage”. So then why not have an appliance as big as a toaster to do something way more than just toast!

Tablet with a “real” OS

This was a rather ancient concept – to run tablets with the same OS as a desktop or a laptop. Microsoft toyed with this idea back in 2005. , with rather limited success. And in 2007, a company called Axiotron came up with a tablet that runs on Mac OS X . But priced at around $2300, for a 1.83GHz Intel Core Duo, this did not fly well either. User community somehow could not grasp the fact that a gadget as small, was pricier than a laptop with a better processor. Times have changed since then. With tablets leading the sales over the desktops and laptops, Axiotron decided to relaunch the tablet, but this time under a different company name – Modbook Inc . The Modbook Pro as it is unsurprisingly called, the tablet looks a lot classier than its previous version. It comes in two configurations at 2.5GHz and 2.9GHz. Priced tentatively at $1100 – $1300 and capable of dual booting to Windows 7 as well, it certainly looks promising.

But as Apple moves its Mac OS X closer to iOS with every new version released and iPads along with the Android based tablets ruling the consumer market, it could take a while before we know if the product can hold on to its promise of an “ideal take-it-anywhere workstation”. The concept could possible face some road blocks in the enterprise sector as well, where virtual desktops have already made a mark in terms of mobility.