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Created by Canadian start-up Thalmic Labs, MYO may be a potential replacement to camera/movement tracking technologies. But what is MYO? MYO is an armband that detects gestures from muscle activity and motion sensing. The MYO armband uses Bluetooth connectivity to wirelessly pair with devices and send commands. Rechargeable lithium-ion batteries and an ARM processor, power the MYO armband. If the product lives up to expectations it could transform how we interact with digital technologies. Check out this video to see how MYO is expected to function:

Here are 5 reasons why I believe MYO could be a potential game changer:

1. It’s Non-Invasive

The MYO armband should be no different from wearing a watch (albeit higher on your arm). It’s not in front of your eyes, potentially getting in your way like Google’s Project Glass technology. My only concern regarding wear-ability is MYO’s “one size fits most” claim. I have thin arms, (a lucky problem to have in some instances) and can’t help but wonder if a MYO armband will fit looser and not function as well on my arm? Time will tell if Thalmic Labs may need to recreate the MYO armband in different sizes to guarantee optimal functionality.

2. Large Audience /Multi-Use Appeal

MYO can be used to interface with video games and for other entertainment purposes. It also has an educational application, enabling its user to sweep through PowerPoint presentations (without holding a remote or standing behind a computer) and circle data. In addition MYO can be used by runners and snowboarders for example to measure speed. MYO can also interact with devices to serve a mouse or remote type function. MYO’s large amount of uses, make this technology potentially accessible to a mass audience.

Pinterest _ Search results for MYO gesture

3. PC/MAC Compatibility

MYO will be fully compatible with PCs and MACs from launch, making it widely accessible. Thalmic Labs are also looking into offering Linux support.

4. It’s Affordable!

MYO is available for pre-order for $149 and can be shipped anywhere in the world for $10.

5. Open Source Development

Thalmic Labs have been smart enough to recognize that they will not be able to think of all the ways MYO could be used. As a result anyone can utilize MYO’s hardware to experiment, build and profit creating a MYO app.

My Recommendation

I think MYO could potentially be very successful. However, getting the armband into the mass market before an established technology company releases something similar (e.g. Google’s Project Glass), will impact Thalmic Labs’ success. I would recommend Thalmic Labs partner with a large technology company for example Microsoft’s Kinect to greater increase the likelihood of this technology having a fast impact. Educational partnerships with schools, colleges and technology centers could further ensure a successful launch.

Want to be an early adopter of this gesture technology? Click here to preorder a MYO armband. 

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E. 38th St and Mass Ave. | Flickr - Photo Sharing!-1A few years ago, Princeton PhD and Google CIO Douglas Merrill was enjoying some time by his pool when he received a phone call. The phone call was from his sister-in-law Vicki who was a single mom of 3, balancing full-time work and school. Vicki had called in a bind unable to afford new tires for her car. The expense was unanticipated and without new tires she would not have been able to get to work. Merrill lent her the money and asked what she would have done if it weren’t for him. Vicki responded that she would have got a payday loan. This one event led to the creation of an idea that would forever change Merrill’s career path.

Merrill considered it unfair that people with sub prime credit, who don’t have financially supportive relatives, have to resort to overpriced payday or pawn shop loans. Merrill gives the stats:

“According to the National Federation for Credit Counselors, 64% of Americans do not have a savings account of $1,000 or more to cover emergency expenses. About 17% are… able to borrow money from a family member. Unfortunately, that leaves the majority of Americans with no family to turn to, and no access to traditional credit. Unexpected expenses can push them over the edge of financial stability.”

Approximately 30 million Americans take out at least 1 payday or pawn shop loan each year to help cover unexpected expenses. These loans are essentially predatory debt, often with interest rates of over 600% hurting borrowers’ chances of regaining financial stability. Indeed payday loan payments are fee based resulting in a large number of payments that aren’t applied to the principal. In 2011 payday loan borrowers paid over $8 billion in fees.

Merrill saw a gap in the market to offer a form of credit with rates somewhere in between credit cards and payday loans. He created ZestCash (now ZestFinance) in 2010 to offer an alternative solution to payday and pawn shop loans for Americans who don’t qualify for credit cards, but may still be reliable borrowers if the traditional FICO credit assessment formula is rethought.

Close to the Hollywood Sign | Flickr - Photo Sharing!Merrill teamed up with Shawn Budde a senior executive for Capital One who was experienced in traditional underwriting. Together they set out to use big data to give what Merrill refers to as the “underbanked” access to lower cost credit, potentially saving this group billions of dollars in the long run.

Traditionally underwriting has utilized between 10-15 variables through logistic algorithms and or decision trees to decide whether or not to offer credit. By using big data, advanced mathematics and machine learning, ZestFinance goes beyond the traditional under writing approach, by analyzing thousands of potential credit variables (previously not examined) to assess fraud potential, default risk and long-term customer relationship potential. One previously unexamined variable which ZestFinance analyzes to determine willingness to pay, regards pre paid cell phones (popular among those with sub prime credit). A person’s willingness to keep their pre-paid phone number active, can correlate with the likelihood they will make payments on their loan.

Today ZestFinance offer loans of $300 to $800 through Spotloan for rates approximately 50% less than standard payday loans. Unlike payday loans every payment made by the borrower reduces the principal as well as paying down the interest.

ZestFinance hope to bring the “underbanked” back into the financial mainstream. Merrill argues that if they can get just 10% of payday loan customers to qualify for ZestFinance loans, they will help save that group of money conscious customers $800 million. The loans are not cheap, but are a more affordable alternative for those that don’t qualify for traditional credit or don’t have relatives to borrow funds from.

To learn more about Douglas Merrill’s “big idea” watch his TedX presentation below:

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As smart phones have grown in popularity, cellular network capacity has become increasingly stretched. As a result an alternative is needed to meet bandwidth demand. Hello, Wi-Fi. Today many cell phone carriers have Wi-Fi offload plans to limit the cost of expanding their capacity.

Take AT&T for example, the large carrier has set up approximately 30,000 of its own hotspots in Starbucks, McDonald’s and other public facilities in part to satisfy its subscriber’s media data network demand.

Small carriers however, are taking a more innovative approach to sourcing Wi-Fi capacity, by using a software called Devicescape. San Bruno, CA company Devicescape has identified an untapped opportunity to utilize unprotected public hotspots to expand cellular network capacity. David Fraser, CEO acknowledges this opportunity:

“There’s a huge network that’s been hiding in plain sight… Why not use it?”

How it Works

Devicescape have created a continually updated database of unsecured Wi-Fi routers owned by businesses and organizations. This database of usable hotspots is growing at a rate of 25,000 spots per day. Currently Devicescape has a database of 9 million unprotected hotspots. Devicescape’s software has been sold to mobile carriers such as MetroPCS and Republic Wireless. These carriers then install Devicescape software onto their network’s handsets. When these carrier’s subscribers make calls (unbeknownst to them) in many cases the Devicescape software will automatically detect and connect to a nearby Wi-Fi hotspot with available bandwidth.

Benefits of Devicescape’s Approach

Devicescape offers significant client benefits enabling approximately 40% of their mobile data to utilize Wi-Fi hotspots. While customers won’t necessarily know the difference, Wi-Fi is typically faster and more reliable reducing connection disruptions.

Threats of Devicescape’s Approach

If every carrier adopted this software, many public free Wi-Fi hotspots would get flooded with users, slowing access speeds. This could then lead to greater use of password protection, reducing the number of hotspots available.

There are also legal risks surrounding the Devicescape software. Harold Feld Senior VP of Public Knowledge a digital rights group, acknowledges that while Wi-Fi siphoning is probably not illegal, it is nevertheless a gray area:

“It’s like a limo pulling up in front of a soup kitchen for the free food.”

Devicescape has been careful to measure hotspot traffic to avoid already overburdened Wi-Fi hotspots. Nevertheless, the company has received complaints from some business owners. In response to such complaints Devicescape’s database has been amended accordingly to abandon using those hotspots. So far this response has been sufficient and the company has not yet been sued. 

Mobile data traffic is expected to increase 78% a year through 2016. With increasingly scarce network capacity in busy (city) areas, Wi-Fi can enable cell phone carriers to offer additional bandwidth without substantially raising costs. Time will tell if Devicescape’s approach can be sustainable, but given AT&T’s increasing purchase of Wi-Fi hot spots; the use of Wi-Fi offloading by cellular carriers looks set to continue.

What do you think? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.

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Recently on an outing with friends, our group split up into two groups for a short period of time. Not long after we tried to arrange by cell phone to meet for dinner at a restaurant one of the groups had found. Unfortunately, trying to give directions when neither group knew the area well enough to know exactly where they were, in relation to the other group’s location, was challenging even for a group of MBA students. After a lot of time wasted wandering around we were all reunited, only to find out our two original locations had originally only been a block or two apart. Yes, seriously! If only we had, had Mapfia, it wouldn’t have been so complicated.

Mapfia is a smart phone application that enables its users to share their real-time locations on a map. In the case given above instead of calling and describing our locations, we could have used the Mapfia app to see one another’s locations on a grid, to get real-time directions instantaneously. Indeed, Mapfia was even created in order to eradicate situations like the one I described above. Mapfia was founded by a team of engineers, who frustrated with giving directions on the phone, set out to make navigation and location sharing simple and secure. The video below shows how the technology works:

Mapfia could also come in useful for business people. For example, realtors could use the application to help direct their clients to a house viewing.

While many location-sharing applications raise privacy concerns, this does not appear to be the case with Mapfia. For security purposes Mapfia users only share location information for the duration of the phone call. Once one party hangs up the phone the other no longer has access to their real-time location.

I think the Mapfia application has great potential, but what do you think? Share your thoughts in the comments section below. 

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In this blog I have often written about companies that are struggling to adjust to their changing industry environments.  In this post I wanted to share a couple of ideas on how to tackle a changing industry environment, from a company I recently read about in Fortune magazine: Levenger.

Levenger has traditionally sold products geared towards reading and writing such as desk lamps, pens and notebooks, in addition to being a micro book publisher.  In recent years the rise of tablet computers and other technologies have begun to transform the reading industry beyond recognition.  Cofounder Lori Leveen describes the company’s approach to tackling change head on:

“You can either take things as a challenge or crawl away… We put on our boxing gloves.”

Levenger are addressing their changing market environment by pursuing the following ideas:

Figure out how your products can become like candles:

A long time ago electric light bulbs made candles obsolete.  However, people continue to purchase candles because they like the product.  Levenger consider their changing industry as an opportunity to reinvent the future for pens and notebooks.

Find ways to stay relevant as people transition:

As people are increasingly switching from books to electronic devices, Levenger are continually looking for ways to adapt current products and introduce new ones to meet changing consumer needs.  For example, Levenger recognized that people want to prop up their iPads and in response to this they began stocking a range of products that served this purpose.  The picture on the left is an example of one of their products which is a miniaturized pillow designed to prop up an iPad.  This Thai created product evokes social entrepreneurism as part of its sales are donated to support literacy efforts in Thai villages.  Levenger is also open to listening to consumer ideas of how their products can be improved, as this tweet demonstrates:

Recognize the challenge faced:

Levenger cofounders Lori and Steve Leveen recognize that today’s children are growing up with technology:

“If we don’t get it right in the next 10 years, we may miss the opportunity.”

The company certainly faces an uphill climb, but in recognizing and tackling the challenge there is hope that Levenger can adapt and thrive in years to come.

What do you think of Levenger’s ideas for tackling their changing industry environment?  Please share your thoughts in the comments section below.

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A screen shot of the True Office application

In recent months I have read several articles in he business press of forward-thinking companies who are incorporating the gamification trend in to their training programs.  Gamification in this context can transform a training program in to a story telling video game experience with progress-based scoring and rewards.  This approach if optimized correctly can greater captivate the employee’s attention and enhance the learning experience, to achieve greater knowledge retention.

Fortune Magazine recently featured an example of True Office’s compliance game training applications.  The applications take the form of an interactive story, told in a fast paced manner over the course of about 20 minutes.  Following the game’s completion, trainees complete a 10-minute quiz to confirm their understanding of the material. Here is the True Office demo:

True Office applications are delivered by the cloud and are compatible with almost any device.  The video below explains a little more about the True Office application software:

As you can see in the video above True Office consider their software to be a way to greater engage my generation the Millennials, when doing compliance training.  Since my generation has grown up with technology and are accustomed to interaction, True Office believe their applications which use tablets and mobile technologies are far more suited to engaging what they refer to as the ‘New Media Workforce’ than binders and videos from the 80’s.  I couldn’t agree more, this approach is very current and relevant to the 21st century business environment.

In addition to the obvious advantage of making compliance training less tedious for employees, the program also offers advanced analytics.  Companies using the True Office game are able to obtain exact figures of how long employees spend reading policies.  Such information is greatly helpful for compliance protection in the case of liability suits.  In addition the analytics can help companies to identify areas where additional training is needed.  For example, if employees consistently make the same mistakes on the quiz, areas of confusion can be addressed in additional training or can be sued to revamp the current training process.

The analytics and fun aspect of gamified training programs demonstrate great potential, but what do you think?  Share your thoughts in the comments section below.

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Ever since I began this blog 3 months ago, I’ve been waiting for an excuse to do an entire post on a new innovative idea from one of my favorite organizations: Disney. Fortunately for me given Disney’s innovation and creativity it didn’t take long. This week Disney began testing their high-tech FastPass (part of their NextGen project) at their Magic Kingdom park.

The current system: Since 1999 Disney theme parks have offered a virtual queuing system through use of a FastPass. Guests insert their park ticket into a machine at one of the busiest attractions and receive a ticket to return later in the day and skip the line. Typically guests can only get one FastPass every two hours and only a certain predetermined number are issued each day. FastPass holders cannot use their FastPass prior to its listed time, but in spite of its one-hour time slot it is unofficially (based on my experience as a cast member and guest) valid at any time throughout the rest of the day. The FastPass is essential for some attractions such as Soarin’ over California which in my experience typically has long lines.

The proposed system: Disney’s NextGen project is a “next generation experience” technology project rumored to cost over $1 billion. Part of this project is expected to result in the creation of guest wristbands implanted with RFID microchips. Prior to arrival guests may be able to pre select a number of attractions for FastPass, reserve show seats, book character-greeting slots etc. This information would then be downloaded into the RFID microchips, to interact with sensors located throughout the Disney parks and resorts. Additional attraction interaction features may also occur based on the information obtained on the chip on the guest’s specific interests.

http://www.flickr.com/photos/pazca/6993985474/

The “test sensor posts” and the current FastPass

The current test: This week at Disney’s Magic Kingdom park in Orlando, FL blue RFID sensor posts with a Mickey mouse symbol have been temporarily installed throughout the park. A small number of selected guests have been given bands to scan and test. As they scan their band, reservation data is sent to a cast member’s iPad. The bands are intended to provide faster access to attractions than the current FastPass system.

The full extent of what Disney’s NextGen experience could be, is still under wraps. But one thing is for sure the scope for what RFID technology could do to enhance the Disney park’s experience is potentially endless. I know I would love to test this technology, but what do you think? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.

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