Saturday, 29 December 2012

How Powermat is Leading the 

Charge for Wireless Electricity

The Tech Innovators Series is supported by Lenovo. Lenovo does not just manufacture technology. They make Do machines -- super-powered creation engines designed to help the people who do, do more, do better, do in brand new ways.
What's worse -- your smartphone running out of battery life, having to carry around a charger or not being able to find a power outlet to charge your phone when you're on the go?
Frankly, all of these situations are the pits. That's why wireless power pioneer Powermat is doing all it can to solve the on-the-go charging problem and make wired charging a thing of the past.
Mashable spoke with Powermat CEO Ran Poliakine about the company's technology and where it is going. Read on for a look at how he and his team are innovating in the wireless charging space.

A Mission To Make Wireless Charging Pervasive

Poliakine says that Powermat's mission has always been the same, that mission being:
"To create a wireless world where access to wire-free power is as pervasive as Wi-Fi -- a world where you expect to have wireless energy at your fingertips with Powermat technology at the core of the wireless power revolution."
"It all began with a simple realization that we are a society increasingly on the go and increasingly reliant on our smartphones for everything from keeping us connected, to providing us with news, entertainment, navigation and even waking us up in the morning," says Poliakine. "With this seemingly relentless increase in wireless data and 'power hungry' devices, it made no sense to me that we were still tied to our cords and chargers for power delivery. If our devices are wireless why isn't our ability to charge them?"

How Does It Work?

Powermat's technology stands firmly on the shoulders of giants like Nikola Tesla, who pioneered wireless energy transfer at the turn of the century. Powermat used Tesla's research as a basis for its own experimentation and development and came out on the other side with its own "supercharged" method for delivering wireless energy, says Poliakine. He explains in detail exactly how the wireless charging station works:
"Powermat works by utilizing magnetic induction to transfer energy. Specifically, energy is transferred from a transmitter embedded inside the mat to a receiver (which is connected to or embedded in the device) through a shared magnetic field. For today's most popular smartphones, the receiver is built into a back door that mimics the look and feel of the original one that comes from the manufacturer. In the case of an iPhone, the transmitter is built into a Powermat-enabled protective case. The receiver requires only a one-time installation before the device can be dropped on the Powermat for wireless power transfer.
"Communication between the mat (transmitter) and the receiver (personal device) allows the mat to deliver an exact amount of power for the proper length of time so that the transfer of power is safe and efficient and no energy is wasted. When a device reaches full charge, power automatically shuts off to that device. This not only saves energy, but it also prevents overcharging of the device's battery, which can shorten battery life."

Expansion Through Partnerships

"We are the first company to bring wireless power to consumers in a widely available, meaningful way via mainstream retail channels," says Poliakine, noting that Powermat's technology can be built directly into electronics of all kinds but also into virtually any surface. As a result, Powermat is able to create wireless energy "hubs" within homes, automobiles, airports, offices and other venues.
To take advantage of its technology's scalability and versatility, Powermat is working with several partners to implement the wireless ecosystem, which will "bring us that much further along in our mission to create a wireless world," says Poliakine. Here's a sampling of the partnerships Powermat currently has in play:
  • Duracell: Procter & Gamble's Duracell and Powermat agreed to form a joint venture last month to globalize wireless power. The joint venture will combine P&G's strong consumer understanding, brand-building and go-to-market capabilities with Powermat's innovative technology, says Poliakine.
  • General Motors: Rollout of new automobile models that incorporate Powermat wireless charging capability will begin in 2012, with the 2013 Chevy Volt.
  • Teknion: Powermat and office furniture manufacturer Teknion created a line of wirelessly-enabled office furniture and accessories featuring an array of solutions for "smart" surfaces where users can drop and charge their favorite electronic devices on wirelessly enabled desks, office equipment and office seating solutions.
  • Arconas: Powermat worked with airport seating manufacturer Arconas to install free wireless charging stations in several highly-trafficked airports, including Chicagoís O'Hare, New York's LaGuardia and Toronto's Pearson International airports.

Overcoming Challenges

Pioneering the wireless charging space hasn't been a walk in the park for the Powermat team. Poliakine pointed to scalability and education as key challenges the company has faced along the way, largely due to the fact that wireless charging technology was a foreign concept when they launched. Poliakine explains:
"When Powermat first launched in mid-October 2009, we created the category. It didn't exist before us. That's a very unique position to be in since there are so many unknowns in terms of consumer response and adoption. In the first three months of retail availability, we sold in excess of 750,000 Powermat products, with most stores experiencing severe out-of-stock shortages late in the season. We knew then that there was a genuine market and need for wireless power.
"What we struggled with was the ability of our small company to educate consumers fast enough about the availability of wireless power and [to] take our technology beyond the scope of early adopters and technology enthusiasts to the mass market. We needed more muscle, credibility and global reach."
With the Duracell partnership under its belt, Powermat expects to expand its reach globally and better educate consumers about the technology.

The Future of Wireless Charging

"You can expect to expect wireless power to go mainstream," Poliakine says. "What that means, in simpler terms, is that you'll soon have wireless power in those places where you most need it, including your car, airports, hotels, coffee shops, offices and right in your very own home. In five to 10 years, wireless charging will be the norm. When you check into a hotel room, for instance, you will find it there and in many other places."
"This is the dawn of a new era for wireless charging industry overall, Poliakine continues. "I truly believe that it is no less of a game changer than the electric lightbulb was in its day."

Thursday, 27 December 2012

Makers: The New Industrial Revolution
by Chris Anderson

In the future everything will be made of Lego
Chris Anderson thinks you might be a toy company. After telling the heart-warming anecdote of how he fabricated some doll's house furniture for his daughters using a new 3D printer – which works like an inkjet printer but sprays down layers of liquefied plastic to make a solid object – the former Wired editor says he might never buy doll's house furniture again. "If you're a toy company," Anderson threatens, "this story should give you chills." I didn't get chills, but then I'm not a toy company. 
This is the sort of book, however, that is mainly aimed at corporate persons, and at individuals only to the extent that they work for corporate persons, cherishing the dream of becoming an "entrepreneur", that perfection of the human spirit to which all human history, at least as Anderson recounts it, has been leading.
The book is a compendium of narrative chunks headed with PowerPoint-friendly slogans ("Remixing the physical world") and studded with inspirational examples, often introduced with the paradigmatic pop-business pseudo-conjunction "Take". ("Take Sparkfun …", "Take, for instance, Open Source Ecology …") As standalone vignettes, many of them are fascinating. Anderson has authentic geek cred, and displays an infectious enthusiasm and a vivid journalistic rhythm when he is narrating a morning's tinkering with an autonomous toy helicopter, visiting Tesla's electric-car factoryand describing SpaceX's rocket-production facilities, or explaining the capabilities of the 3D printers (Some dentists already use them to make custom-fitted crowns while you wait). Anderson recalls persuasively how impressive the apparition of "desktop publishing" was in the 1980s – publishing! right from your desktop! – and looks forward to widespread "desktop manufacturing".
It's notable, though, that there are no dark clouds in Anderson's futurist sky. From recent news it seems that 3D printing is going to be especially appealing to, among others, survivalist gun nuts: this summer, one man successfully printed the lower receiver of an assault rifle (the part that usually bears the serial number), and completed the weapon with off-the-shelf parts that don't require a licence to purchase. At the end of his book, meanwhile, Anderson briefly considers the sunny possibilities of future desktop biotech engineering (or "DIYBio"), betraying no concern that, when such lifehacking facilities are so widely distributed, anyone would think of creating an organism more alarming than, say, a bright-green dwarf bunny. For Anderson, there is no Long Tail of amateur bioterrorism. (His successful 2006 book The Long Tail, about new "niche" markets enabled by the internet, has been criticised by economists, but he obviously feels that the phrase is too good not to repurpose: in this book we hear of "the Long Tail of things", "the Long Tail of stuff", "the Long Tail of talent", and even "the Long Tail of Lego". This is the Long Tail of brand-enhancing reuses of "the Long Tail".)
Anderson is eminently capable of hip, fine-grained tech analysis (his description of Lego blocks as "programmable matter" is ingenious); more problematic are the wider argument-predictions he makes – helping himself on the way to highly dubious interpretations of Hayek and Jefferson – in order, presumably, to enable the book to address toy companies. At this business-class cruising altitude, his techno-economic utopia looks curiously scrambled. The "new industrial revolution" of the book's subtitle will allegedly see lessons from the internet – the world of "bits" – applying to the world of "atoms" too. The creation of physical commercial products will now benefit from the power of "network effects" and other dog-whistle buzzwords for the chin-stroking cybertheory community. Hot tech startups can get their manufacturing done cheaply using 3D printers and robots: in this way, what Anderson grandly calls "the Maker movement" will create lots of new jobs, reversing America's industrial decline. (The book thus also positions itself in the burgeoning genre of American books asking How Can We Beat China?)
At the same time as it creates lots of new jobs, however, the Maker movement – at least as Anderson describes its recipe for success – will also be destroying lots of jobs: by replacing humans with robots in manufacturing, or by uploading product blueprints to be made in factories in other countries. Parts of the book, indeed, read like a 1990s manual on the virtues of outsourcing. ("I've ordered custom electric motors for a robotic blimp from a specialty motor-maker in Dongguan," Anderson writes, in perhaps the book's most amazing sentence.)
It's also striking that the early Maker companies that Anderson celebrates are all making nothing but shiny gewgaws for the rich: "cool stickers for Macbooks", toy helicopters, noise-cancelling wireless headsets, computerised wristwatches, or a $75,000 dune-buggy kit. Indeed, he acknowledges that mainstream commodity products will continue to be mass-produced in the old way (except with more robots), taking advantage of economies of scale. Instead, the Maker entrepreneur should aim upmarket. "Just think of couture fashion or fine wines," Anderson advises with avuncular worldliness. After all, the "local furniture maker can compete with IKEA only by serving the rich". There is indeed very little patience, in this book's Silicon Valley ideology of ambient über-wealth, for the ordinary and humdrum. Anderson has his own pet examples of the loser kind of company that can't exhibit the rapid growth of a Maker startup: local pizza franchises and dry cleaners, to which he dismissively refers on three separate occasions. They're just not "innovative" enough.
Few techno-utopias are as confusing as this one. In Anderson's brave new world, everyone is a creative-geek tinkerer but no one does the boring stuff. There will be lots more jobs created in manufacturing – even though the entrepreneurs are persuading people to work for free and also employing as many robots as possible. (I for one welcome our new robot underlords, as long as they don't come to resentful consciousness of their slave-state and overthrow us, as they do in Karel Capek's R.U.R.and most dystopian robot fiction since.) And at the end of a long day's Making of exclusive knick-knacks for the anomic plutocracy, where will these hero-entrepreneurs go to scarf a pepperoni slice or get their custom-printed shirts laundered? Who cares, right? There will probably be robots for that too before long.

Click for Amazon see in-side.

What will your next body be like?

A scene from R.U.R., showing three robots (credit: Wikimedia Commons)
Many engineers, including Ray Kurzweil, think that some time around 2050, we will be able to make very high quality links between the brains and machines. … If your mind is so well connected, you could inhabit a new body, without having to vacate your existing one.
Using a detachable brain is one option, or not to put a brain in at all, using empty immobile husks that are switched on and then linked to your remote mind in the cloud to become alive.
Most likely they would be inorganic. I don’t think it will be ethically acceptable to grow cloned bodies in some sort of farm and remove their brains, so using some sort of android is probably best all round. …
You could be any species, fantasy character, alien, robot, android or pretty much any imaginary form that could be fabricated. You could be any size or shape from a bacterium to an avatar for an AI spaceship, or any gender. …”

Lego Minecraft: A Lesson in CrowdsourcinG

Lego Minecraft: A Lesson in CrowdsourcingCrowdsourcing is not just for new entrants challenging established players; the latter can also leverage crowdsourcing to their advantage, enabling users to design new products and testing the demand at the same time.

And for the younger generation, this is simply a normal way of doing things. That’s the key lesson I learned this morning my friend's son explain the genesis of his Lego Minecraft set.
Lego is not exactly a start-up. With its $1bn annual revenue for the first time in more than half a century of selling plastic bricks, it has become a mammoth of the toy industry, but a nimble mammoth, one that seems quite able to adapt to the climate change of product design in the age of crowdsourcing. After testing the concept for three years in Japan, Lego has recently gone global with the beta-version of its Cuusoo crowdsourcing platform.
The rules of the game are simple: any user can submit a product design, which other users will be able to vote for. When a submission racks up 10,000 votes it gets a formal stage-gate review and – unless legal flaws or other showstoppers are identified – it gets into production. The ideator receives a 1% royalty on the net revenue. It is too early to say how many voted-for submissions will fail the internal stage-gate review, but if Lego manages to provide clear feedback about submissions that fail, it will maintain the transparency of the scheme, which is essential to keeping the user base engaged.
Meanwhile, Lego enjoys unprecedented benefits from this crowdsourced product development process:
Lego Minecraft: A Lesson in Crowdsourcing
1. A wider community for the ideation phase, which will inevitably turn up many more ideas than Lego’s own designers, however talented, could do. In classic crowdsourcing fashion, the Shinkai 6500 submarine – the first project that… emerged through this process - saw the Lego amateur designers reach out to the marine life scientific community for advice.
2. A mind-blowingly cost-efficient development phase, whereby unsuccessful projects cost nothing to Lego and projects that go into production attract a very modest and fully variabilised 1% cost.
3. A virtually free pre-launch campaign through the voting phase that creates a buzz among the fan base (and probably well beyond the registered users as the 90-9-1 theory of online communities suggests) and provides a clear metric on what the fan base wants to buy.
Back to the Future
What I found most striking as I listened to the 10-year old's story of how Lego Minecraft came to be, is how natural it all feels to him. In Organization’s Culture terminology, user-led crowdsourced design is now ‘how we do things around here’. This may not be new, as the 200-year old story of the steam-engine user-led improvement shows, but it will soon become mainstream. Ignore it at your peril!
Posted on Innovation Excellence Site by Yann Cramer

New Year’s Vision!
I’ve never been big on New Year’s Resolutions. I don’t find them very motivating and apparently I’m not alone, judging by the number of people who crowd into my Gym club in January who are gone by April. Resolutions just don’t stick for many.
The few that I’ve made over the years, I’ve quickly forgotten. Resolutions tend to be about ‘fixing’ something (usually ourselves). The most popular resolutions according to the polls are about dieting…which says something about their effectiveness (If those resolutions worked, wouldn’t we have moved on to another topic by now?)
I think one reason for the enduring popularity of New Year’s Resolutions is simple peer pressure. We adopt them partly because we think everyone else does and we don’t want to be left out. I’m not immune to this sort of pressure - hence this blog post. So I’ve been musing about finding an innovative way to practice this tradition. The answer I’ve come up with: Instead of a New Year’s Resolution, why not a New Year’s Vision?
Innovators don’t just fix things when they’re broken; they imagine new realities and then achieve them. So instead of resolving to lose weight, what about developing a clear vision of ourselves as being fit and energetic?
Instead of resolving to stay in better touch with old friends (a personal favourite of mine), how about seeing ourselves as curious about other people’s lives and helpful whenever we’re needed?
Instead of resolving to keep our home or office more tidy (a common issue for many chaotic-life-like innovators) what about developing a clear mental image of just what a more ordered life looks like and the joy of knowing where we’ve put things?
Or better yet, make the vision less focused on me and more focused on us. What would we like to see improved about our family, or community or the world and how can we be part of making it happen?
Granted, the steps required to get there may be much the same. To become fit, we will probably need to watch what we eat and get more exercise. To keep things more tidy, we’ll have to do more picking up after ourselves. But resolutions tend to focus on the drudgery of those tasks, whereas a vision pulls us toward a desired outcome.
Isn’t that likely to be more motivating? Isn’t creating a better future a more compelling goal than just correcting what’s wrong? Isn’t that what innovation is all about…being less reactive and more proactive…not just solving a problem, but creating new value?
So now, while you have some time to think about it, what’s your New Year’s Vision going to be?

Monday, 24 December 2012

It's Christmas so here's some of the Most Ridiculous Old Transportation Innovations of all time

Nobody was ever more crazy than old-time inventors. The same semi-diseased minds that gave us the light bulb also dreamed up vehicles so bafflingly ludicrous that it seems their inventors learned the fundamental principles of physics and engineering from a Wile E. Coyote cartoon.

That's why, if you crack open an issue of Popular Science from 80 or so years ago you see that every issue featured a bizarre transportation gadget seemingly designed to murder you and everyone you love. Like ...

The Gas-Powered Baby Carriage (1922)

Amazingly, in 1920s England, motorized baby carriages briefly caught on as a novelty, because apparently nothing soothes the frantic sobs of an infant like the sputtering backfire of a primitive internal combustion engine. A "nurse-chauffeur" would stand on two footrests in the rear of the carriage and use the handlebars to steer the contraption at a top speed of 4 miles per hour, which doesn't sound fast enough to ramp something, but we'd be willing to try.
The carriage was also constructed so that "no engine vibration can possibly reach and disturb the sleeping or irritable child," a phrase that here means "British nannies don't need a machine to shake children to death." It even had a canopy to block the sun's harmful rays and helpfully keep the suffocating exhaust fumes collected in a pocket at baby-face level.

The Family Bike (With Sewing Machine) (1939)

This ludicrous four-person bicycle/sewing machine was called the Goofybike. It was created by inventor Charles Steinlauf -- that's him and his family in the picture. Note that he has placed his daughter in a position to go flying off into traffic should they stop suddenly.
History will never know whether he spent weeks building this thing thinking that he could sell it, or if he just wanted to get his picture in a magazine at the mere cost of his time and his entire family almost assuredly getting crushed under a bus just seconds later. Note how Mrs. Steinlauf is busy sewing a blanket for the EMTs to lay over their mangled bodies after dislodging them from the underside of a Greyhound.

The Stilt Cycle (1934)

If you can't quite make it out from the grainy old photo, that is a man riding a very tall unicycle on which the wheel has been replaced by two mechanical legs wearing dress shoes. I can't believe there isn't at least one hipster riding one of these things to work right now.
The stilt cycle was built by a man in Los Angeles so that he could "sit down while walking" (call him crazy, but if you think about it, this line of reasoning has been the guiding light of all transportation technology throughout history). It also combines the breezy fun of a unicycle with the thrilling risk of traumatic skull fracture, all while making you look like a jackass. It is unclear whether the shoes were meant to help with traction or simply to satisfy the service guidelines of Montgomery Ward.

The Baby Walker (1939)

To prevent the embarrassment of watching his son learn to walk through the natural course of human development, a Swiss engineer threw together the baby walker, possibly with the mind to later sell it to horrible parents and/or aliens raising a stolen Earth fetus. It's essentially two pairs of wooden poles strapped from an adult's shins to a toddler's calves, the idea being that every step the adult takes would force the child to do the same, thus teaching him how to walk.
The problem is, the poles translate the graceful, smooth movements of an experienced walker into violent, stabbing shoves that are guaranteed to knock over anyone attached to the other end, regardless of age. If you latched a kid into this thing, you'd spend the day dribbling his skull across the ground like a Harlem Globetrotter (which admittedly is a powerful lesson).

The Poochmobile (1939)

The poochmobile, built by an 80-year-old dog trainer named Z. Wiggs, was an admirable attempt to wean people off of oil back in the 1930s, although it was destined to fail because Wiggs made the understandable mistake of confusing "hilarious" with "practical."
Sharp readers may notice that a German shepherd couldn't push a full-grown man any distance, let alone a full-grown man in an H. G. Wellsian contraption. Based on the photograph, we assume that the idea was to let Dust Bowl farmers get a few more miles out of the family hound before it succumbed to hydrophobia from a raccoon bite. You could do little else with this vehicle besides hand-painting "Redneck Time Machine" on a sandwich board and charging admission.

The Roadplane (1934)

No, that is not a flying car, if that's what you're thinking. When the headline says "half auto and half plane," that in no way means that it has any of the advantages of an airplane. What they mean is "It's 1934, and malnutrition has driven us mad."
The roadplane was invented by Professor T. Edward Moodie for reasons that can best be described as "nonexistent" and never made it beyond the testing phase. Once his "half auto and half plane" got up to speed, the front wheel, and only that wheel, lifted up into the air, balancing the car on two wheels and allowing the driver to steer using a yoke to control the vehicle's rudders, providing an advantage over standard road travel that no one has yet been able to determine. All we know is that there's no way you'd be able to see out of the windshield with the thing popping a permanent wheelie.
Wait, why the hell didn't he just call it the wheelie car? We'd have bought that.

Merry Christmas all, and an Innovative New Year!

(Right, I'm off down the Pub on my Rocket Propelled Skateboard, wearing my new Invisible Santa Beard, to read my 1936 December addition of Popular Mechanics. Cheers!!!)