They’re hot now but do mash-up apps have a future? We talk with Brandon Leonardo, cofounder of the Pinterest/ Instagram combo Pinstagram, to find out. We also pitch him a few of our ideas, including “Shazump,” “Spotifurious,” and “Angry Fruit Ninjas.” Let the investment cash flow!
Brandon Leonardo is one of the cocreators of Pinstagram, a “mash-up app” that combines features of… you guessed it. In essence, it takes the functionality of Instagram and splashes it in the elegant waterfall layout familiar to Pinterest fans. Pinstagram recently debuted its iPad app (and rose to be the No. 1 new and notable app in the Photo and Video category this week). Fast Company caught up with Leonardo to talk about the future of the mash-up app, and to pitch him a few ideas of our own.
FAST COMPANY: Tell me the origin story of Pinstagram.
BRANDON LEONARDO: Pek Pongpaet, his cofounder and I were having lunch on a Friday, joking around: “Pinterest is a huge company, and so is Instagram. What would happen if we just smashed them together?” We were just laughing about it. But then you could see the wheels starting to turn in Pek’s head. He brought it up a couple more times: “I think Pinstagram would be really cool,” and I kind of chuckled. The next morning at noon Pek called me and said, “You’re never gonna believe what I built. Look at your Dropbox.” By that time he had pretty much gotten the entire site designed. We went into hackathon mode, and by Sunday we were basically done with the initial version we launched with.
Are you in dialogue with Instagram or Pinterest? Aren’t you running afoul of laws here?
Pinterest’s waterfall layout was not invented by Pinterest. It’s a jQuery plug-in someone created a couple years ago and released it open-source. Pinterest gets credit for making it famous, but it’s not necessarily copyrightable. On the Instagram side, we’re using their public API. And it’s kind of a win-win: we’re sending them lots of likes, comments, and actions.
It seems like the sort of thing where either you get a cease-and-desist letter, or you get acquired.
No one has sent us a cease-and-desist letter. In fact we got coffee with a Pinterest engineer last week. The founder of Pinterest has actually used Pinstagram. On the Instagram side, no one’s contacted us.
You built an iPad app before an iPhone app. Why?
Instagram’s already on the iPhone. We’ll never be a better Instagram than Instagram. What we can do is build the best iPad viewer.
Let’s talk more about this idea of the app mash-up. How exactly do you splice the genes, and is there an island where you put your failed experiments?
You take the best pieces of each. The benefit to having a hackathon, is you have a severe focus on only what’s necessary. This is Pek’s and my third project together. The other ones are running, but this is the one that took off like crazy. But having an island sounds like a great idea. The island where source code goes is GitHub.
Do you think there will be more app mash-ups, more “Grey Albums” of the app world?
I think building products, period, is good. Any time you’re creating something and putting it out in to the world, you get a little bit closer to perfect. Nothing anyone has ever built has been perfect. But you keep improving on little things, and you get closer and closer. If you want to do a mash-up, you should do it.
Good. Because I want to pitch some mash-up apps to you.
“DoodleJitter.” It’s a mash-up of Doodle Jump and Twitter. You can only play the game for 140 seconds or less.
That’s about how long I play DoodleJump right now.
How about a mixture of Shazam and Bump called “Shazump”? You use it to quickly exchange songs.
Do you want me to rate these?
Yeah, if you were a VC, how much money would you give me?
The music business is the worst business to be in, so I’d say no. Spotify is the only one I’ve really seen be successful.
OK, how about a mash-up of Spotify and Epicurious, called “Spotifurious.” You use it to stream unlimited food.
Could you use that in other parts of the world? I don’t think the U.S. needs more food.
“Angry Fruit Ninjas.” It’s just a much more violent version of Angry Birds.
Oh yeah… Absolutely. That sounds like a winner. That one I would give you the most money for. Throw some zombies in there, and in three years, you’ll be acquiring Zynga.
Via Fast Company: http://www.fastcompany.com
It may seem like we have entered a golden era of product design, in which the world’s most valuable company has built its entire business on a dozen consumer products while heightening our appreciation of the subtleties of industrial design immeasurably. So why do I get a pervasive feeling of doom and gloom when I hang out with my product design pals? Maybe its because all of the action has moved to software and apps. There is a real startup frenzy out there with designers playing a meaningful role this time around. Yet it is still damn hard to get a VC to go along with any startup involving hardware unless you have already locked in distribution with Best Buy or Walmart.
When will hardware hit the masses, with MakerBots and 3-D printers on our desktops? The answer is pretty unclear. But in the meantime, you’ve got to love Kickstarter for creating a marketplace (or at least the impression of one), where the hardware plays can rise to the top. So I wanted to build on the comments I made in a recent New York Times article on the topic. I am thrilled to see a nascent hardware startup economy emerge around Kickstarter and not surprised that it is stealing headlines. So here is a broader take on the phenomenon from the point of view of someone who is immersed in the world of product design.
The Pebble, which has raised nearly $9 million.
1. Kickstarter Has Rescued Musty Categories
Product design is governed by the laws of supply and demand. There is a tremendous supply of talent, yet very few products actually make it to market. So most designers have a huge stockpile of high-fidelity concepts and beautiful renderings gathering dust. While a number of these concepts turn up on Core77 and Co.Design, they have zero paths to market. Now you can argue that we don’t need another slab phone/pad with a slightly different chamfer or bezel. But there are a whole host of neglected device categories desperate for attention, like watches, bathroom scales, and thermostats. These devices feel woefully out of sync in an iProduct world. Perhaps the biggest service that Kickstarter has done is to reinvigorate these categories to the point where bigger players might see their potential and escape from “Slab Land.”
2. People Now Believe, Gee Whiz, Tech Can Be Real
Ubiquitous Apple advertising has trained consumers to believe the magic and fill in the gaps when presented with a single image of a finger touching a beautiful screen or of a person sitting lazily on a couch. Renderings that would have seemed like science fiction 10 years ago are now taken at face value, imbued with a high degree of credibility. Part of that is due to amazing strides in technology. And part of it is due to the discipline in Cupertino. Apple has never shown us concepts; only real products.
Now, consumers can look at one image of the Nest thermometer or the Fitbit and fill in all the blanks (while rushing to pre-order). Eric Migicovsky, the inventor of the Pebble Watch–the biggest sensation on Kickstarter to date–conveys this perfectly in an insightful Co.Design post: “We really wanted to emphasize the use cases,” he says. “We wanted to say, ‘Here’s an example of how you’re going to use this in your everyday life.’”
Kickstarter’s first runaway hit: The Tik Tok watchband for the iPod Nano.
3. Imbuing Customer Relationships With a Sense of Ownership
Consumers don’t just want to understand the story. Increasingly, they want to be part of it, which is something even Apple won’t let them do. Let’s face it: There is nothing original about your iPhone other than your lock image. Even the funky case you bought is being sported by thousands of other people. There is actually something sort of horrifying when someone plops their iPhone on the counter, and it has the same case as your own. It strips away that “think different” mantra pretty fast. While people love their Apple products, they are looking for a stronger link to the products they use. They want to get closer to the source. Kickstarter offers anyone the opportunity to be the first to discover, invest, and share a new product concept within a circle of friends, which alone is worth some money down even if the product never actually makes it to you doorstep as promised.
A Windowfarm kit funded on kickstarter.
4. Delivering On Hollow Promises
But there are a few areas in which Kickstarter truly suffers. The path to market is very different for a book, restaurant, or gadget. It comes down to more than just the amount of money raised, as I noted in The New York Times piece. If you invest in a book, it is pretty reasonable to expect you might get a copy. But what about a smart-watch gizmo? It is much more of a gamble. With the increased complexity of software and services, the $7+ million that the Pebble Watch has raised will go very fast.
The downside of Apple-style marketing is that we have very high expectations for the seamless integration of software, services, and support in the finished product. Even Jawbone, which has raised more than $260 million in investment, had to do a complete recall of the Up health care monitor wristband due to the complexities of launching this kind of product. Plus, consumers as investors might reasonably expect the folks at Pebble Technology to provide a projection of how the millions they have raised might actually be spent. The percent amounts going toward offshore manufacturing, low-wage factory workers, and fuel costs for transport would make for a very different story on Kickstarter.
5. A Sacrifice of Craft
Last year, I visited Shanghai with Max Burton, one of Frog’s pre-eminent product design gurus who led the Nike watch team for many years pioneering some of the same unibody production techniques later adopted by Apple. Max and I are both watch geeks. He was planning to take some personal time to visit one of the factories he used to work with to look at the small-scale production of one of his own designs. This is about as close to the story as it gets, so I was happy to commit $500 to be one of the first in line for Max’s creation. Unfortunately, he came back empty-handed. Not only were the tooling costs out of reach. But it would have been impossible to reproduce the level of engagement that he was accustomed to from his Nike days. A significant part of the craft is in the manufacturing process, working back and forth, through numerous prototypes, to get to a satisfying design. That process is largely out of reach for a hardware startup.
The 999 bottle visualizes your eco-impact.
So how do we build on the enthusiasm within the product design world and create a more sustainable market for hardware startups? Here are a couple of closing thoughts:
1. Kickstarter should not be a shopping site
Product designers are blurring the line between investing and pre-ordering at their own risk. The biggest return on an investment in the Pebble Watch may not be getting the watch in the mail. It is in generating interest among bigger electronics companies to reconsider categories that they previously dismissed (like watches). You are voting with your dollars for the products you want to see in the world, regardless of whether they end up being made by startups or the big guys. It would be great if Kickstarter could create competitions around some of the more mundane gadgets in our lives–like thermostats or hotplates–to see what the design community can come up with.
2. Different Forms of Sponsorship
For that reason, it would be interesting if product designers could figure out a different way to personalize the investment, short of promising a product in the mail at some point. My guess is that a lot folks would be very happy with a signed form model from a standard 3-D printer. In fact, this might end up being more valuable and memorable than a watch gizmo that you will wear for a couple of years and then dump in a drawer. In recent years early Apple models and signed memorabilia have received high prices at auction. Designers could send out models in a variety of different form factors to gather feedback and support their user research. What about a limited edition of signed sketches? It is easy to see how you could offer different artifacts at different investment levels, all of which would help educate the public about the craft of creating a great product. I would love to see more creativity in this area.
3. Teaming With Industry, to Revive Unused Tech
At Frog, we work with so many clients that have valuable technologies sitting on the shelf. They don’t have the endless time, or creative resources to envision how these inventions could fit into people’s lives as meaningful products. And they have no cost-effective way to gauge consumer demand or interest for new product categories. I would love to see a few organizations, whether corporations or universities, open their kimonos and release some unused technical capabilities to this community, providing a marketplace for designers to explore applications in health, energy, or other markets–particularly ones with the potential for major social impact. They could work with Kickstarter to create sponsored competitions in which the designer and the technology organization share the IP that is created around the design, with the public voting along the way for their favorites. This could be a great way for companies to build a meaningful design community just like the developer communities they are constantly courting. The IP issues would be challenging to navigate, but Kickstarter could have the platform–and financial platform–to make this happen.
At the end of the day, we all want a more meaningful connection and a more substantive say in the physical products we interact with. This is particularly true of the connected gadgets that are leaching into every facet of our daily experience. As Frog’s executive creative director of global insights, Jan Chipchase, is fond of saying: Opting out of these technologies is no longer an option in many societies. As we adapt more and more to the capabilities of so-called smart devices, we are looking for more meaningful ways to make them adapt to us as well. If we can’t do that with our smartphones, thanks to Apple’s closed ecosystem, at least we have a shot with smaller categories like watches that are equally personal. That is the true lesson of Kickstarter and the emerging hardware startup economy.
Via FastCoDesign: http://www.fastcodesign.com/
I’ve been a long-time supporter of MediaTemple’s (MT)Residence program along with Gary Vaynerchuk, Neil Patel, and many others whom I respect. I wanted to share my “8 questions to answer to become a social business” with you here..
Social Media is pervasive and is becoming the new normal in corporate marketing. Brands who get this right are starting to build their own media networks rich with customer connections numbering in the millions. Right now, Coca-Cola has over 34 million fans on Facebook, but they’re hardly alone. Disney follows just behind with 29 million fans, Starbucks boasts 25 million, and Oreo, Red Bull, and Converse play host to over 20 million fans. If we were to look at other networks such as Twitter and Youtube, we would see a recurring theme. People are connecting en masse with the businesses they support and new media represents the ability to cultivate consumer relationships in ways not possible with traditional earned or paid media.
Sounds great right? This might sound abrupt, but the truth is that we’re hardly realizing the potential of what lies before us. Everything begins with understanding not just how other brands are marketing themselves in social media, but also seeing what they’re not doing and envisioning what’s possible.
We’re already approaching the first of many crossroads that new media will present. Do we take the path of a social brand or that of a social business? What’s the difference? A social brand is just that, a business that is remodeling or retrofitting its existing marketing practices to new media. A social business is something altogether different as it embraces introspection and extrospection to reevaluate internal and external processes, systems, and opportunities to transform into a living, breathing entity that adapts to market conditions and opportunities.
It’s a tough decision to make right now especially at a time when all we read about is how much success many businesses are finding without having to answer this very question. With all of the newfound success in social networks, the truth is that we’re only just beginning to learn what’s possible and that’s where you come in. When compared to the investment in time and resources across the board, social media represents only a small part of the mix. But with your help, that’s all about to change.
The CMO Survey, an organization that disseminates the opinions of top marketers in order to predict the future of markets, recently published a report that gave credence to the fact that social media is taking off. One of the most profound takeaways from the report was this gem; “The “like button” [in Facebook] packs more customer-acquisition punch than other demand-generating activities.” With insights like this, it’s easy to see why the race to social is becoming heated.
The report also highlighted exactly where social fits in the marketing mix today and as you can see, despite all of the hype, it’s not a dominant focus yet. As of August 2011, the percentage of overall marketing budgets dedicated to social media hovered at around 7%. However, in 2012 the investment in social media will climb to 10%. And, in five years, social media is expected to represent almost 18% of the total marketing budget. Think about that for a moment. In 2016, social media will only represent 18%?
Queue the sound of a record scratching here. With businesses finding success in social networks, why are businesses failing to realize the true opportunity brought forth by the ability to listen to, connect with, and engage with customers? While there’s value in earning views, driving traffic, and building connections through the 3F’s (friends, fans and followers), success isn’t just defined simply by what really amounts to low-hanging fruit.
The truth is that businesses cannot measure what it is they don’t know to value. [LINK: http://www.briansolis.com/2011/09/whats-the-r-o-i-a-framework-for-social-analytics/] As a result, innovation in new engagement initiatives is stifled because we’re applying dated or inflexible frameworks to new paradigms. Social media isn’t owned by marketing, but instead the entire organization. This changes everything and makes your role so much more important. It’s up to you to learn how to think outside of the proverbial social media box to see what others don’t, the ability to improve customers experiences through the evolution of a social brand into a social business. Doing so will translate customer insights from what they do and don’t share in social networks into better products, services, and processes.
See, customers want something more from their favorite businesses than creative campaigns, viral content, and everyday dialogue in social networks. Customers want to be heard and they want to know that you’re listening. How businesses use social media must remind them that they’re more than just an audience, consumer, or a conduit to “trigger” a desired social effect.
Herein lies both the challenge and opportunity of social media. It’s bigger than marketing. It’s also bigger than customer service. It’s about building relationships with customers that improve experiences and more importantly, teaches businesses how to re-imagine products and internal processes to better adapt to potential crises and seize new opportunities.
When it comes down to it, Twitter, Facebook, Youtube, Foursquare, are all channels for listening, learning, and engaging. It’s what you do within each channel that builds a community around your brand. And, at the end of the day, the value of the community you build counts for everything. It’s important to understand that we cannot assume that these networks simply exist for people to lineup for our marketing messages or promotional campaigns. Nor can we assume that they’re reeling in anticipation for simple dialogue. They want value. They want recognition. They want access to exclusive information and offers. They need direction, answers and resolution.
What we’re talking about here is the multidimensional makeup of consumers and how a one-sided approach to social media forces the needs for social media to expand beyond traditional marketing to socialize the various departments, lines of business, and functions to engage based on the nature of the situation or opportunity.
In the same CMO study, [LINK http://www.cmosurvey.org/blog/a-social-media-integration-report-card/
] it was revealed that marketers believe that social media has a long way to go toward integrating into the overall company strategy. On a scale of 1-7, with one being “not integrated at all” and seven being “very integrated,” 22% chose “one.” Critical functions such as service, HR, sales, R&D, product marketing and development, IR, CSR, etc. are either not engaged or are operating social media within a silo disconnected from other efforts or possibilities. The problem is that customers don’t view a company by silo, instead they see one company, one brand, and their experience in social media forms an impression that eventually contributes to their view of your brand.
The first step here is to understand business priorities and objectives to assess how social media can be additive in achieving these goals. Additionally, surveying the landscape to determine other areas of interest as its specifically related to your business.
• Are customers seeking help or direction?
• Who are your most valuable customers and what are they sharing?
• How can you use social media to acquire and retain customers?
- What ideas are circulating and how can you harness user generated activity and content to innovate or adapt to better meet the needs of customers?
- How can you broaden a single customer view to recognize the varying needs of customers and how your organization can organize around each circumstance?
- What insights exist based on how consumers are interacting with one another? How can this intelligence inform marketing, service, products and other important business initiatives?
- How can your business extend their current efforts to deliver better customer experiences and in turn more effectively unit internal collaboration and communication?
Customer demands far exceed the capabilities of the marketing department. While creating a social brand is a necessary endeavor, building a social business is an investment in customer relevance now and over time. Beyond relevance, a social business fosters a culture of change that unites employees and customers and sets a foundation for meaningful and beneficial relationships. Innovation, communication, and creativity are the natural byproducts of engagement and transformation. As a social brand, we are competing for the moment. As a social business, we are competing the future in all that we do today.
Via Brian Solis: http://www.briansolis.com
If you’re looking for cash for school, then you may not have to look any further than your fellow alumni. Meet SoFi, a social lending service that lets alumni of a school help finance the education of future graduates and earn a bit of a return on their investment as well.
The way the program works is simple. Alumni invest money in their particular school’s funding, and then students apply just as they might to any other college loan. Loans are given to students for a 6.24% interest rate (5.99% if they sign up for auto-pay), alumni earn 5% back on money they’ve invested, and SoFi keeps roughly 1%. Alumni can invest with cash, or can invest funds through their IRA.
“The student loan market is broken” Dan Macklin, Co-founder and VP of Business Development at SoFi told Mashable. “Students have very little choice on where to get their loans from. Why can’t we use the social groups that are out there and lend between those groups?”
In addition to lending SoFi also creates a social network for each school where alumni can see the students they’re helping finance, as well as check out what classes those students are taking and what their ultimate career goals are. Likewise, students can learn more about who’s lending them cash, and potentially call upon those alumni for advice on things like internships or to get help on a project.
“All this is about giving the students what they need and helping the student succeed in what they want to do,” says Macklin.
When an alumnus lends money, it’s the same as “buying a share” of the entire group of students at a school who have loans. As the students pay back the loans over time, the alumni get paid back. Macklin says students are less likely to default on these loans, because they know the people lending the money to them.
SoFi got its start last year at Stanford, and today is announcing an expansion to 40 colleges and universities across the country. The initial run of the program raised close to $2 million from 40 Stanford alums, and was able to fund 20 students.
Macklin says that the program has helped not only finance student’s education, but also build relationships with alumni that might not have otherwise existed. Students have gotten coffee with lenders, and Macklin says both parties “get a social and emotional return” from taking part in the process.
SoFi already has an alumni ambassador in place at all of the schools it now supports, as well as alumni who have already committed to being part of the project. Starting today students at those universities can preregister for loans, and alumni can start officially signing up to donate.
What do you think about SoFi? Would you consider loaning money to students at your alma mater? Let us know your thoughts in the comments.
Via Mashable: http://www.mashable.com
LONG BEACH, Calif. — You may not be shocked to learn the founder of LinkedIn thinks the key to career success is understanding the dynamics of networks and how to leverage them to your benefit.
But Reid Hoffman took that truism a step further at TED on Wednesday, detailing the four attributes that makes someone “network literate” and encouraging them to “be the entrepreneur of your own life.”
The first attribute Hoffman says is necessary is having a baseline understanding of how network technology works. He noted how his personal network on LinkedIn has around 2,600 people, but that there are more than 15 million within three degrees of him.
He thinks the discussion of Dunbar’s number – the idea that one can only maintain 150 connections at one time – may be true in your mind, but is made less relevant by technology.
Moving on, Hoffman has a new spin on the familiar adage “you are the company you keep.” Using the term “network identity” to describe the connections that one has, he says, “the brand of you is not just what you broadcast about yourself, but what others say about you.”
He notes that Zynga – one of the companies he’s invested in – initially thought of itself as a gaming company, but its users do not think of themselves as gamers, but rather the games they play give them a network identity.
Once you’ve established a network and a network identity, Hoffman believes the most important skill is being able to derive information from it. In fact, he argues that being an “expert” has more to do with being able to find the right information than actually knowing it.
He notes how when he’s looking for an opinion on a prospective startup investment, he’ll reach out to members of his network and ask for a 1-10 rating of the entrepreneur.
As an extension of that, Hoffman says the last piece of being network literate is understanding and developing your network’s capabilities. Again using his investment philosophy as an example, Hoffman says that he doesn’t, “form a thesis and find people that fit it … rather I network with the people that will bring me interesting entrepreneurs. “
The timing of Hoffman’s talk is not coincidental – he recently published the business book “The Start-Up of You,” which explores many of the principles outlined in his TED talk and details why the network is the competitive advantage in today’s career landscape.
Via Mashable: http://www.mashable.com
Pick a restaurant on Seamless, the online food-ordering service, and with just a few clicks, your meal will be ready for pickup or delivery. It’s a slick experience, made even slicker by Tuesday’s release of Seamless’ iPad app. But on the back end, the experience is anything but seamless, a minefield of 8,000 restaurants, each with different requirements, resources, and technical capabilities.
“Across the industry, 90% of our restaurants are independent mom-and-pops,” says Seamless CEO Jonathan Zabusky. “These are not technology folks; these are not marketing folks. They happen to make great food, though. From a technology and innovation perspective, the industry is lagging, and has always lagged.”
Of the 8,000 restaurants featured on Seamless–a number that doubled in 2011, and is expected to double again this year–Zabusky says the company has unique relationships with roughly 7,000 of them, making for a “highly fragmented” client base. Roughly 50% of these restaurants are still taking orders from Seamless via fax machine and printed out pieces of paper. All of which makes it that much more remarkable that Seamless has remained seamless for customers on the front end, and managed to process more than $400 million in sales last year, and $1 billion in the last three.
Zabusky describes the infrastructure the company had to put in place to accept orders via fax machine still. “When you place your order online, it goes through our system, gets sent automatically to their fax server, and prints out,” he says. “About a minute later, an automated phone call comes to the restaurant saying, ‘You have a Seamless order. Can you please confirm?’ The order print-out provides a randomly generated two-digit code that the restaurant has to key back into the system, so we know when the order has been confirmed.” If the order is not confirmed, a Seamless rep will call the restaurant directly to make sure the order was indeed received. From there, the confirmation is pushed back to Seamless, which in turn pushes out an email confirmation to the customer, who sees none of this friction.
In a way, it’s the perfect metaphor for a restaurant: The customer orders from a waiter, and never sees any of the smoke and stress from the kitchen. Seamless acts as the go-between waiter, streamlining the process for both parties.
“We’re still communicating with a lot of fax machines–and believe me, that’s not because we want to,” Zabusky says. “Our restaurant sales team goes in, and tries to sell the most scaleable solution, which is point-of-sale (POS) integration or a computer terminal. And they’ll say, ‘No, we don’t want to pay for that. We don’t need that. Just get us up and running tomorrow.’ And we’ll say, ‘Oh, you have a dedicated fax line? We’ll have to pipe it through there.’”
It’s a problem many startups face in trying to overhaul stodgy industries bogged down by legacy systems. Jack Dorsey’s startup Square must often deal with merchants addicted to traditional POS systems, who might not understand the value proposition of an iPad-connected credit card reader. Milo, the e-commerce startup eBay acquired in 2010 for $75 million, is trying to tackle the problem of inventorying local sellers in real time. How does one get mom-and-pop boutiques to adopt such advanced solutions?
It’s a hurdle Seamless has had to overcome, but rather than let it be a roadblock, the company has used it as a shortcut into restaurants: getting them on Seamless through outmoded fax machines, showing the benefits of the system, and then up-selling them on better solutions down the road. Even the computer terminal experience–a kind of second-rate solution in between fax machine and POS systems–was designed to this end.
“We developed our computer solution a long time ago because we had to–because these fax machines crap out on memory,” Zabusky says. “As we’re pumping more orders out, the fax machines actually just couldn’t handle it. It’s becoming more of an issue. For the restaurant, it’s now, ‘Oh gosh, I have to make the investment here, or I’m not going to be able to take this many orders.’”
Now, in addition to creating an iPad app for customers, Seamless is looking into creating an iPad solution for restaurants. Zabusky imagines this solution will become more accessible as iPads and Kindle Fires become more widely adopted and less expensive. “There is no doubt the solution will become easier,” he says.
In the meantime, if ever your food is late for delivery, you can probably blame it on that pesky fax machine.
Image: Flickr user YortW
Via Fast Company: http://www.fastcompany.com
LOS ANGELES — Tesla Motors, eager to push electric vehicles ever further into the mainstream, unveiled a practical all-wheel-drive, seven-passenger crossover utility at a red-carpet affair befitting a movie premiere.
Company CEO Elon Musk, never given to understatement, all but called the Model X a revolutionary vehicle that delivers everything we love about automobiles while freeing us from the shackles of petroleum.
“We’ve created a car that has more functionality than a minivan, more style than an SUV and more performance than a Porsche 911 Carrera,” Musk said, making his obligatory comparison to a premium automaker during a small gathering for the press before the formal unveiling Thursday night.
It remains to be seen if Musk makes good on that last claim — there is but one Model X prototype, and he wasn’t about to let us drive it. But the X is an attractive enough automobile, with sleek lines, a curvaceous shape and striking “falcon wing” rear doors that open like wings.
The X is the second mainstream automobile from Tesla, and it builds upon much of the technology and tooling of the Model S sedan. We’re still waiting for the sedan — Tesla promises to begin deliveries within five months — but Musk says it’s time to look ahead.
“The reason for bringing the Model X out now,” Musk said, “is to show that we really can do more than one car, that we can leverage the investment in the Model S into another vehicle.”
As much as Musk loves to say his company is more Silicon Valley than Detroit, he’s once again following the auto industry playbook by maximizing the versatility of an existing platform.
The X shares roughly 60 percent of its components with the S, but it is a bolder and more technically challenging effort. It rides on an S chassis lengthened four inches to accommodate true three-row seating and room for seven people. (The S offers an optional rear-facing third-row seat just big enough for children.)
The X uses an identical version of the S powertrain, with a 3-phase AC induction motor and fixed-gear gearbox, to drive the rear wheels. But in a twist, Tesla will offer the option of a small motor at the front for all-wheel drive.
The X and the S share the same pancake-style lithium-ion battery pack mounted below the floorboard between the axles. But because the crossover will weigh 10 to 15 percent more than the 4,200-pound sedan, it will offer 10 to 12 percent less range from the 60 or 85 kilowatt-hour packs Tesla will offer. Expect 200 miles or so from the smaller pack and 270ish from the larger.
Pricing is expected to be on par with the Model S, which starts at $49,900 and quickly climbs to $97,900 (after the $7,500 federal tax credit) as you add options and a bigger battery.
More striking than its spec sheet is the Model X’s design, with rear doors that arc upward and outward on double-folding hinges. Musk says the design offers greater access to the second and third rows, and demonstrated their ample space by standing upright beneath one while remaining in the car. They’re cool, but clearly in beta form. It took more than one Tesla employee to oh-so-carefully close them, and at one point they didn’t latch completely.
The tall roof — which features generous skylights — allows seven adults to sit comfortably inside. And there’s plenty of cargo space at the back and under the front hood. Ever the showman, Musk compared the X to the Audi Q7 to highlight the space inefficiency of conventional SUVs.
“See how ridiculous it is?” he said, gesturing toward the third row of the Q7. “You can’t get in there. It’s laughable. There’s no room back there. You’d need to be a midget.”
He paused, then added with a final flourish, “Look at that little mouse hole. It’s embarrassingly bad.”
Yes, Mr. Musk, the X is supremely practical, but it looks a bit like the love child of a Buick Enclave and a BMW Gran Turismo.
Tesla took us for a quick spin. The X is everything you’d expect of an electric vehicle: smooth, swift and silent. There is a satisfying whoosh of low-end torque off the line, which suggests Musk might not be blowing smoke when he says the X will hit 60 mph in a scant 4.4 seconds.
Interior surfaces are so slick and smooth as to seem unreal, and we wouldn’t bet on the exquisite wood and aluminum details seeing production. But the X, like the S, features a massive 17-inch capacitive-touch LCD touch screen front and center in the dash and adds iPod Nano-like touch screens in the steering wheel.
As you’d expect, there was no shortage of Angelenos gushing over the X as Musk promised to deliver us a cleaner, greener, more efficient future. Even California Gov. Jerry Brown was on-hand for a star-studded gathering after Tesla unveiled the car for the press.
Tesla will build the X at the factory in Fremont, California, where it is currently assembling the Model S. Look for it in 2014.
Photos: Basem Wasef/Wired.com. Video: Tesla Motors
Via Wired Autopia: http://www.wired.com/autopia/
Imagine a company catalyzing a new approach to student learning and achievement in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM). And what if the company’s purpose were to prepare students around the world, from all corners and walks of life, to collaborate in solving social and environmental problems, beginning right now?
Imagine the power of the relationships these children will have when they are in their 20s and 30s as they continue to work with each other.
Sound ridiculous to you? Do you wonder: How is this possible, given that one billion children live in poverty, many in remote rural villages, others in densely populated urban slums? When so many children in developed countries aren’t even getting decent educations, much less children in the developing world?
What if I told you that middle school and high school students from some of the world’s most deprived communities are already working together on solutions for sustainable energy sources and to purify water? That 250,000 students are already collaborating on STEM projects through 60 schools, universities, and NGOs around the world? And that plans are well under way to scale such educational opportunities to reach millions?
What I just described is pilot program for Hewlett Packard’s Catalyst Initiative. Catalyst is part of HP’s Social Innovation program, which encompasses education, entrepreneurship, health, and community. Particularly distinctive about Catalyst is that “all the learning creates far-reaching results in problems facing humanity,” says Ajith Basu, chief program executive for the Agastya International Foundation, and head of the New Learner consortium of Catalyst.
While HP’s Social Innovation program can be considered a particularly evolved case of corporate social responsibility, I think it is much bigger. Corporate Global Vision (CGV), a concept that I have articulated, is a better descriptor: Envisioning and achieving the greater potential for both the company and the world by affirming the interdependence of corporate success with the health and prosperity of the planet and its people.
“We wanted to figure out how to create immersion learning experiences,” said Gabi Zedlmayer, vice president of HP’s Office of Global Social Innovation, when we got together at the Clinton Global Initiative Annual Meeting last fall. “We know that technology alone is not the solution. So we decided to build a network of schools and people across boundaries and frontiers to find a different way of learning.”
HP’s goal with Catalyst is to reimagine STEM education and the classroom, Jim Vanides, senior program manager for HP, said in an interview. He described how HP established “an international network of innovation sandboxes” to answer the question: “What does a powerful learning experience look like, and how does technology enable it?” Further, he explained, HP’s goal is “STEM plus”–not simply STEM, but also creativity, collaboration, and problem solving–“all that students will need to be valuable citizens of the world.”
According to Vanides, by raising STEM+ literacy and increasing the quality of the STEM pipeline, the next generation will be prepared to solve the large and seemingly intractable social global challenges.
“Breaking down all barriers is fundamental to success,” said Vanides. ”Barriers between countries, secondary and college education, universities and NGOs. At work, we solve problems through collaboration with people throughout the world. If young people learn to engage in learning and problem-solving without any silos, they will be prepared to have an enormous impact.”
HP had a vision of the true potential of children of all backgrounds throughout the world.
“This experience has transformed me,” said Basu. “My greatest learning has been that children have no problems anywhere. The problem is the system and the lack of resources.” Even in the poorest, most remote neighborhoods of India, Basu says, “the children are much smarter than we were. Much faster. We must create systems around that. We can create powerful learning communities.”
Re-imagining education is not a fantasy. It’s becoming a reality.
Consider a student in a classroom of 35 students that never had funds for lab equipment. Starting last year, via Catalyst, she can conduct experiments remotely by using laboratories at MIT and the University of Queensland in Australia. She can, for example, measure radiation emissions as a function of how far she holds her cell phone from her ear. She can design the experiments herself, and watch the Geiger counter in Australia via live media. She can run the experiments as many times as she likes at her own pace, produce a lab report, and then compare results and experiences in the classroom with her teacher and fellow students. The results are already in: Students who use the virtual instruments show significant increases in test scores.
I actually ran the experiment myself online while Skyping with Dr. Kemi Jona, Ph.D., director of the Office of STEM Education Projects at Northwestern University. Science was never so fun, and it stimulated my curiosity. “Here’s the vision: Remote labs can be transformative at a district, state, or national level because you can create a server function or cloud solution that can provide a centralized shared facility of science experiments,” says Jona. “A district no longer needs to buy lab equipment for each school as we do now in the current funding model…a model that is financially prohibitive for most communities.”
Next, imagine students in the remotest villages in India helping to find solutions to waste management by participating in science projects via mobile science labs, science fairs, and young instructor leader programs. This is already happening through the Agastya International Foundation.
Through 62 mobile science vans that take science education to the village doorstep, 28 rural science centers, and a 170-acre Creativity Lab campus, Agastya has reached over 4 million children and 150,000 teachers in several Indian states and is supported by scientists and educators from the Indian Institute of Science, Defense Research and Development Organization, and the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research.
And finally: Imagine a magnet middle school in Stamford, Conn., where 50% of the students are from educationally disadvantaged families, helping to solve local well water contamination problems through a partnership with middle school students in Shandong University Middle School in China. Throughout the process, the students from Stamford are learning Mandarin and the students from China are learning English. (Students are pictured, top, collecting water samples from Long Island Sound.)
“This began with our seeing water contamination in our local water wells as a teachable moment,” said Bryan Olkowski, assistant principal at Scofield Magnet Middle School. “Then, by engaging in Catalyst, the world has opened up to us.” Since 2010, Scofield students have worked in partnership with students at their sister school in China, remotely and through exchange visits. They are collaborating using geospatial information studies (GIS), technology, and systems with university faculty and resources provided by HP.
Scofield teachers traveled to New Dehli last spring to present at the international Catalyst Summit, attended by all of the consortium partners; a new group of Scofield teachers will participate in the follow-up Summit this spring in Beijing. And HP has introduced new funders to Scofield, including the International Society for Technlogy in Education.
According to Olkowski, one thousand students in Connecticut have already benefited from Catalyst, as well as 640 in China. He believes that the project is a contributing factor to increasing math and reading scores on state tests for kids in his school.
“This is what’s possible for public school education,” said Olkowski. And that key message from this project is spreading: U.S. Congressman Jim Himes visited Scofield, and Olkowski was asked to brief the U.S. Congress on the project.
Scaling the solution through further investment, collaboration, and advocacy.
Beyond the sharing among the Catalyst consortium partners, further collaboration occurs between HP and corporate, foundation, and government leaders.Jeannette Weisschuh, HP’s director of education initiatives, spoke with me last week from London, where she attended the Education World Forum, the largest global gathering of education ministers. “The focus here is on innovative concepts to jointly increase student performance, especially in STEM education and entrepreneurship and using technology to increase student outcomes and enhance learning experiences and achievement in all disciplines, for the purpose of building a better world.”
With the pilot phase just completed, HP is embarking on Phase II. This year, HP will determine which of its innovation sandboxes is yielding the best results, invest further resources accordingly, and engage additional funding partners in order to scale the best solutions.
A particularly important HP partner has been the World Economic Forum’s Global Education Initiative. Additionally, OECD is working with HP to study the best uses of technology to advance STEM education through innovative learning environments; together they will issue a report at the end of this year.
Corporate Global Vision: Envisioning and achieving the greater potential.
The field of corporate social responsibility (CSR) has been maturing for over two decades. Since the 1990s, many of us have been helping companies transition from philanthropy and service to CSR–an integrated strategy that advances social and environmental purposes while also enhancing corporate financial value.
Corporate Global Vision (CGV) takes the C-suite and boardroom view. With Catalyst, HP demonstrates the problem-solving capabilities of HP technology; expands markets by increasing education rates and wealth worldwide; and builds relationships and goodwill with customers, including businesses, governments, NGOs, and individuals.
David Packard understood this when he said that “the real reason HP exists is to make a contribution, to improve the welfare of humanity.”
Via Fast Company: http://www.fastcompany.com
France Has Self-Driving Cars Too
Google doesn’t have the monopoly on clever self-driving cars, and now France has joined the fray. Deveoped by research company IFSTTAR and engineers from the ESIGELEC school in Rouen, the machine is a Renault vehicle that’s been heavily modified to turn its wheel and operate its pedal controls. The roof is peppered with sensors, including GPS, cameras to monitor around the car and the lanes in front of it and a LIDAR system on the nose to accurately determine the positions of other vehicles and unexpected alerts like a pedestrian.
The team first drove the machine using a drive-by-wire joystick to confirm its systems worked, and then let it perform its tricks on a test track–not the open road, as Google has tried. The goal is also not quite what you may expect–a self-driving car for everyone, with added efficiency and safety–but rather to develop self-driving prototypes so that more research into automobile safety systems can be carried out under precisely controlled conditions.
But it’s hard to not imagine that the French tech oculd be easily boiled down to special-purpose machinery actually built into a next-gen car for exactly the purpose of driving you on your commute to work, or your family on their vacation.
iRobot’s Telepresent AVA At CES
The emphasis of the CES show is consumer electronics, which makes iRobot’s demonstration of its AVA telepresence robot pretty interesting. After debuting in early prototype form last year, AVA–a wheeled base with a long neck that supports an iPad for a “head”–showed off even more impressive skills at this year’s show, seemingly all but ready for an in-store release.
Like most telepresent robots, the goal is to share video and audio and a sense of interactivity with the remotely dialled-in user–perhaps in an office, medical or even home environment–rather than interacting with the robot itself. But iRobot demonstrated that AVA has some smarts of its own thanks to the use of an iPad as its communications core, meaning specialized apps can be downloaded to boost or customize the robot’s behavior. It also has a rudimentary emotional alert response, flashing multicolored signals from its base when it, for example, collides with an unexpected object as it drives around.
With an established consumer electronics maker like iRobot on the case, 2012 may be the year telepresence becomes more normal…and maybe even something you see in homes with an oft-travelling parent.
Robo-Surgeons Get Open Source Boost
The Raven II machines have been tested and are due one final investigation before one goes to medical research facilities at Harvard, Johns Hopkins, University of Nebraska, UC Berkeley, UCLA, UC Santa Cruz and the University of Washington. The choice of open source modelling means that as each participating academic facility innovates and improves its robot’s techniques, all the other robots can benefit from the expertise. This is aided by the fact that once they’re shipped at the end of this month and installed at their location, each will communicate with the others via an Internet connection. Unlike da Vinci, Raven II more closely emulates a human surgeon–with just two arms and a camera for observing the operating field.
Foxconn’s Million-Robot Army
Confirming long-held rumors, Foxconn has asserted today it really will begin to employ one million robots on its production lines over the next three years, and in the short term it is likely that they’ll directly replace some workers.
It’s a huge investment for Foxconn, and despite worries about the expense and the fact the move may cause some loss of jobs, the firm is likely weighing the reliability and 24-7 work ethic of a robot workforce over its suicide scandal, and its recent threats of mass suicide by dissatisfied workers. With Foxconn’s position seemingly re-confirmed as a lead Apple component supplier, the investment has probably been calculated as a risk that could soon pay for itself.
DLR’s Human-ish, Human-Safe Robots
DLR, the German aerospace research agency, has popped up often in this column thanks to its incredibly advanced android systems. The firm showcased many of its humanoid robot arm, body and walking systems at the IEEE conference on humanoid robots in late 2011–and robot website Plastic Pals has recently collected the demonstration videos into one convenient location. Stand-out examples include the walking leg systems, and the incredible compliant joints the robot’s arms employ. Compliance lets the robot actually absorb deflecting blows even in the middle of a sophisticated move on its own, not so that you can beat up on a robot Real Steel-style, but so that if a human blunders into a robot’s work area, its powerful motors won’t just ignore the collision and mash the fragile human flesh that’s in its way.
DLR’s devices are indeed impressive–check out the link to see more examples–and they, along with similar systems under development by NASA as Robonaut, remind us that genuine worker androids are actually possible, technically and perhaps affordably, right now for specialist purposes.
Via Fast Company: http://www.fastcompany.com