Sunday, July 24, 2016

As Facebook and Others Build and Internet in the Sky

  • Last week, Facebook's Global Head of Engineering and Infrastructure Jay Parikh announced “the first full-scale test flight of Aquila, our high-altitude unmanned aircraft. Aquila is a solar-powered airplane that can be used to bring affordable internet to hundreds of millions of people in the hardest-to-reach places. When complete, Aquila will be able to circle a region up to 60 miles in diameter, beaming connectivity down from an altitude of more than 60,000 feet using laser communications and millimeter wave systems. Aquila is designed to be hyper efficient, so it can fly for up to three months at a time. The aircraft has the wingspan of an airliner, but at cruising speed it will consume only 5,000 watts — the same amount as three hair dryers, or a high-end microwave."
  • "This first functional check was a low-altitude flight, and it was so successful that we ended up flying Aquila for more than 90 minutes — three times longer than originally planned … In our next tests, we will fly Aquila faster, higher and longer, eventually taking it above 60,000 feet."
  • Note: The test flight took place over Yuma, Arizona.

  • Facebook’s project is ambitious and will require more work and innovation – including providing solar power support for the aircraft (the test was powered by lithium batteries), achieving flight at 60,000 feet (the test was conducted at about 2,000 feet) and adding equipment to provide internet communication.
  • At the same time, Google’s Project Loon is exploring how to float balloons over 10 miles high to create a communication network that will connect with telecommunication service providers to increase Internet coverage. In addition, organizations such as OneWeb Satellites (backed by Airbus GroupQualcommVirgin Group and Bharti Enterprises), Elon Musk’s SpaceXBoeingDish Network and others are pursuing Internet strategies using various satellite technologies.
  • Bottom line: Many of these efforts are unproven and will have to be competitive with land-based Internet services. from a cost and performance perspective.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Pokémon's Power, and Privacy Concerns

  • Last week, a Niantic Lab blog post said “Niantic set out on a path to change the way people interact with the world around them by creating the world’s first “real world gaming” platform. By exploiting the capabilities of smartphones and location technology and through building a unique massively scalable server and global location dataset, we have helped users all around the world have fun, socialize, and get more fit as they play and explore … We are pleased to announce that Pokémon GO, the next evolution of Real World Gaming, is now officially available on both the App Store and on Google Play Store in AustraliaNew Zealand and the United States. It will be available in other countries around the world in the days ahead.” 
  • Separately,  U.S. Senator Al Franken sent a letter to Niantic, Inc. CEO John Hanke that said “I am writing to request information about Niantic s recently released augmented reality app, Pokemon GO, which - in less than a week's time - has been downloaded approximately 7.5 million times in the United States alone. While this release is undoubtedly impressive, I am concerned about the extent to which Niantic may be unnecessarily collecting, using, and sharing a wide range of users' personal information without their appropriate consent. I believe Americans have a fundamental right to privacy, and that right includes an individual's access to information, as well as the ability to make meaningful choices, about what data are being collected about them and how the data are being used. As the augmented reality market evolves, I ask that you provide greater clarity on how Niantic is addressing issues of user privacy and security, particularly that of its younger players.” Note: Global downloads exceed 15 million

  • Niantic, Inc. was spun out of Google in October 2015 in partnership with Nintendo, and The Pokémon Company. While Pokémon GO is based on technology from Niantic’s sci-fi game Ingress (released in 2012), it is likely that the power of the Pokémon franchise is driving its broad global adoption.
  • Regarding Senator Franken’s letter, his privacy concerns more broadly apply to many other on-line playerspayment service providers and others in the commerce supply chain.
  • While Pokémon GO is viewed as an augmented reality market breakthrough, the augmented and virtual reality markets will continue to experience significant innovation.  

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Shootings, an Armed Robot, Social Media and More

  • Last week, in Baton Rouge, Louisiana videos captured the fatal shooting of Alton Sterling by police. In MinnesotaDiamond Reynolds streamed the aftermath of the fatal shooting of her fiancé Philando Castile.
  • Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg said “The images we've seen this week are graphic and heartbreaking, and they shine a light on the fear that millions of members of our community live with every day. While I hope we never have to see another video like Diamond's, it reminds us why coming together to build a more open and connected world is so important -- and how far we still have to go.”
  • In Dallasfive police officers were fatally shot and seven other people were wounded. After hours of negotiations with a sniper, police deployed a Multifunction, Agile, Remote-Controlled Robot (MARCbot) to carry an explosive device near the shooter - which killed him. The incident may be the first lethal use of a robot by U.S. law enforcement and Dallas Police Chief David Brown said “We saw no other option but to use our bomb robot and place a device on its extension for it to detonate where the suspect was ... Other options would have exposed our officers to grave danger.”
  • Note: the MARCbot was initially designed to address life-threatening situations in Iraq.  Via the Pentagon’s 1033 surplus program, over 450 MARCbots have been deployed to law enforcement units across the U.S.
  • Tom Manger, head of the Major Cities Chiefs Association and chief of the Montgomery County, MD said “Since Ferguson, it seems like the media, in general, it feels like we’ve been under siege… I think police officers feel like there’s always somebody out there trying to get me in trouble, trying to catch me doing something, baiting me so they can be the next YouTube sensation. Every time they make an arrest, there’s three or four cellphones going. You can’t make an arrest, especially out in public, without people whipping out their cellphones.” 

  • Martin Luther King Jr. once said “The world seldom believes the horror stories of history until they are documented via the mass media” and recent events illustrate that the mass media now includes anyone with a smartphone and an internet connection.
  • Also, police enforcement organizations will likely increase their use remote control and semi-autonomous solutions to perform their duties – which may trigger more concerns about privacy, and the rush to more automation may introduce a variety of unexpected outcomes.  

Sunday, July 3, 2016

Tesla, BMW, Intel and Mobileye- A Self-Driving Car Update

  • Last week, in response to a fatal crash involving one of its cars, Tesla announced “What we know is that the vehicle was on a divided highway with Autopilot engaged when a tractor trailer drove across the highway perpendicular to the Model S. Neither Autopilot nor the driver noticed the white side of the tractor trailer against a brightly lit sky, so the brake was not applied. The high ride height of the trailer combined with its positioning across the road and the extremely rare circumstances of the impact caused the Model S to pass under the trailer, with the bottom of the trailer impacting the windshield of the Model S.” Note: The functionality of Tesla’s Autopilot is more similar to cruise-control than to autonomous control – and requires the driver to remain engaged in the operation of the vehicle. 
  • Separately, BMW, Intel and Mobileye announced they would “make self-driving vehicles and future mobility concepts become a reality. The three leaders from the automotive, technology and computer vision and machine learning industries are collaborating to bring solutions for highly and fully automated driving into series production by 2021 … The goal of the collaboration is to develop future-proofed solutions that enable the drivers to not only take their hands off the steering wheel, but reach the so called “eyes off” (level 3) and ultimately the “mind off” (level 4) level transforming the driver’s in-car time into leisure or work time. This level of autonomy would enable the vehicle, on a technical level, to achieve the final stage of traveling “driver off” (level 5) without a human driver inside. This establishes the opportunity for self-driving fleets by 2021 and lays the foundation for entirely new business models in a connected, mobile world.”

  • Regarding Tesla – While the accident was likely caused by the tractor trailer, the technology is still evolving and there will be many challenging risk factors to consider in highway driving.
  • Regarding BMW, Intel and Mobileye – Their comments are helpful in understanding that 1) complete driverless vehicles are still several years away and 2) there will be various “levels” of technology solutions to be brought to market..