Archive for the ‘Technology’ Category

I wouldn’t want to play chess against Elon Musk.  Every time he makes a move (starts a new company, publicly discusses an idea) it’s all part of an elaborate plan that he has set into motion.  Nothing he does is in isolation.  Each move has been carefully thought out well in advance.  The destinies of Solar City and Tesla speak to that, so intertwined are their future prospects that it’s inevitable that the two companies will merge.  And now it seems as though the fates of the Hyperloop and the Boring Company are intertwined as well as Musk has announced that he has received a verbal commitment from government officials approving an Eastern seaboard Hyperloop that that would make it possible to travel from Washington to New York City in under half an hour.

As the Verge puts it, “The Boring Company started as a joke, but became increasingly serious as Musk began tunneling in a parking lot outside of SpaceX in an effort to demonstrate his ability to dig faster and more efficiently than traditional tunneling projects. Musk says he’s working on tunnel-boring machines than can simultaneously dig up and reinforce tunnels, which could go a long way toward solving a big engineering challenge. He recently announced the completion of the first section of tunnel under Los Angeles.”

But now it seems as though the Boring Company has a much larger end game in sight: digging the tunnels that will accommodate the Hyperloop network.  Including, if his tweets are to be believed, one on the East Coast that would allow for unprecedented travel between two of the country’s most influential cities.

According to the New York Times, “Mr. Musk’s planned 29-minute trip is considerably shorter than the current options. A drive from Washington to New York can take about five hours. Amtrak’s Acela, its high-speed counterpart to regional train service, cuts the time down to about two hours and 45 minutes. A nonstop flight from Kennedy Airport in New York to Ronald Reagan National Airport in Washington is currently the fastest option, at one hour and 15 minutes.”

It’s going to be a while before the dream of convenient travel between New York and Washington D.C. becomes a reality.  The Hyperloop still has to be built, the tunnels still have to be dug, and that’s all assuming that this verbal government approval even holds up.  But at the same time I also wouldn’t bet against Musk.  If he’s set his mind to accomplishing something it’s probably too late for us to object anyway.  The plan was probably already set in motion long ago.

Image result for new york to d.c. hyperloop

Is an East Coast Hyperloop the Greatest Idea Ever?

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Google isn’t the only tech company to launch a new feed based service.  Amazon just did too, creating Amazon Spark and it’s designed to turn product reviewers into “enthusiasts” and in turn its site into Instagram.  Essentially, Spark is a hybrid social media site and product store, a shoppable feed of images that could really put a damper into Pinterest’s plans as users shop items recommended by people who share their interests.

As TechCrunch puts it, “Amazon today is launching Amazon Spark, a new feature aimed at improving product discovery, which is seemingly inspired by Instagram and its use of shoppable photos. Similarly, Amazon Spark users are encouraged to post stories, ideas and images of products they love, which others can react to with comments and ‘smiles’ – Amazon’s own version of the Like or Favorite button.”

Ars Technica adds that, “Spark appears to be Amazon’s way of not only encouraging more young people to discover new products on the platform in a way that feels natural to them, but also boosting the social  aspect of Amazon as a whole. But products will always be the main focus of any Amazon feature, and Spark certainly integrates ‘shoppable’ tags more efficiently than Instagram. Amazon has the upper hand as it can link directly to products it sells and directly bring customers to that product page when they tap on the link.”

But Spark isn’t the only new innovation that Amazon recently unveiled.  They’ve also been working on a portable robot that would live inside of airports or other public spaces, and bring cellphone charging capabilities to those who hail it.  Consider it an Uber for cell phones.

As Geek Wire reports, “The idea may seem wacky, but the inventors contend that such robots would fill a need that’s currently unmet. They note that mobile devices have become ubiquitous in public and semi-public spaces:

“It can be quite inconvenient to a user when one of these devices runs out of battery power. This is especially true if the user does not have an available charging adapter for the device. Users may find themselves asking friends, or even strangers, to borrow a charging adapter. In some cases, there may not be any charging ports, or power outlets in the immediate vicinity, making charging the device even more cumbersome. Even in cases where charging stations, ports, or outlets are available, a user may have to remain close to the device. For example, charging a phone in a public place may require the user to remain in the general area of the phone to avoid theft.”

Would a charging robot solve all of those issues?  That depends on whether or one is available in your area or how long it would take to get to you.  Plus it’s highly likely that other technologies such as wireless charging devices or longer lasting batteries or phones that work without batteries will make it so that we don’t even need to recharge our batteries.  But in any event that doesn’t really matter.  The only thing that really matters is that if there’s an issue in need of solving, whether that’s cell phone charging of finding a way to make shopping more social, you can rest assured that Amazon is working on a way to solve that problem.

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Is Amazon Spark the Greatest Idea Ever?

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We’ve known for a while that search was going to look and feel fundamentally different in the near future.  That Google might get to the point where they could predict what we wanted before we even searched for it, delivering up results as soon as we first encountered the search box.  Well, that day has finally come.  Thanks to a news feed of sorts, designed to help you organically discover new and interesting things; the kind of things that you may be interested in based on your search history, and the kind of things that you aren’t likely to normally encounter when conducting a standard search.  Older things and things outside your filter bubble, if not your comfort zone.

As Wired describes, “When you open the app you’ll be presented with an infinitely scrolling list of stuff Google thinks you might be interested in based on your browsing and searching history: news headlines, blog posts, 12 Foods You Can Feed Your Dog listicles, and more, along with sports scores, movie trailers, and the like. It’s like what Google Reader might have evolved to become in 2017, if Google hadn’t murdered Google Reader in 2013.”

When I first read this I was immediately intrigued.  A quick and easy way to find cool new things that I may be interested in?  Yes, please!  But then I realized the drawback: if the feed is being generated from your search history then that means that your results may be skewered; by things that you searched for only one time and aren’t really that interested in; by things that you had to search for while at work that you may not be interested in personally; by the kind of things that you search for when no one else is around.  Thankfully the feed will be editable which helps ease those concerns.  Since you can tell Google to remove certain sources or give you more of a certain topic you’d at least have some say in the results you’re seeing.

As Wired puts it, “you can control and customize what shows up in your feed. If you search for something like ‘health care bill,’ you can tap the new Follow button at the top of the results to get more health care-related news in your feed. You’ll probably get more anyway, since Google assumes you’re interested in the things you search for, but actively following sends a much stronger signal. You can tell Google when you’re done reading about Drake because really you just wanted to know what that one lyric was, or that you never want to see stories from the Daily Mail ever again. Think of the new feeds as your personal recommendations list for the entire internet.”

In other words, think of it as a better version of Stumble Upon.  An infinitely useful resource that you’ll keep coming back to even if you have nothing in particular to search for.

Ultimately, I can see this feed catching on and becoming the new normal.  Making it so that our children and grandchildren will be left to wonder how we ever tolerating living in a simpler time with just a single search box on a plain white screen to interact with, nothing else to scroll through or look at.  And we’ll wonder too.  How we ever got by in the time before predictive feeds.

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Is the Google Feed the Greatest Idea Ever?

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Of all the stories I’ve covered and ideas I’ve written about a handful stand out to me as ones that I’ve personally rooted for.  These are the innovations and inventions that I can’t wait to use myself, the ones that I truly think would make my own life better.  Graphene, the wonder material, was the first.  Followed closely by Google Glass before it went by the wayside.  Now, the number one object of my affection is Elon Musk’s pipe dream the Hyperloop.

We’re still probably at least 3-5 years away from realizing this dream but an important first step was just taken by Hyperloop One as they just announced their first successful full system test.

As Wired puts it:

“Your dream of one day zipping from one city to another in a pod in a pneumatic tube just took one more step toward reality. Hyperloop One announced Wednesday that it successfully tested a full hyperloop.

The step into the future occurred in May at the company’s Nevada test track, where engineers watched a magnetically levitating test sled fire through a tube in near-vacuum, reaching 70 mph in just over five seconds.

That is but a fraction of the 700 mph or so Hyperloop One promises, but put that aside for now. What matters here is all the elements required to make hyperloop work, worked: propulsion, braking, and the levitation and vacuum systems that all but eliminate friction and air resistance so that pod shoots through the tube at maximum speed with minimal energy.”

Clearly a lot more work still needs to be done before we’re bouncing around from city to city at high speeds.  But considering all the legal wrangling and in-fighting that has occurred up to this point it’s encouraging to know that real progress is being made.  Hopefully, it will be full speed ahead from now on.

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Is the Hyperloop the Greatest Idea Ever?

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When I was in college the University gym featured a really cool exercise bike that you could ride while watching a screen that depicted a series of hills.  The scenery that scrolled past you would match the intensity of the interval workout that the bike was set to.  It was meant to distract you from the tedious act of having to peddle over and over mindlessly.  And it worked.  Sort of.

Flash Forward fifteen years and the exercise bike of the future has finally arrived thanks to the VZ Sensor, a tiny attachment that fastens to any exercise bike, turning into a virtual reality cardio gym.

As VR Scout reports, “The $100 device is compatible with most mainstream headsets including the HTC Vive, Oculus Rift and PSVR, with support for mobile VR options such as Samsung’s Gear VR and Google DayDream on the way.”

So what kind of VR experiences are we talking about?!

According to VR Scout the headset, “features an array of fitness-based experiences such as lassoing bandits atop a galloping horse, cutting tight corners in an Indy race car and flying through the clouds on a mystical Pegasus…”

The only downside to the device is that you have to hold a controller while peddling which could be problematic for some people.  There is, however, a more expensive option, running $400, that comes with a more complete set-up.  Either way, it’s clear that the VZ Sensor is a vast improvement over the fake rolling hills of my youth.

Is the VR Sensor the Greatest Idea Ever?

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In The Inevitable: Understanding the Twelve Technological Forces That Will Shape Our Future, Wired co-founder Kevin Kelly talks about how difficult it is to predict the future thirty years from now.  The technologies that exist then would be unfathomable to our present day selves just like how the Internet and the technology of today was impossible to predict for people thirty years ago.  The opposite is also true.  The leading technologies of today will seem antiquated to the people living in the future.  They’ll wonder how we ever tolerated traveling by car from New York to Boston in four hours when they can make the trek in a Hyperloop pod in twenty minutes, the same way we now wonder how anyone could have ever tolerated dialing in a modem to use America Online when we can access the Internet on our phones in seconds.

Take search engines for example.  The Google machine can do some pretty remarkable things, answering every question we can think of within fractions of a second.  But it will seem downright quaint to the people living in 2050.  As Kelly points out, today’s search engines only index about 10-20% of the web, barely scratching the surface of what exists.  Try googling yourself.  Individual Facebook comments, tweets, and Instagram posts don’t show up.  Neither does content hidden within a YouTube video.  The search engine of the future would change all that.  It would search everything.

Imagine, if you will, an epic search engine.  One that is capable of conducting deep searches throughout the entirety of the Internet.  Webpages would be captured, yes.  But, also all of the content on them.  Even comments.  Videos would be searchable too.  Databases.  Archives.  Everything and anything.  Even physical items would be searchable so long as they were outfitted with sensors and hooked up to the Internet of Things.  Perhaps, one day, even the Dark Web could be crawled by a search engine.  Better yet, maybe it would be possible to search not just current version of web pages but all prior versions as well.

Having such capability would sure make life easier.  You could find specific conversations that you’ve had, emails that you’ve sent, status updates that you’ve posted.  You’d have total recall.  You might even be able to find where you put your keys.

But, then again, an epic search engine may never come to fruition.  Maybe our future selves will bypass a powerful search engine all together in favor of a global hive mind or some other new technology that we can’t even imagine yet.  At this point it’s impossible to say what impossibilities will become possible in the future.  All we know for sure is that things will be drastically different.

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Will we have an even better search engine in the future?

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Yesterday was Amazon Prime Day, a day of steep discounts across all product categories on Amazon’s website as a way of thanking their loyal Prime members and wooing new ones.  It’s Amazon’s rift on Alibaba’s wildly successful Singles Day and it’s birthed a new tradition that isn’t likely to stop anytime soon.

As millions of orders get fulfilled its easy to wonder how it all happens.  Amazon’s supply chain efficiencies have long been marveled at from the use of robotics in their fulfillment centers to their desire to start delivering packages via drone.  But even still, we’re talking about millions upon millions of orders in a single day.  Not even Santa Clause has to deliver that many packages in that short of a time.  How could they pull it off?  And more importantly, how can they get even more efficient at delivering packages?

Well, a new patent may shed some light on their next approach.

According to I Fucking Love Science:

“The patent dubs it an ‘aquatic fulfillment center’, which would store goods at the bottom of lakes and other bodies of water.  Waterproof containers with goods inside would be dropped into the water from the air by a parachute. Depending on their density, they would then sink to different levels. Pulses or acoustic tones could then be used to move items or bring them to the surface by changing the density of the packages.  This could be done by changing the charge of the air inside the package, such as how lightning ionizes the air as it streaks through, to change its density. Alternatively, control valves could add or remove a fluid from a ‘flexible bladder’ to change the volume.”

Storing packages underwater may seem like an extreme measure but it does make a lot of logistical sense.  Instead of building single story fulfillment centers spread out across several miles you could instead build vertically by stacking packages within an underground body of water.  It’s a great use of otherwise dead space and leaves more surface area free for other pursuits.  And even if this technology never leads to underwater fulfillment centers its possible that the idea of using changes in density to move objects underwater could catch on.  As a big fan of SeaQuest DSV and the idea of underwater sea colonies I wonder if the changing density via acoustic tone approach could be used to support the infrastructure of an underwater dwelling.

Either way, it’s clear that Amazon isn’t done innovating as it continues its march towards world domination.  One order at a time.

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Is this the Greatest Idea Ever?

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