Assignment work

Well this blog was as part of an assignment for a paper through Open Polytech – Future and Emerging Technologies. For one of our assignments we were required to set up a blog and had some questions we needed to answer for our top ten trends/technologies that we had predicted. I’m pleased to say that I got 97% for my blog so was pretty happy with that 🙂

I have enjoyed writing this blog and looking into technologies coming out and writing my take on the news that I was reading. So I might keep blogging.

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Is the “Internet of things” the next bubble?

Steve Wozniak (Apple co-founder) thinks so.

Internet of things is where your appliances are connected to the web in an attempt to make them smarter and to be able to do cool new tricks, like tell you what’s in the fridge when you drop into the supermarket on the way home from work for an impromptu shopping top up.

Steve thinks that the demand and the desire for these smart appliances is there, but that the technology is not yet quite there and that we could be heading towards a similar crash as when the dotcom bubble burst in the 90s as the conditions are similar.

I hope it doesn’t burst too spectacularly as I quite like the idea of a heat pump that can read the forecast and your calendar and ensure that your house is kept at a good temperature automatically for the entire period you are at home without you having to think about it. Especially with the frosty mornings we’ve been having lately!

Google I/O Conference

Google’s developer conference is being held at the moment in San Francisco. From media coverage of this event I’ve seen it sounds like it would have been interesting to attend. Unfortunately, the cost of a) getting to San Fran, b) staying in San Fran and then c) going to the conference would have been too much so I’ll have to make do with hearing about some of the exciting discoveries through the media and internet.

Google cardboard

This was launched at last years conference. However it appears that they are putting more effort into this to catch up to Microsoft. They see this as a low cost way of getting the technology out to people. They have also launched Jump – 16 GoPro cameras to capture 360degrees of video to make virtual reality filming easier.

Cardboard now allows phones with larger screens to be used and for the first time will be compatible with Apple phones. Google is going to distribute Cardboard kits, including tablets or smartphones to schools to enable them to use Virtual Reality in the classroom and allow children to experience virtual world tours.

New phones and watches

No announcements were made on new phones or watches, however software changes were announced. One cool feature for the watches are that users will be able to draw emojjis to send via SMS and flicking your wrist will allow you to switch between notifications.

Project Brillo

Project Brillo is a set of technologies that aims to connect more household items to the web. It should hopefully make it easier for developers to build applications for all sorts of devices. Weave, a new system also annouced will help with communication between these devices.

Brillo would be a stripped-down version of Android software so it could run on everyday items such as internet-connected washing machines and door locks. The aim is to have appliances that work more seamlessly for its users and the technology will be available later this year.

Operating System

What would a conference be without an update to the hosts operating system. Google has announced the direction that Android operating system will be taking – they have gone back to basics, focusing on the building blocks of the system. Of important note is battery management and charging – two pain points of regular smart phone users. They are also looking at security, notably finger print scanning.

Self drive cars

It was rumoured that there would be a new announcement on Google’s self drive car – unfortunately it doesn’t appear that one is forth-coming.

Google photos

An interesting announcement was made about the launch of a new cloud based service – Google photos. It is free cloud based storage of photos from the web or a smartphone (Android and Apple) and will give you unlimited space, unlike Dropbox (2GB) or Yahoo’s Flicker (1TB). But what is more interesting is that the photos will be scanned for faces, dates and places and these will be indexed. This will mean that the photos will be able to be easily searched for – the example given was that photos taken at a baseball game could be discovered by typing ‘baseball’ into the app’s search bar. So great for cateloguing and storing all those snaps from your phone – but this will enable Google to draw an even bigger picture of your life by the data it will hold about your life.

Android Pay

Android Pay will replace Google Wallet and will allow users to pay for goods using their NFC enabled smartphones at the checkout. This will work on older phones running Kitkat and above, but will work better on phones with fingerprint scanners. Unfortunately at this time it will only work in the United States.

What were the stand out announcements for you?

Self driving cars in NZ

Seems I’m not alone in my thinking that self-driving cars are going to be a major new thing in the near future. Simon Bridges, Minister of Transport thinks so too. At the International Transport Forum in Leipzig, Germany he said that self drive cars could be on the road in NZ in as little as two years. While I think that is great that a Minister is pushing technology like this (and it falls under two of his portfolios – he is also Energy and Resources Minister and most talk about self drive cars is based on them being electric cars), I think he is a little too ambitious. Yes, these cars have the potential to make a huge difference in people’s life’s and potentially crush our high road toll. But there needs some good thought and discussion around the repercussions of what driver less cars will actually mean in the real world.

Questions that will need to be answered are:

  • If you are sitting in the traditional spot where a driver would sit on your way home after having a few drinks are you likely to be charged for drink driving?
  • Who is legally responsible if a self drive car happened to be in a crash?
  • Will you be able to send your car to pick the kids up from school while you stay home? Will it be legal for the car to be driven without anyone in it, or a person under the driving age?
  • If your car is self driving and you are using it as a taxi, do you still require a “p” endorsement on your drivers license as you aren’t actually driving?

And then thought needs to be given to the electric car part of things.

  • How is our electricity grid going to handle mass amounts of cars needing to be charged?
  • Will infrastructure be required so people can charge their cars while out and about – ie in parking buildings or at hotel/motel car parks?
  • If a car runs out of petrol on the motorway it is relatively easy for someone to bring some petrol and top the car up so it can continue on it’s way – how would that work with an electric car?

So, while self drive cars seems to be a great idea, there are legal and logistical questions that need to be looked at before they are driven on our roads. Given Simon Bridges expects these in the next few years these discussions really need to take place now.

Google’s self drive car graduates

Things are obviously going well at Google – I read an article the other day saying that Google’s self drive car has now graduated to being able to be driven on a real road, with real road users. I have to say that this is obviously a big milestone in the development of this technology.

There have been questions raised about why Google is pushing this – at first glance it doesn’t appear to tie in with any of the existing businesses. However, if no one is needed to drive the car people will be free to use the time on their commute to do other things – maybe respond to their emails, work or surf the web on their smart phones. These are definitely within the tech giant’s scope.  Then there is the data that they could harness from this. As well as being able to build an idea of who you are based on your online behaviour and the use of your phone they can now see where you are driving. They already do this to some degree – just look at google maps on your phone and you can see the traffic density based off people’s cellphones!

But having this data will give them an edge. They will be able to use this data and sell it – ie they could use location data from your car and use it to serve up an ad from a local company as your car drives past and you are sitting it in surfing the web.

In this day and age data is king. Being able to use this data to be able to improve your bottom line is big business – and Google is a company that does this very well. Some of this data is given willingly to Google, such as when they sign up for a google account and then tie their google searching into that account. Other data not so obviously – a default setting on some android phones is to track your location at all times which is then viewable days/weeks/years down the track.

Bladeless turbines

An article turned up on my Facebook newsfeed the other day that I found really interesting and bookmarked to read another day.

Bladeless turbines . . . . seems to be a bit of a contradiction of terms to me. How would it generate electricity if it wasn’t able to spin? That was my first thought on the matter. So I had to go and read the article. It appears that it generates electricity by shaking a pole sticking out of the ground. I wonder if this would increase the noise pollution which is one of the issues that a lot of people complain about when new wind farms are proposed. Being just sticks stuck in the ground may also alleviate the visual pollution other people also have about new wind farm proposals.

This is the type of innovation that is pleasing to see. While electricial applicances are generally getting more efficient there are now more in a typical house hold than there used to be. This means that there will need to be more electricity generated and with the backlash about environmentally unfriendly generation new generating methods need to be found.

This technology generates less than traditional turbines, however if they are more acceptable to the general public it may not be as hard a fight to get them built. It’s a Spanish technology but I hope this is something that our electricity generators are watching and considering the implications of.

Check out the video or read more about this on the Independent website.

3D printed food – would you eat it?

If someone told you they had the next “super food”, one which would provide you with all the nutrients and vitamins you needed, one that tasted good and was appealing to the eye, would you eat it? What if then they told you that they had printed it? That the food was purchased from a company that made food in their lab to a specific recipe to ensure that it was perfectly balanced with everything you need to survive without excess sugar, fat and other “nasties”. That it came in a number of different colours and flavours , all natural of course, but other than that it was essentially the same. That it came with serving suggestions, these weren’t your usual serving instructions, more a design that you would plug into your printer to make it aesthetically pleasing.

Sounds a bit far fetched, doesn’t it? But there are a number of researchers that think that this day isn’t far away. Some of them at Massey University here in NZ. So while you initially go ewww yuck, you may find yourself tucking into a printed food item sometime in your life time. It would take some time to become common place but there is a possibility that it will be the only type of food that your grandchildren’s grandchildren know.

As all food moved to being created in a lab it would change the way that we lived. It could potentially remove the housing crisis in NZ, there wouldn’t be any need to have land for farming or crops. These would now all be created in a lab and that would take up less space than historical food production.

There are a number of benefits to this of course, it could drastically reduce our obesity problem. People would no longer have the option to reach for a sugar laden item of junk food – they could get something that looked and tasted like their preferred junk food, but it would be healthy and good for them. Fast food outlets would still exist, but again the food that they are printing would be healthy – they would just be fast food outlets for the fact that they had a faster printer than you did at home, that you could still get food while out and about rather than having to go home for lunch or bring a packed lunch with you.

However, there is a risk that once you get that sort of saturation it is difficult to come back to normal food production. There is a risk that “normal” food production will become so expensive that it will become the realm of the wealthy 1%, in a similar way to how organic food has become. It used to be common for all food to be organically grown, it just didn’t have a name, and then when pesticides etc became common place producers were able to command a premium for food just because it was organically grown.

While this technology is often promoted as a way of providing good quality food to those in developing nations, to people in disaster areas and to those who need it most there is a real risk that this becomes corporatized. That they get us used to this type of food and then the price goes up so much that it is out of reach of a small number of people in the economy. The people that may have grown veges in the backyard in the past as a way to survive on a low income.
So while this idea has some merits it also has some risks. Maybe we are best to leave this technology for printing confectionaries and for amusement and entertainment value rather than pushing to print all our food.

What do you think?