2014
03.24

To this day, very few people outside of the supply chain business have an understanding of how products show up on the shelves of the stores they frequent. They know that the products they buy were grown or made somewhere, but the processing path to the store is a mystery.

Recent estimates of the distance between a product’s point of origin (where it was grown or manufactured) and your dinner table range between 1,000 and 1,500 miles; at every step along the way, people using connected devices are expediting the product’s progress to ensure it is available when and where you want it to be. There are tens of thousands of people work through the night at warehouses and DCs (distribution centers) to load and move the products into trucks that show up at the stores the next morning.

Last week in Atlanta, I had the opportunity to participate in the MODEX 2014 trade show. Held in “even numbered” years, its counterpart in odd numbered years is ProMat. ProMat 2015 will be held in Chicago and is traditionally the larger of the two events.

Making appearances at this year’s show were connected devices in the areas of 3D printing, augmented reality wearables and robotics. Even a lighter than air cargo lifting craft was on display.

Also of interest was an unprecedented level of recruiting for knowledge workers by the companies exhibiting advanced systems like robotics. This included Amazon’s Kiva Systems, the robotics company that is transforming eCommerce fulfillment.

3D printers were being used in at least three booths to create models of warehouse equipment layouts, derived from CAD drawings. The resulting models were small, no more than 14 inches in length, height and width, but gave a good physical representation of things like conveyor lines, picking towers and sortation tables. All of the printers observed were made by MakerBot. The intent of the 3D model is to provide a visual reference when you are at the location where the equipment would be installed. This is the next step in warehouse design.

Warehouse and distribution centers around the world have been using wearables for years. One example is the use of belt-mounted devices with tethered headsets to enable “hands free” activities such as order picking. Now, augmented reality devices are making an appearance and suggest a new direction for productivity improvement in the warehouse.

In the Business to Consumer world, Google Glass is the most prominent device, and application developers for consumer-focused uses are increasing in numbers and use cases.

In the material-handling world, devices such as Google Glass have a significant challenge: surviving extended daily use in harsh environments. Warehouses and DCs are high-activity workspaces, with temperatures ranging from high summer temperatures to minus 30 degrees in freezers that hold the ice cream you love to eat. They are dropped all the time. Devices used here must be ruggedized, and have longer battery lives than consumer wearables.

A megatrend emerging in material handling is the use of wearables that can combine vision and voice technologies in a way that helps workers find and handle products faster, and with fewer errors. Fewer errors in order processing will result in happier customers.

A good example of a ruggedized augmented reality device that will be deployed into a live customer environment later this year is Knapp’s KiSoft (pronounced “key soft”) Vision. This device uses vision only to guide workers through a warehouse to find locations and products in a more efficient and error-free manner. Knapp has adopted a “zero defect warehouse” program in support of its customers, and KiSoft Vision is one near-term technology that will support its agenda. Click here to see how this works.

Robotics is becoming increasingly important to material handling, and Amazon is a clear leader in this initiative. Its Kiva Systems automation company was prominently positioned at the main entrance to the show, and it had a simulated warehouse in which its robots put away and picked products to fulfill orders. Watch this video and remember it the next time you buy diapers from Diapers.com. And as you watch, think about the extraordinary degree of “connectivity” all the devices you are watching must have, and what effort goes into making a robotic ecosystem function.

With the megatrend shift away from low-skilled workers to robotic systems in DCs, the need for knowledge workers to design, make, install, run and maintain these systems is creating a highly competitive labor market, and the companies exhibiting at MODEX not only knew that, they were openly recruiting during the show. As I mentioned above, Amazon was very aggressively recruiting in the areas of Engineering, facilities, operations management, IT infrastructure, transportation and finance. It had available a career brochure and handouts making the case for employment at Amazon.

Amazon was not alone. I counted six other large systems manufacturers and integrators with large “We Are Hiring” signage prominently displayed.

For the first time in my experience attending MODEX and ProMat, the organizers of the show put in place a program where teams of local high school students with an interest in supply chain careers were tasked with designing a warehouse that incorporated the best technologies that they saw as they toured the show. Indeed, a leading publication, MHI Solutions, provided show attendees with a special edition entitled “Supply Chain Workforce and the Talent Shortage.”

As MODEX and ProMat are the signature annual shows for the material handling segment of the supply chain industry, new technologies on display are those that are considered viable for adoption. Only those applications and devices that are deemed to have commercial potential make it to the show floor. In the case of KiSoft Vision mentioned above, it was conceived in 2008 and took six years to make it to a customer’s real time operation.

If you want to be amazed and awed at the infrastructure behind the delivery to you of the products you use, then attend ProMat 2015 next March in Chicago. You’ll see me there as well.

2014
03.18

It’s all over the news today. You can’t miss it. General Motors is issuing yet another recall of 1.5 million vehicles, part of an effort to assure car buyers that it’s moving faster to rectify safety defects in its vehicles. In a video message to employees posted Monday, CEO Mary Barra says the new recall stems from a push to review potential safety issues and resolve them more quickly.

Here’s the back story, last month more than 1.6 million small cars were recalled for defective engine switches. This puts total recall to more than 3 million, which analysts say is the largest recall to date. The defects are linked to 12 deaths, and GM is facing multiple investigations into how it handled the recall. GM first began investigating the switches in 2004.

Barra admits, “Something went wrong with our process in this instance, and terrible things happened. As a member of the GM family and as a mom with a family of my own, this really hits home for me. And we have apologized. But that is just one step in the journey to resolve this.”

She now intends to have GM undergo an intense review of its recall procedure and she wants to change the system and that means cooperating with government investigators. She went on to say that GM will get better as a result of this tragic situation if it seizes this opportunity.

And you know what, probably for the first time in a long time I believe this automaker is talking from the heart. It’s no surprise to many of you that follow my blogs that I have been very critical of the car companies.

Let’s face it, all of these behemoths have been pushing cars out the door without taking the time to make sure you know exactly what you are buying. No one has taken the time to properly educate you on the technology inside the vehicles, which makes everyone on the road frustrated and more distracted when driving trying to figure out all the buttons and nobs on the dashboards. It would be a fair statement to say they all need a good kick in the pants.

We all agree the saga does not bode well for GM. Surely GM’s reputation will take a hit for this fiasco, if not to its stock price. If nothing else it does cast a poor light on the company for not following the proper recall procedures, no doubt. GM anticipates taking a $300 million charge in the first quarter alone to repair the vehicles in the new recalls as well as the vehicles in the small car recall.

With all that being said, I have to commend Barra for stepping up to the plate and taking full responsibility for the problems she inherited. Let’s be honest, here is a woman who just took the helm in January and already she is being tasked with facing the media. This is a nightmare of a problem. Yet, she is showing her muster, by stepping up to the mic and taking full responsibility as CEO for things that occurred 10 years before she was even in charge. She’s not waiting for the results of the investigation to make a comment. If it was not for the indefatigable actions of Barra to address the public immediately, stock prices would be plummeting to all-time lows. 

I think this says a lot about her as a leader and it shows GM is serious about rectifying the problems under the new leadership at GM. Barra is demonstrating she is shepherding a new company. As an engineer herself who moved up the ranks she gets more than most the importance of performance and safety. She recognizes what needs to happen and she truly knows how to fix it. She understands what data means in this world of M2M and she can gather and mine all the information to assimilate it and see problems long before they happen. She will change the face of GM forever and this could be a better company that could be financially stronger than it has ever been before.

Barra is showing the new and improved GM under her leadership. That is exactly why we named her a Women of M2M. She has the perseverance to drive this company forward. This says a lot about her as a leader who says what she means and does what she says. She still has a lot to prove, but already she has let her actions prove that the turmoil that was created 10 years ago from a company that was just trying to shed costs and didn’t know how to service customers could finally be turning the corner. It might have taken a woman to lead the way, but the car industry is heading into a new direction and consumers will be the ones who will enjoy the ride.

Want to tweet about this article? Use hashtags #GM, #automotive, #M2M, #data, #connectedcars, #WoM2M, #Barra

2014
03.14

Let’s start this week’s report with an award whose time has truly come and to which we can readily relate. Patent 8,671,347, awarded to Empire Technology Development LLC, covers a method of “Quantifying Frustration via a User Interface.” “Keystroke dynamics”—how users touch device keyboards depending their emotional state–underpins the functionality of the apparatus and systems described in the patent. “For example, people may tap harder when angry…. Such mood data may quantify a frustration parameter.” Empire is owned by North American Communications Resource, Inc., which offers a broad range of solutions, including customer-service improvement. Certainly, the measurement of customer frustration is vital to any solution designed to reduce it and improve customer satisfaction.

We all feel the pinch at the gas pump when we fill up our cars and trucks. So you can imagine the pain when UPS fills up more than 100,000 trucks each day. The company has been adding sensors to its truck to gather performance information for many years, and based upon its analysis of the data, has made significant performance-enhancing modifications, including specific route instructions to drivers that minimize making left hand turns. Turning left uses more gas than right hand turns. Putting sensors in a truck is part of a larger wireless-based set of applications collectively called “geofencing.” This week, UPS was awarded Patent 8,670,933, “Geofence-based Triggers for Automated Data Collection.” Reading this patent will help you better understand what is going on in that big brown truck you see every day in your neighborhood.

Here’s a company that you’ve probably never knew existed: WiTricity Corp., based in Watertown, Mass. The company is focused on the technology that will allow electrical and electronic devices to operate with a wireless power source. You heard that right: No more plugs and wires to power your toaster, TV or other presently tethered devices. A significant barrier to overcome has been the ability to project sufficient power in a focused manner from a source to a device without endangering people. This week, the company was awarded Patent 8,669,676, “Wireless Energy Transfer Across Variable Distances Using Field Shaping with Magnetic Materials to Improve the Coupling Factor.” Not only is this a significant step forward, it is also a fascinating history lesson. If you look at the prior references list, it starts with four patents issued to the great Nikola Tesla between 1900 and 1914. The reach back in time some one hundred and four years to anchor this new patent is breathtaking.

We have all read in the news this past week about Cerberus Capital Management’s acquisition of Safeway. Safeway is more than just a supermarket chain. It owned, and recently spun off, Blackhawk Network, one of the largest prepaid gift card providers in the world. When next you are standing at the checkout counter in any of the retail stores you frequent, and while bored out of your mind, your eyes chance upon the rack of gift cards positioned directly in front of you along with the gum and breath mints, keep in mind that most of those cards were produced by Blackhawk. Safeway has always been active in using technology to improve revenue generating interfaces with its customers, and the award this week of Patent 8,671,018, “Adaptable Retail Pricing Environment and Electronic Exchange, Delivering Customized Buyer Promotion Rewards and Discounts,” is just such as example. In essence, it is designed to deliver individualized price discounts to loyalty program customer.

Both VISA and MasterCard received patent awards this week, but for very different developments.

MasterCard International Incorporated was awarded Patent 8,671.056, “Social Sourced Purchasing Advice System.” Described as “facilitating the solicitation of expert advice from trusted reviewers using a system that maintains a registry of product reviewers with areas of expertise,” the trusted reviewer is one who has a direct or indirect social connection with the consumer, as identified from a social network. Clearly MasterCard wants an advantage over its competitors to incent a consumer to buy a product with its card. Tying a cardholder’s purchase decision to the advice of someone he or she knows in a social network that has experience with the product under review is not only a good way to “close the deal” but to collect ever more detailed information about how “influence” drives product sales.

VISA U.S.A. Inc. patent award was for a very different application. Patent 8,671,004, “System and Method of Providing Spending Information by Foreign Visitors Using Records of Financial Presentation Devices,” has a number of implications. First let’s define what a FPD (financial presentation device) is. Simply put, it is a debit or credit card. The patent describes the use of the application within the tourism industry, aiding merchants with information about foreign visitors that tie back to the purchases they make in the tourist venue. The intent is to better understand what the individual foreign visitor wants, compared to domestics visitors, and therefore provide tailored post-visit value offers, but to be able to aggregate data to make bigger picture classifications, such as what do people from France buy differently than people from India? This clearly has a value to global entertainment, resort and theme park brands. What is the other implication? Let’s consider the data can also be used to support homeland security efforts.

A few years ago, my article on the viral adoption of wireless toll collecting appeared in this publication. The RFID tag on the windshield of your car took away some of the pain of the daily commute. This week, two patents were awarded to PARC Xerox that I personally hope will become widely adopted in cities throughout the U.S. Patents 8,671,002 and 8,671,014 cover computer-implemented systems and methods for offering, respectively, merchant’s shopper-friendly and residential parking reservations. Blending wireless vehicle occupancy sensors with smart parking devices tied to a server managing reservations databases, shoppers can reserve spaces in advance at stores, park upon arrival in a designated space, and have parking validated by a merchant based on the shopper’s profile with that merchant. A similar strategy applies for residential buildings. This may make going to the mall a less onerous prospect.

The next award has me still puzzling over how it can be practically and productively used in the real world. DEKA Products Limited Partnership was awarded Patent 8,667,956, “Controllable Launcher.” This is a human launcher, which from the use case described in the patent, is designed to launch and deliver a human to a predefined height, like from ground level to the roof of a building. The reason that I am even talking about this invention is that DEKA is Dean Kaman’s company. Kaman is arguably one of the most notable innovators of our time, and is probably best known for the Segway personal transport device. The DEKA Website does not give us a hint as to the intended commercial use of the launcher, so we will check in periodically for signs of its appearance.

2014
03.13

I am so excited to see my city—yes I am talking about Chicago—get behind supporting women in technology. If you are reading today’s daily than you are absorbing the latest news about 1871, http://www.1871.com/, launching FEMtech, a Chicago-based incubator that will cater to women-owned technology startups. What I love about this idea is how 1871, which itself was only founded just a couple of years ago, continues to find new and creative ways to help digital startups jumpstart their businesses. I have personally witnessed its magic as two of its own—GimmeAnother and Parknav—snagged the top spots in the Connected World magazine Incubator Challenge during our Connected World Conference held during the Chicago Auto Show last month.

Now, with FEMtech, the goal will be to facilitate opportunities for female entrepreneurs by providing access to mentors, educational resources, potential investors, and, most importantly, a supportive community. This last part is truly the key to the success of this endeavor. Having just completed the Connected World’s Women of M2M list I discovered the real lack of true support that women are getting, and even giving, others in the tech industry. Make sure to read the April/May issue of Connected World magazine to see which women made the list this year.

FEMtech can do wonders to help these enterprising women move forward by providing them the tools and guidance they so desperately desire. When starting out successful female entrepreneurs see the glass as half-full rather than half-empty. They seamlessly manage crisis and change, and are turnaround experts. Optimism is their mindset because they see opportunity in everything. Yet, in order to clear a path for greater advancement, females need to tackle the most pressing inconsistencies for which many receive and send mixed messages that are uncomfortable realities that complicate an arguably positive picture of progress for women in business.

We hear time and time again, women are pushing the boundaries when faced with adverse circumstances and talk about confronting challenges. But what I discovered after months of interviews, most women will not openly admit it, unless pressed, that corporate America can do more to advance women.

In fact, most women don’t want to talk about a lack of support within their own companies. Rather they want to talk about what they want to achieve and how they can build a more robust community for upwardly mobile women. Sadly, that’s where it kind of falls apart for many of the women when they get into corporate America. As someone who has worked in the tech industry for as many years as I have—you might even consider me a classic—I have seen firsthand the number of women moving up the ranks is still minimal when you compare the growth of the tech industry as a whole. I have to admit I’m not the only editor that has reported on this phenomenon. Business magazines such as Forbes and Fortune have also written extensively on this subject noting that women should be transcending the ranks. But in the U.S., women actually make up half of the U.S. workforce, but only 25% represent the technology industry.

FEMtech has great possibilities to help look at the big picture and provide mentors with different mindsets, capabilities, and even imaginations. These aspiring entrepreneurs will make strong business decisions. Women by nature are born leaders and with the right mentorship they will not retreat. From all the research I have been doing, there is no better time to reinvest in other females. Personally I’d like to see more female-owned tech startups and more women and men showing their support and not just saying it with words. As FEMtech will show, actions do speak louder than words. And for those who really mean it, here’s a whole new world of untapped potential.

Want to tweet about this article? Use hashtags #entrepreneurs #M2M #women, #females

2014
03.06

Today, it’s all about 4G/LTE. We are continuing the migration to higher-speed, packet-switched networks, and global connectivity. The carriers are all very influential in the demand for yet another “G,” meaning generation, in the fight for faster speeds, whether needed or not. And it’s no wonder AT&T Mobility isn’t being shy about wanting to take a big bite out of the competitive pie. If I take a look back, AT&T raised more than just a few eyebrows when it formally announced its plan to sunset its 2G network in its August 2012 filings. However, it became pretty clear that AT&T had much bigger plans. Those bigger plans have led to unintended consequences resulting in many consumers being frustrated and confused with AT&T and some of its partners.

AT&T Mobility surely can’t afford to stop blossoming, even as a few customers and some partners get trampled. It’s about stock prices, data connections, and maybe even a little bit of ego to be No.1 in the M2M. It’s just business. Right? (Is AT&T headed in the same direction as Best Buy? Hmmmm…)

With its attention on the long ball for rolling out its 4G network strategy, many observers would attest the industry leader is focused on the money. As a result, open season was essentially declared for other network providers and MVNOs to move in on AT&T’s existing 2G customers. And in fact, many did, forging new partnerships. The cellular service providers have seen a steep increase in the use of data services by companies and consumers alike interested in remotely monitoring high-value assets such as a fleet of trucks, or even more mundane machines like elevators and vending machines, or accessing videos.

Some might even believe AT&T is getting bored and wants a greater challenge. Rather, it’s a company that seeks opportunity and you can’t get to the summit of AT&T by leveraging the media. The connected car is the talk of the town because it’s high-volume and it’s where the future is bright and growth will be quicker.

The same executive that was espousing Digital Life less than a year ago is already stepping away, so to speak, and is now overly braggadocio about the connected car. The vista we now see unfolding before us has to do with how AT&T and the automakers are really going to support you the customer. In the past two years AT&T has launched aggressive programs that challenge the status quo in both home security and automotive, but we have yet to see how consumers will truly benefit if they don’t understand the technology and they aren’t safe on the roads. And it’s no wonder that brilliant consumer’s like Mike McCaskey are considering holding off on making car purchases.

The automakers point to the carriers for the problems with the cellphones for not pairing up. The cellular providers are blaming the OEMs and so it goes, and it’s the customers who are left holding the disconnected bag. At this point we are not seeing AT&T doing anything more than pay lip service to the space to get a ton of media play. Where’s the “beef?” How is AT&T helping customers? Building a research facility is nothing more than show and tell. Is adding partners increasing the credibility or is this for show?

AT&T can package its story to appear that it’s really trying to “Drive” the market for the good of consumers by working more closely with automakers on its new connected-car technologies through a program called AT&T Drive. But once again we have to question if this is all for appearances. What I can’t fathom is how the world’s leading carrier is avoiding the real tough questions about LTE and the consumer.

Today, the network world is all about data. As a result, AT&T wants to develop a mobile app for billing, etc. In the end, this is a great way for it to build its data services since it is losing voice customers faster than we can say cellphones. On the surface the new program sounds appealing to the customer, but when you really peel back the layers of the onion you have to question who really benefits.  If AT&T manages the billing it can add additional services and charge vendors for content that they put on the app essentially becoming a content provider.

No surprise here. AT&T says all it is doing is working with partners and they can do whatever they want, and that means offering consumers vendor-sponsored content and thus, consumers win. But in reality, increased services will eventually follow and ultimately AT&T will be helping to control the message and charging for those services with managed partners, and will be crossing a canon of principles that it loathed violators of doing in the past. From where I sit, if AT&T reaches the precipice it will abandon markets, customers, and partners. Kind of makes you wonder why M2M customers and partners keep falling for the silver-tongue story and believing it will never happen to them, but it always does. What are your thoughts?

Want to tweet about this article? Use hashtags #AT&T, #M2M, #IoT, #Carriers, #billing, #data, #LTE, 4G, #2G, #MVNO, #connectedcar, #security, #connectedhome, #automotive

2014
03.04

At the recently concluded 2014 Connected World Conference, colocated with the Chicago Auto Show, Peggy Smedley, Editorial Director of Connected World magazine, announced the 13 global technology trends that will affect all of us who increasingly live in the “connected world.” These are the trends that Connected World will monitor and report on as developments occur.

One trend, the accelerated displacement of humans by connected technology, is drawing increasing scrutiny here in the United States. The essence of the trend concerns the friction between public policy moves, at both Federal and State levels, to increase the minimum wage, and the impact a more costly work force will have on businesses. Peggy called this an insidious “action-reaction” cycle.

The Congressional Budget Office recently issued an assessment of the impact of the new Federal minimum wage increase, the effect of which would, at a wage of $10.10 per hour, reduce the number of low-wage jobs by about a half a million workers by 2016. States and cities can set minimum wages higher than the Federal minimum, and presently, San Francisco, Calif., has the distinction of leading the nation at $10.74 per hour.

It is interesting that a company whose burger-making robot announcement went viral recently, Momentum Machines, is based in San Francisco.

On March 3, 2014, The U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear a labor law case that has significant financial consequences for companies such as Amazon that outsource labor requirements to 3rd party providers. As reported in the March 4th edition of the Wall Street Journal (“Court to Weigh Pay for Security Checks,”) Integrity Staffing Solutions, the staffing company that provides Amazon with workers used in its distribution centers, is coming under review. At issue is whether the time workers went unpaid while waiting for and undergoing theft screenings. They were required to “clock out” of their work shift, and wait up to 25 minutes, unpaid, to go through the screening process. Affecting about 600,000 current and former workers at Amazon facilities, the estimated range of the financial impact is $100 million- $300 million.

It is no secret that Amazon is moving to highly automated operations within its distribution centers, and as I reported in The New Patent Report update of Jan. 28, 2014, it has additional technology that can further reduce the number of humans it needs to process customer orders.

We spoke about the crux of the human displacement trend as the friction that develops when the cost to employ a human in a low-skill function comes within range of a machine that can do the same with a processing rate equal to or exceeding a human worker. Fast-food restaurant chain executives, as an example, make technology-based business decisions and use financial tools such as the ROI (return on Investment) analysis. Essentially, ROI tells an executive how fast the investment in a new technology can be paid back. In an ROI assessment, “hard” and “soft” costs are considered. Examples of hard costs are the acquisition, implementation and ongoing operation of the technology being acquired. Soft costs, when comparing robots to people, could include the elimination of overhead (also called “fringe” and is typically 35-40% of the wage paid to the employee), sick days, union issues, judgmental errors, variable processing rates between workers, language barriers and the negative side of human behavior.

If a robot can displace more than one human, then that is viewed as a hard cost reduction benefit.

If we pay close attention to the details of the story in the Wall Street Journal cited above, the security checks are conducted to ensure that employees are not stealing merchandise from the distribution center after the end of their shift. There is a polite term for this: “Shrinkage” and in the U.S. it is a significant problem. Globally, it is estimated to be about $112 Billion, or 1.4% of retail sales.

It is not hard to imagine the soft cost calculation in the ROI analysis for the elimination of shrinkage. Businesses know the annual dollar amount that employee theft costs them. Divide that by the number of workers to get a per person cost. How many people will the robot replace? Multiply the per person cost by the number of people and that becomes a soft cost avoidance benefit the robot replacement will provide.

While we’ll keep monitoring this situation and report key indicators to you as they occur, it is not too early to ask ourselves the question: Where do the half million people that will lose their jobs because of the minimum wage increase go? And, if they don’t have a job, how can they be continuing consumers of connected devices?

Stay tuned!

2014
03.03

Every day I cover this industry I can’t help but be a little more dumbfounded at what happens. Or should I say what doesn’t happen. The M2M or IoT (Internet of Things), whatever you want to call it, needs to brace itself. As I see it too many companies just don’t get it. And their time is very fleeting. I have two points here: First, let’s look at the cable operators. I don’t understand why they are still dragging their feet when it comes to M2M. Now I know they might bark and complain by this commentary, but most of them simply have not fully embraced the huge opportunity that exists when it comes to value creation for them and their customers.

Jim Dunlap, Cycle30, president has been beating this drum since he started his company a few years back, and I know he’s made some headway here, but still the cable industry has been extremely slow to see all that M2M has to offer. To make a stronger case, in 2013 Dunlap essentially split his company into a telco-cable focus and an M2M focus entity per se.

I had the opportunity to participate in a pretty impressive company meeting to see the inner workings of how Dunlap drives employees, partnerships, and how he views M2M. His goal was to divide the company both from a functional level in terms of staffing and professional services and product development, but more importantly, what I observed was determination to keep the eye on the prize at the business level and to stay ahead of the market in both telco-cable and M2M.

Here’s a company that made our CW 100 because it wanted to be innovative in the billing space from a global perspective unlike a lot of other stagnant companies today. As a result, he did a great job of taking data and turning it into valuable data. This was my exact point in our Mega Trends announcement at our Connected World Conference in February. Here’s my second point, the market is going to observe an implosion, so to speak, as many of the traditional M2M companies will quickly fade despite their behemoth size or whatever M&As they make, because they no longer are serving the right customers.

These companies are becoming bullies and they have lost their way. We have seen it in other industries, and now it’s only a matter of time. I am so impressed with a company like Cycle30 because it keeps moving fast and it is looking ahead. This Seattle-based firm is spending the investments in developing a global presence in this digital world.

Going global doesn’t mean selling global. It means understanding privacy and security, and staying ahead of the innovation curve. All too often companies are playing catch up and threatening others to get there or tossing them to the curb rather than working together to get there.

Those old-school tactics will no longer apply in today’s agile and innovative marketplace. The IoT is dead. Long live the companies that understand it’s not about putting the Internet first. It’s about all the other things and solutions that go along with it. It’s about having meaningful conversations based on the real value proposition of things like Google acquiring Nest for $3.2 billion. This is just the beginning of bringing value to customers.

Vendors have a lot to learn about what customers want and expect. Customers will drive the market forward the way they want it, not the other way around. That is where value creation will come from. It will be the cornerstone for future growth. Unless vendors learn to respect and treat new customers properly they will never retain them.

Welcome to the new world of innovation. It’s going to be a bumpy ride for most because they don’t even see it coming. It’s too bad more companies don’t possess the Cycle30 secret sauce.

Want to tweet about this article? Use hashtags #Cycle30, #M2M, #IoT, # Internetofthings, #billing, #cable, #Telco, #Innovation, #CW100

2014
02.25

It’s all about manufacturing. And it’s about time. It’s one of those moments you are actually proud of your city, your politicians, and you hope that the mission they espouse will actually be fulfilled. When the City of Chicago announced it landed the $70 million Digital Manufacturing and Design Innovation Institute I couldn’t help but be excited about what the future would finally hold for domestic manufacturers who had been family-owned businesses whose ownership bloodlines have remained unchanged for decades. And it’s these same companies that revealed from 1992-2002 about 90% of America’s most important manufacturing industries lost significant marketshare to goods produced overseas. So talk of an advanced-manufacturing technology lab for Goose Island with the potential to reinvigorate domestic manufacturers by attracting innovation, investment, and even cachet to Chicago, all while cementing the Windy City as a cutting-edge research hub, has been tragically overdue.

It’s not often the federal government doles out big bucks for research so it’s no surprise Mayor Rahm Emanuel is running around telling anyone who will listen that this is a game-changer for Chicago. While President Obama has stated he intends to award other cities with the same research funds to serve as a digital flagship in the coming year, Howard Tullman of 1871 told me the key to competitiveness is sparking innovation through manufacturing, among other things. The Center will be managed by the University of Illinois-affiliated UI Labs. In fact, a second institute is anticipated to be located in Canton, Mich., near Detroit.

Mayor Emanuel is meeting with Obama today and the President expected to officially announce the initiative at the White House. 

With contributions from more than 70 corporate and university partners, the five-year budget is expected to be around $320 million, if not more, as additional partners sign on. More than 40 companies have already signed on such as Boeing Co., General Electric, Caterpillar, John Deere, Honeywell, Procter & Gamble, Dow Chemical Co., Siemens, and Microsoft Corp., just to name a few.

I have to commend the efforts of all the companies and politicians working to together to spark innovation. Back in 2004 I wrote a book entitled Mending Manufacturing, How America Can Manufacture Its Survival. I couldn’t have stressed enough how critical it is to raise awareness to how vital manufacturing is to economic well-being. If and when we all work together, perhaps Chicago can be the model for rebuilding and mending American manufacturing.

2014
02.18

It can be argued that the weekly patent awards announcement from the USPTO (United Stated Patent and Trademark Office) opens a window on the near term evolution of technology developments as well as the direction of the deployment paths that companies are taking to enhance customer engagement. Some patents better illuminate the path that companies are already on, while others signal the potential for complete course changes down different paths. Some show a desire to walk multiple paths while others provide a glimpse of a response to a competitor’s shadow emerging on its own path forward.

The most interesting patent award of February 11 was 8,646,695 (“Combined HF and UHF RFID Device”) assigned to Disney Enterprises, Inc. Not only is it an example of an illumination of a path Disney has been walking to improve the guest experience at its Parks and Resorts, it is an excellent example of just how difficult the technology development path really is.

This award is a culmination of a series of patents beginning in 2010, each of which describe different aspects of a form factor – a wristband that Disney has branded the MagicBand – that is worn by a guest to a Disney theme park such as Disney World in Orlando. The new patent covers the true magic of the wristband, which is the packaging of HF (high frequency) and UHF (ultra-high frequency) chips and their antennae into a very small space. This wristband was initially deployed in January 2013, and is intended to be the key to an enhanced guest experience at the park.

While at Sony, I had the privilege of participating in the early stages of the wristband project, which was the responsibility of Disney’s New Technology Group, based in Orlando. The earliest roots of the project go back to 2007. Disney’s concept was simple: Find a way to combine contactless transactional technology with location-tracking technology in a single form factor that could be worn by a guest and conveniently enable a wide range of experiences such as opening the door to the resort room and providing quick access to the theme park and pre-booked events. It is the replacement to the old PhotoPass card. It was also intended to understand and influence guest behavior in the park. At the time, Disney knew that a guess had entered the park, and had bought something in it. Apart from that, the Orlando theme park was described as a 50 square mile black hole; what the guest was actually doing in the park was a mystery. The introduction of the MagicBand has not been without continuing controversy.

In 2009, the initial engineering specifications for the wristband were issued. At the time, NFC (Near Field Communication) contactless technology was being considered in conjunction with RFID tracking technology.

Here were the challenges Disney faced in 2009. First, there was no ecosystem in its parks – or anywhere for that matter – that would provide pervasive transactional and tracking coverage. POS (point-of-sale) devices did not have NFC capability. RFID access points were not cheap. NFC and RFID chips were also not cheap, and the final cost of the wristband had to make economic sense when considering the millions of units that would be produced and deployed for a lifespan of a few days of use at most.

Disney would have to build out the ecosystem in its theme parks.

The second challenge, specific to the wristband, was the engineering required to place chips and antennae with different frequencies into a space about 1-in. in diameter, not interfere with each other, and have both function effectively when placed against the human body, which creates a barrier that reduces signal strength. If the access point can’t read the signal from the wristband, a transaction or a location check will be missed. In 2009, this of collocation of differing frequencies in a small space was unproven for commercial use. It is interesting to note that one of the persons named in the patent was the CTO of a RFID design and engineering firm that Disney used to solve the problem. Three of the persons named in the patent are with NXP, an NFC chip producer.

As the project evolved, and as we see from the patent’s particulars, HF and UHF, have been successfully combined within the form. Peaceful frequency coexistence was attained, and the issue of positioning relative to interference from the human body mitigated.

You might be asking why it took so long for the MagicBand to be deployed, only coming into use in 2013. If we remember back to 2009, we were slipping into what has been called the Great Recession. The economic justification for deployment of the ecosystem and wristband depended upon a specific level of park attendance. In 2009, the economy was crashing and Disney experienced a significant falloff in attendance. Layoffs commenced, and a number of the senior executives that were champions of the project left the company.

What the MagicBand does today is for the Disney guest provides a baseline of services. It would not be surprising to see additional uses that affect the guest’s experience introduced in the future. Having heard some of the ideas being discussed in 2009, Disney is looking to fulfill its commitment to truly changing the guest experience, elevating it above anything a competitor can offer, while at the same time, optimizing park operating efficiencies and adding new revenue streams.

One has to admire Disney for its persistence through engineering and economic challenges to deliver significant technology-based, game-changing enhancements to customer engagement.

2014
02.12

Since we are holding the Connected World Conference within the Chicago Auto Show, it just makes sense that RacoWireless, www.racowireless.com, and Audi of America, www.audiusa.com, would make one of their biggest announcements of the year as it relates to the connected car at our event. And the two industry giants held true to form announcing that RacoWireless has been chosen to support Audi’s next generation connect program.

Not surprising, the news comes on the heels of Audi and AT&T stealing headlines at CES (Consumer Electronics Show) in Las Vegas by announcing a partnership to provide 4G LTE in Audi’s new line of A3 vehicles starting in 2015.

The promise of a fully connected car is very appealing to many motorists and automakers alike. By using 4G LTE many believe this proves that drivers will soon be able to experience a high-speed, low-latency suite of advanced services and features to enhance the mobile lifestyle. With 4G LTE, drivers can enjoy simultaneous voice navigation, Wi-Fi connectivity, and high-bandwidth data services.

RacoWireless will continue their strong relationship with Audi to provide complete connectivity management, including nonstop, round-the-clock, call-center support, and it will work with AT&T to deliver the most immersive in-car infotainment system available.

One could say that RacoWireless President John Horn is over the moon with the new relationship with AT&T, but it goes to show you that once competitors can quickly make strange bedfellows. For those of us who have been in this space for years, we are all chuckling just a bit to see Horn and Glenn Lurie, president of emerging devices, resale and partnerships, AT&T Mobility, two of the industry’s diehard combatants working together. Rather than focus all their energy on picking on each other during industry panels, they are now waging war on even larger competitors.

“The momentum that we have been able to build with RacoWireless as a partner has been tremendous,” says Anupam Malhotra, Audi’s senior director, Connected Vehicle. “Audi connect continues to lead the industry when it comes to innovation, technology, and overall experience – and we expect that to only continue.”

Horn told me he is thrilled to be working with AT&T. “I think AT&T is offering some good rate plans and they will make a good partner. We are enjoying working with both AT&T and T-Mobile. We have good partners and our customers are creating the best platform with the tools that are easiest to use,” explains Horn.

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