Dec 052015
 
power-station-1

Four days at the Autodesk University in Las Vegas last week confirmed how a radical change has happened in economic development since the turn of this century. The question is whether business and national leaders will accept this new reality.

Andrew McAfee’s session at the Autodesk opening keynote illustrated the declining use of commodities by advanced nations. McAfee’s point dovetailed nicely with that of Kevin Ashton a few weeks earlier in Sydney that energy consumption of devices is falling as well.

Showcased at the conference were the new manufacturing processes, design methods and smart materials showing how we’re now in an age where increasing living standards are not coupled to rising consumption rates.

Falling use of energy and resources, even while living standards and functionality grow, is a direct contrast to the economic models of the past three hundred years where increasing affluence and quality of life meant exponentially increasing demands for energy and commodities.

This point has been missed by many businesses and policy makers, particularly in Australia where the assumption of ever increasing demands for energy has seen massive over-investment in coal and gas export facilities along with the tragic gold plating of the electricity distribution at cost that’s now crippling the nation’s industries and households.

Businesses, and nations, that haven’t recognised the trends will need admit the error, write off those costs and move onto the new model.

For voters, consumers and investors it’s time to demand leaders of business and government accept the 21st Century economic model is very different to that of the previous century.

Dec 032015
 
dav

“With technology I’m free,” says Hugh Herr of MIT Media Lab in the finishing segment of the Autodesk University 2015 opening keynote.

Herr was describing how he overcame losing both his legs to frostbite at age 17 after being caught in a blizzard. Determined to continue his passion for climbing he started developing better prosthetics, studied mechanical engineering and became the leader of MIT Media Lab’s Biomechatronics Group.

Prosthetic design is one of the aspects highlighted by Autodesk in their San Francisco Demonstration Gallery with good reason given the life transforming potential along with the imperatives of designing and manufacturing durable devices.

Design and manufacturing are naturally the key things for Autodesk with CEO Carl Bass outlining some of the possibilities in the opening keynote for the Autodesk University conference in Las Vegas yesterday.

Bass had some thoughts on the current buzzword of innovation, “it’s not one dramatic improvement of everything that came before, it’s most often combination of pragmatic improvements combining and refixing things in really new ways.”

“It’s about doing the really hard work, the often unsexy work, of packaging it all up and making it successful.”

The McGyver IoT

Bass illustrated this view of innovation with a story of  troubleshooting his home lathe by duct taping his smartphone to the machine and using the microphone and gyroscope to detect when the cutting tip was becoming blunt.

As Bass pointed out, his “McGyver concoction” of a phone and duct tape is a good example of a basic Internet of Things application where sensors, this time built into the smartphone, detect the state of a machine. It’s a small step from there to developing lathes that change their own cutting tools when required.

Combining the IoT into design where a product’s design changes on feedback from its environment was a key part of the day’s discussions and touched upon Skylar Tibbit’s work on intelligent materials.

Autodesk CTO Jeff Kowalski took the longer view of how the shift from passive to generative design methods will change the way we work stating boldly, “in the next twenty years we’ll see more change in the nature of work than we’ve seen in the last two thousand.”

Rethinking manufacturing

Kowlaski pointed out how the way of working where a craftsman has to point a tool at materials to form them is now being left behind as we start to see materials, and machines, that can manufacture themselves.

For the present design and manufacture by humans remains the way we do things and in the media sessions one of the case studies was Airbus’ bionic partition where the company’s Bastian Schaefer and Autodesk’s David Benjamin described the process of redesigning a basic aircraft part.

The results of a combination of 3D printing – in this case laser sintering of a metal alloy – and generative design resulted in a partition 45% lighter and eight percent thinner, savings not insubstantial when every kilo in an airliner costs its operator 106Kg of kerosene each year.

An age of reduced consumption

Reducing the resources being used was a key part of Andrew Mcafee’s keynote presentation where he describes a ‘dematerialising’ economy where a modern society is using less in the way of resources and energy while still improving living standards.

 

Overall, the first day of the Autodesk University conference was an interesting exploration into how design and technology is changing lives both on the societal level and for individuals, as Hugh Herr’s story attests.

Paul travelled to Las Vegas as a guest of Autodesk

Nov 052015
 
san-francisco-election-propostions

Proposition F, the local government initiative to restrict short term rentals in San Francsico, failed in that city elections yesterday.

Needless to say, AirBnB is pretty happy about this but the problems of unaffordable cities will continue.

Update: Emboldened by their victory in San Francisco, AirBnB now intends to roll out ‘community groups‘ to fight regulations across the US.

Airbnb says it will provide resources and some infrastructure to these local groups but expects hosts and guests to ultimately run them as the clubs proliferate in the same “grassroots” manner that Airbnb itself has grown. The clubs are meant to organize and advocate for home-sharing with their local city councils and elsewhere in the community. When pressed, Lehane declined to specify how much, exactly, Airbnb would spend on the clubs.

This overt politicising – it’s hard to call it ‘astroturfing’ when the company is so open about it – is interesting on a number of levels and it illustrates shows how the promise of renewed community engagement and activism through the internet has been usurped by corporate interests.

Oct 152015
 
twitter-headquarters

The turmoil at Twitter continues with the directionless service announcing they will lay off eight percent of its workforce – over 300 jobs.

At the same time, the company also announced Google’s Chief Business Officer,Omid Kordestani, would become Twitter’s Executive Chairman.

To compound Twitter’s problems payment system Square announced it will have a stock market IPO, given the two companies share the same CEO and co-founder it’s hard to think Twitter will get the management attention it desperately needs.

It’s hard not to think that Twitter is going to be absorbed by Google, certainly the search engine giant can afford it and they have struggled with social media – although it’s questionable how much Twitter’s star struck management understands its own users, let alone social media in general.

A combination of Twitter’s ineffectual management coupled with Google’s which has consistently shown it struggles with the concept of social media and has a horrible habit of neglecting then shutting down services it loses interest in would probably prove fatal for the service.

Should Twitter fall into Google’s arms and then die of neglect it will be the case of a good idea that was monetized too fast and a management that never quite understood what it was doing.

Sep 262015
 
obama-xi-state-visit

Presidents Obama and Xi have agreed to curb economic cyber espionage between the two countries during the Chinese Premier’s state visit to the United States today.

It’s a welcome move, but one suspects neither country will resist the opportunity to get a commercial advantage and increasingly the divide between a state and corporate interests has become blurred.

 

 

Sep 152015
 
uber-logos

“We’re building the cities of the future” claims David Plouffe, Uber’s Senior Vice President for Policy & Strategy.

Plouffe was speaking in Uber’s head office ahead of this year’s Dreamforce conference where the transportation disrupter was announcing the next phases of its Uber Business service.

While western societies still remain car dependent, there’s a shift underway as people prefer to live in the cities rather than the suburbs and the far flung exurbs, particularly for younger people. “For my generation it was a big deal to get a car,” says the 48 year old Plouffe. “Millennials today don’t have that same identification – they don’t want to own a car.”

That shift, which is not just confined to millennials, presents challenges for cities believes Plouffe. “Cities need to support people who are moving in at historic rates,” he says. “Our cities are facing huge challenges.”

“Every city is facing congestion challenges which will only get worse over the next ten to fifteen years as the number of people moving into the world cities at a historic pace.”

“Most cities do not have the will or the money to build new public transportation systems,” Plouffe says. “The only way they are going to deal with this is for people to buy less cars, families to only have one car and to reduce the number of cars on the road.”

Not surprisingly, Plouffe sees this as being where Uber can help in expanding accessible and affordable transport to parts of cities which are unlikely to get public transit and to increase the carrying capacity of existing infrastructure.

This is an interesting point of view and one that has some validity if we accept the view that ‘on-demand’ services like Uber and others are actually aimed at all groups and not just the affluent upper middle classes and the rich.

For cities struggling to meet the demands of growing populations and shrinking budgets, services like Uber and Lyft may be part of the answer. That though will take some reform and a change of attitude from many regulators.