No, self-driving cars are still not around the corner

March 20, 2018

Self-driving carAutonomous cars have been a hot topic for a couple of years now. It is indeed a very interesting and complex technical challenge connected to potential resolution of very serious problems and innovative use cases. But it is also about culture and liability which I believe always takes very long time to cope with.

The tragic news that a car in an autonomous trial in US killed a woman yesterday can’t be a surprise to anyone. There has been a lot of accidents with autonomous cars before, traffic is very dangerous and cars kill people every day. Each accident is followed up carefully to understand what happened, why and who is to be blamed for what. Traffic rules, law, policies, insurances, vendor responsibilities etc are in place to help deal with these tragic events. Here is the core problem with autonomous cars – when a car make a mistake, who is liable? And, do I want to meet self-driving cars on the road or fly airplanes without pilots?

Already in the Reuter article we start to see arguments about who owned the software in the car, which brand it had, if the car actually did anything wrong or if a person driving would have been able to avoid the collision. Also that the woman seems to have walked outside the crosswalk, that she had a bicycle and that she might have been homeless. But truth is that it is unclear who is responsible and for what.

I remain convinced that we will not have self-driving cars on normal roads together with other traffic and in normal speed until you and I are ready to have our kids walking to school meeting those cars. My best guess is not before 2030. And given that “rain, snow and ice are particularly challenging for autonomous cars” maybe we just should forget about it in Sweden.

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Even if we can, maybe we shouldn’t…

February 17, 2018

sky-earth-galaxy-universe.jpgInternet has enabled a new type of business opportunity where an internet based “business system” is used to collect, organise, manage and market a lot of small and local businesses or individuals, across boarders. Popular examples today are taxi, food delivery and renting of private homes. This is obviously a very efficient way of re-organising a business (think replacing hundreds, thousands or millions of business systems and people) and it provides the users with some really neat new features (think use the same taxi app wherever you go, get rated drivers and pay automatically from your credit card). It also provides the people who actually deliver the services advantages (think efficient marketing, rated customers and maybe low barriers to start their business). The most common issue raised by Uber drivers and hotels that I have been talking to lately is that the commission is high (maybe 20-25%). No wonder that investors are working hard to figure out who the winners will be in different market segments.

The hotel booking market is another one where the internet giants have added great value and taken over huge parts of the global market. I use Hotels.com and others might use Booking, Momondo, Trivago, Expedia or Agoda to name some. But few are aware that almost all are owned by Expedia or Priceline (Expedia has spun out TripAdvisor to Nasdaq so let’s leave them out for now) who together turn over some $20B with some 40.000 employees. Expedia and Priceline control over 90% of external hotel bookings in Sweden (Sydsvenskan Oct 2017). The combination of price pressure and high commissions makes life difficult for hotel owners and many fear the next recession.  

I’m missing a sober debate about these types of businesses because it is easy to see potential problems around the corner. Very successful internet services tend to have very little competition when market dominance is created, and economies of scale and strong internal currency based on their stock market valuation makes it almost impossible to build an alternative. Monopolies or oligopolies and market economy don’t go hand in hand, which is why this is serious. Another area to consider is how these businesses impact the local society. Just because we can create an internet “business system” for renting out apartments globally, it might be that it goes against laws, culture and objectives in a local community. On that note I’ve come across neighbours who find the building they own together almost turned into a hotel, parts of cities where schools, shops and such services have closed since too few locals remain, tax related issues and sometimes very low salaries and poor working conditions. When Uber Pop was shut down in Sweden 2016 at least 60 drivers were reported convicted for illegal taxi driving (I’ve heard some lost their driving licenses) and I hope that Uber helped them in a similar way a local employer would have had to do. A journalist from Breakit worked two weeks in May 2017 for Uber Eats in Sweden and after 18 hours of bicycling and 172 km on his own bike he made around $5/hour before tax (the compensation has been changed after the publicity). Does these internet businesses have the same objectives as we have locally when it comes to sustainability, work ethics, city planning, social responsibility, equality, privacy, tax and so on? Our national tax systems are not ready for global internet companies (Sweden is supposed to lose hundreds of millions of $ from them) and the international bodies including EU have not sorted this either.

Please don’t get me wrong! I love Uber, Hotels and Airbnb and use them frequently especially when travelling between countries. And I love technology driven innovation. But I do believe we have to take control over the society we live in, ask questions, discuss and ensure it becomes and stay what we want it to be. So even if we can, maybe we shouldn’t do everything technology allows us to do.


The power of making aware

June 1, 2017

It’s common wisdom that what you measure becomes important. That’s how we humans work. A clock makes you focus on time and so on. I consider myself a good driver having been driving 39 years without serious accidents and only a few speed tickets. When my kids practiced for driving license I heard about eco driving and thought that was a great initiative for the youngsters.

In November last year I signed up for the TeliaSense service which promised an easier car ownership through innovative services and features accessible from a nice app. I opted in to an annual inspection service from Bilprovningen, a maintenance service from Bilia and a road side assistance service from Viking which added good value to the car related services and Wi-Fi already in the app. Then in February I got a message that Eco Driving was added to the app and I immediately took a look more out of curiosity than to verify my superior driving skills. What! A big red and angry smiley starring at me! And in that moment I painfully recalled all the times my wife have told me that I’m driving aggressively.
From that day I have looked at the coloured smileys every single day. And guess what, it has changed my driving habits a lot.
I am amazed over my own behaviour! Yes I am a fighter and hate to lose but I would never have guessed that it would take me three months to become a better driver for my wife, my fellow drivers on the road and most importantly for the planet just because my driving was measured from an eco driving point of view and presented in my face.
I have also been presented statistics about what happens to people’s electricity consumption when their consumption is visualised to them and believe visualising individualised behaviour is a really good way to create value from IoT.
I’m working with Springworks who deliver this unique connected car service country by country together with mobile operators like Telia and it feels really good to see all work we do become something as meaningful as this!

Inspiring example: Lightflex prints active light

September 3, 2016

lightflex-sports03Victoria and her team are true entrepreneurs! After many successful years, their current market weakened and through serious discussions with their customers they found the “next big thing” – printing active light. Sounds crazy but that’s what they do to respond to serious needs for people to be seen when falling into the ocean, running in the evenings, skiing, working in dangerous environments or simply to look fantastic. The material they have developed is connected to a battery and can be washed and applied on wearables, helmets and so on. When they won 2015 Outside Gear of the Show together with POC at Interbike 2015 in Las Vegas, their journey really took off.

Today Light Flex Technology are involved with a number of global brands who see great and innovative opportunities in their respective markets. The POC ski helmet is one of my favorites. Light Flex moved to THINGS from Barcelona about a year ago, have won a lot of awards and continue to excite people they get in front of like at the Grand opening of the Olympic Games in Brazil.

Smart Homes For Real

January 7, 2015

_799128_pursepad300Smart Homes is a much talked about opportunity for IoT. It has what it takes to attract a lot of companies and people including those owning, managing, visiting and living or working in them. And beyond that also companies selling products and services for them. And the concept of smart homes is fluffy enough to include the three big deliverables of IoT: sustainability, safety and efficiency, as well as things like economy, comfort, fashion and entertainment.

We all know that a specific solution for every single task or device isn’t good enough. So the approach to make a remote controller for the toaster, one for the fridge and one for the kitchen fan (I actually saw a dedicated remote controller for the fan in Italy and I’m still thinking about the use-case) will not make the job. And we also know that “this is THE network for the SmartHome” approach isn’t taking us there since we already have a lot of different infrastructure and networks in houses and we have a number of different more or less technical requirements on them.

The combination of these two insights makes it hard to come up with Smart Home solutions that will capture large parts of the market, especially if we leave aside new buildings where one can start from scratch. I suggest something like a cluster approach to the challenge where we try to combine infrastructure, applications and tools to provide attractive solutions for larger parts of the Smart Home challenges. Let me give you a couple of examples what that could look like:

  • The ultimate Media solution which uses IP networks to stream content easily and flexibly to and from devices and services (bring the best from Sonos, AirPlay, Spotify, Netflix, etc). Once installed you could add, change and remove hardware and software components easily.
  • A really secure managed infrastructure with a tough SLA for applications and services that require an infrastructure to really trust. Applications could be alarms, door locking systems, smoke detectors and other things you are ready to pay extra for if the service is guaranteed.
  • A kitchen app that interact with all your favourite Internet services for cooking and shopping, your kitchen appliances regardless of brand (or not?) and maybe energy monitoring and advice relating to the kitchen.

I have concluded that we will have at least three networks in our homes: an unmanaged Wi-Fi network which is already there, a managed very secure network with top-notch quality of service and a more generic but still managed network for things like home appliances. WAN solutions will generally speaking be too expensive and will just complement the LANs the way they always had. But some devices connected directly to a mobile network and/or narrow band WAN infrastructure like Sigfox will most certainly be part of the solutions.

One of the most interesting projects I’m currently involved in is a joint effort between a number of Swedish real estate owners and members of our alliance for Swedish IoT entrepreneurs (SMSE) with real estate focus. The request from the real estate owners was “a secure, robust and open service platform for multi-dwelling buildings” which they can install now, keep for years and have app developers to start bringing innovation to tenants, owners and maintenance staff.

We’re working with several technologies and one of the most interesting one is the well established Internet chat protocol XMPP since it provides a promising open architecture to deal with data integrity and privacy issues. We have already pulled together the bits and pieces required to run our first hackathon creating mobile apps on building automation systems talking XMPP. I’m looking forward to the next few months of this project which hopefully include a major hackathon demonstrating the power of this approach.


Inspiring examples: only a click away

July 31, 2014

flicLess is more! A young team in Sweden, Shortcut Labs, are developing a small really useful generic BLE-connected button called flic which you can program to do almost anything with your smartphone. OK? Well, there are three ways to use it: click, double-click and keep pressed. And so what? It’s easily programmable. And what should I use it for? A remote trigger to take photos with your smartphone. Call home from your car with a single click on a button. Turn on Spotify and one of your three favorite playlists on your MC. Tell your family where you are walking if you don’t feel hundred percent safe. Start Siri. And so on.

The Shortcut Labs team has already been at the Highway1 incubator in SF  and been featured in Wired, participated in competitions and events including Internet of Everything For Real™ 2014 in Stockholm. And they are of course members of the Swedish M2M Service Enabler alliance, SMSE. I love the idea and I’m really waiting for my first set of buttons!


What is Google up to?

June 24, 2014

dropcamMergers and acquisitions indicate rapidly growing markets ahead. Google made a 3.2B$ acquisition of Nest in January. Now they just followed on with an acquisition of the Wi-Fi surveillance camera maker Dropcam for 555M$. Thermostats, smoke alarms and cameras – what is Googles plan? I think it is the homes and maybe offices they are after. There are many thermostats, smoke alarms and smart cameras available but Nest and Dropcam definitely comes with a cool design which should at least bring home healthier margins. People love nice products! Google has always been interested in Wi-Fi and it’s not a wild bet that there will be Wi-Fi in homes and offices. But this can’t be enough, they must be going after a service model with recurring revenues and collecting data from these devices to store, manage, analyze and sell. I have always claimed that “data is the gold of M2M” and I am confident that Google shares that view.

Provided I’m right, I still questions that idea. Even if Google spend another couple of B$ to buy companies with cool things (Sonos could be a good target) they will never get market share over maybe 5-10% and scattered around. I understand that they could sell the information back to the users of these devices but that seems to be a difficult path to get the money back. And if they try to sell the data elsewhere I would believe the owners of the devices and policymakers would have a view on that. But Google knows all that. The recurring revenues are obviously attractive but it feels questionable to pay this much to get there.

On top of all I believe their will have to be at least three separate wireless networks in homes: an unmanaged Wi-Fi with good performance but only best effort services, a really secure fully managed network for security related applications like door locks, surveillance and medical monitoring, and maybe even a third managed low bandwidth network for connecting things like fridges, coffee machines, etc. And even worse, we will see a mix of WAN and LAN technologies being used as well. I simply don’t see how one can deliver sensible services like surveillance or smoke detection over an unmanaged best effort Wi-Fi network. Successful companies with such services like Verisure today typically manage their own network.

So I am probably wrong. Goggle sees something I don’t. And they also understand the down-side of connected hardware since Nest just had to recall 440.000 smoke alarms due to a potential risk that they didn’t alarm immediately. But I am happy for their acquisitions since it stimulates entrepreneurs, customers and other companies who consider playing a sincere role in building the Internet of Everything.


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