Monday, April 10, 2017

Electric Vehicle for Indian conditions

Widening of roads is not possible in most of the cities and towns in India. Public transportation can carry traffic only to a certain capacity. Traffic management and common sense would certainly help a lot but does  not take away the traffic woes completely.  No doubt, better roads would be required for efficient and safe travel. One of the striking characteristics in Indian traffic is diversity in vehicles. Autos and taxis are essential and cannot be replaced. If we look at the other vehicles, most of the four-wheelers are self driven and has no other passengers. Sitting comfort, AC and closed cabin are mostly the reasons to adopt this mode of transfer. Two-wheeler has discomfort of continuous balancing in busy traffic and hot sun in Indian climate always makes riders sweat unnecessarily. 

Someone could invent an electric vehicle which considers size, cost, efficiency and comfort of travellers by picking the best of attributes from two-wheeler and four-wheeler.

The vehicle should have two thick tyres and it should be self balancing. It's width  cannot be wider than half that of Maruti 800. It should have seating capacity for only two people - front and back - and a complete covering on the head. The closed cabin should be air conditioned. Vehicle should be fitted with solar panels to charge the batteries. Otherwise, there should be provision to charge the vehicle using regular electricity through sockets. 

It should come in different colours and  should go for at least 200 km with full charge. There should be a mobile app which shows how much charge is left and how many more kilometres can be covered. The app should also capture travel information and show analytics around it. Cost of the vehicle should not be more than INR 75k. Insurance should be given for three years.

This vehicle should help avoid using fossil fuels, produce no pollution and mostly standardise the smaller size of vehicle on the road. The last aspect should help streamline the traffic and also make the roads less congested. 

Is it really feasible to make everyone buy this vehicle? What happens to all the existing ones? Well, we had tape-recorders and VCD players once. Where have they gone?!

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Idea # 1 – talking bot !

(I write about few of my ideas, which anyone can pick-up and realize, if interested. The ‘Idea’ article series present some possibilities with technology that could become reality in future)

Aritificial Intelligence (AI) is getting into mainstream and top-notch companies and startups are competetively working hard to improve technologies and create products that could be useful for individuals or enterprises. From healthcare to home automation, manufacturing to gaming, transportation to digital assistants, AI is showing positive impact. AI was long-back realized in the form of Robots, which have got advanced in the Industrial automation domain but yet to show promise and applications in the personal space. While home appliances, smartphones and digital assistants are advancing their smart-capabilities rapidly, their adoption may not happen at the same pace.

The idea here is to come up with a ‘talking bot’, which can listen, understand and respond to a kid, all by voice, while being a good companion.

This bot would not dance, run or even walk. As the name says, it mainly TALKS ! Of course, it also listens, understands and stores information. It can be given to children in the age-group of 7 to 17, but initial setup has to be done by the parents or appropriate adults. The bot should be a specific-purpose device, unlike a smartphone.

Bot should be small in size & portable (around 500 gms), should have variants in physical appearances, must be re-chargeable, should have considerable storage capacity, must be made-up of harmless material, must have in-built microphone and speaker, could have LED indicators and must have a set of pleasant voices to choose. It should be pre-configured not to mention any inappropriate content for a given age. The bot should be able to provide enhanced capabilities with software updates over the air.

As usual, one’s bot should be trained for a specific voice input so that she responds only to that person’s voice. Kids should be able to use it in one of the following three modes

conversation mode (activated by saying ‘let’s talk’)

  • kid should be able to interact with bot about normal, everyday conversations – what’s your favorite color? how did you come to earth? what would you like to have for dinner?
  • bot should be able to answer pleasantly and give creative answers. It must also understand the preferences, feelings, lingo and moods of the kids while sensing timing, location and other external factors
  • based on the mood, timing and other context, bot should ask appropriate questions – how was your day today? did you eat healthy food today? what’s the best thing that happened to you this week? when was the last time you helped someone?
  • kid should be able to talk about small secrets – am angry with dad today, I am scared of darkness, I am going to give a surprise to grandpa on his birthday, these are my best friends etc
  • bot should be able to take commands and execute them – set alarm, remind about event at a time, remind me to carry library book to school tomorrow etc
  • remind about events as requested earlier – tasks, birthdays etc

story mode (activated by saying ‘tell a story’)

  •  kid should be able to mention a theme and bot should tell a story around the same
  • kid should be able to provide some keywords – lion, forest, village, food, happy – and bot should weave and tell a story with those keywords
  • should be able to suggest appropriate books, movies, tv series based on age, gender and environment factors

info mode (activated by saying ‘help me’)

  • bot should be able to answer questions related to facts – tell me a few words about gandhi? why did world war two happen? what is the time now? how is the weather tomorrow? name some freedom fighters in indian independence struggle? how does a refrigerator work? how many elements are there in periodic table? get me a quote by Steve Jobs?
  • bot should be able to retrieve info over internet from service providers or from built-in modules (monetization avenues)

Kids should be able to command the bot to ‘stop talking’ by saying so at any time. Bot should be able to understand the language, dialect and accent spoken by the kid and respond in a manner that the kid understands. Bot should also keep learning continuously from the ealier interactions with the kid. Of course, parents can always get a report of how the bot is used.

This bot could complement the learning that kid undergoes at school and improves his listening, comprehension and debating skills. This bot could be the modern-day genie that answers most of the questions for the kid and be his personal companion.

With fast-pace advancements in science & technology and its impact in different sectors, kids should have appropriate aids to speed-up their learning, while reducing the stress and driving innovation further in future.

Monday, February 6, 2017

Innovation and patterns around Internet

When I started using a smartphone, I was interested in only two things – the first one being the display of all contact information of a person in an organized manner and the second is the display of SMS messages in a window, neatly showing the threaded discussion.

The availability of camera in smartphone caught my attention due to arrival of my daughter into our family at that time. Ability to capture moments overpowered the disappointment of grainy photos. This phase was followed with adoption of productivity tools like gmail and search. I played some games too.

I browse for various kinds of information over Internet and my interests include news, technology, business, movies and blog articles on diverse topics. While I was using browser on Laptop earlier, I tend to consume more information through mobile these days. I find InShorts and Flipboard to be very helpful here.

I took to buying things online easily as I was a credit-card user from early employment days. The likes of Flipkart, Snapdeal and Amazon opened my world to quite a few books, couple of mobiles, computer accessories like USB-drives and SD-cards and a few miscellaneous items. But it was my wife’s easy adoption of apps to ‘request for offline services online’ that fascinated me. That brought to my attention about a hundred miscellaneous services we would all use at some point in our life – pest control, wedding photographer, yoga trainer, tuition master, gym instructor etc. It has given me a new perspective outside the tech world too.

I leverage google maps for navigation, while moving around the city and also in new places. Owing to my interest in movies and music, I happen to consume multimedia content through a wide variety of apps.

I got an account with Facebook and was accessing it once in a while. Realized soon that there were very few contributors to content and it has become another entertainment channel.  Twitter was fascinating for some time but the noise was too much to handle for me. I never had interest to follow any celebrity on Instagram. WhatsApp is one app which I use regularly as it offers personal or group communication by choice, which suits me. I was willing to pay 1 USD fee to access the same and still would, if required.

After I got into Familybirdz, I downloaded a variety of mobile applications and experimented. The number of applications and categories of applications are overwhelming. While the tech industry is buzzing with new opportunities and billion dollar companies, the app landscape is getting cluttered. The fact that consumers phones have limited resources and typically a user would not access more than ten applications on regular basis (and another 10 rarely) is a point worth keeping in mind. While everyone strives to remain among top 10 in user’s minds and phones, the competition would only get intense. Though there are lot of standalone apps in the market, the apps needing access to back-end servers are not less. These are realization of business models with front-end as apps. As we have been seeing, the innovation can happen in technology or business models.

Driving innovation in the future needs understanding of these models at the highest level possible and one way to do that would be with the help of usage-patterns of Internet as a platform. The following are those usage-patterns, from my point of view, and they are applicable independently or in combinations. 

1.       Communication
(email, enterprise messaging, personal social network (relationships, messaging), social media (brand & customer, celebrity & fan, leader & follower), audio / video calls)
2.       Buy / sell THINGS
(books, clothes, groceries, provisions, etc)
3.       Buy / sell SERVICE
(buy insurance policy, reserve a table, book a movie or event ticket, rent a movie etc)
4.       Requesting for a doorstep SERVICE online
(hail a taxi, order food, photographer, plumber, electrician etc)
5.       Execute business PROCESS
(finance approval, content publish workflow, auction etc)
6.       Access CONTENT
(text & multimedia - static or personalized (login), search, browse)
7.       Games
8.       Digital payments
9.       Advertisements
10.   Connecting machines to each other or to people

If a new idea is floated, it can be mapped on to these patterns. If there is potential in the idea, it would follow one of the existing patterns, but with clear differentiation. If it’s an idea outside the purview of these patterns, it ought to be an innovation in new dimension and can creat new markets. Disruption could be caused either way, depending on the impact of idea. If we look back and think about the times when each of the above patterns were introduced, we can understand the disruption these trends have caused in many sectors.

The end-goal of all apps is to provide convenience to the user, increase efficiency of operations, provide entertainment, enhance knowledge or keep informed. Some of the interesting questions to think are – how will it be, when EVERYONE (adults amongst 7+ billion population) in the world has access to ALL 10 patterns mentioned above through Internet? Would there be enough peace and harmony across the globe? Where are we headed with technology?