|Rapid developments in solar cells, LED lighting and energy storage are creating great opportunities for solar-powered solid-state lighting, says Moneer Azzam of SolarOne Solutions.|
|The outdoor lighting industry, as with so many other application-oriented industries, assumes that the power source is infinite and always available. This is a tribute to the reliability of the electric grid – at least in developed-world nations. It has certainly made life simpler for the lamp/lighting designers who, for the most part, are able to divorce the lamp characteristics from the energy source. The developed world is starting to learn that the power source is far from infinite.*
Some companies are not waiting to see the bottom of the barrel, and are exploring alternatives that range from replacement power sources to energy demand reduction. A number of companies are developing technologies that achieve both: SolarOne Solutions’ work in solar-powered solid-state lighting under the SOLED™ brand name is an example of this.
[* Estimates indicate at current levels of energy usage, the earth has about 150 years of energy stored in the form of oil, coal and uranium. However, if the entire population of the earth consumed as much as Americans’ do on a per capita basis, that amount drops to 15 or 20 years.]
Once they’ve gathered enough stuff, they have to find places to store all of it.
Comedian George Carlin has a routine in which he talks about how humans seem to spend their lives accumulating “stuff.” Once they’ve gathered enough stuff, they have to find places to store all of it. If Carlin were to update that routine today, he could make the same observation about computer information. It seems that everyone with a computer spends a lot of time acquiring data and then trying to find a way to store it.
For some computer owners, finding enough storage space to hold all the data they’ve acquired is a real challenge. Some people invest in larger hard drives. Others prefer external storage devices like thumb drives or compact discs. Desperate computer owners might delete entire folders worth of old files in order to make space for new information. But some are choosing to rely on a growing trend: cloud storage.
While cloud storage sounds like it has something to do with weather fronts and storm systems, it really refers to saving data to an off-site storage system maintained by a third party. Instead of storing information to your computer’s hard drive or other local storage device, you save it to a remote database. The Internet provides the connection between your computer and the database.
On the surface, cloud storage has several advantages over traditional data storage. For example, if you store your data on a cloud storage system, you’ll be able to get to that data from any location that has Internet access. You wouldn’t need to carry around a physical storage device or use the same computer to save and retrieve your information. With the right storage system, you could even allow other people to access the data, turning a personal project into a collaborative effort.
So cloud storage is convenient and offers more flexibility, but how does it work?
There are hundreds of different cloud storage systems. Some have a very specific focus, such as storing Web e-mail messages or digital pictures. Others are available to store all forms of digital data. Some cloud storage systems are small operations, while others are so large that the physical equipment can fill up an entire warehouse. The facilities that house cloud storage systems are called data centers.
At its most basic level, a cloud storage system needs just one data server connected to the Internet. A client (e.g., a computer user subscribing to a cloud storage service) sends copies of files over the Internet to the data server, which then records the information. When the client wishes to retrieve the information, he or she accesses the data server through a Web-based interface. The server then either sends the files back to the client or allows the client to access and manipulate the files on the server itself.
Cloud storage systems generally rely on hundreds of data servers. Because computers occasionally require maintenance or repair, it’s important to store the same information on multiple machines. This is called redundancy. Without redundancy, a cloud storage system couldn’t ensure clients that they could access their information at any given time. Most systems store the same data on servers that use different power supplies. That way, clients can access their data even if one power supply fails.
Not all cloud storage clients are worried about running out of storage space. They use cloud storage as a way to create backups of data. If something happens to the client’s computer system, the data survives off-site. It’s a digital-age variation of “don’t put all your eggs in one basket.”
What are some examples of cloud storage systems?
Examples of Cloud Storage
There are hundreds of cloud storage providers on the Web, and their numbers seem to increase every day. Not only are there a lot of companies competing to provide storage, but also the amount of storage each company offers to clients seems to grow regularly.
You’re probably familiar with several providers of cloud storage services, though you might not think of them in that way. Here are a few well-known companies that offer some form of cloud storage:
- Google Docs allows users to upload documents, spreadsheets and presentations to Google‘s data servers. Users can edit files using a Google application. Users can also publish documents so that other people can read them or even make edits, which means Google Docs is also an example of cloud computing.
- Web e-mail providers like Gmail, Hotmail and Yahoo! Mail store e-mail messages on their own servers. Users can access their e-mail from computers and other devices connected to the Internet.
- Sites like Flickr and Picasa host millions of digital photographs. Their users create online photo albums by uploading pictures directly to the services’ servers.
- YouTube hosts millions of user-uploaded video files.
- Web site hosting companies like StartLogic, Hostmonster and GoDaddy store the files and data for client Web sites.
- Social networking sites like Facebook and MySpace allow members to post pictures and other content. All of that content is stored on the respective site’s servers.
- Services like Xdrive, MediaMax and Strongspace offer storage space for any kind of digital data.
Some of the services listed above are free. Others charge a flat fee for a certain amount of storage, and still others have a sliding scale depending on what the client needs. In general, the price for online storage has fallen as more companies have entered the industry. Even many of the companies that charge for digital storage offer at least a certain amount for free.
Is there enough of a demand for storage to support all the companies jumping into the market? Some people think that if there’s space to be filled, someone will fill it. Others think the industry is destined to experience a crash not unlike the dot-com bubble burst in 2000. We’ll have to wait and see.
What are some potential cloud storage problems?
Concerns about Cloud Storage
The two biggest concerns about cloud storage are reliability and security. Clients aren’t likely to entrust their data to another company without a guarantee that they’ll be able to access their information whenever they want and no one else will be able to get at it.
To secure data, most systems use a combination of techniques, including:
- Encryption, which means they use a complex algorithm to encode information. To decode the encrypted files, a user needs the encryption key. While it’s possible to crack encrypted information, most hackers don’t have access to the amount of computer processing power they would need to decrypt information.
- Authentication processes, which require to create a user name and password.
- Authorization practices — the client lists the people who are authorized to access information stored on the cloud system. Many corporations have multiple levels of authorization. For example, a front-line employee might have very limited access to data stored on a cloud system, while the head of human resources might have extensive access to files.
Even with these protective measures in place, many people worry that data saved on a remote storage system is vulnerable. There’s always the possibility that a hacker will find an electronic back door and access data. Hackers could also attempt to steal the physical machines on which data are stored. A disgruntled employee could alter or destroy data using his or her authenticated user name and password. Cloud storage companies invest a lot of money in security measures in order to limit the possibility of data theft or corruption.
The other big concern, reliability, is just as important as security. An unstable cloud storage system is a liability. No one wants to save data to a failure-prone system, nor do they want to trust a company that isn’t financially stable. While most cloud storage systems try to address this concern through redundancy techniques, there’s still the possibility that an entire system could crash and leave clients with no way to access their saved data.
Cloud storage companies live and die by their reputations. It’s in each company’s best interests to provide the most secure and reliable service possible. If a company can’t meet these basic client expectations, it doesn’t have much of a chance — there are too many other options available on the market.
Last week the New York Times broke news of a top secret lab where secret Googlers are tinkering on more than 100 fantasy projects that may or may not ever come to market. It’s called Google X Lab and it’s filled with robots, self-driving cars (those are definitely real) and real-world devices not traditionally connected to the Internet that will be wired-up into a future Web of Things.
What if Google doesn’t get connected devices any better than the company allegedly “doesn’t get social” technologies, though? Just because the advertising and search giant is working on it doesn’t mean Google can really build an elevator to space, of course. In the mean time, other companies are building connected device technology that sounds futuristic but is actually going to market right now. Those companies may compete with Google in the future; just as Google didn’t invent the search market it now owns, incumbents can’t rest easy yet just because they’re first, either. But what they’re bringing to market already is pretty cool.
A Ten Year Old Market, Now Changing Fast
Ten year old Massachusetts firm Axeda is a leading provider of what it calls “a cloud for connected products.” It provides a cloud-based software layer that draws in streams of device sensor and machine data originally intended only for monitoring the firmware of say a dishwashing machine, translates that into discernable business objects like temperature, location and performance metrics, then offers an application programming interface for developers to interact back with the real-world devices that the data was gathered from.
I don’t often take calls from companies that say they want to tell me about themselves based on a well-known story in the news, like Google X, but Axeda is really interesting and has some great stories to tell about connected devices that are on the market today or will be very soon. The following are the examples they shared and a good overview of the kinds of things that connected devices, what Google calls the Web of Things, what others call the Internet of Things and what Axeda calls the cloud for connected products, is shaping up to look like.
The connected device market is dominated today by healthcare applications, and some examples of those are discussed below, but the paradigm is already extending into other applications throughout everyday life.
Speed Signs as a Service
If you’ve ever driven past one of those big signs on a road that show you your own driving speed, you might have wondered who else was seeing that information. Originally, no one else was. A company called AllTraffic sold those signs to government agencies around the US as a hardware play. Stick it on the side of the road and show people how fast they are going – hopefully it will cause speeders to slow down.
About a year and a half ago, though, they connected those blinking signs to a web portal accessible by police headquarters and citizens, using Axeda’s connectivity technology. Now they sell access as a subscription and they’ve changed from being a hardware vendor into a software and service vendor.
Bill Zujewski, EVP of Product Strategy and Marketing at Axeda, says that the effect in that case is the same kind of thing Google is going to try to do: to change the consumer experience by adding connectivity to devices. Everyone knows what it means to have OnStar added to a car, for example – it enables emergency services on a whole new level. Now think of that same kind of experience-changing connectivity added to other products.
Kodak’s Pulse photo frames, for example, represent the same kind of shift – that company took a commodity object, the picture frame, and turned it into a wired-up social center of consumer value. Anyone in possession of the right email address can send photos directly from their phones into the picture frames of family members.
Meanwhile, insurance companies are working on pulling the information out of a car’s engine that mechanics do during diagnostics and sending it persistently over a cellular connection, up to a web portal for end-user applications. Teen drivers won’t be able to speed, hit the brakes hard or drive through geofences without that being visible to any approved eyes.
Managing the Machines
Zujewski says Axeda works primarily with B2B companies, traditionally in the form of asset management. One company that provides high-end industrial equipment for cutting fabric, outside the price range of many small firms in the clothing and apparel industry, has begun using Axeda’s technology to embed a “pay as you go” model. A sensor takes data off the equipment, sends it to the equipment provider via cellular connection and then sends a monthly bill charging for the amount of use the machine saw.
Likewise, there are places around the world, Zujewski says, where fabric cutting machines get used in excessively high heat and humidity. The machines keep breaking and it’s expensive to repair them under warranty – so machine manufacturers find it quite valuable to be able tomonitor that the conditions their equipment is being used in are compliant with the terms of those warranties. All it takes is a USB port. It’s too bad they can’t monitor the working conditions of the factory wetware the same way. There may be eternal judgement for that, though.
Machines in the Home
Medical devices are one of the primary use-cases for device connectivity, but that doesn’t always mean in-hospital inventory. Sometimes it means enabling people to avoid hospitals.
Zujewski says his company is working with a manufacturer of kidney dialysis machines, for example, to add monitoring and connectivity to equipment that usually requires weekly trips into a hospital. “By connecting them, the providers can monitor them,” he says, you call pull data off the machines to make sure they’re working well. There are lots of consumables [medication] involved with dialysis and connected monitoring technology can automatically create an order to ship replenishment of those when needed.”
“Some of these efforts may connect to mobile apps, but we connect to the cloud as our primary focus,” Zujewski says.
“I think Google may think there’s an Android play here as well, connecting things like sports equipment, your home and your car to communicate with your mobile device.”That’s the future where things are going: your appliances in your home are getting more computerized, they are running more on software than on mechanical parts.”
This Dishwashing Isn’t Just Magic, It’s Efficient
Zujewski shared a story with me about a dishwasher manufacturer that made a mistake. The company didn’t program its rinse cycle to be long enough and was getting thousands of phone calls from customers complaining that the machines weren’t working well. The company sent a technician out to reset the rinse cycle timers – but future iterations of the machines saved all those costs by adding read/write cellular connections to the dishwasher computers that could be re-calibrated remotely.
Ovens, dishwashers, all kinds of appliances get shipped from the factory with certain assumptions. Add connectivity and they can be optimized, in the field, remotely.
That appeals to manufacturers and consumers – but once the computer is on board, you may as well start building apps that add value directly to the consumer as well.
Want to start the pre-heating cycle from your phone, while on your way home? Can’t remember if you turned your oven off or not? An application framework layer on those devices enables engagement with the devices themselves via mobile device.
“Because cellular connection capabilities for these devices are coming down from hundreds of dollars, sprinklers, garage doors, smoke detectors, all kinds of things are being experimented with as connected devices,” Zujewski says. “It wasn’t economic before because consumers wouldn’t pay for that connectivity, but if it was a couple cents a month, then they will. Right now, costs are around $50 per month to retrofit devices with connectivity, but if you can do it with a chip involved at the origina of design, it can be around $10 per month.”
If you can engineer connectivity right into the product from the start, the price drops dramatically. The sales cycle is long, though, because it takes years to bake connectivity into the core of a device.
And cellular carriers still need to adapt, Zujewski says.
“Carriers are set up for consumer plans, not M2M [Machine to Machine] – that will require unique data plans.”
The Challenges Ahead
If you think Twitter and Facebook spew out a large quantity of data, imagine a refrigerator “checking in” about its temperature and contents all day and night.
“Ideally you could put some intelligence on the device itself so you don’t have to send all your data over the network all the time, but process it locally,” says Zujewski.
“You can now build mini-computers that run the whole Linux kernel on an intelligent agent, locally, and only send data when it changes, with threshold rules, for example. People are starting to put M2M computers on devices and make the processing local.
“The other thing happening is that a lot of early customers use 2G, but they are upgrading to 3G and 4G so even if they have to send a lot of data, the price is falling.
“Storage prices have come way down and we’re using non-relational stores to keep our costs down.”
Will Google Flush M2M Down the Crapper?
What of Google’s entry into the market, though? Are incumbents like Axeda scared?
“Google getting in is a good thing for us,” says Zujewski.
“It’s going to raise the awareness of M2M. When executives in the board room say ‘I see Google connected a smartphone to a dishwasher, why can’t we connect to our equipment or our products?’ it’s going to raise the visibility of what you can do.
“What Google is going to find out is that connecting is pretty hard, a lot of devices aren’t serving data that’s usable. There is a need for a layer that turns the raw available data into usable data like temperatures, etc. into a data model that programmers can use.
“That’s our secret sauce, our unique value proposition: our technology converts raw data into business data.
Zujewski says that most of these data production schemes were implemented by dishwasher or road sign producers five years ago, with no intentions of offering a standardized web services application data layer. They didn’t want to shoot data over pricey networks and store it in expensive storage systems. They just wanted to use a computer in the machine. Everything has changed since then, though. Add connectivity and you’re talking about a qualitatively different phenomenon. Bridging the gap between the status quo and the future is, in this case, non-trivial, Zujewski says. Axeda has to do the work to turn low-level protocols into semantically rich protocols.
“That’s changing,” says Zujewski of the device manufacturers.
“They are going to start embedding our protocol and sending intelligent data over networks. One of our goals is to get our protocol in as many devices as possible.
“We’re fine if Google takes the time to push a protocol, we could embrace that if it takes off. We’ve got a codex server that will translate anything into Axeda protocol and we’ll probably just adopt whatever Google does or support it.
“It’s hard to tell what they’re really aiming to do because you can’t tell what their business driver is. Fortunately for them, they have the luxury of setting up these labs without worrying about that too much right now.”
Axeda has been around for ten years and has seen the technology intended for manufacturer cost-savings turn into a nascent platform for value delivered to consumers and a point of competitive differentiation.
“The business case to date today has been about taking costs out of managing your products, remote service and software management,” Zujewski told me. “That’s been paying our bills. But we’re also starting to see revenue generation of connected products where the connectivity serves the user. It’s a competitive differentiator and device vendors will soon begin competing with value added services based on connectivity.”
How fast will this paradigm reach ubiquity? Zujewski says Axeda is working with one vendor that’s network-connecting…toilets. From prisons to large exhibit halls, you don’t want water running day and night from a large number of toilets. Axeda’s sensor-cloud-application platform can detect, report and facilitate management of one toilet out of a thousand that’s broken. That’s not live yet, but toilets will be connected to the Internet in 2012, Zujewski says.
That may be the future, but not by very far.
What have you got, Google?
Smartphones and handheld devices are laying out the path to mobile computing, a phenomenon and trend in technology that is heartily embraced by users all over the globe. As a result, mobile browsing activity has increased by 1000 percent from 2009 to 2011 and still currently on the rise as steady sales of smartphones and mobile devices (with internet enabled features) increases and never decreases in demand.
The rise of mobile browsing is a proof why mobile optimized web design is necessary to enable businesses with websites reach the millions of mobile users who access the internet every day. According to statistics, an estimated 25 percent (1 in 4) of mobile users access the internet at least once daily.
The Need for Mobile Optimized Web Design
A website design both optimized for web and mobile browsers is necessary to effectively reach more audiences. It should be flexible and compatible to any types of platforms and can detect mobile visitors. This increases the possibility of attracting potential customers, and pleases the current ones.
Failure to optimize your website for mobile browsers could mean a great loss of potential leads and conversions that could have gotten you a steady flow of business profits.
Is Mobile Web Design Optimization Affordable?
You might be wondering if how much it would cost you to have your website design optimized for mobile browsers. But, the important question you should ask yourself is can I afford NOT to have a mobile optimized website?
You should consider weighing the advantages brought by a mobile optimized website against the disadvantages of not having one. As the mobile market is constantly growing, you should take the advantage of lesser competition as there are still lots of businesses who haven’t realize its importance. Once the market will become saturated, you’re already on the top, enjoying the privilege of the first ones that made the shift.
Though optimizing your website for mobile users may cost you a bit, but it is worth the investment. Its long-term benefits and advantages will not only help your business grow but will also diversify your source of traffic and help your target audience find your services anywhere and anytime at the helm of their pockets.
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Key Terms to know:
3g vs 4g:
A startup is a human institution designed to deliver a new product or service under conditions of extreme uncertainty.
For hard-core runners, carrying money during a workout can get messy. Many running shorts lack pockets, and those that have them haven’t quite figured out a way to keep the sweat out (we know–gross).
Philadelphia-based Vitaband solves the problem once and for all: The rubber wristband includes a contactless Visa Prepaid debit chip. By setting up and preloading a Bancorp debit account connected to the Vitaband’s chip, wearers can race into any 7-Eleven (or thousands of other merchants) to grab a Gatorade or PowerBar and pay for it by waving their wrists near the wireless payment reader. No need to fumble with sweat-soaked cash or deal with uncomfortable credit cards stuffed into running shorts.
The concept has other benefits; in addition to the debit card, Vitaband bracelets connect to a data file with the wearer’s name and a personalized medical history. In the event of an accident, EMTs can call the toll-free number on the band to download the wearer’s information.
The idea came to Jason Brown after a near miss with a car while jogging. “Out of something potentially disastrous came something practical,” he says.
Brown and his childhood buddy David Waxman founded Vitaband in 2007. They made the decision to not manufacture the bands themselves, but instead to license the health record and debit chip platform to manufacturers to place into all sorts of wearable products, such as watches and clothing.
“We realized that we didn’t want to be in the consumer products business,” Waxman says. “That wasn’t our strength to begin with.”
For Brown and Waxman, it has been a lean five years to reach this point. Initial prototyping took months, and it took even longer to convince manufacturers such as Nathan Performance Gear that the technology was worth licensing. During this process the two buddies have put up about $50,000 of their own money, hit up friends and family for funds and, most recently, turned to investors for additional help. The duo has amassed roughly $750,000, most of which goes into development and marketing.
Looking forward, Waxman says the company’s next challenge will be licensing the platform to manufacturers who serve other markets, including children and senior citizens, as well as health insurance companies. “It’s such an easy way to add an extra layer of service and safety to nearly anything,” he says. “We haven’t come close to tapping its full potential.”
inal Shah is a digital strategist at JWT in New York. Before joining JWT, Jinal worked at Advanta, where she createdideablob.com, the very first social network launched by a financial services company. Follow her @jinal_shah.
As we all know, the spike in smartphone adoption is changing the way users interact with their mobile devices. For instance, phone calls are no longer the point of phones for many of us.
Instead, we expect our phones to perform more complicated tasks in shorter amounts of time, and we take them with us wherever we go. People also treat the smartphone as a first screen, rather than a second screen, because it’s the go-to device to instantly source real-time information like directions, prices, and reviews.
In fact, most people look at their phone about 150 times a day, (that’s roughly once every 6.5 minutes),according to Qualcomm CEO, Paul Jacobs. Those glances are to check incoming e-mail and text messages, but mobile web browsing is exploding as well. In part, that’s because of mobile shopping.
These days, consumers are indeed using their smartphones to bridge the gap between brick-and-mortar stores and ecommerce. IBM reported that Black Friday sales were up 24.3% in 2011 and attributed some of these gains to mobile device purchases, which “surged to 9.8% from 3.2%,” compared to the same time last year.
In an effort to learn more about who these mobile shoppers are, we conducted a quantitative study, zeroing in on adults (we define adults as anyone 18 years old and above) who used a smartphone or tablet to shop during the holiday season. What we found is that consumers are constantly integrating their smartphones into their shopping routines all year round. Below, are seven other interesting facts about how this plays out.
1. Mobile Shopping Doesn’t Equal Mobile Purchasing
While browsing is up, mobile shoppers aren’t necessarily using their phones to complete the purchase cycle. In fact, of all the activities for which shoppers use their phones, purchasing is one of the least popular, with price comparison ranking the highest. Mobile shoppers overwhelmingly cite security concerns as the top reason for not completing purchases with their phones.
2. Men Are More Likely To Consult Their Phone
One thing is clear, men are more likely to use mobile devices as in-store companions for all types of shopping activities, from price comparisons to gathering information for a purchase. Men are also more apt to use their mobile phones for shopping outside of traditional retail settings.
3. Mobile Devices Often Trump Computers
The majority of mobile shopping is done in locations where computers are more readily accessible, such as at home and work. Part of this may be because some employees prefer to do personal browsing and web shopping on a mobile device rather than a computer attached to a corporate network.
4. Mobile Phones Hardly Impact Shopping Habits
Most mobile purchasers say they would buy all or some of the same items, whether or not they were shopping on a mobile device. So while mobile purchasing trends don’t have a huge impact on goods, bought or sold, they do establish a new commerce channel with a potentially different purchase funnel.
5. The Mobile Experience is Good
Of those who shop on their mobile device, 69% believe the experience is either “excellent” or “very good.” Most consider it a convenience to use a mobile device rather than wait in line.
6. But It Still Needs Some Work
Despite the convenience factor of mobile phones, there is plenty of room for improvement, particularly in the user experience of the commerce sites themselves. Most mobile users were dissatisfied with the difficulty of navigating mobile shopping sites, lack of product information on those sites, and the need for better mobile shopping apps. It appears that one of the biggest consumer obstacles — perception of mobile web security — also needs to be addressed more fully before a broader swath of consumers feels comfortable entering credit card info via their smartphones.
7. Touchscreens Are Preferred
We are witnessing a new user behavior that is being driven largely by adoption of tablets and touchscreen phones. These offer an easier web-browsing experience that turns an Amazon.com purchase into what it should be: a natural, no-fuss, alternative that allows for greater convenience.