Driverless Cars becoming a reality

Having spent the best part of 6 hours in the car this weekend visiting the in-laws it gave me time to think about the future of travel. Of course the ultimate answer has to be the ‘transporter’ enabling us to create some sort of worm hole so we can instantly move to wherever we like. That remains a complete fantasy however something which may have been fantasy a few years ago seems to be showing signs of promise and that is the driverless car.

Google is probably most famous for pioneering the development of driveless cars and their progress is quite amazing. See Sebastain Thrun’s TED talk for a ‘progress update’. I for one am totally blown away by what has already been achieved here and am very excited about it. It seems to suggest that reasonable within my lifetime this will be a reality.

What is interesting is Sebastain’s main selling point on it is safety and solving traffic issues. I have no doubt that safety will be improved as surely the vast majority of accidents are caused by user error but would I buy one of these cars for that reason? I doubt it. It will also be interesting to see what happens the first time a driveless car kills somebody. Whose fault is it? A legal nightmare.

I also have my doubts about the claim that it will solve traffic congestion issues. If this truly takes off the demand for cars will go even higher. In theory anybody could ‘drive’ so a child of 10 or a man of 90 who probably doesn’t have a licence at the moment can suddenly add to the traffic demand. Also I can’t see train travel surviving too well and cars will have little competition so it isn’t going to solve the congestion issue but will give a lot more people access to transport, which in theory is brilliant.

However the reason I am excited about it is rather than spend my 6 hours at the weekend pointing the car in the right direction I could have caught up on the news, had some diner, played some video games or even written this blog. My time could have been exponentially more productive and given my time is so precious this is the biggest win for me.

So when we will be able to get one? Your guess is as good as mine and whilst it seems the technology is getting to a stage where it is possible there are a whole heap of other factors to bear in mind before it hits our showrooms. Think about trains the technology must be there to have them autonomous yet we still have drivers. There is an interesting article in Forbes which discusses some of the key blockers we need to overcome.

Without doubt in mind though we will overcome these as the prospect of the driverless car is so amazing and it will change humankind in such a positive way. For now though I’m going to have to stick to the taxi home after a night out in the pub.

Blackberry in the Balance

A lot has been written since BlackBerry (formerly RIM) announced the new BlackBerry 10 OS and their two flagship phones, the Z10 and Q10. I have read several reviews now and all seem to be surprisingly complimentary to BlackBerry on a decent phone and OS which stands alongside some of the current leading smartphones. Many cite the lack of apps as a concern and unfortunately that is just a symptom of BlackBerry coming so late to the party. However many also seem to have overlooked a key feature of BlackBerry’s new devices which could just be enough to save the company.

The BlackBerry traditionally has two main user groups, the young teenager who likes the low cost of the BlackBerry range and BBM (BlackBerry Messenger) and the business man who loved Blackberry’s approach to email. The feature I am talking about is squared aimed at the later of these two customers and is called the BlackBerry Balance. Balance basically splits the phone into two – one side for personal use and the other for corporate use. There are already an estimated 1 billion smartphones in circulation today and you can bet that is not 1 billion users. This is because many people, myself included, carry round 2 phones. One my own personal phone and the other a company issued one and this will be case millions of times over.

So how does BlackBerry Balance work?

Basically it segments the phone into two completely separate parts. The real appeal here is to corporate enterprises because it means the files and apps created on the work side are encrypted and not accessible by the personal side. The corporation can restrict and control what goes in to work side and importantly wipe the data at any point e.g. when you leave the company or the phone is stolen. It then leaves the personal side to be controlled and managed by the user.

This gets around most of the concerns which corporations have about Bring Your Own Devices To Work (BYOD) initiatives. Companies are happy then to issue these devices and consumers are more likely to chose them if they know their company supports them. Or that’s the idea.

An important point to realise here is that the 2 segments are completely separate so this means you will have to install an app twice if you want it both on your work side and personal side. Or even simple things like address books will be separate, it still really is like having two phones.

In my opinion this should be enough for BlackBerry to start saving some of their big corporate accounts and maybe even start to win some back. With increased demand apps will start to follow and BlackBerry will be back in the game.

This of course is not guaranteed by any means and I am concerned about the severity of the split on the phone and doesn’t lend itself to how customer actually want to use the phone. Ideally I’d want Balance to integrate some of work and personal sides together and it feels a bit to rigid at the moment but I do think gives BlackBerry a chance so let’s not write them off just yet.

Windows Frustration

I’m writing this post out of per frustration, it is not a new problem but one I and countless others face day in and day out. I live a pretty busy life, I work full time with an hour commute each way and have a young baby girl. This does not really leave a lot of time for anything. If I want to check my emails or pay a bill or surf the web I pretty much want to do it instantly. Mobile phones and tablets are absolutely genius at this, especially with their ‘apps’. The one that has most recently changed my life (and I literally mean this because it has saved me vitals minutes during the day) is Barclays mobile banks app I can now instantly check my balance, pay a bill or even use it to log into my full account using a PC instead of having that annoying card reader thing. I’m sure other banks have had good apps like this for a while but I think this represents exactly why apps can be brilliant.

So back to subject, whilst I think mobile phones and tablets are great in many ways, quite often I prefer to sit at a desk with a bigger screen and a keyboard. I personally find it a lot more comfortable and often a lot quicker to do things. However, and this is the whole point of this post, I am at my wits end with Microsoft Windows. Firstly when I power on it can take 5 minutes before I can actually access a webpage. 5 mintues!! This is not some really old crumby PC I’m talking about here this is Windows 7 running on a pretty decent machine. Then there is the constant updates windows wants to do, which of course require a full restart! Now I get that some updates will requests on my Android phone but they are few and far between and of course any app updates don’t require a restart so just happen in the background most of the time.

I thought Hibernation was my answer. It moves the PC to very low power usage and brings the benefit of a quick turn on except I have a major issue with this. The wireless adaptor gets turned off during hibernation has been turned off and this seems to take a age to turn back on. In fact I’ve just tested it and it has taken 70 secs!!! Now I’ve tried to mess around with settings to avoid this turning off and/or trying to make the wireless adaptor turned on more quickly but to no avail.

I’m not sure I hundred percent blame Microsoft for this issue. I suspect not every Windows machine has this issue but rather it is the fact that the hardware and software are made almost exclusively by different companies. In may case the laptop was put together by HP and with the literally thousands of wireless cards to choose from which can be produced by any manufacture quality is likely to suffer and these little ‘glitches’ occur from specific set ups. This is the beauty of Apple, they not only make the software but also control the hardware too meaning they can ensure a top quality user experience.

Of course Microsoft themselves have changed their long term strategy and released Windows 8 with the Microsoft Surface. This is hardware and software all by Microsoft. Whether the Windows 8 software proves successful or not remains to be seen but I think this is a good move by Microsoft and should hopefully lead to a high quality set of Windows running devices which just work. And maybe, just maybe I’ll be able to claw back some of those valuable seconds.

Smart TV – somebody save us

After having my sister’s 32 inch TV in my bedroom for the last 2 years I recently had to give  back to her after her return from Australia. This has of course prompted me to look into the world of TVs to see what I can replace this huge vacuüm with.

Firstly I’m pleasantly surprised by the value for money which is out there at the moment. It is very easy to pick up a pretty decent LED TV for around £300, this is an absolute bargain and shows what fierce competition there is out there. However me being the enthusiast (read geek) that I am I don’t just want a standard TV I want an internet TV a.k.a. a Smart TV!! The problem is they don’t seem very smart…


Cost isn’t a problem. Spend around £500 and you can get a lower end Smart TV but it doesn’t look like anybody has cracked the market. For a start manufactures have so many models it is ridiculous and the names of these models is completely meaningless. For example Samsung has the UE40EH5300. What on earth is that? I can just about guess it is a 40 inch screen but that’s about as descriptive as it gets and why is it about £100 cheaper than the UE40ES6300? There are countless more examples and so far I haven’t worked out the formula.

The good news is that the Smart TV capability seems to be identical across all the TVs of a particular manufacturer. So if it is a Smart TV (no mention of that in the product name Samsung) then you can connect it to the internet (although maybe or maybe not wirelessly) through the manufactures online hub. Now here come the most important thing for a TV, the content and usability. It seems nobody has nailed these two things.

I accept that getting content right is hard. With so many content providers it is a legal minefield to get all the wranglings sorted out but really if you get the big players you’ll hit 90% of content and all parties will want to find a solution so it will come. The issue will be when exclusive partnerships are formed so you can only watch x channel on y TV – this needs to be avoided at all costs and we as consumers need to make sure we won’t accept this.


So then on to usability, without doubt this is where the current TV set up excels. Press the TV on and then select a channel, bang, easy. The channels are all assigned universally recognised numbers so it is fairly easy to remember you favourite channels. Of course the internet works entirely differently and offers far more potential. With this comes complexity and as far as I can tell nobody has managed to wrap the TV interface round this successfully.

There are promising signs. Youview is a great project which merges all the main UK free to air catch up channels into a familiar EPG based on time of original airing. This truly is a step forward but I can’t help thinking it limits us somewhat to our current way of thinking. Surely in the future the time of original airing will be a thing of the past and we will group things by content. Instead I might be interested in period dramas let’s say Downtown Abbey so I will follow the Downtown Abbey stream, the fact that it is aired on ITV on Sunday evenings is now irrelevant to me, I get an alert when a new episode is available and I watch it at my leisure. In fact traditional broadcasters like ITV should be very worried as like music labels they become less important and certainly less powerful.

Is Youtube the future?

So you might be thinking that what I’m describing is the Youtube model and you’d be right, to me this is the future. The secret is going to somehow transfer the usability of youtube into something I can control very quickly from the armchair. In fact Google themselves are trying to break into this arena with products like the ‘NSZ-GS7 Internet Player with Google TV’ (catchy name!). I like the look of the remote with a touch panel included but as yet it has proved unsuccessful.

Opportunity Knocks

All of this points to a huge opportunity for somebody and there is one company everybody is looking to – Apple. Can you imagine a true Apple TV? I’m sure they’ll get the user interface right and the TV obviously will look amazing so it is just whether they can sort the content out and not push the price up too high. If they can then everybody else should be very worried and we could see a repeat of the mp3 player dominance by Apple and a return to them being the world’s biggest company, I certainly wouldn’t bet against them.


Wireless Power, imagine the possibilities…

OK so you have probably heard about it in the news about wireless charging it was a pretty big thing at CES this year and it looks like all the major mobile manufactures  will have “wireless” charging soon. The technology is still very young and will need to be developed further before we truly have wireless power but it got me thinking, imagine we already had this capability what would the best use be for it? Yeah sure you could have more powerful tablets and mobiles but what new features and tech would it drive? Here’s a few of my suggestions:

  1. The electronic front door. Yeah sure you have these in supermarkets but what I want is to come home after a long day at work and not have to fumble for my keys. The technology exists for this – think your car – but nobody has it on their front doors. I reckon that is because it is a royal pain to feed in an electric supply. With wireless technology everybody will have one.
  2. Fashion – I could see it now, all the “cool kids” will have electric t-shirts initially with various flashing LED lights but further in the future actual screens on their backs showing their favourite band performing or maybe even their twitter feed.
  3. Electric transport – This would start small, assuming the technology would have limited power capabilities initially. So probably on start with push bikes or segways or various alternatives. Yes these already exists but are often limited by range and heavy batteries. From there it would then move up to more meaty things like motorbike and of course cars. Could this be what final kick starts the electric car? Oh and of course we might final get the hover-board!!
  4. Gardening tools – Ok these definitely already exist and are mainstream but I really get hacked off by all the wires. Be it the lawnmower, the hedge trimmer, the trimmer or the power washer I’m seem to spend half my time untangling or trying to avoid electrocuting myself by cutting through the wire. Most of these tools are available wire free in petrol form but that is messy and rather extreme for many people. So maybe not something new but definitely an improvement.
  5. Temperature Control – Ok I’m probably thinking Embroidered Polo Shirts Online again here but this time rather than fashion I’m thinking practicalities. We humans are quite fussy when it comes to temperature and like things a certain way, 37 degrees sort of way. That is why I reckon whether it be big thermal gloves with electric heating elements in them or summer air-conditioned jacket – like this one. I reckon people will love them.

So that’s my prediction, I’m sure there are almost infinite applications out there and the technology capacity / range will dictate a lot of what can and can’t be done and then of course there is the pricing which may prohibit use. Unlike some other technologies though I’m really excited about the possibilities here and think it will be a huge step forward for humanity when we final crack it.