Friday, December 20, 2013

Drones, Cheap Tablets, The Cloud, Robots and Publishing!

This month we have read of the $38 tablet, Amazon’s statements on the potential use of Drone technology to delivery local parcels and the growth of stuff that is now and predicted to be connected to the Internet. Some would suggest that these are interesting but don’t apply to their world, others would suggest that they are part of the relentless march of technology which is now promising so much, whilst threatening so much at the same time.

Drones have started to revolutionise warfare in the same way that communications did before them. The move from open warfare, to insurgent terrorism, may now start to be redressed once again. Armies who once were exposed by the hidden insurgent and suicide bomber, now have their own crewless spy and attack tool. Like space exploration before it, drone technology will provide us all with new opportunities to do things smarter.

I remember seeing the film ‘Enemy of the State’ when it was released I the late 90s and marvelling at the spy and satellite technology it predicted. Over a year ago a friend in Bath showed us his $100 drone he acquired when he was working in Silicon Valley. It came complete with GPS, camera, video and internet connection to his smartphone. The control, speed, pictures and range where frightening to observe and the privacy issues it raised, frightening to consider. Now that same technology has the potential to go to not only observe, but collate what it sees.

The embedded YOU TUBE video is only a simulation, but makes you think. For more in-depth insights on Drones click here

When Amazon throws down a statement saying that in the future drones could deliver goods, it may be foolish to mock. We always considered individuals having their own personal flying machines to transport them, maybe it’s not people, but goods that get flown around in the near future?

Matternet, A Silicon Valley start-up, Matternet reports that is building a UAV (unmanned aerial vehicles or drones) system that will transport crucial goods in areas where roads aren’t always accessible. They offer a fast, energy efficient opportunity to deliver medicines and emergency relief and remove heavy infrastructural costs. It is claimed that some billion people around the world live in such areas or would greatly benefit.

What we view today as a gimmick, a toy, something for the geek in us, may after all soon be offering us something lifesaving that was developed in a life taking world.

The $38 tablet
It’s not the potential price that matters, but the opportunities that such low price, ubiquitous technology can deliver.

The UbiSlate 7Ci will be priced for the US market at just $37.99. It will not have the sophistication of the more expensive tablets, nor the brand ticket price of others, but it could start to significantly change our storage, processing and network processes in ways the others only talk about. It will have sufficient internally to, send emails, browse the internet, check Facebook, and play simple games. Others will follow which may be a tad more sophisticated, have a higher spec, but all will now compete on a low ticket, commodity price point.

These tablets can enable one tablet per child, one tablet per worker, one tablet for all. This not only offers so much to developing countries, but also to the developed ones too. It could change culture from a local file ownership and manipulation to explode cloud computing to all. The potential benefits to education, community services and the workplace are obvious and huge and it is not hard to see the knock on impact on all mobile technology.

The growth of connected stuff

I am grateful to my good friend a futurist, Ray Hammond, for pointing out that research group, Gartner claim that the Internet of Things (IoT), which excludes PCs, tablets and smartphones and is the network of physical objects that contain embedded technology to communicate and sense or interact with their internal states or the external environment, will grow to 26 billion units installed in 2020 . This will represent nearly a 30-fold increase from 0.9 billion in 2009.

Gartner also claim that this will generate revenues exceeding $300 billion in 2020 and $1.9 trillion in global economic value-add through sales into diverse end markets.


We were all shocked by the BBC documentary on the working performance target driven picking within Amazon warehouses in the UK. For those with a logistics background it was less ‘pick by light’ and more ‘pick in the dark’.
But thanks again to Ray Hammond, we learn that Amazon has quietly deployed 1,400 robots in its US warehouse distribution system. The technology comes from a Kiva Systems Inc., a company it bought last year. They claim that the technology could reduce fulfilment costs by some 20% to 40%,  which not only raises the bar for others, but also demonstrates that it may not just be down to offering the range and service, but also operating to exploit the economics of scale.

Google has just aquired Boston Dynamics a military robotics company.

So what does all this mean to publishing?

First, we must recognise that the age of the cloud is here and its impact on all things digital is only going to grow. With cheap tablets that are basically cloud based you have to have cloud based services that are streaming and on demand and maybe subscription based, and less of the old download and licenced model.

Second, closed communities with cloud access for all, such as education, will need online solutions and platforms. The device doesn’t matter anymore, it’s what is at the end of the connection that does.

Third, the content has to be re-thought and merely pouring physical content into digital containers is not a wise way forward.

Four, the economics of scale and scope will radically change if Amazon successfully deploys robotics for physical goods and few will be able to match those new economics. They also may not be happy to subsidise the rest of the market.

Tomorrow’s winners might just be those with the right investment in technology, robots and of course the delivery drones. 

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