Can The Chevy Volt Compete With Tesla?

I’m a Detroit guy. I was born there, and even though we moved to California when I was six, I spent summers there with family for years. I even follow the hapless Detroit Lions, if you can believe it. I had a number of cousins and other family and friends that worked in the automotive or related industries and thus I knew first-hand how the decline of the industry brought down a once magnificent city. For those that don’t know, Detroit was once the wealthiest city in the nation.

As a Detroit guy, I keep a close eye on the resurgence of the Big Three (Ford, Chevy and Chrysler). Side-note: buying a Subaru last year was my wife’s idea, she refused to even test-drive an American car. My father referred to the Subaru as a “wimpy little foreign piece of junk.”

Those who have read my previous articles know of my obsession with Tesla. Now, Chevy first introduced the “Volt” in 2007 as a concept and the first production model rolled off the assembly line in 2010. Sales were disappointing and while General Motors does not reveal profit or loss by car model, it’s an acknowledged money loser. Read more

CES 2015-5: Wrap-Up and Impressions

“To boldly go where no man has gone before.”

On line for lunch my final day at CES, the fellow behind me asked what had impressed me most over the past several days. He is in the business of smart TV, he explained – he watches what we watch, and then sends us relevant advertising based upon viewer habits. “But, don’t tell anyone that,” he begged. “People like to think they still have privacy.”

The next morning, a friend asked me the same question. I replied along the lines of some of the thoughts I shared last week, and which I shared with my lunch-line colleague the day before: that the adoption of technology may depend in large measure upon the familiarity of design, e.g., if the devices look, feel, and operate with some form of familiarity. My friend replied, “Do you think that indicates timidity on the part of designers?”

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These vests are built-to-order, and in addition to LED strobe lights can include cameras, Bluetooth communications, GPS, and temperature and other sensors. Accordingly, a firefighter’s vest could communicate location information to a central command in hazardous low-visibility situations; or, a miner’s vest could read air quality and transmit communications to a field office.

It was a great question that unraveled some of my assumptions, and I think that with a week of CES under my belt, I have a better answer: adoption may indeed depend in large measure upon the familiarity of design, but that should not, and does not, foreclose the success of bold and innovative designs. The first iPhone looked, felt and behaved like nothing else, and set a bar for other designers. At the same time, CES showcased numerous familiar and everyday devices that incorporate some level of connectivity, thereby elevating and improving their use.

Some statistics: smart watches are projected to generate $3.1 billion in revenue in 2015, and sell one million units; revenues from smart thermostats are projected to increase 51 percent this year to $282 million; automotive electronics are expected to create $14 billion in revenues. Read more

CES 2015-4: Enter the Dragging (Tired, Feet)

(Las Vegas) I overheard someone at the airport confess that he never made it out the Sands Expo Hall, which is home to Eureka Park and other specialized CES displays, and over to the Las Vegas Convention Center (LVCC), which hosts the largest contingent of CES participants. I understand. This was the first year I ventured out of the LVCC, and even at 10:15 this morning at that venue I faced an existential conflict – Classroom Applications in the Digital Age, or Reinventing the Doctor Patient Relationship, or Wearable Robots: From Healing to Enhancement? And those are just some of the sessions, leaving off all there was to learn roaming the floor of the exhibit halls.

When conducting research, I much prefer leafing through books to scrolling online. When you turn a page, you experience opportunity, no matter how momentary, to notice something you might have missed with a laser-sharp online search. It is part of the learning experience, to open a book looking for one thing and to find an equally valuable other.

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Packed house attends Classroom Applications session.

This morning, I opted for the Classroom Applications session. The message from the panel was that personalized and adaptive learning can elude definition, but absent a common standard, efforts to promote greater individualized offerings may stall. Use of digital learning technologies are taking hold in middle school and beyond, but panelists found room for improvement in the K-3 market. It was noted, however, that access at home remains a critical issue. Ultimately, standards that pave the way for greater implementation will be based upon measurable data that demonstrates success. The process of collecting and analyzing the data, and then acting upon it, will be challenging. Christine Geith, Assistant Provost and Executive Director of MSU Global at Michigan State University, warned the audience, “Don’t oversimplify a wicked problem.” Geith noted that online learning took (or perhaps is still taking) about 20 years to hit the mainstream. Read more

CES 2015-3: The Art of Integration, or Speaking to the OCD Within Us

(Las Vegas) There was a fellow who lived down the hall from me in school who would always rattle his door as he left his room, to confirm that it was locked. His habit and neurosis were known to all, and it didn’t take long for someone to realize that saying, “Dude, I think you left your room unlocked” was enough to send the guy running back down the hall to rattle his door again. Since he had a linebacker’s build, no one played the trick twice, but still . . .

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Water monitor available at Lowes tracks pressure for slow leaks or major malfunctions. Users notified of a burst pipe could cut water supply remotely, sparing premises from further damage.

To some degree, I am “that guy,” too, looking back in the rearview mirror to confirm that the garage door closed behind me. Or checking the stove twice before I leave the house. So, what if I could find some device or application that would alleviate that [neurotic] need? At CES, in the smart home section, Lowes is showing a garage door opener add-on that enables users to check, open and close their door from their phone. Nothing revolutionary, but an easy portal through which the connected home can be accessed, and one that would be to perhaps many people an easier concept to grasp than a smart fridge.

Yesterday, we discussed the need to ensure “frictionless” integration of connected devices with lifestyle. The technology must be accessible, but there is also reason to focus on the design.

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Burg smart watch heavy on the bling, and heavy on the integrated technology.

Burg smart watches attack that imperative by accessing so-called “lifestyle branding.” It is said that as fewer people wear watches (instead glancing at their phones to check the time), the fashion or aesthetic value of a wristwatch becomes more important. There can also be an emotional attachment to a watch, and arguably that attachment is less when the timepiece is a square of a plastic and more when it has a sense of sculpture or design. More on Burg at a later date; suffice to say that the devices not only pair via Bluetooth, but can accept a SIM card and operate as a free-standing phone. Read more

CES 2015-2: Crouching Tiger, Hidden Market

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Never enter a password again. This iris recognition device is sold as more accurate than fingerprints; the latter trigger more false-positives. The device plugs into a USB port and is compatible with Windows and Mac. The iris recognition replaces passwords not only for device log-in, but website access, as well (e-mail, Facebook, etc.). Enterprise solutions are available for corporate security.

(Las Vegas) There is a certain axis at CES that usually emerges during the first day: it is the point at which, “How will I see everything” intersects with, “My feet are killing me.” There is a prevailing theme this year at CES, at least the parts I have seen so far, and that is, “IoT = HOT” – the Internet of things is hot. That theme is so prevalent (again, at least to me) that I forget at times that not everything at the Consumer Electronics Show is necessarily connected. So, when a coffee maker manufacturer sent me an invitation to see a new grind-and-brew machine, my immediate reaction was, “Is it connected?” (it is not).

NTCA/RCA Wireless Symposium was collocated at CES, and this morning David Lewis of Connected Communities exhorted participants to stop selling bundles, and to start selling solutions. When I mentioned my coffee maker moment to Dave, he shrugged and said, “I could connect that.” The possibilities of a smart home set the stage for rural providers take a role as tech experts for automation. And, the effort need not be limited to “smart home.” Anything from a school, to a farm, to a local community center can be a candidate for a “smart business.”

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FTC Chairwoman Edith Ramirez addresses a packed house on security in the Internet of Thing(s).

IoT implicates serious questions about security. This afternoon, Federal Trade Commission (FTC) Chairwoman Edith Ramirez discussed attributes about design and use that developers should consider: security by design; data minimization; and digital trails. Ramirez noted that the patchwork of seemingly disparate information aggregated across numerous fields could, if collocated, form a “startlingly complete” picture of the subject, revealing everything financial, health, religious, and political information. The risk of hijacked and misappropriated information increases as the number of access points grows. And, above all the technical considerations, consumers must have transparency and choice. Read more

CES 2015-1: Engaging the Customer’s Quantified Self

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My annual photo from the top of the escalator at the Monorail exit.

(Las Vegas) I took my first taste of CES yesterday on the plane to Las Vegas. It was not the couple in the boarding area studying maps (CES covers numerous hotels and venues) or the guys in my row who were also headed out for the show. Rather, it was the crumbles of processed foodstuff that is alleged to taste like like cheese and which was sandwiched between two crackers. If CES means anything, it is a week of living off the land of 7-11 and unhealthy snacks. Southwest Airlines simply gave me an early start with some cheese cracker sandwiches, an appetizer to the full course of protein bars, peanuts, and beef jerky I intend to round out the week.

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“What’s New in Quantified Self” (from left, Dr. Lauren Costantini, CEO, PrimaTemp; Julia Hu, CEO, Lark Technologies; Dr. James R. Mault, Vice President and Chief Medical Officer, Qualcomm Life; Dr. Kyra Bobinet, CEO, engagedIN).

CES kicked off yesterday with a round of conference sessions. One addressed considerations as manufacturers and developers dive more deeply into the business of the quantified self. Panelists included a former thoracic surgeon and a Harvard Alzheimer’s researcher, who noted that the collection and aggregation of data enabled by connected devices is meaningless unless the user acts upon the findings. The panel also noted that customer engagement is critical to ensuring successful use of the devices and the applications. Julia Hu, CEO of Lark Technologies, noted, “our bodies “radiate” data;” the key is less about capturing the findings than modifying behavior based upon them. Lu also recalled that three years ago, her firm’s sleep-coach monitors sat next to car chargers at Apple stores; at that time, there was virtually no connected health market, but those devices now occupy substantial retail real estate. Read more

My “Dumb” Thermostat, or Security Insecurities

I did not intended to write a series of posts about securing connected devices, but it seems to have progressed naturally. Last week, I installed a new thermostat in the house. It is an improvement over what it replaced — full seven day programming, energy efficiency settings, a “set it and leave it” perpetual clock that updates automatically for daylight savings time, and the ability to switch between heating and a/c automatically without touching a switch. But, it is not connected.

I gave consideration to a smart thermostat, and maybe by not choosing one I have delegitimized my standing as a tech evangelist. But, I am reminded of something I once read in a book on writing — “A thesaurus is a tool to find the best word, not the loftiest word.” And, in those regards, I selected and installed the device I needed. If I had a less regular schedule, or a consistent need to control the HVAC system from afar, I would have done a deep dive into NEST or a similar device. But, given the lifestyle the house accommodates, the device that I selected covers all of its needs.

Next week’s Consumer Electronics Show (CES) continues a heavy focus on the connected home. At the same time, it is expanding its focus on privacy and security. The two are intertwined. Numerous articles over the past couple of years have focused on the risk of smart home hacking. It’s one thing (however Poltergeist-ish) to have one’s laundry machines whirl into action without the homeowner’s command, but it is quite another to have electronic locks unlocked by an unauthorized user.

And, yet, there are smart home applications that do not implicate security or cost issues. I am not sure that I would be too bent out of shape if someone hacked my Maytag to signal that the load was done when, in fact, it was not. Or, that I was running low on milk or eggs when I was not. In those regards, there is an axis where the convenience relative to security encourages use; in other regards, security relative to convenience calls for increased security.

So, I will be on the lookout next week for the security solutions that smart home providers can provide.

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