Showing posts with label Affordable. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Affordable. Show all posts

September 24, 2012

Baxter Disappoints


This new robot named Baxter, by Rethink Robots, is practically being touted as the greatest thing since Swiss cheese--"allowing our people to use their minds more than their hands"--but this demonstration video shows a clumsy and awkward robot instead. 

Bloomberg BusinessWeek (18 September 2012) actually calls it a "huge disappointment" and I've got to agree.

The product manager in video calls Baxter--developed with $62 million over 5 years--"easy," "complaint," and "collaborative," but unfortunately Baxter, the robot, comes off looking anything but as he slowly and laboriously tries to pick up and move items from one location to another, and the product manager pulls his arms and pocks at his screen/face to program it.

While I am a huge fan of robotics and see their potential to transform our society--where robots can becomes surrogates for humans in everything from work to even odd companionship, I do not see the breakthrough here by Rethink Robots--except in the affordability of this robot to be used in manufacturing for only $22,000 a unit. 

What I do like about Baxter is that it is generally a good-looking device--with a solid looking grey base and long 9 foot wingspan red stretch arms.  I even sort of like the eyes and brows giving it a humanoid nature, but the quirky and flimsy looking red screen hanging off the main body looks chinsy. 

Also, if the robot is so "friendly," you'd almost expect it to be on wheels and mobile with the ability to speak, so that it could more genuinely interact with others, but it does not.  

Baxter is the brainchild of one of the pioneers of the Roomba vacuum--another toyish device that I wouldn't spend a dime on. 

Maybe, the way to look at it is that we need to take baby steps before we get the real iRobots coming to us--and hopefully that day will come soon.

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September 25, 2011

They're Not Playing Ketchup

I wouldn't necessarily think of Heinz as a poster child for a company that is strategic and growing, and was therefore, somewhat surprised to read an impressive article in Harvard Business Review (October 2011) called "The CEO of Heinz on Powering Growth in Emerging Markets."

Heinz, headquartered out of Pittsburgh PA, is ranked 232 in the Fortune 500 with $10.7B in sales, $864M in profits, and 35,000 employees. They have increased their revenue from emerging markets from 5% a few years ago to more than 20% today.

Bill Johnson, the CEO of Heinz, explains his 4 As for success--which I really like:


1) Applicability--Your products need to suit local culture. For example, while Ketchup sells in China, soy sauce is the primary condiment there, so in 2010, Heinz acquired Foodstar in China, a leading brand in soy sauce.

2) Availability--You need to sell in channels that are relevant to the local populace. For example, while in the U.S., we food shop predominantly in grocery stores, in other places like Indonesia, China, India, and Russia, much food shopping is done in open-air markets or corner groceries.

3) Affordability--You have to price yourself in the market. For example, in Indonesia, Heinz sells more affordable small packets of soy sauce for 3 cents a piece rather than large bottles, which would be mostly unaffordable and where people don't necessarily have refrigerators to hold them.

4) Affinity--You want local customers and employees to feel close with your brand. For example, Heinz relies mainly on local managers and mores for doing business, rather than trying to impose a western way on them.

Heinz has a solid strategy for doing business overseas, which includes "buy and build"--so that they acquire "solid brands with good local management that will get us into the right channels...then we can start selling other brands."

Heinz manages by being risk aware and not risk averse, diversifying across multiple markets, focusing on the long-term, and working hard to build relationships with the local officials and managers where they want to build businesses.

"Heinz is a 142-year old company that's had only five chairmen"--that's less than the number of CEO's that H-P has had in the last 6 years alone.

I can't help but wonder on the impact of Heinz's stability and laser-focus to their being able to develop a solid strategy, something that a mega-technology company like H-P has been struggling with for some time now.

If H-P were to adopt a type of Heinz strategy, then perhaps, they would come off a little more strategic and less flighty in their decisions to acquire and spin off business after business (i.e. PCs, TouchPads, WebOS, etc.), and change leadership as often as they do with seemingly little due diligence.

What is fascinating about H-P today is how far they have strayed front their roots of their founders Bill and Dave who had built an incredibly strong organizational culture that bred success for many years.

So at least in this case, is it consumer products or technology playing catch-up (Ketchup) now?

P.S. I sure hope H-P can get their tomatoes together. ;-)

(Source Photos: Heinz here and H-P here)

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September 17, 2011

Peepoo, It's All In The Bag

Peepoo--a silly name for a very serious product.

It is a self-sanitizing, disposable, single-use bag, made by Peepoople, which serves as a portable toilet to collect human waste and prevent the transmission of disease.

Without proper sanitation, human waste harbors contaminants, such as viruses, bacteria, worms, and parasites that infect fresh and ground water.

2.6 billion people (40% of the world) have no access to basic sanitation (i.e. toilets) and one child dies worldwide every 15 seconds because of this.

The Peepoo bags contain a simple, but important layer of urea, a non-hazardous chemical that makes human waste pathogens inactive in just 2-4 weeks.

The biodegradable bags are buried and decompose in about 1 year making needed fertilizer for people in poverty around the world.

Despite a current 15% poverty in United States, we live in such an economically privileged and technologically advanced country here that it is hard to imagine not having the basics for human dignity and health like a toilet and running water.

I stand in awe of the people that are working globally to help to those in need through the development of innovative, functional, low-cost, and environmentally sustainable products such as this.

There is so much to do to help people at both the high-end and low-end of cost and technology that it can be confusing how to invest our finite resources. For example, at the high-end, this week NASA unveiled plans for the most-powerful rocket planned projected to cost tens of billions of dollars to carry people to planets deep in space and potentially make discoveries that can alter the course of humanity in the future. Yet, at the low-end, we have billions of people with fundamental human needs that remain unmet here on Earth, who are suffering and dying now.

I remember a discussion with colleagues that our challenge is not simply to carve up the pie between competing alternatives (because there are so many critical needs out there), but rather to grow the pie so that we can give more and do more for everyone.

This mimics our economic situation today, if we just try to carve up our national budget between mandatory and discretionary budget items, we are left with a situation where there is seemingly not nearly enough to go around. Hence the imperative to grow the economy--through education, innovation, small business start-ups, international trade agreements, and more. We've got to grow the pie and quickly, because there are people that need jobs today, while there are long-term needs such as social security and medicare solvency, medical breakthroughs, and all sorts of innovation that await us in the future.

We can't forget the people that need Peepoo bags today and we can't stop investing in NASA and like for the future--growth in our only answer--and that comes through education, research and development, and the promotion of innovation and entrepreneurship.

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July 4, 2011

Appropriate Technology For All

For July 4th, we headed down to the D.C. Folk Life Festival today on the Washington Mall.

The Peace Corps had a number of exhibits at the festival, including one on what they call "Appropriate Technology."

Appropriate technology is about being user-centric when applying technology to the local needs and realities on the ground around the world.

There are 3 key rules in developing and implementing appropriate technology:

1) Affordable--technology has to be affordable for the people that are going to use it. Even if it saves money in the long-term, it has to be something that can be acquired by people without access to traditional financing in the short-term.

2) Local--the material must be available locally in order to make it accessible to people living in remote and even dangerous parts of the world.

3) Transparent--the design of the technology must be transparent with the assembly instructions available to the local people, so that it can be maintained indigenously.

One company that is helping needy people around the world using appropriate technology is Global Cycle Solutions.

Two products from this company that attach to your bicycle were on display and one was actually being demonstrated:

1) Corn Sheller--For $75 plus shipping this attachment to your bicycle shells corn from the husks in pretty amazing speed. According to the supplier, you "can fill a 90-kg sack of maize in 40 minutes and 10-15 sacks per day...[so the] machine pays for itself within a month." (Pictured you can see the exhibitor from Peace Corps loading the corn into the device and the husk coming out the other end; a little girl is pedaling and powering the device in one, and a little boy is spinning the wheel in the other.)

2) Phone Charger--For $10 plus shipping this bicycle attachment charges your phone as you pedal from place to place or as you spin the wheel in place. According to the website, it "charges as quickly as using a wall outlet." (Pictured is the bike and charger on display.)

Since bicycles are routinely found around the world, these add-on devices that help in food preparation and communications are practical and cost-effective.

Appropriate technology is not a technical term and the concept is not rocket-science, yet if we just keep in mind the people we serve--what their needs are and what constraints they may be living under--we can make solutions that are functional, cost-effective and sensible, and we'll can help a lot of needy people in the world, bells and whistles aside.

(Source Photos: Andy Blumenthal)







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December 18, 2010

The Triple I Factors



Recently, I was watching the new ABC News broadcast called “Be The Change: Save A Life.” And in this one episode, a group of Stanford University students solved a critical life and death problem afflicting the world in which 4 million premature and malnourished babies die every year due to hypothermia and another 16 million that survive suffer life-long illness such as diabetes and heart disease because their internal organs do not form right.

The challenge in the developing world is access to incubators, which typically cost $20,000 and are not available in rural areas. In turn, some Stanford students formed a team and developed the Embrace infant warmer, a low-cost, local solution. It is a $25 waterproof baby sleeping bag with a pouch for a reheatable wax-like substance that is boiled in water and maintains its temperature for 4 to 6 hours at a time. It is hoped that this product will save 1 million babies within the first five years in India alone!

As I reflected on this amazing feat of technology, I marveled at how this group of young adults was able to overcome such a big world problem and solve it so simply. And while I understand that they focused on the end-users and the root cause of the problems, it is still a remarkable story.

After listening to the team members describe their project and approach, I believe there are three critical factors that show through and that can be the tipping point in not only their, but also our technology projects’ success. These three factors, which I call the Triple I Factors are as follows:

Idealism—the students had a shared idealism for a better world. Seeing people’s pain and suffering drove their vision. And in turn, they committed themselves to finding a cure for it. Embrace is now a non-profit organization seeking to save lives versus just making a profit.

Imagination—the product team was able to imagine an unconventional alternative to the status quo. They were able to project a vision for a low cost and mobile infant warmer into concrete solutions that were user-centric for the people in need.

Innovation—the ultimate product design was truly innovative. It marries a high technology phase-change wax substance for maintaining body temperature with a simple baby sleeping bag. Moreover, the innovation is not just in the materials of the product, but in the usability, so for example, this product requires no electricity, something that is not always available in rural India.

While, there are certainly many factors that go into successful technology product launches, including strong leadership, sound project management, and the technical competence of the team, I think that the Triple I factors—idealism, imagination, and innovation—albeit soft factors are ones that should not be underestimated in their ability to propel meaningful technology solutions.

As IT leaders, we need to create a healthy balance and diverse competencies in the organization between the hard factors and the soft factors, so that we can tackle everything from children dying from malnutrition and hypothermia to cures for cancer, and of course, ongoing IT breakthroughs in knowledge management, social engineering, and human productivity await.

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