The month of October turned out to be a turbulent one for GE Aviation. After announcing a $1.4 billion acquisition of both Arcam and SLM Solutions (client registration required), it emerged that activist investor Elliot Advisors (which owns stakes in both companies) was challenging the terms of the deals. Elliot Advisors claimed that the acquisition bid for SLM Solutions undervalued the company, despite being at a 37% premium over SLM’s stock price at the time. GE Aviation eventually dropped its bid for SLM Solutions, and was forced to both raise the price of the Arcam deal and reduce the acceptance threshold. GE then announced that it was acquiring Concept Laser, a German manufacturer of selective laser sintering (SLS) 3D printers. Continue reading
GE and Local Motors recently announced the launch of a crowdsourced innovation platform, “Fuse.” The Fuse model is to publicly post problems as a challenge, potentially with a cash prize to solicit submissions, and then evaluate the results. It is part of Local Motors’ new Forth division, and may be joined by similar initiatives with other partners besides GE. As of this publication, Fuse already has four posted active projects related to GE’s innovation needs in non-destructive testing. Fuse will also have 3D printing resources to produce prototypes or for small-batch manufacturing. One GE official claimed that the Fuse model can reduce product development time by 50%, but at this point it is unclear whether that degree of improvement can generalize beyond a few chosen use cases. Continue reading
Schneider Electric and Stratasys recently announced a partnership aimed at expanding Schneider’s use of 3D printing to include injection molds for electronic components and tooling for assembly. The components are printed using Stratasys’ fused deposition modeling (FDM) technology. By switching from milled aluminum to printed polymer, Schneider is able to cut production costs for a mold from €1,000 ($1,120) to €100 ($112), and the lead time from a month to a week. Continue reading
We recently spoke with Curt Thornton, CEO of Provision, about the company’s announcement of expanded shipment of aerial imaging coupon kiosks to Rite-Aid (250 units in February 2016 and a plan of 3,000 units in the next 12 months to 18 months). The kiosks, dubbed “3D Savings Centers,” allow users to view floating 2D or 3D images with depth of view without glasses. Via a separate touch screen, these kiosks allow retail store consumers to access promotions, print coupon offers, and load coupons to their loyalty cards. According to Intel, which developed software for the kiosks, the Savings Center can perform video analytics to determine the age and gender of customers standing in front of it and play content and advertising suitable for the audience. As a result, for in-store high-value products, the Savings Center has redemption rates of 85%; for out-of-store products, it can improve the redemption rate from about below 5% to between 10% and 40%
Curt said the company runs two different revenue models. For small sales amounts, like for trade shows, the company direct sells displays or kiosks to its customers. For large sales amounts, like for Rite Aid, Curt said Provision forms a joint venture with the customer and generates revenue by commission from the used coupons, but would not disclose the expected time to generate as much revenue as selling one of the units.
Provision’s aerial imaging technology is not as innovative as newer 3D display developers like Leia (client registration required); however, by combining its display with analytics, Provision can quantify its impact on sales. Continue reading
The Quantified Self (QS) movement began with fringe consumers obsessed with self-measurement, but today’s Internet of Things (IoT) – with sensors on and inside bodies, connected cars, and smart homes, offices, and cities – is expanding it to include everyone. Consumers will not have a shortage of devices or data to choose from anytime in the near future. Looking out further, to 2025, three specific factors will drive the technical evolution of the QS/IoT as a computing platform, each with implications for consumer relationships: improvement of individual devices; integration, from aspects of inner self to a holistic view of inner, outer, and extended self; and intervention in consumer actions.
- Improvement: Before too long, gimmicky and overpriced devices will disappear from the market, while runaway hits will make headlines (and millions of dollars). From 2005 until now, sensors have driven QS – specifically, sensors attached to or focused on humans. An early example is fitness wearables, but they’re already a commodity; today’s Samsung, Google, and Apple smartwatches are a natural evolution. Bragi headphones now do health tracking; Samsung’s Artik platform, Intel’s Curie and GE’s GreenBean offer startups an easy way to create consumer IoT devices. Image sensors – cameras – enable gesture interfaces and new channels like lifelogging, where users of Twitter’s Periscope and Facebook’s Facescope live-stream their lives.
- Integration: Fitness trackers and action cameras capture data on or next to consumers’ bodies. IoT technologies quantify consumers’ “inner selves,” and marketers can learn as much from them as they have by examining purchase histories, web surfing habits, and other digital footprints. Other IoT datapoints include vital signs from exercise, sports, and adventure wearables; food, from precision agriculture to smart utensils like HAPIfork, to microbiomes and Toto’s smart toilet; and medical bioelectronics, personal genomics, and mood- and mind-monitoring like Neurosky. The IoT tracks consumers’ outer lives of family via smart baby bottles and wearables for pets, and extended selves via connected thermostats, diagnostic dongles in cars, and image-recognition systems in stores and city streets.
The technology world is abuzz with the recent announcement that Google is buying Titan Aerospace, a maker of high-altitude unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) that Facebook had only recently been considering (it bought Ascenta for $20 million instead). Ostensibly, both companies are looking at UAVs (also referred to as “drones”) as an opportunity to deliver Internet access to the roughly five billion people who lack reliable land-based access today. But that goal still leaves many people wondering about the business rationale – how will billing work, who will pay to advertise to the unconnected masses, and what are those technology giants really up to anyway?
To understand why content providers are spending billions on drones, you have to think about their long-term strategy. Recently, there was a huge defeat for Google and other content providers in a ruling about what’s called “Net Neutrality.” It basically says that landline and mobile carriers like AT&T and Verizon can start charging more for people to access certain sites, even though they swear the action will not be anticompetitive. So, for example, you might have to pay the carrier extra to see YouTube (which Google owns) or Instagram (which Facebook owns) or Netflix or Amazon Prime movies. In fact, just in February Netflix struck a deal to pay Comcast, which supposedly is already showing faster access times, but has not stopped the partners from bickering over unfair competition and exertion of power. Also, AT&T has a $500 million plan to crush Netflix and Hulu, so the competitive backstabbing has already begun.
Where do drones disrupt this strategy? Most obviously, having their own networks would allow Facebook and Google to bypass the domination of wireless and wireline carriers (like AT&T and Verizon in the U.S.) whose business practices – e.g. knocking down Net Neutrality – are geared towards throttling content providers like Facebook, Google, and their partners and subsidiaries like YouTube. Need more bandwidth? New neighborhood being built? Blackout? Natural catastrophe? Launch more drones – and expand service in hours, not years. Drones serving network connectivity allow Google, Facebook, and Amazon to bypass the toll lanes – and, incidentally, make instantly obsolete the landline infrastructure that their enemies Comcast, AT&T, and Verizon have spent decades and tens to hundreds of billions of dollars building out. Connectivity in emerging markets is a feint – look for delivering content in the developed world to be the first battle, and call these Machiavellian strategies the “Game of Drones.”
Could this really happen? Both drone technology and wireless connectivity technology are relatively mature and work well. Both are still improving every year of course, and it is possible to deliver some connectivity via drones today. However, more innovation is needed for them to be commercially viable, and future incremental development will be about integrating and improving parts, so more people can have more bandwidth with greater reliability and lower cost. For example, the engineers might integrate the broadband transceiver antenna with the drone’s wings (as Stratasys and Optomec have tried — client registration required) which could eliminate the cost and weight of a separate antenna, while allowing the antenna to also be very large and more effective. Drones’ needs could drive development of battery chemistries that outperform lithium-ion (client registration required), like lithium-sulfur (client registration required) from companies like Oxis Energy (client registration required). High-performance composites and lightweight, lower-power electronics technologies like conductive polymers (client registration required) will also be key.
What’s next? One of the most obvious additional uses would be to attach cameras, and use them for monitoring things like traffic, agriculture, and parks, even finding empty parking spaces – things that an AT&T repair van can never do. Maybe the drones become telemedicine’s robotic first responders (client registration required), sending imagery of accidents as they happen, and swooping down to help doctors reach injured victims within seconds, not minutes. While these examples may seem far-fetched, it’s really very hard to say exactly what they will be used for, only because our own imaginations are very limited.
Within the autonomous airspace space, there’s much more flying around than just glider-style UAVs. For example, Google’s “Project Loon” has similar stated goals of delivering internet access. The new investment in Titan does not necessarily mean Google is leaving lighter-than-air technologies; it’s just that Google has already invested in that technology and is now looking at other aircraft platforms for doing similar things in different environments. Investments in small satellites from companies like SkyBox and PlanetLabs are also taking off. And of course, there are Amazon’s delivery drones – rotary-wing UAVs more like helicopters: speed and navigation in small spaces are important, and they need to carry the weight of packages, so they need to be small and powerful.
Each of these technologies has spin-off effects – both threats and opportunities – for companies in adjacent spaces, such as materials or onboard power. Only batteries or liquid fuels are dense enough energy sources for rotary-wing aircraft, while Google’s Titan and Loon aircraft are more like glider planes or blimps: big, light, and slow, just staying in roughly the same place for hours, days, or even years. Solar energy needs a large area for collecting solar energy, so big glider and blimp drones can use solar. Technology providers in these areas stand to gain if more companies deploy their own UAV fleets.
So, UAVs are an important strategic technology for both companies, even if the money-making part of the business is far off. Yes, someday you might have a Google drone as your ISP, but that’s not the primary business case behind these investments today. Google and Facebook need to make investments in these airborne platforms for the same reasons that countries did 100 years ago – to defend their territory, metaphorically speaking. For example, Nokia should have done a better job launching smartphones before Apple and Google, and Kodak should have launched digital cameras before all the consumer electronics companies did. If Google and Facebook (and Amazon, and others…) don’t have drone technology in five to 10 years, they may be as bankrupt as Nokia and Kodak (ironically, Nokia launched mobile phone cameras, which accelerated Kodak’s bankruptcy). Instead, it may be today’s mobile phone and cable television providers who go the way of the landline.
Looking beyond the land of information technology, these examples are powerful illustrations of the fact that we seldom actually know what any new technology is really going to be used for. Even today, we dismiss mobile phone cameras, Facebook, and Twitter as frivolous social tools, but where would Tunisia and Egypt be today without them? Local Motors (client registration required) is just making one-off dune buggies – until GE sees that their microfactories are the future of manufacturing appliances, too. Crowdfunding is just a bunch of kids selling geegaws – until products like the Pebble smartphone beat the Samsung Gear (client registration required), start challenging the now-retreating Nike Fuelband, and even attack the smart home market. Google and Facebook might be saying today that they intend to bring connectivity to new places, even if in reality nobody at all can really say what they’ll do in 2018. While they probably have secret plans, those plans are almost certainly wrong – but better than no plan at all. Companies that plan to survive beyond a few quarterly earnings calls have to make sure they are well positioned to catch whatever falls from new technology’s blue skies.
Osram Opto Semiconductors introduced a new light-emitting diode
(LED) product called the “Oslon Black Flat” for automotive front lighting systems; it boasts LED packaging technology that allows the headlight to function without a lens. Osram claimed that this product offers good light output of about 200 lm at 25 °C and 700 mA operation (compared to a standard headlight that outputs between 150 lm and 190 lm); if operated at 1.2 A it can achieve 270 lm. It’s projected that an efficient headlight can extend the range of an electric vehicle by nearly six miles.
Leading auto OEMs such as BMW and Audi are investing in LEDs for front lighting in their cars to achieve energy and emission savings (and LED aesthetics as an added incentive); as a result; expect to see specific product releases for the automotive lighting segment from major LED makers like Philips and GE as well. However, just as in the general illumination and back-lighting segments the automotive space could provide for a testy IP environment for LEDs. In fact, LG Electronics and Osram Opto engaged in a IP infringement battle over LED patents for automotive headlights in Korea. With heavyweights wielding massive patent portfolios, this space will be as hostile to start-ups trying to enter as any other LED market. However, this challenge also presents an opportunity for developers of balance of systems such as drivers and thermal management technologies that are in need of more efficient solutions – the unique needs of automobile applications could provide opportunities for companies that want a new play in the LED space.
Along with the crude oil and natural gas that fuels modern civilization, the energy industry brings nearly 233 billion barrels of wastewater from beneath the earth’s surface every year. This so-called “produced water” can contain a variety of contaminants – from oil and grease to chemicals, micro-organisms, and radioactive elements. The need to treat this water before disposal or reuse has attracted a multitude of technology developers clambering to tackle the challenge. This week’s graphic ranks 29 companies developing solutions for offshore produced water treatment.
Offshore oil platforms are a wholly different kettle of fish than onshore rigs. Clearly, offshore technologies must fit within strict confines, making large treatment systems simply unfeasible. Plus, disposal options are limited for offshore produced water. Generally it is just discharged into the ocean, and regulation around contaminant levels is strictly enforced. Energy exploration and production companies are required to send monthly discharge samples for testing. Regulation for offshore produced water discharge is mainly focused on dissolved and dispersed hydrocarbon content. This last factor helps explain the favorable position of MyCelx Technologies Corporation and Abtech Industries. Both companies derive their high technical score for developing hydrocarbon absorbing polymer technology, which suits for the size and contaminant considerations of offshore treatment.
Veolia MPPE occupies the Dominant quadrant in several of the report’s figures, including this one. In the case of offshore treatment, the company’s position is due in part to applications in the North Sea, which has the most strict discharge limits of less than 20 ppm of hydrocarbons allowed and a “no damage requirement,” which Veolia’s system is able to address. The challenge with absorbants is that they produce waste (sponge or beads) that also needs to be managed. For this reason, advanced oxidation and coarse filtration are other technologies applied to this market segment.