Future of Mobility

Electric cars are booming, yet they are still very costly and rarely seen on the street. But who doesn’t want to drive one of the Tesla Roadster that kick Porsche’s end.They win over fueled sports car in regards of acceleration easily (video).

Distance, however, is still a remaining issue, making pure electric cars a non-viable option even when they drop to affordable prices. From a long-term perspective, I expect battery manufactures to make electric cars win the battle or at least reach a level which is adequate for most people. When we actually run out of gas there well be a point when everything significantly cheaper than gas is adequate :)

Project “better place” of former SAP chair man Shai Agassi brought a revolutionary notion into the game of mobility. While today everyone spends money on gas not distance, “better place” offers a pay-per-use model similar to that of mobile phones (buy a phone, pay what you talk). Invest in a car that allows for battery switching and switch the battery at battery switch stations no matter how low your battery is. Payments are charged according to the distance on the car’s mileage with no limitations in the number of battery switches. With a fine grained network of battery switch stations distance of electric cars is not an issue anymore.

With ideas such as that and further improvements in battery charging technologies we might navigate towards a future were loud otto motor cars are only classics owned by enthusiasts. Cities might become more quiet places and maybe car sharing reaches a new level. With the need to charge and the trend of young people avoiding or showing less car affinity than generations before (1, 2) car sharing will advance to new levels. BMW already shows a neat approach with “drive now”, a car sharing project which is available in multiple German cities. Participants can locate cars near their location with an iPhone app and use what ever car is available, paying per mileage. Access to a car is granted with a chip that also recognizes who accesses the car. Since the cars (Minis and BMW 1) are equipped with GPS devices for navigation and a 3G connection, BMW is able to track where the cars are located and update data for the iPhone app in real time. Currently, only parked and available cars are published via the app, but I can imagine future versions that are integrated with the cars’ nav allowing to also display arriving cars worth waiting for. Who doesn’t want to wait another 5 minutes about a chic Mini convertible on a hot summer day opening up?

But, what if batteries never reach a comfortable level of quality and a network of switch stations is never created? There is still the alternative of pushing fuel cell technology faster forward and establish a chain of hydrogen supply. And hydrogen technologies sound promising!

Near future will probably see a transition to more electric vehicles with an increasing number of hybrid cars and fuell cell technology might or may not play a role. And we will see a lot of car sharing and other transportation related business models (e.g., with new transportation vehicles or non-car related) pop up in the near future. What interesting times we are allowed to observe in our life time due to gas scarcity. Keep your classics and invest in the right future technology stocks ;)

Faster News vs. Correct News

During the North-African/Arabian revolutions I noticed how information and news arrived from multiple sources over communication channels at different times. News arrived first via internet and moved on to 24h news channels that include social media and finally appeared on the evening news (e.g. German “Tagesschau“). A colleague of mine mentioned he noticed an evident delay between Arabian news broadcasts that consider twitter and online news websites and German evening news when he worked in Arabian countries at that time. News on Arabian TV were days ahead German news.

I wondered what might be the reason and tried to figure why this delay is noticeable. Obviously, news broadcaster pursue the goal of timeliness differently. The reason is the possibility of incorrectness of a news report the smaller the delay after the happening. Sometimes sources are not very reliable and trustful, and do need verification. Sometimes events and the implications are very obvious but sometimes it is only a small detail which is only a small part of the big picture.

In the following figures I tried to capture these trade-offs for four different types of news/communication channels: Twitter, Social Media-based News, Press Agencies and (conservative) News Broadcasts. The chance for incorrect reports versus an expected delay to further verify and aggregate news is one of the trade-offs made by news channels. The settings resp. chosen trade-off of the four channes is depicted in the first figure.

The same statement is true for the level of details of a channel. While fast channels provide small details and are not able to aggregate yet, the slower channels can sketch a brighter picture. The second figure draws a trade-off map for the level of details and timeliness.

So, what is the right trade-off and which is the channel to follow? The answer is pretty simple when you understand how information and the big picture matures over time. Follow fast channels according to your interest in the topic but be aware that there is a certain chance for incorrectness and misinterpretations. Then over time the information and reports will get aggregated and validated, and finally be distributed by press agencies and broadcasted on TV by your favorite news anchor. If you are aware of this process you are able to handle early information, knowing it requires validation and an evaluation of the source, and that aggregators are reasonable news aggregators to leverage. Slow news channels such as evening news on TV should be respected as the “quasi” final confirmation of a news report (notice: mistakes and incorrect reports still possible but low chance!).

Be happy to possibly be informed shortly by fast channels such as Twitter but do handle information careful as the maturity process still proceeds.

To end reading this post with a smile, the following xkcd comic shows you the power of Twitter, the possibly fastest channel you get ;)

xkcd seismic waves (source: xkcd.com)

StartUp and Merge

There appears to be a clear inability of big companies to foster new and, in particular, disruptive technologies. Organizational inertia with companies that have grown big already seems to keep them from succeeding in new but small markets. Employees see their jobs in danger when new technologies arrive or fear the loss of an expert status. Moreover, new smaller markets are less attractive to big companies. For more details on this topic I recommend the book innovator’s dilemma.

The niche for using the new (disruptive) technologies is filled by new start ups. And, apparently, the number of startups appears to be growing (remember, there was a recession!) and the number of old companies (30+ years) appears to be shrinking.

Source: US Census Bureau, Business Dynamics Statistics (http://www.ces.census.gov/index.php/bds/sector_line_charts)

In return venture capitalists become more powerful, more business angels and accelerators rise and more seed funding organizations are found. There is already a quite big scene for IT companies and finding the right one is quite a task. Some provide support for IT startups of a certain market only (e.g. PeopleBrowser for social media startups). One they all have in common is the support for founding a company and the share they take. Some want money for office space, some offer everything for free. Some give courses and training, some only an ecosystem of people to talk to.

What is also interesting is the number of acquisitions of startups. Google made 102 acquisitions since 2001. The common lifecycle of newly founded companies is more often ending with being acquired by a big player.

The cycle helps big companies to stay at the top. They fail to switch to new technologies or conquer new, small markets and instead acquire a player in a certain field. Important here is to make the acquisition smooth.

What I am shocked about is that this way existing companies can stay atop by acquiring new startups that conquer small markets for them. Assumed the big company has enough intelligence to discover new markets and understand future developments. I wonder if this might get lost with not conquering new markets on your own. The intense IT market with a wide range of new technologies and some time in the future a striking, disruptive technology will show. Microsoft who is and was always selling software already suffered heavily from the disruptive Cloud technology and transition to software services.

This whole development leaves me less afraid of founding a new company if there would be the opportunity one day. The support becomes better and the whole market expects new startups to be created all the time.

So, there are two popular options for a startup: become big or being acquired. But, there are other options as startups might fail or become less successful. When a company starts it should also always think about its possible ending, the exit strategies.

After all, I feel people become more flexible, more independent and freelance and starting a company is an option for more people. The age of finishing school, joining and living in a company a whole life appears to be over.

One last interesting piece of information: founders become younger according to an article of Spiegel Online.

Towards a World of Biomimicry

Some weeks ago I watched a very interesting documentary about biomimicry called “Nature of Life” on ANIXE HD (German: “Perspektive Nachhaltigkeit – Neue Wege im Klimaschutz”). From my point of view the documentary raised some questions and made me more aware of some things. That is why I want to share it (trailer):

Documentary on ANIXE (4 videos, German): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ns4gZosgXIwhttp://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XeXJooomWBchttp://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e_Q8cMkZoHQhttp://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cwXeNBUkL_Y

What is interesting is that the documentary argues why everything we created is like it is now and thereby questions our capabilities. In the past, everything we built was very simple due to our state of the art mathematics and geometries at that time. Buildings have always been stable structures when based on simple geometric shapes which are mostly cubic.

In contrast, nature is building many things with highly complex structures. How would our buildings look like when we would build it like nature? For sure, less cubic or non-cubic, probably like flora: trees, flowers, etc. In Zimbabwe a new building adapts the passive cooling system used by termite mounds (inhabitat.com articlewikipedia).

Gunter Pauli goes even one step further in an interview. He implicitly asks: “What if these non-cubic buildings start living or breathing?” I liked the idea of going one step further and not only copying single features of the nature like construction plans for stability and cooling, or the ingredients for super glue. The idea of mimicking nature’s behavior and intelligence goes beyond traditional biomimicry and connects multiple sub-systems to a whole. Nature has an interplay of  all biota: fauna, flora, fungi and bacteria.  The idea shows its benefits e.g. in 0-emission buildings that live from the waste of its inhabitants, relying on the interplay plants integrated in the building (fabric, gardens) and people living in the building. This might change our whole interaction with the planet: living with it, not from it.

I gathered some TED talks on the possibilities of biomimicry:

http://www.ted.com/talks/michael_pawlyn_using_nature_s_genius_in_architecture.html

http://www.ted.com/talks/janine_benyus_biomimicry_in_action.html

http://www.ted.com/index.php/talks/view/id/18

http://www.ted.com/talks/robert_full_on_engineering_and_evolution.html

Some examples I remember from the documentary:

  • Fans derived from fibonacci code-based  nautilus shells
  • Black & white Zebras produce wind and, hence, a cooling system usable on building’s walls
  • Termite mounds are a prototype for cooling systems that store heat and release it at night
  • Shark skin lowers friction improving ships
  • Whale’s blood circulation requires extreme pumps
Other popular ideas copied from nature:
  • Water-repellent surface of lotus leafs
  • Super glue from sandcastle worms
  • Aerodynamic king fisher bird

Sustainability as the overall goal is an exciting path in my opinion. We’ll see if we ever manage to understand our planet’s system and adapt to it. In the future we might live sustainable and keep our planet alive whilst having advanced technologies.

Is there any science-fiction movie with a sustainable future plot? Please let me know if there is any (except Avatar ;) )!

Regenerate Oil?

Enjoying our dinner and some drinks, some friends and me talked about e-cars and the new business model promoted by Shai Agassi’s “better place”. Of course, we talked about the Lotus-like Tesla cars as well.

What’s more, I remembered a documentary I watched on German television that talked about renewable fuel/gas (abiotic crude oil). Abiotic crude oil is said to be created under high pressure and temperatures found >100 km under the earth surface. Some oil reservoirs claim to experience a never ending oil well. I found the documentary again on youtube (3sat hi-tec, 3 parts, German):


playlist on youtube

What is interesting about the idea of abiotic oil is that gas prices would fall immediately as scarcity ceases to exist. Here, one starts speculating if that is why that theory is unpopular. A lack of information about actual numbers, current research and opinions leads to conspiracy theories.

But, from a long-term perspective it wouldn’t be positive for our planet if abiotic oil is reality. Electric vehicle developments would slow down and we all would continue with damaging the environment :( With that crappy summer in Germany I believe in a climate change and I would do anything to get my summer back :)

Driving an electric vehicle would be an option for me. I would love to drive a Tesla roadster, but my wallet lacks the necessary cash flow for the 100k € (base) price tag :D

Materialize

In a recent discussion with friends we tried to come up with some alternatives to the weakened € (Euro). With all that PIIGS states Europe has quite a big problem to solve to keep the Euro currency stable. Watch the youtube videos or Spiegel figures out there! … and this funny song by the British (Spiegel comment on this).

People change savings into other currencies independent from the Euro. But what is there that is a real alternative? (actual question!) One friend suggested to invest in the English pound as this is pretty weak (!) and will definitely gain value over the future years.

However, most people seem to switch to material goods. Resources such as gold have gained heavily in values due to the high demand. But are material goods the right way to protect your savings? Maybe. But beware, there’s things like the housing crisis we (and mainly the US) faced just a few years ago and that started a financial crisis. If you feel anxious about the Euro/financial/… crisis, I guess distribution is a good solution. Invest in real estate, in material goods and maybe other currencies at the same time and divide your money according to your own priorities. (no liability ;) )

The whole problem and solution seeking with the financial crisis let me think if there is a pattern for complex systems. This exactly came to my mind when a friend and I talked about the Cloud and the Evernet and how this changes the way we use computers. The shift from one computer many users (mainframe time) over one user per computer (personal computer) to one user many computers is pretty interesting and shows the potential need of the Cloud and the Evernet. Everyone would use (or already uses) multiple devices: smartphones, tablets, laptops, public information devices, and whatever we will see in the future. But, what if the Cloud or the Evernet are not available and I need certain information (e.g. a Word document from google docs). What would be the fall back? Back to my local backup, a personal computer with most of my data? How to maintain that backup???

There might be no fallback for our future (virtual) life in the Cloud. But, doesn’t the financial crisis show that we would need one. I’m not sure if I can draw parallels here.

What if there were parallels and complex systems can fail? Wouldn’t we be happy to have a fallback?

In the case of Cloud Computing and Evernet I cannot see any fallback options for certain information (unless we have replica of information on paper or local devices). Maybe the future Cloud is based on devices spread physically around the globe we can still access in case the Evernet collapses. Besides that, there is no real option except waiting…

What about other complex systems?

The power grid has also become quite complex and is as centralized as Cloud computing. If the power network blacks out we need to rely on candles and generators. At least there is a fallback option that allows to consume electricity even during a power grid black out.

I guess, there is a set of complex systems that follow the same pattern. Fallbacks for centralized systems are probably harder to manage. I wonder if there are any insights from engineering management or reliability management of complex systems. If anyone knows, please fill me in :)

Transnationality

Unfortunately, I didn’t watch the movie “Transationalmannschaft” about immigrants that celebrate the German football team – sometimes even more intensively than Germans that were born and raised here. Since I find this movie pretty interesting (filmed in Mannheim) I watched the trailers. They made it even to the ZDF heutejournal (national public TV channel) who picked up the controverse in this movie which gives some insights on immigrants in Germany (Mannheim).

Immigrants in Mannheim are mostly Turkish and the documentary-style movie has an interesting scene:  an interview with a young German-Turkish boy. The boy is asked for which national team (football) he would be playing and his answer is pretty astonishing. At first he claims to have “Turkish blood in his veins” so he must be playing for Turkey. But then he changed his mind and says: “If there was a Mannheim national team I would be playing for Mannheim”. I found this statement very interesting. He further stated that he as a Turkish-German feels as Mannheim-ian and Turkish, but not as German. But what does it mean? Mannheim is not inside Turkey, its quite a distance. Belonging to Mannheim and to Turkey but not to Germany. That’s a controversial concept to me and I tried to picture that:

In my opinion this idea becomes more wide-spread with growing mobility, people become more transnational. Everyone feels connected to multiple places he has visited or is related to somehow, instead of a single place which is the center of one’s live.

However, people mostly feel home in one country and place and have connections to other places around the world, be it a country or a particular city. Of course, there are differences in connections depending on the people that are related with a certain connection. In the example of Turkish-Germans the older generations, typically someone’s parents, create a connection to the country of origin. This causes the opposite, someone that feels connected to a country which is not his home (and that he might never have visited).

I would love to see a mashup which shows weighted connections of people (derived from facebook, google+) on a map, someone’s transnationality. There’s a lot of ideas I have to support the algorithm: for weighting connections, what aggregated views are of interest (to me) or what data to use.

A facebook intern created a graphic which shows the connections of 10 million facebook users:

Facebook Connections Visualization

Facebook Connections Visualization

That’s a good point to start from. I hope some mash-up-er draws some ideas and we can see something like this soon – or is there something like this already?

Luxury Haircutters

Recently, I talked about the funny names German haircutters give their shops, e.g. “haarspalterei”, “haargenau”, “haarklein”, “haarscharf” (wordplays with the word hair) with some friends. We continued our discussion about unisex, which uses an uncommon slogan for a haircutter “S**, Luxus und ein geiler Haarschnitt.” (“s**, luxury and a horny/cool haircut.”). The slogan made me remember that I noticed a growing number of luxury haircutters in Mannheim.

Also, I remembered the advent of very cheap haircutters some years ago. It seems service diversification in this handcraft has extended the number of choices for customers, from very cheap to luxury high-class haircutting. But how do I choose the right haircutter for me? (If I wanted to, I already chose my favorite many years ago. Risk avoidance and inertia!)

Is there only the willingness to pay for that service or is there any economic optimum? And how to find it if there is any?

The best approach I can come up with is pretty simple. Costs is not the only factor to consider, but other facors that represent the quality of the haircutter. Maybe there is more but I am pretty good with finding an optimal Quality per Price ratio haircutter that offers its service within the margins of my willingness to pay. So, how to determine the quality level of a haircutter?

I can see 2 approaches of which I prefer the less pricy one :) First one is testing potential haircutting candidates by just making an appointment and having your hair cut. This sure can get expensive if there are many hair cutters in your city (I found hundreds in Mannheim).

Second approach is to use crowdsourcing. There are multiple rating and reviewing websites out there (qype, yelp, ciao, … you name it) that can serve as a source for determining the quality level. A good approach is to gather all star-ratings from select rating websites, convert them into percentage ratings (e.g. 5/10 stars = 50%) and calculate the average rating in percent.

Now, to sum up this decision process:
- Choose some haircutters in your area that provide reasonable prices (reasonable to you, check the haircutter’s website to find the pricing or just call them up)
- Aggregate the ratings to a total rating value in percent
- Calculate the  overall ratio total rating per costs
- Pick the best one and you are good to get your hair cut!!!

It’s a little effort but makes every homo economicus pretty happy when he finds an (economically) optimal haircutter.

Let me advise you that I found choosing the haircutter by sympathy to be my personal approach to find an optimal ratio haircutter :)

Entertainment on the Road

I recognize the cats musical commercials every morning when I pass by the Mannheim planetarium on my way to the office. What is new to me is musicals that play in a tent, get on the road and move from city to city, like a traveling circus. Admittedly, traveling circus were doing this successfully for decades and, apparently, it is the only reasonable way to distribute entertainment. Cultural amusement is not easily copyable and after having enjoyed it once it becomes less interesting – just like newspapers.  Also, musicians are traveling a lot giving concerts in many cities when they are on tour. But! is it every musician doing it this way? I guess not. While popular musicians do open air concerts classical music is commonly celebrated in sophisticated concert halls. There must be a difference in standards demanded by musicians. Same must be the reason why musicals have been enacted in sophisticated theaters and not in tents. What has changed? Why is it that now the stage, the whole cast and sometimes all instruments become mobile? I do not know the actual answers to that questions as I am not an expert in musical instruments, stages, lights or any other related technical equipment. But, I wanted to start that discussion that might be filled by experts. If differences in quality are recognizable in a musical, I don’t know. If it is profitable from an economic perspective, probably. People might have different opininions and insights on this topic.

I tend to believe a mobile tent cannot provide the same quality. Will I avoid musicals in tents, YES! … and please, no traveling operas! I hope there is no business model for that :)