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)

Dutch Love to Go Camping

I was wondering why Dutch caravans crowd our Autobahn every summer. So, I googled the Web to find out what makes them go on vacation with a caravan.

First thing I checked was how popular camping is in the Netherlands. According to google trends it is pretty popular 🙂 People from the Netherlands are #1 in the world when it comes to googling for “camping”. My research went on to discover the reasons.

Unfortunately, there was no definite reason or centuries old Dutch tradition that explains the yearly habit. But several points came up that draw a picture. Dutch obviously do have some specific preferences regarding their vacations. In particular, regarding food, children and the accommodation.

bring own food

According to a blog I found camping is so popular for Dutch people because they want to bring their own food. It is cheaper on the one hand and you are safe the food tastes good on the other. The blog, however, guesses its due to the Dutch’s cheapness 😀

I also discovered that there is such a thing as a Dutch oven. Most likely everyone has seen one of these in a Western movie. The Dutch call it potje.

bring children

The Dutch must love children! One of the reasons that Dutch prefer camping is their children. Camping is definitely a family thing and children love camping. That is probably also the reason why this becomes a sort of tradition. Every Dutch remembers the great time he had on camping vacations in his childhood.

freedom and unusual accommodations

A major reason is a weakness for unusual accommodations, but also the freedom a caravan gives. A caravan allows a comfortable road trip with a motel on board. Nonetheless, prefering a caravan over a hotel room must be a Dutch thing 😉 But Dutch do love unusual accommodations as stated by Ben Thijsen a Dutch entrepreneur who bought an old Eastern German airplane and turned it into a hotel.

Dutch must love camping so much they even drove down to the world championships in south africa 2010 in caravans.

Here’s a fun video about how much Germans like the Dutch caravans on our Autobahn:

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:





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 😉 )!

“Like” around the World

When we had our daily lunch in a restaurant we just discovered, we got a sort of simple but new idea. We liked the place so we thought we must share it with others (geeks!). What we did was checking in on foursquare, facebook, … (you name it) wherever today’s open-minded smartphone generation likes to check-in.

One of our less geeky colleagues was wondering why nobody is talking at the table and asked: “What are u guys doing?”. We used our phones and stopped social interaction in real life. So, we figured that checking in physically would be much more comfortable on a social level. How cool was that if you could just check-in by placing your phone against the restaurants wall? … a physical “Like”-button.

As this might have been a simple but cool business idea I checked what is available from RFID and near field communication (NFC) research and who might had this idea already. And, of course, as this is pretty simple there are some approaches and tests out there. So, hopefully we can see physical “Like”-buttons everywhere in near future with NFC in our phones. I would love to see that!

A company in NL has developed a ready to use prototype for facebook places:


Coca-Cola did an event where people were able to check-in with wrist bands:

Here’re some links to more details:



Pretty nice. But I did find this as well *ouch* 😀


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 😀