Being Able to Experience Things as They are Intended…

A photo of a living room in a house with furniture, books, paintings and show pieces.
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

One of the things that I hear more and more is “collect experiences, not things”. That is a fascinating statement to me on multiple levels. I start thinking about how we collect experiences, and how could we keep increasing the collection realistically. In todays world, this could be done using 3D-technologies. Let us take a journey.

Let us go hunting for a new place to live. We begin our search with photographs and, maybe, some floor plans. This gives us some perspective, but just enough to whet our appetite. The next step would be to actually visit the property and walk around in it. But, what if the property is not yet built, or is inaccessible for a variety of reasons? How will we get the experience we need to trust our decision? This can be done using Virtual Reality (VR). A model of the property can be created which we can use to “walk around” in. It can give us a perspective of the surroundings, the size and the flow. In fact, it can give us more than that – we can get a sense of the light at various times of the day, the seasonal change in surroundings – things that we will not be able to experience even in a visit to the site. Does this give us enough information?

VR is being used today for multiple experiences – some practical, some inaccessible to most people. Take a walk on Mars is an example of an experience that is readily available through VR and something that we would, most likely, not be able to add to our collection in any other way. Will you use VR to go to the top of Mount Everest or attend a live concert of your favourite band?

Let us take this one notch higher. We could take models from companies – furniture, lighting, fittings, etc – and we could place them in the VR model we are walking through. Does the furniture fit nicely leaving enough space to walk? Does the lighting suit the various moods that we are prone to? What is the airflow with the windows open or with the A/C running? Does this increase the information we have?

We can actually do this in our existing abode also. Using Augmented Reality (AR), we would be able to place such furniture models in our home to see how they match up to our existing environment. Ikea Studio is an example of such experiences being available today. Will you use this to place a vase or see how the latest shoe looks on your foot?

How about another notch up? The question you may be asking is how is this an experience? Well, we could get the other senses involved. In addition to light and sound, we could add things like smell, temperature, etc. We already have widespread adoption of sensors today in the home. They sense the temperature and adjust the A/C, they sense your presence and adjust the lighting and they can do a variety of other things. This collection of feedback devices is part of what is called Internet of Things (IoT). The data from the sensors can be fed into control devices which can change the temperature or turn the light on. In fact the models for these reactions can be personalised to you. What if we include the models for these sensors and control systems into our  VR model? We can now see how our potential new abode reacts to our presence and other environmental changes. But, are we still feeling it? Well, we interact with AR/VR systems through an interface. The most common interface is audio-visual, but more complete interfaces have been created. If our interface let us feel the airflow and temperature, let us smell our surroundings, tell us how the chair feels to sit on, we are feeling, no? Now, we have even more information.

Recently, the Ferrari 296 GTB was added to Fortnite. This car was designed for real-life and virtual life together. That means that you are driving a car in fortnite which reacts exactly as it would on a real road. With the enhanced interface, this could become a real experience. You could feel the push on the steering wheel as you drove; you could feel the torque of the engine as the gear changed; you could potentially feel the bumps in the road or even the g-forces as you accelerated or braked. What a rush that would be! 

Well, another level, then? What if the furniture does not fit exactly? Can you ask the manufacturer to decrease the length by 5cm? Can you request an extra bulb in that light fixture? Now, we are actually providing feedback into the system. This can help make our environment become what we want it to become. This can help us shape our experience, not just in the virtual world, but, eventually, in the real world also. Manufacturers would also be happy since they have a new revenue stream without the addition of significant effort to every sale. Now, we are creating information.

You could customise the Ferrari based on the virtual experience and have it manufactured to that spec. In fact, the virtual model could then become the digital twin of your actual car which would allow a mechanic to not only spot trouble quickly, but even predict it. You could do the same to your shoe or anything that you are experiencing in the virtual or augmented world.

But, a major question crops up. How does a manufacturer create a custom piece just for us? We all know that custom manufacturing is rare and very expensive. This brings us to the last piece of the puzzle – Additive Manufacturing, better known as 3D Printing. 3D Printing is designed for mass customization. You can take a 3D model and create a real object out of it. The benefits are enormous (mass customisation, hyperlocal manufacturing, near-zero wastage, ability to create complex geometry), but that is a discussion for a different time. Today, 3D printing is being used across multiple industries including construction. The materials that can be used range from plastic to metals to bio-materials and even food. While there are limitations, they are being overcome, it seems, on a daily basis. Now, it seems, we are creating reality…

This whole paradigm could be extended to any field. Jewellery and dentistry have made great strides here. The auto and aerospace industries are making this a reality. The potential in medicine are enormous (3D printed organs anybody?). The spectrum of 3D technologies today is mind boggling. A fully integrated 3D chain has the potential to change the way we experience the world itself, across all its spheres. Maybe, it has the potential to change the world itself.

What do you think about the possibilities? Do you believe in being able to experience things as they are intended?

3D Printing Tools: The Slicer

My background has always been in software. While I have tinkered with engineering (the physical kind), it has never been extensive. So, when I started to get into 3D Printing, it was with a keen eye to how software helps this process. The slicer is what has impressed me the most so far in this space.

As we look at the process of 3D printing, it necessarily starts with a design. There is a plethora of tools available today to create these designs, each with its own strengths and abilities. These tools are a far cry from my youth, but that is a discussion for another time. The process ends with the printer printing thin layers of material in order to make the design real.

But, how does one get from a design to those layers being printed. The printer is simply obeying orders given to it in a “gcode” file. The software which creates these instructions from the design is called a Slicer.

The slicer takes in multiple inputs – the design, the printer and its capabilities, the raw material and its properties. Then it does the heavy lifting to determine the best way to print the product.

3D Printed parts are typically hollow. But what does hollow mean? All external surfaces on a design are considered “walls”. It is the area inside these walls that are called infill. An infill of zero would mean completely hollow but would make the print extremely weak. An infill of 100% percent would make a solid print, but would negate multiple advantages of 3D printing. Generally, 3D prints are printed with an infill of about 20%, but this could vary greatly depending on the application of the print. So, when slicing, you specify the thickness of the wall, the infill percentages you want and, maybe, the pattern you want the infill in (the pattern also contributes to the strength of the print along different axes). The slicer automatically determines the boundaries of the design, creates the walls and the infill patterns and specifies it in the gcode file. The below are some examples of different fill patterns at different densities.

Source: Researchgate.net

While 3D Printers can do a lot, they certainly cannot print in thin air. They need a base to print on. So, how do you print a horizontal part coming out of a vertical one, such as the arm on the figure below? The answer is supports. Supports are printed along with the design in a way that they provide a base to such surfaces and can be removed once the print is done. While supports can be incorporated into the design, it is a tedious job to identify every surface that needs support and create one for it. In comes the slicer. You can tell the slicer that you would like supports and the angle at which your printer would not be able to print the overhang (typically 45 degrees). The slicer then identifies the surfaces and automatically creates the supports for them.

Source: pinshape.com

In the end, the slicer does an impressive job of analysing the design and performing multiple functions that end up making the job of 3D printing much easier. Most industrial machines come with their own slicer that can do the job. However, there are multiple slicers that can be used for hobbyist machines, some of them open source. I will surely keep a close eye on what else will be handled automatically by these products. Any ideas?

Printing in 3 Dimensions

I grew up around newspaper printing machines. They changed the world since the first printing press was invented in 1440 in ways that would have been considered incomprehensible at the time. 3D-Printing (officially called Additive Manufacturing) has the potential to change the world in ways that may be even more impactful.

What is 3D-Printing

3D Printing is the process of depositing a material layer by layer to create an object that one desires. Various techniques are used to achieve this. For example, heat is used to melt plastic and lay it down in layers (FDM/FFF). Ultraviolet rays are used to cure resin into shapes (SLA). Lasers are used to solidify powders to achieve the same end (SLS).

Why would you use 3D-Printing

There are multiple advantages worth discussing.

3D printing allows us to create customised products. If you can create a 3D design, it is quite likely that it can be printed. It also allows manufacturing to move closer to the point of use. As an example, use of 3D printers at home by hobbyists continues to grow. The combination of these 2 has resulted in a plethora of freely available designs to solve everyday problems. A visit to sites like Thingiverse will give you a taste of this.

Additive manufacturing results in minimal waste given that we are not carving material away. The process also allows us to do things which are not possible/easy with other processes. It can create assemblies in one piece such as chains. We can configure the material filling within a shape, making the product lighter by using less material.

The usage of this technology continues to grow, almost on a daily basis. It has grown beyond hobbies and replacement parts done within the home.

3D Printing is not nirvana (yet!). It is slow. What can be made industrially at multiple pieces a minute may take hours, or even days to print. Cost is another factor – the combination of raw materials, electricity, etc does not always justify using the technology. Quality is still a concern – the finished product may not stand up to the stresses of real life when compared to a similarly machined product. But, a lot of progress has been made in this space over the past decade or so. The progress continues to accelerate, in my humble opinion.

So, in essence, I am excited! Looking forward to talking about the impact in upcoming articles.

What can 3-D Printing do today?

My Internet of Things?

Embed from Getty Images

 

Welcome Apple! The Homekit is the latest entry into a crowded world of home automation. Along with big names like Google, Samsung, Comcast…, this market is full of small manufacturers who have their own controlling apps. In fact an acquaintance just created a device and an app using his own standards.

Given the projected size of the market (Gartner:$300B by 2020), the commercial interest is completely understandable. But will this market live up to it’s promise? In the home sector, it will depend upon it’s usability.

As a potential end user, I am starting to get confused. Should I buy every device from the same manufacturer based on the promise of integration? Should I buy what I want and use individual apps? Should I wait for Apple to release more information? Should I wait until standards start appearing? Should I just give up now?

As a potential end user, I would like to buy what I want and be able to plug it into whatever controlling application I choose to use. I can buy a mobile phone and choose any provider, right? I would like the device to be discovered and configured. I would like analysis on the data from the device (if appropriate) and I would like to be able to intuitively control it (again, if appropriate). And then, there is the issue of security, but let us leave aside for the purposes of this article.

I believe that the strength of the manufacturer comes from the work the device does and how well and efficiently it does it. I believe that the strength of the integrator comes from the usability of the controlling application. How easy is it for me to find a particular device, control it’s features. How well does the application perform the analysis and show me results. The strength of either does not lie in limiting my choices through control of the eco-system.

I understand that standardization is a difficult exercise. I understand that the commercial aspect should and will take precedence. But, my understanding also is that the long term commercial benefits will be better if standardization is achieved earlier.

I am sure Apple will blow me away with it’s usability. I hope it does. I hope it succeeds. But, I also hope it works with everybody else to create an open eco-system, not a closed one. Right now, it is way too hard for the end user to make sense of the Internet of Things.

What do the 9-to-whatevers think?

What Would You Like With Your WT?

Wearable Technologies

Image: WallpaperHDFree.com

“Wearable Technology” is coming! It is coming in all shapes and forms. Whether you are a gadgeteer, a technologist, a fashionista, a carbon saver, or just walk the streets, you have a stake in what happens here…

From my perspective, this is a chance for technology to do some things right, right from the start.

Technology

  • Don’t make my smartphone do ALL the work. It is the hub, but protect my battery and help my pants stay up by keeping mobiles light and avoiding multiple battery packs. Distributed? Peer to peer chats where needed?
  • Standards and interoperability? Please don’t create a closed ecosystem. I don’t want to have to change my pacemaker because my smartphone died
  • Integrate, integrate, integrate! Create a whole, not a sum of the parts. I want a solution and not an architecture to plug things into. I do enough of that at work

Usability

  • Make my experience soar. Make things clean, easy to connect and easy to use. Please don’t fry my brain
  • Make information readily available at the right-time. Don’t bombard me in real-time until I ask. I have trouble concentrating as it is
  • Talk to the fashion people. I may be a geek, but I don’t want to look like one all the time. I prefer the look and feel of the image on the left.
  • Allow a device to charge others. I have run out of USB ports, especially for anything that is inside my body
  • Please make the charging wireless. My desk is a mess of wires; not sure I want to replicate it on my body

Save The Earth

  • Make use of all the things that have been touted – solar, piezo, etc. If I have to move and be in the sun to make my gadgets work, I can avoid the couch potato experience

Security And Privacy

  • Please use biometric security or whatever it takes. While I will be delighted to know my pulse after running at top speed for 3 minutes, I am not sure I want the person on the park bench to know it
  • Please have a clear visual indicator that cannot be disabled. I REALLY want to know when I am being recorded in video or audio. I need to be very careful what I do online; please leave me some space in the offline world
  • I am interested in spying on myself and myself alone. Help me not spy on other people and protect me when somebody else wants to spy on me. Difficult? Well, the size of this market with and without this feature would be an interesting clue…

There are choices in front of all the firms looking to get into this field, and believe me, there are a lot of them. The successful ones should be the ones that care about what we want. The question is if we care enough about what we want to make it a reality.

What do the 9-to-whatevers think?

The Journey From Services To IP?

Made In Indian IT Service IndustryThe Indian IT Services industry has been one of the wonders of the world over the last couple of decades, growing from nothing to $100 Billion in that time. However, today, the industry seems to be caught-up in it’s own success. With the loss of the cost play as a long term strategy, and the movement of the IT landscape towards everything on the cloud (the conclusions in this article by  are a bit drastic, IMHO, but the points are valid), the industry needs to have a long hard look at what the future holds.

A recent event report by Ray Wang that talked about IP motivated me to flesh out my thoughts on this topic. Over the past few years, this has been an oft-repeated discussion with folks at multiple firms (mostly within the BFSI sector) with interesting thought patterns emerging.

There is a large amount of trepidation in these firms with regards to creating intellectual property. The few internally developed products have not provided the returns. Even the ones purchased externally are not hitting headlines. The ROI has just not compared with the returns coming from services making it a low priority in tough times. There is also concern about competing with the customer (the customer would not want to pass knowhow which could end up in the vendors own products). The firms just don’t seem to trust their knowledge levels, execution capability and selling skills enough.

To get around this, the vendors need to think outside the box.

One feature of enterprise software (especially internal software, which is bread and butter for the service industry) is the utter lack of thought put into user experience, and to an extent, sustainable design. Zia Patel has eloquently talked about how India can capitalize on its back room innovation skills to create IP. This niche can then be exploited by the industry to create a differentiation to their services as well as products.

Another thought is to work with the startups in India. I know of several startups which began with product roadmaps. To fund these fruits of passion, they began to do services. Now they are in the “next payroll syndrome” and are unable/unwilling to chase their dreams. With their strong balance sheets, the large companies can create an eco-system of co-dependency that will help both ends of the market. There is a start in this area, but I am still not sure that the needed focus has been brought yet.

In summation, the industry needs to start looking at the future much harder than it is today. Yes, it needs to build up strong expertise across verticals and it needs to ensure that the relationships are created and nurtured. But, that is now a basic requirement, not an objective. As for the individual firms, they tend to follow each other, which reduces the chances of any real innovation happening in the industry.

Its time for the individual firms to stop focusing on each other and start focusing on themselves. What do the 9-to-whatevers think?

Does Math Have a Context?

Basic MathThroughout my engineering days as well as professional life, I always liked math. It has a certain cleanliness to it that I could not find elsewhere. Of course there came a point where it took more effort than I intended to put in to understand the intricacies. However, everything I learnt before that is still close to my heart.

So, when I decided to indulge in a newfound passion to create masterpieces for the mobile world, I naturally turned to math. The idea was to create something that would help kids understand, enjoy and excel at basic mathematics. The more I researched in this field, the more confused I got.

I realized that our learning process for different subjects is different. We learn the best when we learn within a context. Language is taught to children using action words which they can easily identify with. Right up to our learning in professional lives, our learning all comes with context. However, math is still taught in a very abstract way.

We are taught that 2+2=4. This is a “fact”. We are taught the process of solving this problem and how to extend it to other problems. However, there is no context. There is no storification. No wonder that children who do not immediately identify the beauty do not really like the subject even if they are good at it. A food for thought article I read from PBS prompted me to write this.

Can anything be done about this? Can math be storified? Can we create a context around basic math to stoke the imagination of children? In fact, does math have a context?

What do the 9-to-whatevers think?

Through The Looking Glass

secretlondonglasses_previewFinally, it happened. I had to get my first pair of reading glasses a couple of months ago. I got the lightest pair I could find given what I had read and heard about comfort levels.

I need them to read and read only. I am absolutely fine watching TV or moving about the house without them. In fact, the lenses distort the perception for anything beyond reading. What surprised me were some of the behaviors I developed.

As time moved along, I realized that I was leaving them on for some other activities. Even though the view was distorted, I was not conscious of this and went about my business. This happened until something made me realize the glasses were on and I removed them.

This got me thinking! What kind of glasses do I carry around with me in life? All perception is necessarily through the lenses of my collective experiences, but what distortions and prejudices have crept in that I am not conscious of? How aware do I need to be to have an open mind?

Applying this to a professional setting, do our built-up biases unconsciously drive our actions and decisions? What needs to happen for us to realize that we are carrying this baggage and for us to unload it? Mind you, this is not about ignoring all previous experiences. This is about identifying and filtering the parts that are appropriate in a given situation. This is about identifying whether the biases are taking us away from where we want to be.

Being aware of this seems to be the first step in building the self-consciousness to identify the biases. This will allow us to be more open to input as well as contrarian evidence. Having a confidante on the team who constantly challenges your leanings and status quo would also help. But, what helps most is our desire to do the right thing.

So, 9-to-whatevers, time to identify the lenses and figure out how to undistort the view? Let me know what you think.

Carrot & Stick

Since time immemorial, I can imagine, there has been a need to motivate people into the “right” behavior.

The first crime ever committed was probably soon after the first settlement was settled and somebody stole a goat from their neighbour.  This resulted in a verdict of “Thou shalt return the goat to thy neighbour; thine goat shall then be cooked for all”.

Punishment was probably easy to implement.  It produced results, was flexible, was (almost) costless and allowed for control of masses within limits of the available technology and philosophy.  However, it must have soon been realized that something was needed to prevent the crimes from occuring in the first place.  Also, there was something needed to make people do good; not just stop them from doing bad.  And this was a gap in the punishment theory.

Bang!  Religion was invented.  Punishment, already invented was included by default.  However, rewards for good behaviour were also included.  This allowed people not only to encourage good behaviour, but also define the parameters of that good behaviour.  Means were very limited though; the rewards could not be distributed freely.  The solution was to provide these rewards in the afterlife (or next life).  This meant no accountability and no feedback.  The required faith also ensured that any gaps in the theory could not be questioned.  A brilliant solution to the motivation problem!

Fast forward to the corporate environment.  The situation does seem to be similar here.  Punishment is easier to implement, easier to execute and requires a lower level of imagination and ability from the managers in-charge.  Loss of employment has always been a credible threat (and remains so today despite the changes in the competitive and HR landscape).

But, how does one motivate good behavior?  This is pretty much a requirement for any organization, not only to thrive, but just to survive in today’s world.  Tools similar to religion were used; lifelong employment, retirement benefits, etc.  This provided the returns on a perennial basis and enabled ‘faith’ and trust in the organization as well as employee.  As the landscape became more competitive, organizations decided they could not afford the largesse.  Individuals also found it more lucrative to sell oneself to the highest bidder in the market.  The lifetime contract was buried once and for all.

So, the conundrum becomes quite accute for the managers of today.  Motivation has become a very complicated field.  Gone are the days when motivation was limited to monetary gains and job security.  Employees as well as organizations concentrate on non-monetary methods.  Also, the expectation of the employees are keeping up with general social trends (they are the same people, are they not!) and demanding instant gratification – and that is if they are not demanding things as incentives before they perform.  Today, the concept of an annual bonus may not make sense due to this.  Even the annual appraisal is being shelved in some brave organizations in favor of a more continuous process.

What is one to do?  In order to succeed themselves, managers (ably led/supported by HR departments), need to break the mold and do things that were unthinkable a few years ago. We need to make the benefits more short term, more flexible (based on the need of the individual). We need to make them more realistic and of real use to our staff. Only then will they give 110% (defined as more that we demand). These are active thoughts in new gen companies such as Google, but for the vast majority of the corporate landscape, the answer continues to be “this will not work for us?”.

Then, the question is what will? Until we redefine the “Carrot” and continue to adjust to the needs to today, we will not be able to get the newer generations to continue working for us. It will take us, the 9-to-whatevers, to open up our imaginations, our biases, our assumptions to really make the worker of today feel Welcome!

Do We Want to Know?

Knowledge Management is everywhere. In discussions, blogs, corporate strategies, individual minds, etc. If one is unaware of or not convinced about the benefits, there is an army of consultants and vendors who can change that. I am a convert without needing any more help.

For evidence, one needs only to look at traditions passed from one generation to the next. The artisan/farmer/xyz made sure that the next generation understood and learnt the sum of their knowledge so that it may be built upon and improved. This was actually necessary for survival. Today, organizations are fighting for survival/success in a way they have probably never fought before. Every asset is being analyzed in order to increase the efficiency of usage. Knowledge is one such asset which is underutilized and can provide significant returns. The question then is, why is knowledge underutilized? To use any asset efficiently, the nature of the asset needs to be understood; the asset transformed to be usable in the manner desired; the asset used in an optimal manner; the asset maintained in a usable/relevant state and measurements of the benefits coming out of this. Let us apply this to knowledge.

The nature of “knowledge” has been well studied and classified and is constantly being refined. Most of the literature I read today relates to the transformation of knowledge into a usable state. Tools to capture explicit knowledge are widely available. There is also good direction on how to start capturing implicit knowledge; direct interaction and collaboration between the haves and have-nots being used to speed up this process. Curation and maintenance of this “library” is also an oft-touched upon topic. But what about the users of this knowledge? When there is a need for context based answers (typically quick problem-solving type things), people do approach other people. However, a large part of the problem is around re-inventing the wheel and re-learning lessons. My experience has shown me that the not built here syndrome continues to exist in this space. Large swathes of the organization (including and specially managers) do not believe that solutions created and lessons learnt by other people apply to them. Their problem is always different. (Code re-use & Service re-use anybody?). What is done to change this attitude will decide the pay-off from any KM strategy. Another issue is training. While internal corporate providers can play a just in time game with knowledge, vendor organizations and service providers need to be on the bleeding edge. They need to prepare people with knowledge in expectation of its use, not after they develop a need.

I have seen multiple organizations repeat mistakes or re-invent things because people do not want to talk to the people with the knowledge. I have also seen different groups at different levels of preparedness with knowledge (within and across organizations) which they know will be needed. Unfortunately, this depends on the attitude of individuals. We need to work on the culture to spread the “correct” version of the attitude.

We know that Po’s father would confide the secret ingredient to him at some point. But, we need the whole organizational kitchen to know it. What can be done to make it happen? Any thoughts from the 9-to-whatevers?