Police Departments Hoping Wearable Technology Will Prevent Another Ferguson

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There has been a recent dramatic increase in inquiries about officer-worn camera systems and other types of police technology. This comes as a result of the national media coverage following the killing of teenager Michael Brown by police officer Darren Wilson in Ferguson, Missouri. A few body-mounted camera systems are being considered, of which will likely change how wearable technology is used in the police force from now on.

Digital Ally FirstVU HD Officer-Worn Video System

Digital Ally’s system and others like it are unique because they accommodate the need of police officers exiting their vehicles. Such action often leaves dash-mounted cameras unable to record activity beside or behind the patrol car.

Since its market launch, the efficacy of the FirstVU HD has been complemented and expanded by ‘live streaming’ capabilities, cloud-based storage and access, and the recent introduction of patented VuLink connectivity system, which allows body cameras and multiple in-car video systems to be automatically or manually activated simultaneously.

TASER Axon Flex

Another leading maker of wearable video cameras is Taser. The Axon Flex that sells for $600 lets officers mount the tiny camera on their eyewear, hat, helmet, body or even on the dash of their cruiser.

A collaboration between Taser and Samsung allows the video and audio feed from the camera to be sent to a Samsung media device with a four-inch screen called the Galaxy Player.

Law enforcement agencies have used the Axon Flex-Galaxy Player combination not only for active police work, but also to monitor trainees and help provide better feedback as they develop their policing skills.

GoPro Hero

The company that went public with an IPO back in June makes the Hero line of personal HD cameras, frequently used in extreme sports. Although the GoPro Hero is sold to and used by law enforcement, it is larger than some of its competitors and considered bulky by some.

What some consider a disadvantage, however, could also be an advantage. A chest-mounted GoPro Hero is obvious to anyone a police officer encounters.

Google Glass

Many would argue that Google Glass is a perfect fit for police use. It sees what the officer sees, is small and lightweight, unobtrusive and offers many other benefits including the ability to communicate with various police agencies.

Law enforcement personnel in Dubai, New York, Byron, Georgia and Rialto have made use of Google Glass. Because the device has the potential to be used with a variety of apps that could, for example, scan license plates, many in law enforcement see Glass as one of most attractive options yet.

California Law is Requiring Smart Phones to Have Anti-theft Features

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On Monday, California Governor Jerry Brown signed into law a bill requiring anti-theft features to be built into new phones and automatically turned on. People who have their phones stolen would be able to remotely lock them and erase their data, making the devices worthless targets.

The law, which goes into effect in July of next year, is a big victory for anti-crime advocates who had complained that smartphone makers like Apple didn’t do enough to help their customers fend off theft. San Francisco District Attorney George Gascon, had publicly criticized the industry for failing to strengthen security after phone theft became epidemic in San Francisco.

California is the first state to require the technology to be turned on by default. Earlier this year, Minnesota passed a law requiring phone kill switches, but the language did not say that the technology must be automatically enabled. Only when thieves are convinced that stolen phones have no value will they stop swiping them from people walking down the street or on the bus.

The initial kill switch bill, introduced in April by Sen. Mark Leno, of San Francisco, failed to pass in its initial vote. Only after being reintroduced later did it finally pass.

The new law only covers smartphones, and not tablets or laptop computers. Retailers will face a fine of $500 to $2,500 for selling phones without the required technology.

Before the bill signing, major phone manufacturers like Apple, Google and Samsung along with major carriers had opposed legislation by saying it would hurt consumers and potentially open a new avenue for hackers. Instead, they committed to a voluntary program to include technology that would let customers wipe data from stolen phones and disable them. But the companies were under no legal requirement to carry out the program.

Apple, for example, introduced an initiative last year that let users protect their devices through the iOS 7 iCloud Activation Lock feature. During its first six months, thefts of iPhones fells by 38% in San Francisco. Meanwhile, theft of Samsung devices, which had no similar anti-theft technology, rose 12% during that period.

Microsoft Facing a Tough Challenge from Google’s Chromebook

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Those unwilling to believe that Microsoft is not concerned with the competition from Chromebooks better adjust their thinking. The company has been targeting the cheap laptops running Google’s OS since the early days of its Surface tablets. It is now pushing the building of cheap Windows laptops to go head-to-head with the Chromebook.

There’s good reason for Microsoft to be worried about the Chromebook. They are cheap and are making a market for themselves in the vital education market. Selling laptops is important to the industry where they buy in bulk and are training the computer buyer of the future in the systems they will look to down the road.

The education sector may be a target for these cheap Windows laptops. HP will soon launch its Stream Windows laptop that should cost around a couple hundred dollars. HP is including 200GB of cloud storage with the purchase. That’s well and good, but it still falls short of what schools get with Chromebook deployments.

Deploying Chromebooks to schools removes expensive support from the budget equation. School districts with Chromebooks don’t have to worry about supporting the OS and updates are handled automatically without issues. Even though Windows 8 is probably the easiest version of Windows yet, many users still require regular support.

Perhaps most importantly, school personnel don’t have to worry about hardware maintenance. When a Chromebook stops working, whether through rough handling by students or simple failure, Google replaces it with another. This is a tremendous advantage that the Chromebook has over Windows laptops. It makes it easy for school districts to put a fixed cost on the deployment, a crucial component of IT costs in cash-strapped organizations.

Apple had made some headway years ago in the education market by offering schools a huge discount on early computers that retailed for thousands of dollars at the time. This move has kept Apple as a competitor to Google and Microsoft in the classroom due to winning over many early on.

It’s a good thing for Microsoft to get behind cheap laptops to compete with Chromebooks, especially in schools. It’s going to take more than cheap laptops with Windows to do so, however. There will have to be turn-key programs like that from Google with Chromebooks to remove the cost and concerns of hardware and software maintenance. All for a low price schools are able to pay.

Michigan State University Creates a Transparent Solar Panel

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Michigan State University researchers have created a solar panel that resembles a typical piece of glass, which can be placed on top of a window to collect solar energy. Clean solar power may be the future of energy. Transparent solar panels that seem just like normal glass may make that future real.

Called a transparent luminescent solar concentrator, the panel uses organic molecules made to absorb invisible wavelengths of light, such as ultraviolet and near infrared light. The material moves this unseen light to the edges of the panel, where strips of photovoltaic solar cells pick it up and convert it to electricity.

There have been past attempts at similar tech, but the results that have been produced were not transparent enough or were tinted. Such colorless transparency would allow these solar panels to have a wide variety of uses.

There are residential and commercial uses of windows using this technology, or gadgets like mobile phones and tablets with these solar cells embedded in the glass, or electronic signs that charge themselves, or even in cars or other vehicles with such windows.

The current version of the transparent solar cells is about one percent efficient, but the research team aims to increase that beyond five percent. Colored luminescent solar concentrators can get efficiency up to seven percent. Opaque solar cells can have an efficiency of 15% or more.

Wearable Technology May Soon Have Ability to Collect Data for Parkinson’s Disease

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Recent news that Robin Williams had suffered from the early stages of Parkinson’s Disease preceding his death has been quite a surprise to many. Other celebrities have suffered from the effects of this dangerous disease for many years: Muhammad Ali, Johnny Cash, and Michael J. Fox. From these big names, has come widespread media attention, and awareness. This week, a big step has been taken towards finding new data to control the effects of Parkinson’s.

Intel announced on Wednesday its plans to use wearable gadgets such as smart watches to monitor patients with Parkinson’s disease and collect data that can be shared with researchers.

The well-known chip maker said that it is teaming up with the Michael J. Fox Foundation, established by the actor and Parkinson’s sufferer in 2000, to conduct a multi-phase research study of the neurodegenerative brain disease. An estimated five million people globally have been diagnosed with Parkinson’s, the second-most-common neurodegenerative disease after Alzheimer’s.

Their initial goal is to determine the feasibility of using wearable devices to monitor patients remotely and store that data in an open system that can be accessed by scientists.

The next phase of the study, which has been said will likely kick off in the fall, the foundation plans to set aside funds to explore how patients are responding to medication. Participants will be monitored via an array of wearable devices.

Clinical trials have been said to be far too “subjective” in the past. For instance, a patient might inform her doctor that she felt a tremor for several minutes, when it actually lasted a matter of seconds. In the future, Intel hopes patients and their doctors will have more precise measurements via wearable devices about the “frequency and severity” of symptoms.

The Michael J. Fox foundation will continue to raise funding to cover the costs of providing wearable devices to patients.

By using such devices, the foundation and other research groups can tap into a broader pool of patients for clinical trials. Today, many people with Parkinson’s disease are unable to participate in clinical trials because they do not live near a research facility. However, wearable devices offer a convenient way to track patients from their work or homes, allowing people in the most rural parts of the country to participate.

As the technology expands beyond the Parkinson’s Research, Intel hopes to capture a share of the growing market for big data analytics and wearable devices in the health sector.

While Intel boasts its own wearable technologies, Intel stressed that the Parkinson’s study is device agnostic, meaning patients can test a variety of wearable gadgets. In March, Intel completed its acquisition of Basis Science, a startup that is best known for its wrist-band that measures the wearer’s heart rate.

Mind The Gap

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There are certain mysteries in life which are ineffable…like where do all those solo socks go? why do I always end up picking up the tab? in the weird world of online there are several gaps which remain mysterious. Here’s a couple:

Tablets are divided between iPads (25%) and Androids (74%) with the Surface coming in a distant last at about 1%. The androids out number Apple because hundreds of companies make tablets with the Android OS on board whereas only Apple makes the iPad.  What’s weird and (I have never seen a satisfactory explanation for this) is that the bandwidth usage of all kinds is dominated by iPad at about 75% with Android taking the rest.  Given that all devices hook up to Wifi how is it possible that 25% of the users are consuming 75% of Tablet bandwidth.  There are multiple theories out there…maybe iPads are favored by data intensive corporate applications of the devices, others suggest that the dominance of iTunes in movie streaming is a factor…but then Netflix runs on both….any way you look at it, it’s a bit weird.

The other gap which is causing waves in our industry is the search revenue per click conundrum. Most people are reasonably familiar with the concept that when we click on ads in search results somebody (mostly Google) gets paid. As end users have migrated to mobile devices at a rate far greater than anyone could have ever imagined the advertisers haven’t.  Advertising agencies are notoriously conservative and (some might claim) in some ways dumb.  Search delivered on desktops has been around for over a decade and they are comfortable with that medium. A few years back social media exploded on the market and agencies were caught completely off guard. A few years later they are just about starting to catch up with the opportunity.  Mobile devices and delivering ads against those devices has left the industry scratching their heads…even now I am shocked and infuriated by major brands who still don’t have a mobile friendly site…let alone mobile friendly ad campaigns.  The result is that although Google’s revenue continues to head north at a good clip they are achieving that growth with many more cheaper clicks. That steady decline has been happening over the last couple of years with no end in sight.  In public statements Google has pinned their hopes on local advertisers paying a premium for mobile clicks to drive their local businesses. We are certainly seeing some pretty dramatic spikes in click prices for “hyperlocal” searches like “plumber West Oshkosh.”  The problem is that even large numbers of local businesses smart enough to bid online (but often not smart enough to get good ROI for their efforts) don’t compare to the massive spend the big brands can move between platforms. This will no doubt level out over time….but it’s not going to happen overnight.

The Velvet Rope Problem

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For an incredibly rich and powerful company Google has a tin ear when it comes to the common touch. At the core of the problem is an apparent company wide belief that they are smarter than the rest of us and the rules don’t apply to them. The irony is that the billions of dollars of revenue they generate each year comes from regular people searching for stuff online. In comparison Apple does a much better job of fitting in with the common man. The iPhone and iPad are probably amongst the best designed and engineered things most of us possess. In comparison Google Glass and driverless cars are securely focused on the super rich tech insiders. One of their more public elitist debacles is now headed into the sunset. The Google barges were mysterious contraptions moored in San Fran and Portland harbors. Although their true function was never fully revealed, the consensus was that these were planned to be retail/display centers where the brightest and best could meet behind closed doors to become privy to and perhaps buy the latest and greatest from the Google stable. These barges have now been sold and are headed off to the breakers yard…or whatever else the new owners have in mind for them. Not only was this a very public attempt to end run retail zoning laws it was also a clear example of their “this is not for you” mentality.  In comparison Apple builds huge beautifully designed retail outlets in most larger cities without velvet ropes to keep regular folks at bay.

Google is terrific at spotting a trend then jumping on it to use their wealth and power to make it both accessible and affordable to everyone.  That’s probably a bit unsatisfactory for the Googlers who think the cools stuff should be kept for “people like them” but it’s where the smart money is. The democratization of technology has been a major driving force for the last couple of decades. As a rule of thumb, if a development’s users can be numbered in the hundreds and can only be found in the greater San Francisco Bay area it’s not going to drive revenue at scale.

The Google Genome Project

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Google has a black ops group which spends large chunks of speculative Google cash on ‘moonshot’ projects like self driving cars and dark fiber. Most of these don’t have immediate financial upside but neither did the original moonshot and we are still enjoying the benefits from that adventure. the latest project to come out to that group is one I can totally get behind.  Ten years ago sequencing the Human Genome cost hundreds of millions of dollars. Nowadays you can get your broad genome markers worked up for $70 or the whole thing sequenced for about $1,000. This has led to a proliferation of DNA data for hundreds of thousands disease conditions.  We know which mutations are closely linked to various diseases, we also have a pretty good handle on mutations which are implicated. Google has already partnered with Autism Speaks to help them digest the massive DNA data understanding that syndrome generates, now they are contributing in a different way.

Part of the problem of understanding the genetic causes of disease is that the majority of the data we have amassed so far has been from sick or very sick people. Even in cases where a very precise mutation is linked to a disease there may be other more subtle things going on.  These things can be harder to spot when a person’s genome is already seriously impacted by disease. To help make comparisons easier and more accurate Google is setting out to come up with the base line DNA of a “healthy” human. That should help people studying disease more easily find other potential markers or contributing factors for their target condition.  Initially Google will use the entire genomes of 175 apparently healthy guinea pigs.  The data will be anonymous and they wont be taking samples from anyone they employ.  Provided that the data is truly anonymous this shouldn’t generate any meaningful health concerns.  Over time I’d expect them the use a larger and larger healthy normal dataset but this sounds like a good start. It’s good to see Google using their massive wealth and data processing powers for good in this case.

Changing the Way We Sleep

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Sleep is pretty important to most of us, and getting a good night’s sleep can be difficult for some. There are a slew of sleep-aids out there, but a recently successful Kickstarter campaign ($100,000 goal, so far over $300,000 has been raised) has pushed a company named “Hello” to create the module called Sense.

The Sense Sleep Tracker system consists of three parts; the sense module, the sense pill, and the app. The Sense module looks like a trendy rubber band ball, but it monitors things while you snooze along with the sleep pill. It’s a pill by name only, as it clips onto your pillow and tracks how much you toss and turn with a 6-axis accelerometer and gyroscope

What makes Sense interesting, though, is what else it takes into account. By tracking noise, light, temperature, humidity, and even air condition, it figures out a “Sleep Score” based on the potential for rest and how much you actually managed to get. Events such as car alarms sounding outside, or dogs barking are figured into the calculation as well.

The Sense module can record any rumblings it hears, but will also keep an eye on light levels, temperature and other disturbances near the bedside. Just want to relax? That funky module can put out white noise or other soothing sounds to put you to sleep and then wake you up at the perfect time with its Smart Alarm, which wakes you when you are out of your deepest sleep cycle.

The first units are scheduled to roll out in November.

Is There a Future in Cloud Computing?

 

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Over the last year, the concept of cloud computing has continued to build momentum, as it has rapidly moved into the mainstream.  In fact it is now fair to say that cloud as a distinct topic has started to fade into the background; organizations are now simply leveraging all kinds of cloud services as a necessary component of their digital strategies.

This increase in cloud usage means that the boundaries of the enterprise are starting to blur, in particular enterprise IT is no longer defined by ownership or the location of the technology but rather by the value it can bring. But what does this mean for the future of cloud? What will continue to drive this change?

Companies can now create reliable and scalable systems in a matter of days or weeks rather than months or years, using cloud platforms to create components that instantly have global scale and reach.  The speed of application development in the cloud – as a result of both higher productivity and the ability to build on the work of others through integration – is therefore a key trend and a real game changer in terms of both the value of IT and the way in which companies leverage it for advantage in an increasingly digital era.

A factor that will continue to have prominence in everybody’s minds in the coming years is security. While security is a critical topic it is also one which is frequently driven by perception and emotion rather than a comprehensive assessment of the risks and benefits involved.  When thinking about it logically, in-house systems often use their position inside the firewall as the single most important factor in ensuring security – but this attitude often simply justifies a lack of development in the kinds of comprehensive security capabilities required to truly secure data and protect it against access from different groups.  Cloud services on the other hand have usually been built from the ground up to be both secure and to keep the information and activities of different tenants separate; perhaps counter-intuitively this means that they are often more deeply built for security than many traditional on premise systems.

These issues may seem obscure at first glance, but with more and more corporate data needing to be made accessible to people and systems outside the bounds of the firewall – e.g. for mobile access, API exploitation or digital supply chain creation – it becomes critical.  The firewall as a security mechanism ceases to make sense when the majority of actors are outside its boundaries – the key is rather to have a much more granular security model focused on securing the actual assets and resources rather than simply creating an isolated community. As a result, many consider the security of cloud services to be higher for emerging use cases, since security is a multi-faceted problem and not simply a factor of ‘where’ data physically resides.

It appears clear from many observations and experiences that the implementation of cloud within businesses will only continue to increase and accelerate. As every business is different, however, so will each business’s journey be unique. The general opportunity they all share, however, is to use the cloud and its integration potential to simplify their business models and to diminish the risks of change by adopting the new behaviors of moving quickly, testing ideas at low cost and rapidly scaling successful outcomes.  In the future, such speed and adaptability will simply be accepted as the only viable route to sustainable and meaningful business execution.