RFIDs and Life in 2013

ZDNet envisions an RFID-centric view of a day in the office in 2013:

It’s 7:00 am. Gregor Samson parks his car in the company garage and heads for his office. An embedded sensor in the car confirms that Gregor has arrived and is parked in his assigned spot.

The door to reach the lobby opens automatically as Gregor’s RFID (Radio Frequency Identification) tag and facial patterns are recognized. He heads for the coffee station to rev up for the day. The coffee maker knows his preferences from his RFID and starts cranking out a double latte with lowfat milk. The economy is tough, so the company is charging a nominal fee for beverages. The coffee machine wirelessly communicates the charge to Gregor’s account.

As Gregor walks down the hallway, he scans his PDA, which is fitted on his left wrist, for the latest messages and sports scores. Sensors in his eyeglasses allow him to scroll without touching the device.

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10 Emerging Technologies

Tech Review “identifies the developments that will dramatically affect the way we live and workand profiles the leading innovators behind them”:

Wireless Sensor Networks
Injectable Tissue Engineering
Nano Solar Cells
Mechatronics
Grid Computing
Molecular Imaging
Nanoimprint Lithography
Software Assurance
Glycomics
Quantum Cryptography

Oracle’s Strategy

From Barron’s:

Oracle’s business consists of three basic elements. At the heart is database software, which accounts for 80% of its software-licensing revenue. The enterprise-software business is smaller, but crucial to Oracle’s growth. Two-thirds of Oracle’s revenue actually comes from services, primarily annual fees for technical support and software upgrades, which run customers about 22% a year of what they originally pay for their software.

Oracle faces two key challenges for its core database operations. The first is the maturity of its market. Some analysts doubt growth in database demand can now exceed single-digit rates. Oracle also faces competition from two formidable rivals: IBM and Microsoft. The strength of IBM remains the mainframe. Microsoft, meanwhile, is the leader in simpler departmental databases.

An update on Oracle’s Collaboration Suite…

It has long been Ellison’s mantra that 95% of all data don’t yet find their way into databases. That’s precisely the story behind Oracle’s Collaboration Suite, software introduced last summer. Aimed squarely at e-mail server software such as Microsoft Exchange and IBM’s Lotus Notes, Collaboration Suite takes e-mail, voice mail, calendars, Word documents, Excel files and PowerPoint presentations, and stores them all in an Oracle database. Oracle thinks this approach can greatly pare administrative costs and provide new functions such as voice mail in users in-boxes while allowing them to stick with their Microsoft Outlook desktop software.

While the product has been slowly gaining traction, it’s hard to predict whether it can eat into the installed base of Exchange users. Ellison says he could get 10% of the market — or 50%. “The interesting thing about Exchange is that it was a little departmental system, never intended to be an enterprise-wide mission-critical system. It doesn’t have the security, it doesn’t have the reliability, and it’s very labor-intensive to operate. We think we can cut your labor costs by 90%.”

..and on its applications software business:

Oracle thinks it can rev up applications sales by offering them to customers as a service, via its nascent outsourcing division. It’s the return of an idea that popped up in the bubble days — the application-service provider. But this time, it makes sense. Buying, administering and maintaining enterprise applications and the associated hardware and storage costs a fortune. So rather than handle it in-house, why not outsource to Oracle? The company now offers customers the option of handing over administration of their applications, whether at a customer site, at Oracle or at a third-party location. So far, about 500 Oracle customers have signed on; the company says outsourcing grew more than 50% in the latest quarter, though from a small base.

The idea, says Oracle’s outsourcing president, Tim Chou, is simply to reduce the administrative costs of running software, which by some estimates runs as much as four times the original cost of the application every year. In other words, Chou says, pay $1 million for a software license, and you’ll shell out about $20 million to support it over five years.

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IBM attacking Sun with Linux

From Barron’s:

IBM has made Linux a commercial factor. Linux specialists like Red Hat Software were there, sure, but Red Hat’s still losing money on operations, with revenues running at an annual rate of just $100 million a year. And while the inventors of Linux may have thought they were creating an alternative to the software monopoly of Microsoft Windows, IBM has used Linux as a brilliant attack on Sun Microsystems. Sun’s most successful business is the sale of proprietary computers running Unix software, an operating system similar to Linux.

Giving away Linux on cheap Intel-based hardware, IBM can undercut the price of Sun’s computers and still make money on proprietary IBM software and consulting services. At LinuxWorld, IBM announced new Linux computers and a Linux version of its Tivoli software for automating data centers.

While IBM profited nicely on December quarter sales of $24 billion (nearly half of that from consulting), Sun still suffered a slight operating loss on $2.9 billion in sales for the same period.

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Network Theory

From NYTimes:

Network scientists study networks: collections of people or objects connected to each other in some way. Think of the 1.5 million Manhattan residents or the 30,000 genes inside a human cell. Such networks, scientists argue, behave in ways that can’t be understood solely in terms of their component parts. Without knowing what every single person or object within the network is doing, they say, it’s nevertheless possible to know something about how the network as a whole behaves.

Stated that way it sounds simple. But as an intellectual approach, network theory is the latest symptom of a fundamental shift in scientific thinking, away from a focus on individual components – particles and subparticles %u2014 and toward a novel conception of the group. As Mr. Barabasi, a professor of physics at the University of Notre Dame, put it: “In biology, we’ve had great success stories – the human genome, the mouse genome. But what is not talked about is that we have the pieces but don’t have a clue as to how the system works. Increasingly, we think the answer is in networks.”

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TECH TALK: The Rs 5,000 PC Ecosystem: The WiFi Advantage

The Rs 5,000 PC (5KPC) is not going to bring about a revolution on its own. It needs to leverage other developments and technologies which together can enable the formation of an affordable computing ecosystem. Last week, we discussed briefly two of the elements of this ecosystem: the thick server and open-source software. The thick server is the one which does all the computing and storage. Open-source software is the platform for the applications. There is one additional element of the ecosystem we need to discuss before we go ahead: WiFi.

WiFi (802.11) offers wireless communications using open spectrum (2.4 Ghz and 5 Ghz) at speeds ranging from 11 Mbps (802.11b) to 54 Mbps (802.11g and 802.11a). The cost of wireless access points has fallen to under USD 100, while the cost of the cards required in the computers is down to under USD 50. In the next year, the incremental cost of adding WiFi to a computer is likely to be under USD 10 (Rs 500), as companies integrate the technology on to the motherboard itself. Hotspots (public wireless access points) are sprouting up all over the place in many countries.

Wrote William Gurley of Benchmark Capital in his recent Above the Crowd newsletter:

WiFi is to 3G as the personal computer was to the mainframe.

In the early days of the PC, most people considered the initial market for the IBM/Intel/Microsoft-based personal computer to be fairly narrow. In 1980, no one envisioned that one day you might run your company’s entire ERP system, or power a massive array of web sites on this technical architecture. However, the “increasing return” forces highlighted above eventually created a product that, from both a feature perspective and cost perspective, was appealing to a much broader array of applications and uses than ever previously envisioned.

This exact thing is currently happening with 802.11. This tiny, and increasingly inexpensive radio is already shockingly versatile. The same $30 radio can be used to serve wireless connectivity in your office, connect both your PCs and your multimedia in your home, and provide coverage to a police force across an entire downtown area. Add a Pringles can as a directional antenna (no kidding!), and this $30 radio is capable of providing high-speed, line-of-sight connectivity at a distance of 10 miles. In fact, the majority of the volume in the line-of-sight fixed wireless market has shifted almost entirely to low-cost 802.11 radios.

Originally designed to connect PCs and handheld computers to the network, people are now using these low cost radios for an increasing number of diverse customer applications. In remote areas, 802.11 can be used as a DSL alternative. Hospitals are using 802.11 not just to connect doctors and nurses but also to connect hospital equipment. 802.11 is a wonderful solution for industrial sensors in remote monitoring as well as control equipment designed to intelligently manage such things as power and HVAC systems. You can even use 802.11 to build an extremely cost effective video surveillance network. It is also feasible that 802.11 will be the driving force behind a wholesale conversion to VOIP and an entirely new phone structure in the enterprise.

So, why is WiFi almost free? The answer is (1) because the price of the parts could go as low as $5 over the next five years, and (2) because the entire PC industry has a vested interest in seeing 802.11 dominate over 3G. As such, within a matter of years, 802.11 will be a standard feature on every single portable computer, with a marginal cost to the consumer of $0.00.

Tomorrow: The WiFi Advantage (continued)

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EasyInternetCafe

A Newsweek article about the future of Internet cafes caught my attention. I have been thinking about how cybercafes need to become “telecentres” – a kind-of cross between the cybercafes as we know them and Kinkos, providing computing and communications services. They can become tech service points for the have-nots in the emerging markets. These telecentres (or tech 7-11s as I used to call them earlier) can be a good opportunity for our thin client-thick server solution.

The Newsweek article talks about easyInternetCafe:

EasyInternetCafe is a subsidiary of easyGroup, run by a fleet-footed entrepreneur named Stelios Haji-Ioannou.

EasyGroup hopes to do the same with Internet cafes: the Times Square cafe has extremely low overhead and prices. At the front, customers line up to put cash into vending machines that give them credits for online usage. They then pick out any empty computer and log on. Depending on time of day, the price ranges from a maximum of $4 an hour down to-say, at 3:00 AM-twenty-five cents an hour, averaging about $1 an hour. In short, its demand-based pricing that adjusts constantly, exactly the way airline seats are sold. You can even buy access, at a discount, for a date several months in the future.

EasyInternetCafe is no-frills: no printers, for example. If you want to print, you email the document to yourself and visit a Kinkos. And no technical advice, eitherwhile techs fix broken machines, no one will tell you how to insert a photo into your e-mail.

EasyGroup, having thoroughly field-tested its automated model in London and Manhattan, will now roll out fifteen-computer versions that fit in two hundred square feet-basically Internet cafes in a box-across the US. Theyre aiming to put automated Internet access inside existing establishments such as McDonalds or Burger King, and also to offer it as a franchise opportunity. And theyre looking as well at the developing world, where low-cost public Internet access is increasingly crucial.

Forbes (free regn reqd) also had an article on them in December and provides additional context:

Stelios has sunk $130 million into his own 23 large branded internet cafes and now claims to have the model just right.

Stelios figures that he’s reduced costs at his cafes by 75%, mostly through labor savings. His new 35- to 75-screen model, virtually staffless, will be profitable if he can get $7 per PC per day. That’s attainable, he says, considering stores are typically open 16 hours a day.

Stelios says that the challenge now is to get his smaller, stand-alone internet concessions into libraries, airports, hotels, bus stations, restaurants and movie theaters and to franchise the chain as much as possible. The plan is to have 2000 outlets in three years.

“Just about every High Street shop or restaurant has 150 to 300 square meters somewhere that is underutilized. My job now is to try to unlock that space. It depends of course whether these people will feel comfortable with our brand in their shop, but that’s the challenge: convincing them that we are good for their primary business. The most expensive dining area is an empty dining area,” he says.

IBM’s Linux Strategy

From News.com in a broader article on Linux, starting with some OS history:

Windows trounced OS/2 in a furious operating systems battle back when George Bush Sr. was president and Lou Gerstner was still busy at RJR Nabisco trying to sell folks more Velveeta and Tang.

Smartly retiring from a contest it had little chance of winning, IBM left the field to Microsoft, which cemented its desktop dominance and emerged as the most powerful software company in history.

There things stood for over a decade, but–F. Scott Fitzgerald aside–there are second acts. In this rematch with Microsoft, Big Blue has the stronger hand, owing to its very public embrace of Linux three years ago.

IBM is bent on making a commodity out of Intel-based hardware with an operating system derived through the open-source process. Its pitch to corporate Unix customers running Sun Microsystems’ Sparc or other proprietary chips is that Linux on Intel offers virtually the same performance–but at a far lower hardware price. Once they bite, that then opens the door for IBM to rake in the money selling middleware and services.

If IBM pulls it off, Microsoft risks getting cut out of a lot of corporate business.

Action@Home

From BusinessWeek: “Much of the truly exciting innovation in technology is now being developed for consumers.”

It adds: “The real key to the exciting new products on display at CES — and soon, at a discount electronics chain near you — is that all these digital products are starting to work together in ways that make them much more useful. It’s now relatively painless to film a child’s birthday party with your camcorder, edit it on your PC, and burn it onto a DVD to send to relatives. Technofiles can display their own digital photos on their digital TVs’ vibrant liquid-crystal displays. Or they can send audio files from a PC over their home wireless network to the new “media hub” — a combination digital hi-fi stereo receiver, media server, and wireless router (think of a souped-up set-top box) — in their living rooms.”

End-to-end Network

Writes David Isenberg (IEEE Spectrum) on the move of network intelligence to the edges rather than being centralised:

The Internet, the world’s overarching end-to-end network, is now the connectivity medium of communications. Yet telephone company networks are still centralized networks designed for a single application, voice. Phone companies still make more money from voice than from other network traffic, even though the volume of data traffic now exceeds voice. Furthermore, Internet voice is getting better and betterits quality can, in fact, far exceed the “toll quality” voice of plain old telephone service.

In addition, smart end devices can set up and manage telephone calls far better than a centralized network. (Why dial a number when you can double-click on it?) In fact, when voice is implemented in end devices, the ability to mix it into other kinds of interactionsonline game play, collaboration, mutual Web surfing, and many more yet to be discoveredthe idea of a “call” as a special, discrete event could well disappear.

The Internet stands on the brink of making the entire functionality of the telephone company obsolete. But that’s not allwith access improvements within the grasp of today’s technology, the Internet can do video entertainment better than broadcast, cable, or satellite television can. The Internet stands on the brink of subsuming the value of all existing special-purpose networks.

Simplifying Information Storage

From 0xDECAFBAD (via Scripting News and Jeremy Zawodny):

Years ago, when I first started using email, I did indeed do this with procmail and other arcane beasties. Then, I found myself cursing that I couldn’t do cross-folder searches very easily. Also, the filters and folders started making less sense as their structure represented only one possible scheme for finding what I was looking for, and I was needing many possible kinds of schemes over time. So, eventually it all ended up in one pile, and searches became my way of finding things.

I abandoned bookmarks for Google by the same principle. Now, my bookmarks consist completely of bookmarklets and a few stray links to local on-disk pages like Python documentation. In fact, I’m wishing that I could create bookmark folders that are fed by Google API powered persistent searches.

that’s what I want to see: Storage without explicit organization, but with super-rich metadata for super-fast searches. Allow me to create views made from persistent searches – my “project folder” is simply a collection of resources tied together by a common tag, one of many. And, if I want to form a project hierarchy, make my persistent searches into file objects too.

The main thing in all this, though, is that it be woven very deeply within the OS. I don’t want a helper app. I want this to replace the standard metaphor completely.

For a start, I am doing to do one thing with my email folders. I have zillions of folders hierarchically organised in my Evolution (with all data stored on our “thick server”). Just have a single folder called “Keep” for all the emails I want to keep. Others are either in the Inbox or Deleted. And then, when I want to find an email, I just do a Search on the “Keep” folder (and perhaps the “Sent” folder, since that has a copy of everything that I write). Goodbye to all them folders. Lets see how it works.

Bill Gates Interview

From Fortune, here are a few quotes by Bill Gates:

  • Inside a company you’re doing sales analysis, project planning, project budgeting–does software make that stuff as easy as it should be? The answer is, Not within a million miles. I mean, you sort of forecast based on what your Siebel customer-relationship management [CRM] software tells you, and you try to look at your SAP enterprise resource planning [ERP] data, but there’s not really a process that systematically deals with all that…And then there’s your work flow during the day. An information worker gets lots of e-mails as people want you to bid on something or respond to a problem. All these “events” are coming in on your PC. Does the software help you know which of those you should ignore or pass along to somebody else, and how to prioritize them? No. We don’t do that yet…The goal [for Office] is to come up with software to make information workers more productive: helping them manage their schedules, prioritize their events, understand the business processes they participate in, and keep their information secure. And we are nowhere near that yet.

  • One of the interesting boundaries inside a company has always been between back-end systems like ERP or CRM software and the knowledge workers sitting at their desks living in a very unstructured world of phone calls, faxes, and e-mails. A business transaction between two companies actually involves at least four dimensions: The knowledge workers in company A talking to knowledge workers in company B, and these same knowledge workers on both sides also interacting with their own back-end systems. So we really have to understand these boundaries both within a company as well as between buyers and sellers. That’s what web services is all about.

  • There are five form factors: wall-sized, desk-sized, tablet-sized, pocket-sized, and wrist-sized. What we need is a more complementary relationship across the devices so that you can think, “Because I have an electronic calendar on my PC, then my wrist device can tell me about traffic conditions without my even asking, because it knows where I’m going.” But to work, the devices have to work well together.

  • Fortune on Linux

    Two articles. The first talks about Linux’s growth in enterprises, and how it threatens a Sun bastion (Wall Street): “Linux believers say a system using Sun’s servers offer no demonstrable advantages over the plain-vanilla servers running Linux, despite being roughly 50% more expensive. Linux may also carve into Microsoft’s NT server software market, but since NT is significantly cheaper than Sun’s Unix offerings, it hasn’t been hit as hard yet on Wall Street.”

    The second article is about Linux for consumers in the form of Lindows.

    can Lindows become a viable business? After all, Microtel is now paying about 25 cents a copy on average [for putting Lindows on its USD 199 PCs being distributed by Wal-mart], and in January it will start distributing the machines on Amazon.com and on CompUSA’s site, dropping the price per copy even further. That’s fine for [Lindows CEO] Robertson. He’s hoping Lindows consumers will then pony up $99 a year for unlimited downloading at a Lindows site full of Linux software. Among the offerings are Sun’s Star Office, which typically sells for $80, and thousands of other Linux titles. Historically it has been hard for all but the geekiest to find, download, and install Linux programs. Robertson’s so-called Click & Run Warehouse divides the Linux world into neat shopping aisles with automatic downloads and installs. Robertson won’t say how many have anted up for the service but admits that 30,000 customers “isn’t that far off the mark.”

    I still feel that the big consumer opportunity for Linux is in the emerging markets, which few companies seem to be looking at. This market needs USD 100 (Rs 5,000) PCs.

    Best of Linux World

    Writes Brian Proffitt:

    – Best Network/Server Application: SuSE Linux OpenExchange Server
    – Best Developer Tools: IBM WebSphere Studio Application Developer v5
    – Best Data Storage Solution: IBM Tivoli Storage Manager
    – Best System Integration Software: Microsoft Services for UNIX 3.0
    – Best Security Solution: Computer Associates eTrust Antivirus
    – Best Front Office Solution: Ximian Evolution
    – Best Productivity Application: HRsmart Applicant Tracking
    – Best Cluster Solution: Red Hat Advance Server
    – Best Sys Admin Tools: SCO Volution Manager

    Cisco v Huawei

    WSJ reports that Cisco has sued Huawei, “saying the Chinese company copied its software and violated its patents.” Huawei has fast become a competitor to Cisco in markets like China (where it is based) with its strategy of providing lower-cost products in the networking space. Adds WSJ:

    Founded in 1988 as a maker of telecommunications equipment, Huawei branched into computer-networking gear in recent years and opened offices in the U.S. It is the largest and best-known of the Asian-based competitors challenging Cisco’s dominance in the region by offering similar gear at much lower prices. Huawei reported sales last year of $2.7 billion, down 12% from a year earlier.

    Huawei’s gear is so similar to Cisco’s that some analysts have questioned whether the Chinese company had stolen Cisco’s technology or developed it independently by “reverse engineering,” or examining the guts of Cisco’s equipment.

    Analysts said the lawsuit may be aimed less at protecting Cisco’s sales in China, and more at stymieing Huawei in the rest of the world.

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    South Africa’s Open-Source Choice

    From Business Day:

    For months the (South African) State IT Agency had winced at the incessant expense of buying software licences for hundreds of thousands of staff spread across government departments. Now the agency has declared that it will ditch expensive brand name software in many cases and switch to opensource alternatives.

    The move should save at least R3bn a year, says agency chief information officer Mojalefa Moseki. The policy should also help to create a new generation of programmers skilled in developing their own applications.

    “Government spends close to R3bn a year on software licences alone,” says Moseki. With support and upgrade costs added, the total bill was a punishing R9,4bn last year. “Barely a cent of that is spent in SA because all the companies like Microsoft, Sun, IBM and Lotus are multinationals, so the money goes abroad. SA is a consumer of software, but we can develop it ourselves.”

    More governments need to do the same. They are the biggest spenders on technology, and can be the greatest beneficiaries in terms of cost savings. Besides, they can also a fillip to their domestic software industries.

    23 Bright Ideas

    From Fast Company. This is what Jeff Taylor, founder and chairman, Monster.com says:

    We all need to go into the corn-storage business. By that, I mean developing “silo expertise” in emerging business areas — such as health care, government, biotechnology, and pharmaceuticals — that haven’t gotten much attention in the past five years. Those are the places where money is still being spent.

    We’re using that approach at Monster. For example, 71% of federal-government workers will be eligible to retire over the next eight years. My conclusion: I have to figure out how to do business with the U.S. government. So I put employees in a number of different departments who wear a government-solutions name badge. They represent a silo of expertise that’s going to help me win that business.

    Call them “silos” or “niches,” “business units,” “communities,” or “channels.” I like “silo” because it represents a harvest. The market-place in 2003 is more specialized, competitive, and focused. If you want to harvest revenue, then you’ll have to get into the silo business. You’ll have to build 20 of them, each with a different expertise. Then, depending on the size of your business, you could make $5 million or $300 million in one of those silos and substantially increase your revenue productivity.

    What does this mean for each of us? We can’t be generalists anymore. If you want to have a chance, you need to be a specialist. Be bold about your industry or niche expertise. If you’ve been in pharmaceutical sales, trumpet your expertise in the industry, not just your sales skills. You need to become a silo yourself.

    Linux threat to Microsoft

    From FT in an article which asks if Linux can dethrone Microsoft, the reigining software king:

    With hardware and operating systems becoming more standardised, computer makers will have to turn to other areas – the software applications that run on computers and the services and support needed to build complex systems – to generate a profit. While HP leads in the Linux business, claiming the free software drove sales of computer systems worth $2bn last year, IBM is probably the best-placed to benefit from this trend – hence its enthusiastic embrace of Linux. With the world’s biggest IT services arm and a software business based on middleware – programs that sit between an operating system and the different software applications – Big Blue has ample incentive to reshape the corporate computing business in its own image.

    That model of software development is diametrically opposed to the Microsoft approach and points to the battle to come. By building more features into its operating system directly, Microsoft claims its customers will need to spend less on middleware and integration services to build their corporate networks.

    China and India Mobile Growth

    From the Economist on the differences between how the wireless revolution has shaped up in the two countries:

    In India, seven years after the launch of mobile-phone services, there are only 10m users. In China half that number 5msign up as new subscribers every month.

    The difference, according to the article, is because of the way the two markets have been regulated.

    India chose a licensing policy that divided the country into 22 regions, each with two licences to operate mobile networks. Bidding in multiple regions was restricted. This aimed to promote competition, but led to a fragmented market with a baffling array of operators, none of which achieved economies of scale. Limited spectrum also hurt service quality.

    China fostered competition by creating a second state-owned operator, China Unicom, to fight the incumbent, China Mobile. Regulations favoured the upstart. China Unicom was, for example, allowed to undercut China Mobile by 10% in 1999. Prices fell, helping the market to grow. And there was plenty of spectrum.

    Internet Society

    An Economist Survey:

    Far from being over, the computer and telecoms revolution that created the internet has barely begun. These technologies will change almost every aspect of our livesprivate, social, cultural, economic and political. In some areas, the changes may be marginal, but in most they will be profound, and unprecedented.

    For good or ill

    This is because new electronic technologies deal with the very essence of human society: communication between people. Earlier technologies, from printing to the telegraph, have done likewise, and have wrought big changes over time. But the social changes over the coming decades are likely to be much more extensive, and to happen much faster, than any in the past, because the technologies driving them are continuing to develop at a breakneck pace. More importantly, they look as if together they will be as pervasive and ubiquitous as electricity.

    For the sake of argument, this survey will assume that we are heading towards a networked society of ubiquitous, mobile communications capable of constant monitoring. Whether this arrives in 20, 30 or 40 years does not really matter. The point is that the destination seems not merely possible, but probable, so it is not too soon to ask: what do we want this technology to do?