GPS + PDAs = Better Transportation

Daniel Luke offers a vision of a killer app for the mobile Internet, based on the premise that “each transportation event is a golden opportunity for interaction, for information exchange”:

By making possible heretofore unthought-of transportation services, GPS and wireless technology will usher in a new era in personal mobility starting first within certain highly populated urban areas. GPS makes it possible to bring all surface transportation under one digital umbrella, thus making it possible to commodify the resulting information. My ambition is to put this information to use by establishing an all encompassing transportation service available to wireless subscribers. A service, moreover, that will be highly desirable to consumers, businesses, and society. Soon, more than ring tones, restaurant guides, music, or other services currently being offered, this will emerge as the major application for wireless and internet related technology.

Key to the success of this plan will be the availability of automobiles for short-term, private rental, amply dispersed within certain well-defined, yet dynamic geographic boundaries. Using PDAs, subscribers will be able to locate vehicles, calculate cost of rental, map routes, and get up to the moment traffic information. In addition to permitting access to vehicles, PDAs will serve as the crucial conduit through which information is transferred from consumer to vehicle and from vehicle to consumer. Within the ever expanding boundaries that the service is to be offered, subscribers will be able to make one-way trips, and will be able to return cars in front of their place of residence. One car will be able to service the needs of many people.

Micro Machines

This WSJ story on reminded me of the ideas mentioned in Crichton’s book “Prey”:

Imagine automobile tires that sound a warning when they need air, a milk carton that tells grocers its contents are spoiled, or sprinklers that know when crops are parched.

It may sound like the stuff of a science-fiction movie. But university scientists have created tiny, sophisticated sensors that promise to do these things and much more. One of the pioneers of this research has started a company to bring it to market.

The micro machines, commonly called motes, are able to measure air pressure, temperature and humidity, among other things. They are inexpensive and disposable, yet capable of monitoring their surroundings for several years on miniature battery power.

Motes contain microprocessors, two-way radios and software that makes them “smart” enough to form a wireless network. Scatter a bunch of motes in a field and they are able to locate one another, collect data and communicate with a base station. If one mote fails, the others work around it.

Ideas need a Theoretical Base

Too often, we get very enamoured of new ideas. Ideas have to stand the test of both time (are we as excited about them a few days later) and a theoretical derivation. The latter was a point made by Atanu Dey when we were discussing RISC. He said that is is very important to get the theoretical understanding of a new idea right. If the base is flawed, there is nothing which can make the execution come out right.

This is what I’ve been doing in the past few days as I think through on the ideas built around the PubSubWeb and what we want to do for SMEs. There has to be a set of clear statements which define the problem and the solution being proposed. The theoretical basis for both should be indisputable. Of course, this in no way guarantees success, but not getting it right can most certainly guarantee failure.

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Linux’s Desktop Failings

The Register writes:

According to Jim McQuillan, founder and project leader of the Linux Terminal Server Project (LTSP), Linux falls down with the home user in its “failure of design. It’s too cluttered with techie stuff on the desktop.” Techies own Linux, control it, design it. Their inability to attract home users, who all too often can’t even program the clock on their VCRs, is very much down to a failure to do usability studies, he said. Such studies are long, costly and involved and since the Linux community is so widespread and diversified throughout the world, there is no central body looking into such matters.

This means that newbies may successfully install a Linux distribution, or see one at a friend’s home, and is then be faced with a desktop full of application icons he doesn’t begin to understand and most of which he doesn’t need. Most of the experts I spoke with claim the newer versions of the various distributions are more home user user- friendly in terms of the applications they initially install to the desktop.

But the feeling is that the user must somehow find out what those distributions are and get one of them. But finding out which are which is unfortunately rather more difficult than not.

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TECH TALK: An Affordable Alternative Technology Architecture for Indias BFSI Industry: Part 5

Imagine the situation a few years hence. If demand in India rises to 10 million computers a year, then just our software spend on Microsofts Windows and Office will be USD 4 billion (Rs 20,000 crores) per annum. (Microsofts profit margins run at 80-85%. Little wonder then that Microsoft is prepared to gift us USD 400 million now to hardcode its Windows and Office into our schools.) Add to that the spend on new hardware, when we could have done with the older, refurbished desktops, and our technology import bill is likely to exceed USD 8 billion (Rs 40,000 crores).

This is fine if we have no alternatives. But the issue is that there are alternatives available today, which we are not considering. And we like to think of ourselves as an IT Superpower. India needs to think its technology priorities again: Either we create a nation of pirates or we use cost-effective alternatives today. Or we pray for an exchange rate of 1 USD = Rs 10. The choice is ours.

Considering that the Indian BFSI industry is one of the largest tech spenders, it needs to show the way in adopting alternative technologies. The near-term is not going to be easy. No path away from the normal is. But this is the one industry which has the clout to make a difference and create a ripple effect across the rest of India.

The need of the hour is for Indian banks, especially the smaller and medium-sized banks, to co-operate on adopting the TIC as their base platform. This will help conserve significant amounts of capital which can be spent in branch expansion and providing additional services. With a lower but deeper technology spend, they will be able to compete better with the bigger players.

In fact, the mantra for these banks should be a computer on every desktop for every employee. Basic applications like email and instant messaging do not work if half the organisation has it, and the other half does not. By making technology at their heart, these generation next banks will level the playing field, and then can use their localised presence to create value-added services for their customers.

As we look ahead, it is useful to keep these words by our President Abdul Kalam in mind: The most unfortunate thing is that India still seems to believe in proprietary solutions. Further spread of IT which is influencing the daily life of individuals would have a devastating effect on the lives of society due to any small shift in the business practice involving these proprietary solutions. It is precisely for these reasons open source software need to be built which would be cost effective for the entire society. In India, open source code software will have to come and stay in a big way for the benefit of our billion people.”

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