Futuristic Factories with Wireless Mesh

EE Times writes:

It is the holy grail of the factory floor: hundreds of sensors wirelessly connected, monitoring motors for problems and drastically reducing energy consumption all with the precision and rhythm of a philharmonic orchestra.

The need is there, the software is there, the topology is fairly well understood and the silicon costs are falling. One market forecaster sees 169 million nodes and a $5.9 billion end-user market by 2010. Still, it’s not as easy as it looks. Wireless mesh is a new paradigm with lingering unknowns, and some wireless silicon is still more expensive than wired solutions. The goal, in the eyes of many, remains a ways off.

GE Global Research, Sensicast Systems Inc. and Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute have teamed up to push the agenda forward. They are engaged in a three-year, $6 million proof of concept funded by the U.S. Department of Energy that is scheduled to yield a working prototype within a year and a complete wireless-factory installation by 2006.

Each sensor node will use an inexpensive microcontroller and wireless-transceiver chip operating with the ISO-802. 16.4 wireless protocol, which involves secure handshaking between nodes. Nodes can pass along messages from other nodes, eventually reaching a “parent” gateway node that concentrates the data for transmission back to the operators. Even dead gateway nodes on the mesh can be automatically routed around if they fail.

Monster’s Future

Hunting jobs on the Internet has become a global phenomenon. Monster is the leader in this space. (It bought JobsAhead in India, recently.) Barron’s writes about the company:

Monster is the leading online employment Website globally, with a No. 1 share in Germany, No. 2 positions in France and the U.K., and the top spot in India. “Monster has tremendous assets. It’s a dominant consumer brand,” says Jim Treacy, a senior executive at Monster from 1994 through 2002.

“The kids are on Monster, and employers will go where the kids are,” Treacy says. By “kids,” he means younger workers, who have grown up with computers, are comfortable using the Internet and read newspaper less than their parents do. Monster’s Website reportedly has become obligatory viewing among college-grad job seekers, and others hip to the online job-hunting scene.

Based on revenues, Monster controls about half the online job-recruitment market, but just 10% of the combined online and print market, which could hit $6 billion this year. “Everyone asks us about our competitors,” McKelvey says. “We have two fine online competitors, but our biggest competitor is newspapers.”

Monster is much larger than either CareerBuilder or the No. 3 player online, Yahoo!’s HotJobs. CareerBuilder’s revenues are running at a $250 million-plus annual rate and HotJobs’ sales may total $100 million this year. Yahoo! CEO Terry Semel says HotJobs is a “key part” of his company, but Yahoo! doesn’t make public HotJobs’ revenue or profits.

Among Monster.com’s attractions is a huge database of 39 million rsums, which is growing at the rate of 40,000 daily. Monster has spent heavily to develop its brand, featuring a distinctive green Monster logo and its current tag line, “Today’s the day.” It has advertised on the Super Bowl, and is also an Olympics sponsor.

Employers seeking new workers via Monster can post a job listing, which now costs $365 for a single 60-day submission. Large firms get volume discounts, paying around $100 per job posting. Alternately, employers can buy access to Monster’s database. Looking for an accountant in Peoria? For $400, you can buy two weeks of access to Monster’s rsum database for that part of Illinois. If that seems pricey, consider the cost of print ads. A seven-day help-wanted listing in the New York Times costs at least $743, and that’s just for a four-line ad. Most print employment ads are double that length.

India’s Internet Rickshaw

MSNBC has a story on remote villagers going online with help of wireless and a bicycle:

For 12-year-old Anju Sharma, hope for a better life arrives in her poor farming village three days a week on a bicycle rickshaw that carries a computer with a high-speed, wireless Internet connection.

Designed like temple carriages that bear Hindu deities during festivals, the brightly painted pedal-cart rolls into her village in India’s most populous state, accompanied by a computer instructor who gives classes to young and old, students and teachers alike.

“By using computers, I can improve my knowledge,” Sharma, whose parents plan to pull her out of school at 15, said in Hindi, before joining a class on Web cameras. “And that will help me get a job when I grow up.”

The bicycle cart is the center of a project called “Infothela,” or info-cart. It aims to use technology to improve education, health care and access to agricultural information in India’s villages, where most of the country’s 1.06 billion people live.

The mobility of a cycle rickshaw, which is light enough to cross muddy, potholed roads, ensures that the same computer and Internet connection can be used by people in several neighboring villages. The Infothela cart has a specially designed frame and cushioning to protect the computer and accessories from the bumpy ride.

“The mobile platform is necessary to reduce cost of ownership because the resources are shared by a larger population. It is also necessary to push information to women and elderly people who can’t travel outside their village,” said Manoj Kumar, a project manager.

Voice+Data on IP Networks

InfoWorld writes:

IP-based enterprise phone systems are invading corporate branch offices, telecommuter home offices, and call centers everywhere. Sooner or later, voice will be just another digital packet on the IP network, and telephony will be just another managed application about which IT must worry.

the real excitement is swirling around converged voice and data applications. Now that the products have matured and the early phases of simply delivering IP telephony are behind us, were going to really see the promise of applications surrounding VoIP, says Kevin Johnson, director of product marketing at Mitel.

The most obvious angle is enterprise collaboration, where voice and data applications combine IM, presence, Web, and videoconferencing. But voice is wending its way into corporate applications as well. ERP, for example, is gaining IP telephony capabilities to speed approvals and to relieve bottlenecks in business processes and workflows. Todays closest thing to a killer app, however, is the IP-based multimedia call center, which merges all customer communications — including Web, e-mail, chat, and voice — to enhance the customer-support experience and to allow the distribution of call-center staff across the country or even the world.

Just as voice is redefining enterprise applications, IP capabilities are changing the phone on the desktop. An IP phone can now serve as a combined communications and data-access appliance, particularly in departments that dont need a computer on every desk.

TECH TALK: From Employee to Entrepreneur: A Roadmap

The decision to be or not be an entrepreneur is an intensely personal one. It is one which needs to be discussed and debated with family and friends. It depends on each one’s appetite for risk. There is never a right or wrong answer, just as there is never a right or wrong time. The fundamental decision has to come from within.

I also believe that once the decision is made to leave the world of employment and move to the world of entrepreneurship, the parachute needs to be cut. If we know that there are always the options of going back to the safety and security of the other world, it will be much harder making the entrepreneurial option work. In a sense, as we close one door, other doors will open. But we have to close doors. We have to believe that making the new venture succeed must be akin to a life-and-death battle. One has to fight knowing that there is no looking or going back.

Once the decision is taken, how do we begin? Where do we get that wonderfully innovative idea which can transform the world? The answer is: s-l-o-w-l-y. While it is always possible that one may know exactly the niche to focus on, more often than not, one of two things will happen. The idea itself may take time to crystallise clearly, and the idea may not turn out to be as great as we thought from the other side of the fence. So, just focusing on the idea is not going to be enough.

The most important thing for an entrepreneur is to build a mental model of the industry under consideration. The mental model takes time to form. It is more about internalising the external views, developments and trends. It is the mental model which creates the foundation for the business. Understanding the bigger picture takes time, but is extremely important because of the challenges we will face on a regular basis as we seek to build out our business. Change is continuous and constant. It is the mental model or the latticework of mental models that will help us navigate the terrain, not with maps but with a compass.

There are many ways we can go about building the mental model for the sphere we wish to operate in. Blogging is a great way to begin. By reading what others are writing, reflecting upon their views, and then laying our thinking, we can start the process of developing a unique perspective built on the past of our experience, but embellished by the inputs from many others. Blogging needs consistency. It needs to become not an occasional exercise, but one which is part of every day. This forces a discipline and rigour in the read-think-write-dream chain. It also makes the blog part of the lives of other readers, who can then weigh in with their comments.

I have seen this firsthand with my weblog and writings. It has been nearly four years since I started writing the Tech Talk series (daily, Mon-Fri), and nearly two-and-a-half years since I started the blog. During this period, my own thinking about building out affordable computing solutions for the emerging markets has evolved considerably and it is in no small measure to the positive feedback loop generated by the daily writing.

The blog also works as a great connector I have met many people just via the blog. Various others have met me because the blog has worked as a great way to introduce me more than what any email or vision note can do. The blog is way better than a business card, it is in fact a mirror of ourselves. So, getting your blog underway one that is updated daily should be one of the first steps that needs to be taken in the entrepreneurial journey.

Tomorrow: A Roadmap (continued)