Posts from June, 2013
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June 14th, 2013

People know that I talked about this two for quite some time. Since I won't work on either of them commercially (the self-driving vehicle is more like a hobby project than anything else), it is probably better to write it down than talk it repeatedly to friends until made myself boring.

Self-driving

"Top Gear" is a pretty entertaining show until it went offensive. In a recent episode, James May went to Nevada and tried to compete with an autonomous vehicle. Jeremy Clarkson apparently didn't understand self-driving vehicle and claimed that was no use for day to day life: because you were in it, when it transports you. But then, in London, you have a real issue when comes parking your classic luxury cars.

Self-driving vehicle would be the affordable private driver for everyone. Take a step back and think about parking. A car with a private driver would never worry about parking. It drops you off, and it is someone else's (driver's) problem. For self-driving vehicles, the driver is the computer. It can drop you off at the exact location you want to be, and then park itself a few miles away. When you need it to pick you up, send a message and it will be there in minutes.

When you start to consider the machine from utilitarian perspective, there are two contradicting thinkings. On one hand, the ownership over the vehicle would not be as important as of now. It is a machine that brings you from one place to another, and that's it. Why own it if you can use it wherever you are, whenever you want? On the other hand, it could be extremely personal, because a vehicle is not for a whole family any more. It is for you, and yours only. It carries you around, like you carry your smartphone around. You don't need to drop your kids to school, and then your wife to work. The vehicle carries them around, on their schedule.

In a self-driving vehicle world, these vehicles can get awkwardly small, think about SMART. There are some interesting aspects to urban planning. But other than we will get rid of all parking structures in the city, I haven't explored much (or have any experience in urban planning).

Glass

When people think about Glass, now it always involves privacy. Privacy is a solvable problem. Companies or unions can mandate a chip into Glass and then you have devices that can disable Glass in certain areas (like restroom, poker room etc.). Putting that aside, at its basic, Glass is a neat and affordable head-mounted display (HMD). We were under the impression that Glass should be a hand-free device, and cornered ourselves in the imperfect world of speech recognition. Talking to HMD is a very awkward situation. Even Bluetooth headphone is there for a good 5-year, the world is still not ready for out-of-place conversation between man and air.

Glass is intriguing because it is the first commercialized everyday head-mounted display. You can take a casual 10-mile run with it, and Glass will tell you how fast you did, how far you've covered, and where is the next turn, you can even compete with your previous self, in real-time.

When is the last time you ordered coffee? What if a barista can remember your preference perfectly and smoothly because Glass recognizes you from a month ago?

When dreaming up these applications, we usually are taken to a futuristic direction far, and naturally, stretching Glass from a display interface to a new interaction interface. Misled by Javis in Ironman, we want it to listen to us, and that seems to be the only reasonable way to interact with such a futuristic device. It doesn't have to be. There is nothing wrong with a small pocket size physical keyboard, as long as it works reliably. Is that not "natural" any more ("natural" in the same sense of now-dominate touch-screen interface)? A touch-screen interface creates a dynamic surface that gets mapped on to physical objects. A head-mounted display creates a dynamic surface in a fixed position of your view. There won't be a direct interaction because it doesn't map to a physical object.

Transformative Technologies

There are three kinds of transformative technologies. 1). The technical transformative one: things like smartphone, LED, or color film. Once these things are invented, it almost takes no time to get adopted and wide-spread. 2). The cultural transformative one: things like electric vehicle, TV or mobile phone. It replaces old cultural symbols (petrol station, news distribution, or public telephone), sometimes even delivers temporary social shocks (people can find you 24x7!), but given 10 to 20 years, its superiority will convince majority. 3). The institutional transformative one: things like online education, printing machine, or spinning jenny. These transformative technologies are most disruptive ones, they rendered the old institutions that we set up obsolete. It takes a good long time struggling, and the best people of our time, to make these institutional changes, I have nothing but only admiration to them.