Looking Beyond The Horizon

Innovative Technologies & Services

Archive for January, 2008

Is ‘Meraki’ bringing social innovation by broadband reselling?

Posted by evolvingwheel on January 30, 2008

This thing totally missed my sight. The more I read about Meraki, a start-up based out of Mountain View delivering hardware and firmware to connect people through a community wide wi-fi network, the more I got excited about the potential of social innovation at the bottom of the pyramid [CK Prahalad]. Sanjit Biswas, the CEO of the emerging company, talks about hooking the next billion to the Internet at a very very affordable price. The viral nature of his business model foresees creating a organic and somewhat self-sustainable network of wi-fi distributors who connect into a community wide mesh by becoming an individual distributor of broadband. Read more about the concept [here]. biswas_x220.jpg

Meraki proposes to bridge the digital divide where the less fortunate can log in over a mesh of broadband percolated through hundreds of repeaters that keep on extending the physical reach of a wi-fi originator node. What I perceive is that the model is meant to extend the physical reach of a simple router by cumulatively building it’s penetration through an asymptotic network of broadband resellers. First, let me ask two basic questions:

  1. How would a repeater, or for that the originator, sign a legal contract with broadband providers like COMCAST, ATT, etc., who are strictly prohibiting reselling of their bandwidth?
  2. If an individual repeater promotes the bandwidth and tries to make money out of it, how is the revenue kicked back to the originator node? How is the revenue model built around the service distribution hierarchy? Does it sound like a replication of a pyramid model? And, is there a loss in intensity of the signal if a repeater resides at the end of a long chain of hundreds of repeaters ahead of it? In that case, will the revenue kickback be tied up with attenuation factors?

Here’s my idea of true social innovation among the demographics at the bottom of the pyramid. Let’s talk about India in the mid 80’s (since I come from there :). During that time, people back there had to reserve a trunc-line to talk to someone in another city or country. Accessibility to long-distance phone was a remote possibility. At that time, Sam Pitroda, the telecom adviser to Rajiv Gandhi, the then Prime Minister of India, brought revolution by launching ubiquitous, yellow-signed Public Call Offices (PCO) that quickly brought cheap and easy domestic and international public telephones all over the country. The theme of subscriber trunc dialing (STD) at a very high density and accessibility led to the emergence of public phone booths across the country. This helped the staggering unemployment of the country by driving millions as entrepreneurs opening PCO services all around.

What if Meraki brings a similar revolution in near future where individual entrepreneurs can sign up as broadband repeaters and resell bandwidth across a mesh network. Ofcourse there has to be policies in place for driving the revenue share and the opening of the last mile node from the big telecoms for resale. But, imagine the prospect. In a small town 100 miles from a big city, just one node will bring the fat conduit to a meshed network. The network will then grow organically as more people hop in. The service penetration will expand in geometric progression and the structure can shape like a small-scale industry. However, the bothering question would be the infrastructure-cost-density factor. 100 ft/500 ft is still too low. With new protocols, if the density denominator increases to atleast 100/500 mts, then the feasibility of becoming a reseller from a profitability as well as a social empowerment perspective will be worth it.

May be this is one small step towards a big change in underserved communities.

Another Meraki news link: http://www.wi-fiplanet.com/news/article.php/3663591

Picture: Sanjit Biswas, CEO of Meraki.

More about Sanjit Biswas.

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Posted in broadband, Communication, Innovation, wireless | 2 Comments »

Wireless endoscopy versus Pillcam – how competing medical innovations demand different business models?

Posted by evolvingwheel on January 27, 2008

Here, I would like to talk about two medical diagnosis innovations (worth mentioning) and how the two competing methods would demand different considerations for successful commercialization of one over the other.

First comes the Pillcam. This device had been developed more than 7 years back and had received FDA approval. Currently, Pillcam is a market status quo and delivers a distinctively amazing method of imaging our GI tract in a non-invasive manner. When I first read it a year back, I was enthralled by the opportunity of getting one’s endoscopy done without going to the doctor and staying in the clinic for several hours, sedated, and undergoing a complex procedure of camera insertion. The PillCam SB video capsule measures 11 mm x 26 mm and weighs less than 4 grams. It contains an imaging device and light-source on one-side and transmits images at a rate of 2 images per second generating more than 50,000 pictures over an 8-hour period. It works simple too. You just fast overnight, reach the doctor’s office in the morning, swallow the capsule and put a recording belt on the waist, come back after the workday and deposit the recording device with all the images. The pill goes out naturally with a bowel movement later. For more detail, read[here].

Now, recently, Eric Seibel, a University of Washington research associate professor of mechanical engineering along with other researchers, has developed a scanning endoscope that consists of just a single optical fiber for illumination and six fibers for collecting light, all encased in a pill. The traditional endoscopes have a long wire 9 mm wide with a camera and requires sedation for the width of the wire. The new design from UW has a camera in a small capsule (smaller than the size of a vitamin tablet) tethered by a 1.4 mm wire (not a cable but more like a very thin string) that is very easy to swallow and doesn’t produce any discomfort that requires sedation. Now, that is definitely a market winner over conventional endoscopy. uw_camera_capsule.jpg

But how about competing with Pillcam? Well, this capsule is half the size of Pillcam and can be made smaller. Besides, the UW device takes 15 color pictures per second. The resolution is better than 100 microns, or more than 500 lines per inch. One advantage it has over the Pillcam is that being tethered, it is not just a fly-by view of the GI tract. The physician can move the small pill back and forth by using the thin tether – that allows more critical imaging of any specific location. Read more [here].

So what are the competing options? –

  • While one is a fly-by capsule with no tether, the other has a negligibly thin wire but allows more control over diagnosis. The consideration will be what degree of even minute irritation that tether might have on a huge sample of patients and how enhanced is the diagnosis?
  • One requires the capsule to be in the system for more than 8 hours (still reasonable since it doesn’t feel anything) with a device belt around the stomach all day. The other requires a small visit and one clinician to get the imaging done swiftly. In fact, UW inventor demands that it is as simple as getting it done in shopping mall. So there is opportunity of kiosk based diagnosis.
  • UW has a better image resolution than Pillcam. However, if Pillcam can innovate fast and implement a camera with 30-40 images per second, then it can stay as the market leader and create a higher barrier of entry.
  • One interesting aspect is to realize how large customer base Pillcam has. Awareness and marketing are the key features. On one hand, UW device can be delivered using the conventional clinic/diagnose center infrastructure along with kiosk based delivery model in the near future. On the other hand, Pillcam has the benefit of total remote testing. However, you still have to enter the clinic, swallow the pill, and put the belt on. So you still have to make the visit and wait in a line, etc. However, if Pillcam can come up with a micro-recorder (cheap to package it with the pill in a packet over the counter) then they win the game. The micro recorder could be flash memory based (cheaply available). The key element will be how images will be recorded by a small area of recorder location (if slapped on the skin like a Nicoderm patch).

This is a very interesting time as innovations are measured in terms of available infrastructure, market penetration, awareness, affordability and ease of use, and market barrier imposed by totally unique service offering over it’s competition.

Picture: Image taken by UW camera. Credit – University of Washington.

Posted in biotech, diagnosis, drugs, medical device | 6 Comments »

Can this electric-car charging infrastructure make Israel greener?

Posted by evolvingwheel on January 21, 2008

A news article popped up in the media circle yesterday that got me all ears! Israel plans to make electric-car a reality by 2010. The government initiative is a path-breaking collaboration among a California based start-up, a Japanese-French auto maker, and a large global financial institution that recently got beaten up by sub-prime market disaster! Nevertheless, this could be a perfect example of how inclusive and proactive policies can realize a dream by juxtaposing corporate incentive, public benefit, and environmental consciousness in a region vulnerable to a continuous onslaught of terrorism.

You may read the news in detail by clicking the following links:

http://www.time.com/time/world/article/0,8599,1705518,00.html

http://www.haaretz.com/hasen/spages/818359.html

http://www.businessweek.com/bwdaily/dnflash/content/jan2008/db20080121_944683.htm?chan=rss_topStories_ssi_5

I am just impressed (and to certain extent skeptical!) about the grandiose picture of the project. Automaker Renault-Nissan will manufacture the cars and Better Place, a California start-up founded by former SAP executive Shai Agassi, will build the infrastructure, which may eventually consist of 500,000 charging points and up to 200 battery-exchange stations. Now that is some infrastructure to be placed together within next two years. I believe the planners have laid out the ecosystem trajectory associated with not only the development of such a network of service and change stations but also a continuous development of newer green technologies with better efficacy and cheaper cost. Just wondering, what if you invest billions of dollars to build these stations and in 5-7 years some other form of hybrid/solar/hydrogen powered technology got prevalent with much lower demand of frequent refills and change points? How would you recycle this network? Has the technology developed to the extent where older energy delivery models can be retrofitted with new form of energy distribution systems with minimal cost? whokilledtheelectriccar.jpg

In my earlier article on Brazil going to ethanol 30 years back, there are certain factors that played in sustaining the change out there for the long haul – first gasoline usage was not substituted by any other cheaper (cheaper than ethanol) type across the world from early 70s. So there was no cost-savings incentive challenging ethanol infrastructure development for years to come. Furthermore, Brazil developed flex vehicle that could use both types of energy with no major investment or switch of human habit. This cushioned any possible failure in embracing ethanol due to production problems, supply-chain impossibilities, cost-revenue issues, or lack in government’s commitment over the long haul. Now, is Israel thinking in that line too since future is full of uncertainties. shimon_peres.jpg

One thing for sure though – this effort will definitely instigate new research in battery and charging. When the implementation of new policies is mandated by the government and over time is absorbed by the population, the inertia sets in. This dynamic has a stability of its own as long as the engineering, financial, and government support continues to come. With increasing demand for better performance, R&D investments steer towards a particular technology supporting the infrastructure and money is re-invested to sharpen an evolving methodology. I hope this model succeeds and we use this great opportunity to initiate change in our lifestyles and behaviors for a better future!

Posted in automobile, Energy, Environment, fuel, Innovation, pollution | 1 Comment »

Virtual non-invasive biopsy can detect certain cancers

Posted by evolvingwheel on January 19, 2008

One medical physics researcher from the Queensland University of Technology has developed a new method that can diagnose certain surface cancers in a non-invasive and accurate manner. Jye Smith from the School of Physical and Chemical Sciences has developed a tool using bioimpedance spectroscopy to diagnose cervical and skin cancers. The innovative part of this invention is the nature of the usage of this technology and how it was adopted for a more critical but beneficial application. Bioimpedance spectroscopy is used in gyms to measure one’s body fat by passing electrical signals through the tissues/muscles. According to Mr. Smith, “It offers the possibility of a simple device that can be run over the surface of the skin or internal organ that can quickly, cheaply and accurately record changes in cellular structure that point to cancerous changes.” bioimpedance_diagnose.jpg

Smith and his team have run experiments with the new device and have detected with greater accuracy not only the boundaries of lesions but also the extent of growth and progression of cancer cells. The impedance detects changes in cell structures and provides this knowledge to clinicians to detect the type and location of legions. The non-invasive nature of the diagnosis makes this concept more path-breaking. No, we have to wait and see how Smith takes this development outside the lab and commercializes it for real use. However, before that, he needs to cross several hurdles as far as the efficacy of the practice could be determined. Read the new [here].

My one other area of interest is the international development of medical diagnostics and their penetration in non-origin countries. How does a commercial medical product (device) enters a new geographical market with different economic, political, and social tenets? Is it possible only through joint ventures? More interesting is the challenge of moving an invention to realization through complicated regulating agencies of different parts of the world. If the time-delay to realization is high, how would cross border invention benefit communities globally?

Picture: Courtesy QUT

Posted in diagnosis, Innovation | 1 Comment »

Miniature projector coming to make large display ubiquitous – MEMS mirror to help

Posted by evolvingwheel on January 13, 2008

I was surfing through some CES 2008 news this weekend with an eye for some new, upcoming technologies that could change the ways we behave. And, I came across this new pocket sized device, a mini laser powered projector that can display pictures and videos to a size of 100 inches on a wall! It is again the MEMS (microelectromechanical system) tool (a scanning mirror on a silicon chip) that is enabling this innovation. The product is Microvision’s PICO SHOW Projector. For the CES report in Popular Science, read [here]. For Microvision’s product detail, click [here]. accessory_big.jpg

First, thinking about the applications that could derive from this innovation. Microvision has enlisted several display opportunities of their application. But the possibilities could go way beyond that. The whole benefit of getting away from bulky lenses, heat, weight, and cost pays for the invention by itself. However, consider what this development can enable in the mobile device market. First of all, the reality of laser powered projection systems is like a dream coming true. What Microvision did (or doing) is taking the ‘sharpening of the technology’ opensource, well partial opensource at least. They are working with mobile device companies to integrate their tool into the OEM’s interface. Now, what this leads to is collective investment, R&D, and marketing support of PICO’s rapid commercialization and acceptance in the market. I kind of love this method – create a new technology and empower it on other accepted platform with devices from partner businesses powering your own growth.

Next comes MEMS. Again, I am slowly turning into a MEMS’ fanatic and in next 5 years would possibly end up opening a whole cult group for this :). I am pasting here one line from Microvision’s site about the advantage of MEMS in new age – ‘Inherent advantages of MEMS devices are high reliability, low power operation, small size, low cost to manufacture, and high scalability to volume production. If you read the method of projection delivery using these MEMS scanning mirrors, you will really feel the power of these miniature systems… http://www.microvision.com/technology/mems.html. Micro electro-mechanical systems amaze me with their reliability in such small sizes. Further, the scalability and volume integration do not compound the energy requirements like we observe in conventional electrical or mechanical objects!

Posted in Innovation, investment, laser, micron, optics | 1 Comment »

Tata Motor brings car of $2500 – Can India handle it?

Posted by evolvingwheel on January 10, 2008

First post of 2008! Hope this one talks about my interest for this year 🙂

So the Tata Motor Companyof India has finally accomplished an unprecedented feat by bringing a car that costs a meager $2500! From the post-independence era, Tata has been delivering indigenous solutions for the Indian automobile market and has become a household name when it comes to trucks and cars that can sustain the harsh environment of heat and monsoon and strained infrastructure. However, this time Tata has done something that could not only change the landscape of Indian automobile market but could also shakeout the socio-economic, environmental, and infrastructure aspects of a country beleaguered by poverty, income disparity, and an emerging middle class with increasing buying capacity. /photo.cms?msid=2684679

I am not talking here about the car itself or the business impact from the perspective of automobile industry. You can find all those in this link. What I am interested in is the short-term and long-term effect of bringing a car to the market that could invigorate a whole different buyer’s segment – the bottom of the pyramid (as claimed by Prof. Prahlad).

Let me bring few things into perspective and ask some critical questions.

  1. Buyer’s segment – two wheeler buyers or the ones with low income and somewhere between lower middle class and wannabe middle-class. Millions like that live both in cities and villages. Consider cities first- if the car ownership increases 4-6 fold, does India have that road infrastructure to support the traffic? Even today the country is struggling with new cars hitting the roads. How would this increased number be tackled by a antagonizing political environment fighting over draconian policy implementations and let aside implementing a overhaul change?
  2. In village side – who will take the onus of building roads to the deepest corners where these cars (and ridership) would penetrate? If this car sustains the environmental and infrastructure hardship and ends up surviving for more than 5 years on Indian roads, the explosion of ownership can be daunting. Just think about the environmental impact, recycling of scrap, and junk spare parts after usage!
  3. Now, implications on the positive side are enormous. I can see how cell phones changed the whole way of doing things in the cities and semi-rural areas. Social innovation entered deep into the countryside when fishermen would use cell phones to find out the wholesale market price and distribute their catch according to the prospects of profitability. This car can bring changes like that but in a more amplified scale!
  4. And then there are the prospects of employment style, pattern, location, and timing shifts. When a biker wouldn’t try to go beyond a certain distance and limit his/her business/profession according to those restrictions, this car could break down that deterrence and create whole new format of earning, living, and spending. There is a very good possibility of a nationwide economic and henceforth a social shift that could emerge from communities that fenced for years!

Opportunities as well as problems are enormous. I am more excited to think about the future trajectory of the market and human behaviors when such innovations enable a possibility beyond ones imagination.

Picture: Ratan Tata

Add On: News release – http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/22575262/

Posted in automobile, Energy, fuel, Innovation, materials, pollution | 1 Comment »