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Archive for April, 2010

The Future of Virtual Puppeteering and Grandparenting

April 24th, 2010

OK, so I’m still (likely?) many years away from being a grandparent, but if you can’t apply Business Innovation and Creativity to the future grand-parenting skills, then you’re not really trying…

One of my students at UC Berkeley brought up an interesting experiment by Nokia with the artists from Sesame Street.  An article on this can be read here. The experiment has taken place at Nokia’s Palo Alto research center and at first seems far-fetched.

Are you a fan of the science-fiction writer, Neil Stephensen?  Have you read Snow Crash? (virtual reality and the internet at its best)  Cryptonomicom (long but mathematically pleasing)?

My favorite Stephensen book is The Diamond Age, written in 1995. In this story, Stephensen imagines devices not too far off from the iPad, but with a little more communications built in. In the story, a young girl Nell is given a special book by her father, which she becomes quite attached to. The book reads to her and has motion photos and video embedded in it (think iPad).

“Once upon a time,” said a woman’s voice [from the book], “there was a little girl named Elizabeth who liked to sit in the bower of her grandfather’s garden and read story-books.” The voice was soft, meant just for her, with an expensive Victorian accent.”

After some time, the book becomes personalized to Nell, using her name and the name of her belongings and life – and it interacts with her in strange and magical ways. It turns out that the book is animatronically controlled by an actor (or puppeteer) located in China and selected to be young Nell’s guide. The puppeteer does more than TEACH young Nell, by showing up in her life and revealing emotional stories and lessons she gets into the head of Nell and alters her persona.

A quick pause her, as Puppeteering is not all that new to me. As a teenager in Leonia, New Jersey, I created my own puppet show for the local schools and summer camp program, then took the show “on the road”, paying part of my education at Brown University as a puppeteer.  So, I’ve Bert-and-Ernied with the best of them. :>)  Let it not be said that I am ONE DIMENSIONAL entrepreneur-turned venture capitalist-turned-educator-turned-musician-turned-mentor –> there is of course the puppetry.  In 1990, as an Apple employee interested in advanced technologies I worked with Apple’s ATG (Advanced Technology Group) to prepare a speech on “Virtual Puppetry”for a conference on virtual reality.

The device created by Nokia and Sesame Street is an interesting technological combination of virtual puppeteering, distance learning and edu-tainment.  The device allows a child to learn a story, interact with a distant person (grandparent, parent, friend, Chinese puppeteer?), and interact with Sesame Street characters, like Elmo.   Although physically clumsy in its current format, Nokia has essentially brought the concept of Neil Stephensen’s Diamond Age living book to life.

This has several amazing consequences.  Picture, 5 years from now an advance book version of the colorful iPad that is more interactive – a reader can flip thin pages (each interactive, connected via internet and created in virtual ink) to simulate the experience of a real book. Built into the book is a camera that can read the facial expressions of the reader… built into the book is a virtual connection to live people and experts around the world. The book becomes a living communication and learning device that brings to the world literally to the reader and INTERACTS in real time with the needs of the reader.

Apply this to Wikipedia to create the worlds most interactive encyclopedia, apply this to early childhood learning, apply this to games, apply this to sports, entertainment, and research.

Technology is only a few years away from inexpensive paper-thin, computer screens combined with the power of global communication (think: Skype) over internet, we are now just a few short years away from Neil Stephensen’s seemingly incredible dream of virtual puppetry in 1995.

I’d like to her your thoughts on this vision. I’d like to hear Neal’s thoughts on this !

RH

The New Garage Renaissance and emergence of C2B businesses

April 10th, 2010

As a Silicon Valley software entrepreneur and “mentor” capitalist , I like to look for bets in new spaces and keep on top of industry trends…and historically I’ve placed my bets on software- and Internet-oriented companies, with the occasional excursion into biotech, med device, or cleantech.

What’s caught my attention lately is a shift I perceive in manufacturing and hard-goods spaces - perhaps something set to become a revolution in the coming 10 years – one that could potentially lead some traditional venture capital away from software and back to manufacturing and hardware.

The revolution is in the global manufacturing space and in the ability of “micro-entrepreneurs” to design products from their home/garage, easily prototype their ideas, and eventually produce the products in small lots using a global supply chain that is available, for the most part, online.  This revolution has recently been enabled by a global marketplace (enabled by the Internet), 3D design and printing technology,  and a more flexible approach to manufacturing in the US, China and other parts of the world.

This was the “Old Paradigm” for producing physical products :  an inventor comes up with a concept – sends ideas or sketches to product design house which uses sophisticated CAD programs to design the blueprints for the product – then sends designs off to China to have a prototype build and shipped back. If prototype looked good, show to distributors/channels and take advance orders (or raise money for manufacturing on spec) and use advance orders to hire a manufacturing facility (in East) to produce first run of products. If first run sells out, expand capacity, take additional advance orders and make more goods.  Overall time to market – months or years.

The “New Paradigm” emerging is radically different:  inventors and designers anywhere in the world collaborate over the social net on new designs, and use crowd-sourcing to come up with the best ideas – then rapidly prototype their ideas using 3D printers.  The prototype is modified to match market needs and individual parts are ordered from a global smorgasbord of manufacturing options, assembly occurs in China or perhaps locally (“en garage“), and enough product to fulfill real-time need is producted in JIT fashion.  Products can be modified, customized in small batches. Overall time – weeks or months.

The recent Wired Magazine article by Editor in Chief Chris Anderson calls this new world of manufacturing, “The New Industrial Revolution”.  It’s democratized industry, combined with new ways to rapidly prototype and visualize solid-state models of ideas, and online approaches to open-sourcing just about any part, labor, or manufacturing process needed – right off the web. As Anderson puts it: “Atoms are the new bits“.  The diagram to the left is from the Wired article and spells out the New Paradigm.

You’ve  heard of B2C (business to consumer), and B2B (business to business) – well, this is “C2B” – Consumer to Business – millions of garage entrepreneurs who are close to the consumer , crowd-sourcing ideas for future products and THEN manufacturing them.

I spoke with Ross Stevens, world-renown designer who teaches at Victoria University of Wellington and has a passion for this new culture he calls the “Maker Revolution”. We looked at his way-cool website of design work that he and students at Victoria University are working on futures projects which you can see here.

Stevens, who teaches a course called “Materials & Processes”,  believes that in the coming years, we will be able to make or “print” just about anything we can conceptualize — right to our home  on a low-cost printer. Check out this company that Ross suggested I review:   Ponoko, based in SF calls itself: “a creative place where you can make your ideas real … and sell them to the world. The Ponoko website is like having your own personal workshop and factory … and online showroom to sell your designs.”

Other companies and sites I’ll be tracking in this “maker-market” space include:

  • Makerbot Industries – company makes open-source, low-cost 3D printers and has a great blog on the top of “garage Renaissance and 21st Century manufacturing”
  • Reprap wiki - intriguing community site for sharing “designs that create designs (or self-replicating machines)” – go hear to learn how to print a printer that can print another printer that can print another printer…well you get the idea.\
  • ThingyVerse – a site for sharing 3D printable design and connecting to the global supply chain
  • Panjiva Corp – one of the leading marketplaces for the global supply chain, particularly for small-lot work

…………………


After reflecting on this “new industrial revolution”, printers that print themselves, and the future of 3D design and small lot manufacturing, I have just one question:  when will they invent a 3D bakery printer that can print a truly great cup of coffee and top-notch bagel each morning for me?