Dec 22

Bleedin’ vs Leading edge

For the last few days I’ve been playing a new game on my phone. Nothing exciting there really, games have been on phones since Snake (Sam was a master on her old Nokia 6110). The game itself isn’t that original either, basically it’s capture the flag. So why the title?

Several years ago I was the Business Manager for an education technology charity in Bristol called Futurelab. One of their flagship projects, completed before I joined, was very much touted as an example of leading edge technology in learning situations.

Savanah involved teams of school kids, running around their playing field pretending to be lions on the African Savanah. They had to capture territory, attack other animals for food, and so forth. All this was achieved with HP PDA’s, GPS units in rucksack, and a not inconsiderable army of tech support from HP Labs in Bristol who camped out in the school to manage the field trial! An amazing idea, but even if the legal challenges over copyright and who actually owned the idea could have been sorted out – it was a looong way from being implementable, let along a profitable proposition back in late-2002. This was bleeding edge, proof-of-concept stuff.

Flash forward 10 years, and I’m running (ok, mostly walking) around Bristol city centre as part of a team, trying to capture territory, attacking the other team’s bases, collecting energy, and so forth. Location by GPS (check), real time updates (check), massively complex backstory (check, no I’ve not paid much attention to it, but then I’m not sure the kids playing Savanah really paid that much attention to the accompanying natural history lesson). So far, so 2002.

However, this is on my fairly  standard Android smart phone. I don’t have a rucksack with batteries & ancillary equipment; and the game is being played on a global level, has real time chat with team mates, a funky Alternate Reality Map overlay, and is freely available (though its closed Beta at the moment).

Screen shot from Google Play

Welcome to 2012, welcome to Ingress!

But hang on – if it’s free, where’s the business model? Well Niantic Labs are part of Google, so just as the game is being played on a global level, so the business model is part of a larger strategy.

Players are uploading photos of real world places trying to get them nominated as ‘portals’, giving Google masses of additional data to crunch into a 3D view of the world at street level. Most of the teams have set up local groups within one of the two global factions dictated by the game; and most of these are on G+. I’ve not used G+ so much since, well, ever.

Of course we’re also sending our locations back to the big G (under coded ID’s, but since you use your Google ID to get a game ID it’s a 1-2-1 look up), so Google has more info on where the popular places are (most of the portals are in city centres). Plus it knows we like AR games, mobile devices, etc, so I expect to see a shift in ads being served to me shortly. It’ll be interesting to see if the different factions report seeing different ads! :)

Would I pay for in-game gear? Possibly. Running out of ammo just as you’re about to capture the other team’s flag, could trigger a purchase (depending on price point obviously). Being able to upgrade a flag to capture most of Bristol might be worth splashing the Google Wallet about.

At the moment, there’s little incentive spend as there’s no defined ‘end-game’ or winning state. So there’s no sense of urgency, however, that could change with a couple of lines of code.

What ever Google’s longer term plan is (if there even is one at this point), its going to be fun seeing what happens; and playing along obviously!

So: Resistance or Enlightenment – you choose!

And if you’re not sure about the bleedin’ title – watch this!

Dec 10

Next generation engineers

What happens when 110 Year 4 & 5 Primary School children meet a 1,000 mph car?

Last week I was lucky enough to give a talk at a local (Bristol, UK) Primary School about the Bloodhound Supersonic Car (Bloodhound SSC) project. I signed up as a 1K supporter pretty much as the scheme launched (Aug 2009) and as an Ambassador shortly after that. Having done a couple of STEM / Bloodhound Ambassador events and activities, this was my first Primary School and first solo talk.

The pupils at the school had been making their own cars and were keen to know more about how Bloodhound SSC is being made. As a mechanical engineer by first degree, it was an excellent opportunity to talk with the children and pass on some of my passion for engineering!!

One of the great innovative technologies being used with Bloodhound SSC is the use of composite fibres in the monocoque shell that houses Andy Green & the HTP (High Test Peroxide) tank. While a primary school probably doesn’t have access to carbon fibre and autoclaves, they do use papier-mâché (which is a composite material) – so I could legitimately say they were using the same basic engineering technologies as Bloodhound SSC!

I also had the opportunity to show a video of some of the high speed machining that Hanson’s are undertaking for the space frame. While there was no direct link to what they’re doing in the classroom, I wanted to show them actual metal cutting and the preparation needed before you slam £25k of spindle into aircraft grade aluminium.

I had a couple of key things to communicate (mainly around what engineers do, and the level of teamwork and cooperation needed in modern engineering challenges), plus lots of facts & figures about the car itself.  I had to decide what to start with to engage with the children, and keep them engaged for 30min. The animation of Bloodhound SSC racing a Eurofighter is great for this – it’s high tempo and has lots of reference points that helped keep momentum through the talk.

Bloodhound SSC – by a Year 5 student

I followed this with some background details on the car, fortunately the Education Team at Bloodhound SSC make all this stuff available for Ambassadors. We just need to pick it up and flesh out the narrative, and make it appropriate to the audience. At each point when I started to talk about fabricating the structure, or the composite shell – I could pull up a video from BHTV (Bloodhound Television) to illustrate what I was talking about.

I ended the presentation with the video of the rocket test in Newquay on 3 Oct 2012. A really great high point to end on!

After about 30min presentation, I was then bombarded with questions; such as “Why was there all that water when they were cutting the metal bits out?”, and “Why does Andy Green wear a crash helmet?”

Communicating effectively is critical to success in any field; engineering, business, primary school teaching. Having a clear message, sound facts, and a simple presentation really helps tell the story, whether it’s an investor pitch or a class of 8-10 year olds!

That’s (part of) what I do; clarify objectives & ambitions, into plans & narratives, that can be communicated & acted upon.

[In the slide deck below, the blank slides linked to the Bloodhound / Eurofighter race (not officially available), BHTV Episodes 1, 15 and 17]
[slideshare id=15575330&doc=bloodhoundschoolevent-121210124940-phpapp02]

Jan 22

How smart are your houses?

© 2011 The Intelligent Business Company, publisher of Housing Technology magazine

A number of years ago, when I was the Business Manager for Futurelab Education, we looked at a couple of projects around technology in social housing and how internet access could transform lives. I began talking to George Grant (Founder, Housing Technology) about several projects across Bristol that were refurbishing PCs and providing them to communities at no, or very low, cost. This great work is continuing with ByteBack and the associated projects through Connecting Bristol.

Anyhow, I stayed in touch with George from those conversations and always looked forward to the latest issue of Housing Technology. One of the keys to being a good connector of business opportunities is to be aware of what’s going on in sometimes seemingly unconnected sectors. Those sectors connected towards the end of 2010 when George and I were catching up over a coffee in Hamilton House and I mentioned a couple of recent technology innovations that I’d become aware of.

George suggested that I write some of my thoughts down about how the massive potential of social games and device level smart metering could be used to bring about motivated social change. That rather than trying to make people feel guilty about their energy consumption through financial penalties, we use anthropomorphism and social games to align energy efficiency with game design strategies.

So I did, you can download the full article as part of the January issue of Housing Technology or read the png file linked from the thumbnail.

Jan 17

What’s great about Bristol? Let me count the ways…

Ok, minor confession; I haven’t pulled this list together. Iain Gray (CEO, Technology Strategy Board) is a passionate champion of all UK technology & innovation, and he recently tweeted a list of technology and innovation examples from Bath & Bristol. Enjoy!

[Update 1: Iain’s just dm’d me to say there are plenty more to follow, keep an eye on his twitter stream for latest updates!]

[Update 2: Last few added for the full list of 50 great companies and organisations encouraging technology & innovation in Bristol. Thanks Ian!]

Iain Gray good #Bristol technology and innovation examples 50. Bristol Science City http://bit.ly/3ChqOG .. youtube http://bit.ly/erTi8e #innovate
Iain Gray good #Bristol technology and innovation examples 49. Selex Communications http://bit.ly/fxINRA #innovate
Iain Gray good #Bristol technology and innovation examples 48. Slingshot street and pervasive games http://bit.ly/hcKjbP #innovate
Iain Gray good #Bristol technology and innovation examples 47. SetSquared Business Acceleration Centre http://bit.ly/e6AKll #innovate #SETsquared
Iain Gray good #Bristol technology and innovation examples 46. City of Bristol College http://bit.ly/hv0HYb #innovate
Iain Gray good #Bristol technology and innovation examples 45. Stirling Dynamics Specialist Engineering and Design http://bit.ly/guCdWI #innovate
Iain Gray good #Bristol technology and innovation examples 44. Orange research http://bit.ly/8YKuIg #innovate
Iain Gray good #Bristol technology and innovation examples 43. National Composites Centre http://bit.ly/h1B5ZV @NCC_Bristol #innovate
Iain Gray good #Bristol technology and innovation examples 42. Interactive Places phone apps for specific locations http://bit.ly/fLpEoE #innovate
Iain Gray good #Bristol technology and innovation examples 41. Bristol University – research intensive university http://bit.ly/ezBYj3 #innovate
Iain Gray good #Bristol technology and innovation examples 40. Bristol and Bath Science Park –Spark http://bit.ly/e0zTer #innovate
Iain Gray good #Bristol technology and innovation examples 39. teamrubber – grow successful creative businesses http://bit.ly/dPF8c6 #innovate
Iain Gray good #Bristol technology and innovation examples 38. Rolls Royce –Defence, Marine and Operations http://bit.ly/erl5k8 #innovate
Iain Gray good #Bristol technology and innovation examples 37. Calvium Immersive mobile apps http://bit.ly/fOCchK #innovate
Iain Gray good #Bristol technology and innovation examples 36. Garrad Hassan & Partners Renewable Energy http://bit.ly/hxGaLI #cleantech #innovate
Iain Gray good #Bristol technology and innovation examples 35. Provision – Wireless Video http://bit.ly/ijct4d #innovate
Iain Gray good #Bristol technology and innovation examples 34. MOD Defence Equipment and Support http://bit.ly/gcMNFn #innovate
Iain Gray good #Bristol technology and innovation examples 33. Bioinduction – treatment of chronic pain http://bit.ly/eGdEGq #innovate
Iain Gray good #Bristol technology & innovation examples 32. Dycem Manufacture high performance non-slip products http://bit.ly/hPfnP4#ktp #innovate
Iain Gray good #Bristol technology and innovation examples 31. Infineon – 32bit embedded microprocessor cores http://bit.ly/e74PXg #innovate
Iain Gray good #Bristol technology and innovation examples 30. Bristol Heart Institute – cardiovascular research http://bit.ly/hum6AX #innovate
Iain Gray good #Bristol technology and innovation examples 29. Simon Games Mobile Social Game Engine http://bit.ly/fuBbQ1 #innovate
Iain Gray good #Bristol technology and innovation examples 28. GKN Advanced Composite Facility http://bit.ly/aZDjah #innovate #composites
Iain Gray good #Bristol technology and innovation examples 27. Pervasive Media Studio http://bit.ly/DTabc #innovate @PMStudioUK
Iain Gray good #Bristol technology & innovation examples 26. Atkins –The Hub– awarded Best Corporate Workspace by BCOhttp://bit.ly/h3sbiv #innovate
Iain Gray good #Bristol technology and innovation examples 25. Epimorphics software tools and information services http://bit.ly/e9rf5j #innovate
Iain Gray good #Bristol technology and innovation examples 24. 3C Research digital media and communications http://bit.ly/hDvOff #innovate
Iain Gray good #Bristol technology & innovation examples 23. University of the West of England Research & Business http://bit.ly/er724n #innovate
Iain Gray good #Bristol technology and innovation examples 22. DECIPHer-ASSIST public health improvement research http://bit.ly/huZWEu #innovate
Iain Gray good #Bristol technology and innovation examples 21. BBC Anchor media innovation testbed http://bit.ly/3GZUTV #innovate
Iain Gray good #Bristol technology and innovation examples 20. Tidal Generation – renewable energy http://bit.ly/gSGl7N #innovate #cleantech
Iain Gray good #Bristol technology and innovation examples 19. Toshiba Research Centre Telecommunications (TRL) http://bit.ly/hpsKHs #innovate
Iain Gray good #Bristol technology and innovation examples 18. Nameless Digital Agency – web design http://bit.ly/2jyor0 @namelessdigital #innovate
Iain Gray good #Bristol technology and innovation examples 17. 422 South – visual effects and animation http://bit.ly/ajS63d #innovate
Iain Gray good #Bristol technology and innovation examples 16. GKN Advanced Composite Facility http://bit.ly/aZDjah #innovate
Iain Gray good #Bristol technology and innovation examples 15. Centre for Nanoscience and Quantum Information http://bit.ly/7eVETO #innovate
Iain Gray good #Bristol technology&innovation examples 14. TasteTech- pioneer of microencapsulation technology http://bit.ly/gos6Qd #innovate
Iain Gray good #Bristol technology and innovation examples 13. Gnodal – Ethernet for high perf data centres http://bit.ly/as9pkC #innovate
Iain Gray good #Bristol technology and innovation examples 12. OC Robotics Snake-arm® robots http://bit.ly/fggW6i @ocrobotics #innovate
Iain Gray good #Bristol technology and innovation examples 11. Bloodhound – Technical Centre http://bit.ly/fmCeCA @BLOODHOUND_SSC #innovate
Iain Gray good #Bristol technology and innovation examples 10. ARKive multimedia guide to world’s endangered species http://bit.ly/fWqnne #innovate
Iain Gray good #Bristol technology and innovation examples 9. Airbus Wing ,Landing Gear and Fuel Systems http://bbc.in/fj4XpB #innovate
Iain Gray good #Bristol technology and innovation examples 8. DocCom networking company for healthcare http://bit.ly/axwPez #innovate
Iain Gray good #Bristol technology and innovation examples 7. XMOS chip technology http://bit.ly/ffHORP #innovate
Iain Gray good #Bristol technology and innovation examples 6. HP Labs among premier corporate research labs in Europehttp://bit.ly/ekhQ6F #innovate
Iain Gray good #Bristol technology and innovation examples 5. BAESystems Advanced Technology Centre, Filton http://bit.ly/h5c6ae #innovate
Iain Gray good #Bristol technology and innovation examples 4. CFMS design simulation processes http://bit.ly/gLoI7D #innovate
Iain Gray good #Bristol technology and innovation examples 3. Marine Current Turbines http://bit.ly/fa0Fj6 #innovate #cleantech
Iain Gray good #Bristol technology and innovation examples 2. Bristol Robotics Laboratory http://bit.ly/anILB5 #innovate
Iain Gray good #Bristol technology and innovation examples 1. Aaardman animations http://bit.ly/60RAZ @aardmandigital #innovate
Nov 10

War, what is it good for?

Quite a lot as it turns out.

Both of Monday’s talks as part of the Festival of Ideas (@festivalofideas) Autumn Programme looked at how much of the technology that we all rely upon started out with military funding.

(Disclosure: I was invited to attend both talks in return for writing this short review)

Whilst both speakers were looked at technology from war (and other base instincts) they were separated by over 150 years. Peter Nowak (Sex, Bombs and Burgers: How War, Porn and Fast Food Created Technology as we Know it) looked at mostly post World War II innovations that were now commonplace, and Rachel Hewitt (Map of a Nation: A Biography of the Ordnance Survey) looked back to the 1790’s and the birth of the Ordinance Survey.

Peter’s book is an enjoyable romp through just about every gadget, meal and (ahem) alternative entertainment you’ve ever heard of (and a couple you probably haven’t) and how they can trace their roots back to either military research projects or the companies that produced them. If anything was missing, it was a sense of grand narrative. A couple times during both Andrew’s interview and the subsequent Q&A he was pressed on the ethical questions raised but never really answered them.

Peter did make one prediction that robotics are now, where the PC was 20 years ago and that in 20 years time robotics would be as ubiquitous as the computer is now. Not quite sure I agree with that, there are lots of deeper sociological issues with robots such as challenges to our sense of self, issues over robot rights (robot is, after all, literally serf labor, in Polish), and the sheer creepiness of human-like robot forms.

A very interesting comment from the floor suggested a fourth base instinct to go with war, food & sex which was our innate curiosity and desire for the next shiny shiny thing. Whilst some of these companies can trace their origins to military activity, their current innovations and particularly their speed of innovation, are driven more by consumer competition rather than warmongering.

Map showing Trig Points used in the 1936 Ordnance Survey "Retriangulation of Britain" between 1936 and 1962.

By contrast, Rachel gave a fascinating and engaging talk about the origins of the Ordinance Survey and the people involved. It was quite clear that whilst the maps were commissioned to provide Britain with a military advantage in the event of invasion, the cultural impact of having a unified map of the country was also very important to those early cartographers. I was especially taken by the notion that William Mudge encouraged alternative uses of the original map series.

Rachel also noted that the early trig points were located at the sites of the national chain of warning Beacons (as these were on natural sight lines around the coast). Their rudimentary theodolites frequently needed flares to provide them with sufficient light to focus upon, and these flares naturally gave rise to the very real fear of imminent invasion!

In the equally entertaining and informative Q&A that followed, Rachel explored the cultural importance of maps and the role that the Ordinance Survey played in the cultural life of Britain, national rivalries with France, technology advances, and the location of the original Base Line (now mostly under Heathrow Airport).

A great evening all round!