Categories
technology

One IoT app that I want right now ..

After I wrote the Google I/O post that I wrote today, I got ready and drove down to work. And while I was driving down, I was thinking about one immediate IoT application that I want

Disclaimer: This may be specific to Indian users.

trolley For those who have not seen this picture on the left, this is a Gas Cylinder trolley with an integrated weighing scale. Several brands market them now (including Pigeon, from where I took the picture from). It serves two purposes. Check if the cylinder is full, when delivered – there was a time when there were some agencies scamming the consumer by delivering half full cylinders). The second purpose was to know when the cylinder was close to getting over – before it actually got over (the weight of an empty cylinder canister is published information). 

My dream IoT app would connect this trolley to the online refill booking system of my gas cylinder supplier. Typically it takes time for the distributor to deliver the cylinder. The app would continually track the usage of the cylinder and the wait time of the distributor and order appropriately such that I get the new cylinder close to the day when my cylinder gets over.

 

 

Categories
news technology

Google and IoT – Brillo and Weave

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The thing that caught my attention in yesterdays Google I/O conference was the new (renewed?) focus on IoT. And this time, it looked like Google went back to basics. Back to the drawing boards. I like this idea. The Internet of Things (IoT) is not something that is going to be a fad and move into oblivion or mainstream in a few years and forgotten about. It is something that is going to grow over time. There will be an ecosystem around it. It will get smarter. It will become more pervasive. And it is going to stay for a long time.

The Internet of Things (IoT) is not something that is going to be a fad and move into oblivion or mainstream in a few years and forgotten about. It is something that is going to grow over time. There will be an ecosystem around it. It will get smarter. It will become more pervasive. And it is going to stay for a long time. The applications are many. From smarter homes to smarter public transportation systems. From cleaner cities to more energy optimization. From personal convenience (sometimes bordering on creepy?) to mainstream production. From retail to manufacturing. Everywhere. And here is where I get to make an almost sci-fi’ish statement – “Here is where machines will talk to each other.”

For this to happen, the basics need to be right. Almost like how Android started.

Google has introduced Project Brillo, which it claims to be the operating system for the IoT. It is a low-level layer of Android which can be ’embedded’ into the machines that are going to be part of the eco-system. These could be your Nest thermostat, smart LED bulbs, or in the future – smart ovens, smart refrigerators, smart dead-bolts (door locks) etc.

The second part of the puzzle is a standard communication protocol by which these machines will talk to each other. Google introduced a new protocol called “Weave”. (Somehow these names also seem refreshing opposed to IEEE 455.34 or something similar). The weave protocol will be a standardized protocol, which will enable any machine to talk to another machine, or to a phone, or to the internet — which is pretty  much the internet of things. This where the magic happens. This is how your phone and your car will tell your coffee maker to start brewing and tell your thermostat to warm your living room, when you are 5 minutes from reaching your home.

Google is also going to be starting a Weave certification, so that third party product manufacturers can make weave ready products. This opens up the ecosystem that I was talking about. Guys like WeMo and Belkin will jump on to the bandwagon first. And then more common-place companies like the Black and Deckers. And then in parallel, the Fords and GMs.

I am liking this world now.

image src: arstechnica

Categories
Restaurant Review startup technology

Zomato and their way forward

Been wanting to write about this for a while. Today seems to be the blogging day. Not feeling sleepy, and feeling an awesome urge to write, and write, and …

As you probably are aware, as of now, Zomato is a restaurant discovery service. And a damn good one at that. They have taken this and scaled it like no one else’s business internationally. Buying UrbanSpoon in the US completed this strategy. They have the US market covered too.

So, now that, people can figure out where to go eat, or order delivery from, what are two things that they could move forward on.

Home Delivery for food. When you can show them where to order delivery from, why not deliver the food itself. This is what Zomato has been experimenting on, for a while (or so I read somewhere). There are already quite a few players in this industry, like the tiny TinyOwl which got some not-so-tiny-amount of funding, and others too (such as delyvery, swiggy, grofers etc). The modus operandi in most of these services is:to display the menu of the restaurant on their website

  1. Display the menu of the restaurant on their website
  2. Take the order from the customer (app or website or phone)
  3. Call the restaurant and create the order
  4. Send the delivery person to the restaurant to pick up the order
  5. Delivery person delivers the food.

The one hiccup that could happen (and happens a lot) in this strategy is the fact that restaurants can say that they cannot make a certain order item, because of chef-absent, raw-material-over, whatever-nonsensical-yet-plausible-reason. In this case, the middle delivery guy is hosed. He needs to call the delivery company, who then calls up the customer, and asks for an alternative order, and pass it back to delivery guy, to the restaurant, etc, and so on and so forth. You get the drift.

Zomato, from what I read, is planning to solve this problem in a pretty nifty way, by using technology. They are planning to give all participating restaurants a Point of Sale (POS) device – most likely an android tablet-like device. When an order comes into the system from a customer (app/web), it goes directly to the restaurant, which has the control to accept or reject order-items immediately. The one inefficiency, that was the delivery-call-center is gone. Once the order is accepted by the restaurant, the delivery guy is dispatched to the restaurant, who picks up the food and delivers. To me, this sounds like an awesome use of technology – well worth the cost of a cheap tablet – many many times over.

Now, let us step back. There are several more side-advantages of this approach. Zomato now has a foot (well, a technological foot) in the restaurant’s door.

  • Zomato and the restaurant can capture analytics on which food is most ordered.
    • Zomato could potentially even crunch the numbers and figure out how long a certain delivery might take, based on distance of customer from restaurant, timing of the order etc.
  • Zomato can run online specials in collaboration with the restaurant.
  • Zomato can feedback ratings from customers back to restaurants directly.
  • Zomato ratings for restaurants and the ‘price for two’ numbers can become accurate.

Table Booking: Now lets talk about the second direction in which Zomato could potentially expand. If you are a restaurant discovery service, and you have suggested a restaurant to a customer, who has narrowed into this choice, based on a variety of choices, the next easy thing to capture is to help the customer to book a table.

Sure, there are players in this market too – bookyourtable.com, mytable.com etc.

What does Zomato have (or can do) that gives it an edge?

Well, let us go back to the first direction (home delivery) that we discussed in length earlier. We remember that Zomato was giving the restaurants a POS (point of sale) terminal – an android device, which was going to help in getting an order into the restaurant. This same device could very well be used to book a table in the restaurant. In fact, this booking would be so much more reliable and real-time. This would replace the register that the Maitre’D has on his podium at the entrance. So, when half the restaurant has been booked by a large party online,  someone showing up at the door, would know immediately ; and vice versa.

With such a real time interaction between the restaurant and Zomato, one could do several more things as well:

  • Accurately enter the number of regular chair seats vs sofa seating and track the reservations based on this. (Personal problem that I have faced often).
  • Crunch analytics on when a restaurant is most crowded, how long (on an average) a table is occupied, and hence when a next slot can be opened up.

And ofcourse, let us throw in some capitalism for the fun of it:

  • Zomato could have ‘promoted’ hotels –
  • Restaurants could do dip pricing (my invented term – opposite of surge pricing ) for irregular hours
  • When a customer tries booking a table, and is unsuccessful, Zomato could suggest something else nearby. (This could also be the case, when you have booked a table, but the restaurant is so busy, that they cannot guarantee you, and make you wait).

Summary: I have been a big fan of Zomato and what they have been doing. And I see these two directions as promising directions that they are heading (could head towards).

Well, I have to say this. I do have one thing I did not like that Zomato did. This was when they moved from Bangalore to Gurgaon. They tried trash talking Bangalore to lure devs to Gurgaon. While it got them a lot of publicity, I kind-of felt that was in bad taste. Well, to each, their opinion.

Categories
gadgets technology

IoE and Retail

I read an article by Mala Anand (@malaAnandCisco) of Cisco on how Internet of Everything (IoE) can be harnessed for retail, and that got me thinking. This is another of those dream product posts that I occasionally write (dream-write?). There may be overlaps in some of the things that Mala had used, but this here post is my interpretation 🙂

My definition of IoE or IoT is the system where multiple devices capable of collecting, transmitting, and/or processing data, are interconnected towards achieving a specific result.

Let us take retail as an example, for the case of this blog post.

As you walk into the door, apps from your mobile phone could communicate to the store about the list of things that you are looking for. Perhaps at a high level, you walk into a super-store such as Star Bazaar in India, or Walmart in the US, and your intention is to buy some groceries and perhaps a dress for your nephew. One of these things could be done:

  • Your to-buy list could be transmitted to a central unit, which could dispatch a human personnel to you to guide you through buying your dress.
  • The store central unit sends the directions to your app indicating where the items you intending purchasing are stocked. It is worth mentioning here, that stores tend to keep changing their locations. So without the latest directions, you could be searching for a while.
  • If you have a long list of grocery items, the central system could guide the phone in your app to an optimized route.
  • If you have taken a shopping cart/trolley, the central system could now talk to a display on the trolley and guide you.
  • And ofcourse, let us toss in a bit of capitalism in here, judging you by your past behaviors, the system could ‘surreptitiously’ guide you to some items that you did not have on our list, but you crave/wish for. And ofcourse give you some deals while at it, to persuade you to buy it.
  • The system could also help you keep you within a budget – money-wise and time-wise.

And hey, while you were still at home, creating your to-buy list, your refrigerator could have let you know the status of milk and other staples at home, and if you need to purchase any.

While at the store, let us shift away from the customer experience, and move towards how it could potentially help the store itself.

  • Based on the sensors that could detect weather (current and predictions), the store manager could get data on if he should be stocking up on related items such as umbrellas, suntan lotion etc, and if he should be putting them up in the center aisles.
  • The temperature sensors could also optimally adjust the thermostats and lighting (this is already done by NEST kind of devices)
  • Stock inventory (weight sensors on the shelves) and Resource deployment could also be updated based on connected devices in the store.
  • Billing lines could be avoided – the connected devices would have calculated the bill, gotten the buyers approval and charged the credit card or deducted from an online wallet.
  • Connected cleaning agents such as robotized roombas could help clean the stores in co-ordination with the other systems in the store.
  • Connected cameras could potentially infer demographics of the customers visiting the stores. Example – Retired folks in a Target at St.Petersburg, Tampa would probably not be needing baseball bats and specialized soccer equipment. Golf clubs might be a better idea to stock.

These are some of the ideas that came up, off the top of my mind. But the Internet of Things is a very interesting subject and even though, much of it is made of dreams, there are promising directions that companies are headed towards, which makes all of these dreams potentially feasible in the not so distant future.

 

Categories
design technology usability ux

Facebook New stories : Mobile to Web

As I have said earlier, I notice UI/UX changes. Some earlier picks herehere and here. I just noticed something new today in Facebook. I have seen this in their mobile app, but one of the first times, I am seeing a company move a good UI feature from an app to the web.

fb-new-stories

 

I have not seen the “New Stories” button in the webpage before. New posts would either auto-load, or I would need to go click on the f button to load new pages. This brings in a new cognitive feature to show that there are new stories.

Good stuff, Facebook. I love the way you are moving features seamlessly between web pages to app and vice versa.

Categories
fiction history misc tamil

Ponniyin Selvan Book 1 Vol 2 is out!

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The second volume was released early today morning. Follow along with the adventures of our hero warrior – Vandhiyathevan and his encounters with the veera vaishnavite – Alwarkadiyaan Nambi, Nandhini, the seductress, and the beautiful Princess Kundavai.

Buy the two books here -> Book 1 -> Vol 1 and Vol 2.

 

Categories
misc

Ponniyin Selvan – A Retelling

http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00WZOUMAM

The first of a series of books. This is a retelling focused more on the plot. I have also tried to make it “easy to read”. Formatted as mini books. 3 volumes for each book, which makes it 15 books for the epic.

Go buy it here -> http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00WZOUMAM