Driverless vs Self-Driving Cars: GM Makes A Bet


Remember that scene from Minority Report with those amazing self-driving cars? 

That we will eventually end up there is not up for debate (IMHO), but when, is certainly still up in the air. On the face of it, Google’s self-driving cars – now being aped by many other car makers who are creating their own self-driving cars – are the most logical way to get there. 

But, given human and consumer behavior, is that the next step?

Maybe not, GM, which just announced “hands free driving” cars that will launch in 2016, seems to think:

General Motors Co. plans to launch by 2016 cars with a hands-free automated driving system and Wi-Fi-enabled vehicle-to-vehicle communications systems designed to help avoid collisions, intensifying the race among the world’s auto makers to build cars that can partially drive themselves and avoid crashes without the help of their human drivers.

The company will offer its “super cruise” system, which will allow a driver to ride in a car with hands off the steering wheel on a freeway with proper lane markings, on a yet-to-be named new Cadillac vehicle. Cadillac officials have said they intend to launch by 2016 a large sedan to compete with rivals such as the Mercedes S-Class.

GM officials declined to say how much the “super cruise” feature will cost. A package of optional driver-assistance features currently sells on Cadillac models for about $3,000.

Officials with the auto maker said the super-cruise system will be designed to require that drivers remain attentive and ready to retake control of the vehicle. They also stressed the distinction between this “automated” driving feature and the vision of a fully automated, “driverless” car promoted by Silicon Valley’s Google Inc.

This is quite clever on GM’s part. The technology is incremental and likely easier to market and sell to consumers. Regulars may not be as averse as they might be to true driver-less cars, and the option is probably not going to break the bank. Finally, it lets GM curate the path to true drive less cars sometime in the future as opposed to letting Google and others take the lead. 

A very clever strategic bet, if you ask me.

Smart Clothing – Gaining Momentum?


First, our phones became smart(er). Then our cars. Soon, our homes. And very soon, our clothes as well?

Consider this excerpt from a CrunchBase email:

Athos, a smart workout clothing startup based in Redwood City, has raised $12.2 million in Series B funding from True Ventures, DCM, Social+Capital Partnership, Golden State Warriors owner Joe Lacob and NBA player Jermaine O’Neal. Athos makes flexible sensors that can be printed on workout clothing to gather information like heart rate or calories burned and communicate with a smartphone. Founded in 2012, Athos has raised nearly $15 million to date and will use the latest cash to launch its first line of wearables this Fall.

OK…so does it work, and more importantly, does it work well?

Couldn’t find any reviews yet, but seems promising. As Joshua Brustein writes on BW,

Its clothing is made from sensor-laden fabrics that sit tight against the skin, sending information about how hard each muscle is working to your phone, through a transmitter that sits in a small pouch on a shirt or pants. In addition to information about muscle groups, the company says it can also measure more commonly-tracked metrics like calories burned and heart rate.

Not 100% sure there’s a huge market for this. Especially when each item of clothing is priced around $200. Maybe there is, maybe there isn’t. But it seems the promising “use case” for true wearable clothing might be the medical market, for convalescents and seniors.

Those are the groups that need something monitoring their vitals around the clock, alerting loved ones and/or medical professionals when things are going awry, or more importantly and interestingly, before things start to go awry.

In 10 years perhaps?


Marriott And The Millennials

Large global companies that sell to consumers directly are in the process of making sure that they continue to be relevant to tomorrow’s buyers – the millennials, who will shape their profits and growth for the next two decades. And you can see this not just in terms of marketing and Ads but also products and platforms across diverse industries – cars, electronics, food and so on and so forth.

Marriott, which operates more than 660,000 rooms across 16 brands globally, is no different.

So what is it trying to do? Brooks Barnes writes in a highly readable NYT piece that

To win over younger business travelers — and, even more important, to keep them in the Marriott fold when they travel for leisure, particularly overseas — the energetic Mr. Sorenson (Arne Sorenson, the first non-family CEO at Marriott International – Ed.) is relying on a range of strategies.

Core hotels are getting gussied up. In September, the Chicago Marriott O’Hareunveiled $40 million worth of improvements, including a better bar, historically a Marriott weakness. (Some analysts trace that to the company’s Mormon roots.) The Detroit Marriott at the Renaissance Center begins a similar $30 million upgrade in February. The company has been trying to improve what it calls the “guest-room beauty experience” at Marriott-brand hotels — stocking bathrooms, for instance, with a Thai skin care line.

A new ad push, “Travel Brilliantly,” estimated to cost roughly $90 million over three years, reflects Mr. Sorenson’s focus on younger consumers. TV and web ads, taped at international resorts like the Bangkok Marriott Hotel Sukhumvit, intone: “This is not a hotel. It’s an idea that travel should be brilliant. The promise of spaces as expansive as your imagination.” Marriott also offers Xplor, a free smartphone app combining reservations with games; players win loyalty club points by completing challenges at virtual hotels.

“We want people to be saying, ‘Hey, do you see what Marriott just did?’ ” Mr. Sorenson said.

And it is starting new brands and not explicitly associating them with the Marriott name in some parts of the world. In others, it is trying to explicitly link the Ritz Carlton name to its Marriott owners, etc.

A terrific read, that piece.

Targeting The Un-networked Masses (5 Billion Of Them)

Facebook and a bunch of wireless carriers are getting together to make it easier for the rest of humanity (5 Billion people) to get online. 

An excerpt from Tuesday’s press release

MENLO PARK, CA, — Mark Zuckerberg, founder and CEO of Facebook, today announced the launch of, a global partnership with the goal of making internet access available to the next 5 billion people.

“Everything Facebook has done has been about giving all people around the world the power to connect,” Zuckerberg said. “There are huge barriers in developing countries to connecting and joining the knowledge economy. brings together a global partnership that will work to overcome these challenges, including making internet access available to those who cannot currently afford it.”

Today, only 2.7 billion people – just over one-third of the world’s population — have access to the internet. Internet adoption is growing by less than 9% each year, which is slow considering how early we are in its development.

The founding members of — Facebook, Ericsson, MediaTek, Nokia, Opera, Qualcomm and Samsung — will develop joint projects, share knowledge, and mobilize industry and governments to bring the world online.

More specifically, how do they want to do it?

Vindu Goel writes on The NYT that

The immediate goals of the new coalition are to cut the cost of providing mobile Internet services to 1 percent of its current level within five to 10 years by improving the efficiency of Internet networks and mobile phone software. The group also hopes to develop new business models that would allow phone companies to provide simple services like e-mail, search and social networks for little or no charge.

On top of that, the coalition plans to optimize the amount of data needed for apps to work on cheap data plans. As an example, Vindu says a typical Facebook user on Android “consumes” 12MB a day. Facebook, as part of these efforts, wants to cut that down to 1MB.

Of course neither Facebook nor the other members of the coalition are doing it as a charitable exercise. They are doing it with the hope that as the unnetworked masses start to use the Web, their services’ usage goes up (which they would then monetize). But at the same time, the masses will also start to use and hopefully benefit from other commercial and non-commercial services. So everyone comes out ahead. 

Which is why I think this is pretty laudable. 

Digital Fingerprinting: Better, Way Better, Than Cookies

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Cookies – the kind websites place on your digital devices – not the kind you eat, help companies with targeting and tracking.

But, with users blocking them or cleaning them frequently, companies may be turning to digital “fingerprinting”, writes Adam Tanner, on Forbes:

This technique allows a web site to look at the characteristics of a computer such as what plugins and software you have installed, the size of the screen, the time zone, fonts and other features of any particular machine. These form a unique signature just like random skin patterns on a finger. The Electronic Frontier Foundation has found that 94% of browsers that use Flash or Java – which enable key features in Internet browsing – had unique identities.

Fingerprinting may prove a more robust tracking technology than cookies because the user’s identify endures even if they erase their cookies. Making changes to your software and settings only makes you more identifiable, not less. An EFF study several years ago found that it is easy to track when someone changes their profiles by adding software updates, for example.

He goes on to bemoan this latest development.

But why? If users want to consume online content for free or do other online things, again, at no cost, why bemoan giving marketers the ability to show you relevant ads? As I’ve said before, if I’m going to be seeing Ads anyway, I would much rather see Ads and/or offers that are timely and relevant. In fact, isn’t that what’s good about being online? When I see a glossy ad in a print magazine for something I will never, in a thousand years use, I might just admire the stock of the paper and/or the photography and move on. But if I see an Ad online for an OLED TV I just spent an hour researching, both I, and the advertiser, come out ahead, don’t we?

And then he goes on to mention a company called AdStack that uses this technology to great effect (picture above from their website):

They have developed a technology that allows firms to send an email but deliver the content only when a user opens it, giving the sender a chance to change the message in a few milliseconds. The email is sort of like a picture frame, with the content delivered interactively much as a webpage. They aim to deliver a personalized message at the right time.

For example, if you open a restaurant promotion in the morning it might advertise a lunch special, or later in the day, dinner. And perhaps they know you like sushi rather than steak. A flower store might advertise different specials depending on their inventory at the time a person opens their email.

Again, timely + relevant > irrelevant and dated, so…

Starbucks Wants To Put Its Assets To Use All Day


Having tasted(!) enormous success with coffee and various other caffeinated beverages that are mostly(?) consumed in the AM, Starbucks is trying to expand its offerings and become an all-day destination. 

Makes sense…you have a bunch of fixed assets and associated costs, so why not put them to use through the day, right?

So last year it started offering “small plates” of food and wine in select locations (those that have foot traffic through the day, not just in the mornings?). From its website

The place you love during the day now has more reasons to love it at night. 

We’ve always been your neighborhood spot where you can take a moment to unwind, grab a well-deserved treat, and meet up with friends. But sometimes, you just want a glass of wine and a delicious bite to eat without going to a bar or making a restaurant reservation.

Say hello to a new way to enjoy Starbucks after 4 p.m. Drop in after work, with friends, after yoga, by yourself, after a long day or after a great day.

The food is amazing. The wine selection is simple and smart.

The chairs are just as comfortable as they are in the morning.

And now, Julie Jargon writes on The WSJ (paywall), Starbucks is testing carbonated beverages made on-site (where else?) as a way to draw in afternoon traffic:

The Seattle-based company, which has been pushing to become known for more than just coffee, is experimenting with handcrafted sodas in stores in Atlanta and Austin, Texas. 

Its new drinks, made with a carbonation machine, come in such varieties as lemon ale, spiced root beer and ginger ale.

The sodas at one store in Atlanta are priced at $2.45 for a tall, $2.95 for a grande and $3.45 for a venti, according to Larry Miller, an Atlanta-based analyst for RBC Capital Markets, who visited a store selling them. Starbucks said prices vary by market.

Atlanta and Austin began testing the beverages this past Tuesday, following a smaller test in Seattle in April.

A bit pricey for my taste, especially on a regular basis…but good for them, and good luck to them. 

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