The Internet Of Things Spreads And Raises Concerns

Although it’s not growing as fast as some people thought a year ago, the Internet of Things continues to be deployed.

we often think of the sensors and other aspects of the Internet of
Things being part of the management of large cities or industrial
enterprises, some of the most interesting developments have occurred,
but gone largely unnoticed, on the farm.

A few weeks ago, two articles about this appeared – “The Dawn Of The Smart Farmer: Sowing Sensors And Connecting Crops” and a blog by Steve Lohr (one of the NY Times very best technology reporters) “The Internet of Things and the Future of Farming”.

things that are being connected have, so far, been digital devices. But
the Korean company Naran is introducing a micro-robot, called the Push.
Any non-digital switch, like a light switch, can be controlled by this
nearby device, which in turn is connected to a small Prota computer that
tells the little robot when to turn the switch on or off based on a set
of rules set up by the user. There’s also a smartphone app for
preparing these rules or simply controlling the robot directly. 


Perhaps the greatest potential
of the Internet of Things is as a step to other ways of extending the
Internet. The University of Virginia announced a new way to use regular LED lights:

like using fiber optics to communicate – only without the fiber.
Imagine connecting to the Internet through the same room lights that
brighten your day. A University of Virginia engineering professor and
her former graduate student are already there… Their breakthrough means
that data can be transmitted faster with light waves using no more
energy than is already required to run the lights.”

Of course,
problems, like security, are always an issue, even in surprising
quarters. Vint Cerf, the unofficial father of the Internet and Chief
Internet Evangelist at Google, worries that the software behind the
Internet of Things has bugs. Last week, he publicly confessed that “Sometimes I’m terrified by it”.

Andy Greenberg of WIRED magazine has been particularly active reporting on these issues. In July, he wrote how “Hackers Can Disable a Sniper Rifle—Or Change Its Target”.


In July, starting with another article in WIRED,
the hacking of cars built by major American car manufacturers made big
news. That led to a recall that was a nuisance, a necessary nuisance,
for car owners.

On a more positive note earlier this month, another reporter at WIRED followed up with an article titled “Researchers Hacked a Model S, But Tesla’s Already Released a Patch
noting that the same Internet of Things which opened up a vulnerability
could also be used by smart companies to close those doors quickly.

© 2015 Norman Jacknis, All Rights Reserved


Not Your Typical Urban News — Part 1

As part of my summer roundup of unconventional news items on various subjects, here are some things happening in cities, states/provinces and other sub-national governments.  I’ve organized these items into four categories: urban migrations; urban work/life balance; urban technology; and compassion.  Let’s review the first two now.

Urban Migrations

Despite the continuing drumbeat about everyone moving to the downtown of cities, the actual patterns of migration are much more complex.  
This story perhaps explains some of the movement of people – “These Are the Top 20 Cities Americans Are Ditching: Soaring costs of living meant residents left New York City and its suburbs in droves”.  The story is not just about New York, of course:

“New York City, Los Angeles, Honolulu: They’re all places you would think would be popular destinations for Americans. So it might come as a surprise that these are among the cities U.S. residents are fleeing in droves. …

“Interestingly, these are also the cities with some of the highest net inflows of people from outside the country. That gives many of these cities a steadily growing population, despite the net exodus of people moving within the U.S.

“And as Americans leave, people from abroad move in to these bustling cities to fill the vacant low-skilled jobs. [And live in cramped quarters native-born residents don’t want]”

We also see a recent report from the Brookings Institution, titled the “The end of suburban white flight”.  William H. Frey points out:

“As the nation’s white population ages and stagnates, the childbearing population is increasingly made up of minorities, who are increasingly drawn to the suburbs. In fact, whites are hardly the lifeblood of suburban growth anymore. … Suburbs will continue to grow in the future, but increasingly as a result of the rapid growth of the nation’s growing young minority families.”


While you might expect there to be a difference in how people of different ages feel about where they live – with young people, in theory, finding cities hip – that story is also more complicated.  Dave Nyczepir reported a few weeks ago that “Wyoming Seniors Don’t Feel Much Better Off Than Younger Generations. But That’s Not Necessarily a Bad Thing.  Delaware, by comparison, boasts the biggest senior advantage in well-being, according to a new well-being index.

The news is not just about people moving from one city to another, but even moving less once they’re there.

Urban Work/Life Balance

For much of the 20th century, commuting was one of the most unpleasant aspects of living in a metropolis.  Long commutes were a major contributed to a lack of balance between work and the rest of life, in addition to adding all sorts of bad things into the air.

With that in mind, Wendell Cox wrote recently that “Working at Home: In Most Places, the Big Alternative to Cars”.

There were another couple of articles that carried this idea further.  Last week, Business Insider reported that “Startups are opening ‘co-living’ spaces, so you never have to leave home to go to work”, which was, in turn, based on a BuzzFeed report titled “Living In The Disneyland Version Of Startup Life”.  These describe several ventures in various cities and suburbs around the US that offer or will offer not only the usual co-working spaces, but co-living as well, all in one shared location.

One consequence of these trends in home working is that Iowa’s state transportation chief predicted the road system “is going to shrink”, as reported recently in a CityLab story “Iowa Makes a Bold Admission: We Need Fewer Roads”.

© 2015 Norman Jacknis


Better Driving?


There have been all kinds of fun new ways that technology has become embedded into cars to help drivers.

Last Friday, the New York Times had an article about Audi’s testing what might be described as a driver-assisted race car, going 120 miles per hour.

Just last month, Samsung demonstrated a way to see through truck on country roads in Argentina.   It was intended to help a driver know when it’s safe to pass and overtake the truck.  But, even those of us who get stuck in massive urban traffic jams, would love the ability to see ahead.   (See the picture above.)

Another version of the same idea was developed and unveiled last month by the Universitat Politècnica de València, Spain.  They call their version EYES and you can see a report about it at


There have been variations on this theme over the last year or so, but so far the deployment of the technology hasn’t happened on real roads for regular drivers.

But Ford Motor Company announced a couple of weeks ago that it will start to equip a car this year with split view cameras that let drivers see around corners.  They say it’s especially useful when backing into traffic.   This is supposed to be a feature of their worldwide fleet of cars by 2020.


In the old days, when a driver had to maneuver into a tight corner, he/she asked a friend to stand outside the car and provide instructions.  Now, Land Rover is helping the driver who is alone – without friends? – to get a better view and control the car at the same time by using a smart phone app.


Is this all a good thing?  The New York Times had this quote in its Audi story:

“At this point, substantial effort in the automotive community is focused on developing fully autonomous driving technology,” said Karl Iagnemma, an automotive researcher at M.I.T. “Far less effort is focused on developing methods to allow a driver to intuitively and safely interact with the highly automated driving vehicle.”

Nevertheless, while these features are surely helpful, on balance, they seem to me to be transitional technologies.  (Allen Wirfs-Brock provided this helpful slide on the subject.)


A good example was the enhancement of controls for elevator operators when the average passenger could press the very same automated buttons.  Or similarly, the attempt by horse-drawn carriage makers to keep up with auto makers until they firmly lost the battle a hundred years ago.  Maybe Polaroid cameras were the transitional technology between film that needed to be developed at a factory and pictures you can take on your phone.


The warning signs are there already.  In May 2015, WIRED magazine featured this story, “Google’s Plan to Eliminate Human Driving in 5 Years”.  

Also in May, Uber and its partner, Carnegie Mellon University, did a test drive of its first autonomous vehicle.  Of course, Uber’s plans and its role in disrupting the traditional taxi industry had already led to dire predictions like this one on the website of the CBS TV station in San Francisco: “How Uber’s Autonomous Cars Will Destroy 10 Million Jobs And Reshape The Economy by 2025”.

Based on their promise last October, pretty soon we should soon start to Tesla delivering a car that “will be able to self-drive 90 percent of the time”.

Indeed, taking this idea to its ultimate extreme conclusion, the Guardian reported a few months ago that Tesla’s CEO, Elon Musk, wants to ban human driving altogether.  They quote him as saying:

“You can’t have a person driving a two-tonne death machine”.

So while it will be fun, perhaps we’re just seeing the last gasp of human driving.

© 2015 Norman Jacknis


New Ways You Will Interact With Cyberspace?

Last week I gave some examples of wearable technology.  This week the focus goes beyond wearables to other ways of interacting with cyberspace.  And, as I said last week, some or all of these products may never become commercially viable, but they give you an idea of where things are headed.

The folks at Ubi announced two months ago that they have left the crowdfunding and development stage and released their “ubiquitous computer” (at least from within eight feet).  There’s no display screen, no mouse, no keyboard – you only interact with Ubi via your voice and its voice.


Sweden’s ShortCutLabs have designed the Flic button to be used as an all-purpose remote control for all the things in your house that could be controlled remotely.  That includes your smart phone, your lights, and even somehow ordering a pizza.  See their Indiegogo video at


Of course, if you want a really universal, but physical, remote control, then you’ll have to depend on your hand.  With that in mind, Onecue proposes that you control “your media and smart home devices using simple touch-free gestures” of your hand.  Their pre-order video is at

From Berlin, Senic have offered up Flow as a more general replacement for the computer mouse, which is also based on gestures.  What’s intriguing about their work is the fact that they have worked on dozens of interfaces to various products and it is open for use by other developers. Their Indiegogo video is at 


Three months ago, University of Washington researchers demonstrated how hand gestures could control your smart phone.

And, even as driverless cars are being perfected, there is still interest in enhancing the blended virtual and physical experience of humans driving cars.   For example, Visteon, a long time supplier of “cockpit electronics” to the auto industry, recently announced its development of the HMeye Cockpit, which it describes as:

“an automotive cockpit concept demonstrating how drivers can select certain controls through eye movement and head direction. Hidden eye-tracking cameras capture this data to deliver an advanced human-machine interaction (HMI).”

Intel has been working more generally on smart cameras with depth sensing.  Its RealSense technology will start to have various applications early this year, some of which they showed off at the CES show last week, as reported by the Verge.

Haptics – touching and feeling your connection with technology – is one of the newer frontiers of user interface research.

From the Shinoda-Makino lab at the University of Tokyo comes HaptoMime, a “Mid-air Haptic Virtual Touch Panel” that gives tactile feedback.  Using ultrasound, it gives the user the sense of interacting with a floating holographic-like image.  You can read more in New Scientist and see the lab’s video at

Finally, a few weeks ago, computer scientists at the University of Bristol announced their latest advance in enhancing the real world:

“Technology has changed rapidly over the last few years with touch feedback, known as haptics, being used in entertainment, rehabilitation and even surgical training. New research, using ultrasound, has developed a virtual 3D haptic shape that can be seen and felt.”

You can see their demonstration at


These same scientists two months ago also announced a clever use of mirrors:

“In a museum, people in front of a cabinet would see the reflection of their fingers inside the cabinet overlapping the exact same point behind the glass. If this glass is at the front of a museum cabinet, every visitor would see the exhibits their reflection is touching and pop-up windows could show additional information about the pieces being touched.”

The mouse and keyboard are so last century!

© 2015 Norman Jacknis


Images Of Moving?

I’ve written before about spaces that blend the virtual and physical, but those spaces didn’t move.  Now we have new vehicles planned that take this blended reality on the road.

Below are just some news items that caught my eye over the past few months featuring the frontiers of vehicle technology, beyond the well-publicized self-driving cars.

First up is Lexus’s Art in Motion, which analyzes the way the car is being driven and reflects that in a portrait of the driver on the display screen in the car, as in the next picture.  For more information see and


Toyota’s FV2, “Fun To Drive”, concept vehicle is not quite a car. But it combines features of a car, a motorcycle, augmented reality, robotics, human/machine communications and sensing of the driver’s mood.  Like other concept cars, it may never hit the road, but it’s fun to think about.  Here are two pictures and read for more information from the company.  Oh, and they also have a smartphone app, that you can get now, to simulate what the FV2 is like.



We’ve seen self-parking cars on the road, but for those really tough parking spaces you may need to ask your passenger to get out and guide you in inch-by-inch.  But what if you’re driving alone?  Well, you’ll have to be your own passenger.  Just get out of the car and park it using your smartphone.  See how this is done with a VW car at

Prof. Michael Ferreira of Portugal’s University of Porto has developed what he calls a “see through” system that lets you see through the vehicle ahead of you.  The project has a video that sort of shows the system – . More information, in English, can be found at

MIT Professor Berthold Horn has developed a system that would tame traffic jams by coordinating cruise control among all the cars.  For more information, see

Finally, for those drivers who end up being pursued by the police, law enforcement agencies have a new tool from StarChase that’s being tested now.  It enables the police to shoot GPS locators on the target vehicles so they don’t have to engage in one of those dangerous car chases.

© 2014 Norman Jacknis