It’s always good to have a heart-warming story to start the year off. What made this a particularly good start for me in 2009 was the fact that the story appeared in New Scientist. In their opening issue on 3rd January, they tell the story of the “Rise of the garage genome hackers”. It’s all about the research on genetic modification that is going on in sheds, garages and bedroom cupboards around the world. It’s is a largely unreported phenomenon, but signals a growing trend which is the return of the scientific amateur or hobbyist.
Just before Christmas, when most of the press and the rest of the world had their minds on other things, the European Commission released a momentous set of documents detailing their strategy for Intelligent Transport Systems. It’s a great shame that it got ignored, as it provides the clarion call that the industry so desperately needs.
The Action Plan identifies the shortcomings of previous initiatives, where ITS has been deployed in a fragmented way, leading to a patchwork of solutions with no cohesion or integrity. Its intent is to put in place a framework that will lead to Europe wide systems, using legislation if necessary to speed up the process.
To coincide with the Medica exhibition I wrote a White Paper called “Trust me – I’m not a Doctor” to explore some of the changes that I think are necessary for the development of usable consumer health devices.One reader came back to me with a very pertinent question – “It’s one thing to say what needs to change, but what steps can manufacturers take in order to keep up with the latest developments in technology?”
It’s a very good question.Much of the medical industry concentrates on gradual evolution.It’s not an industry that is either particularly fast moving, or prone to disruptive influences.Certainly Medica was very much about more of the same and not doing anything new.
That poses a real problem, and to address it I think you have to take a deliberatively disruptive approach by thinking outside the box.Rather than asking how to keep abreast of technology, which is only likely to increase the pace of the current linear evolution, I’d suggest the more heretical view of thinking about what happens to the market when the clinician is excluded from it.
This year will see the arrival of a new short range wireless standard that is set to revolutionise the way that devices are made. That’s not a new claim – I recall it being made for Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, ZigBee, Home-RF and DECT, amongst others. Some succeeded massively, some struggled on and some failed. This year sees another technology join the fold and I’m confident that it will make a bigger change that any that has preceded it.
The technology I’m talking about is called Bluetooth low energy. Don’t be fooled by thinking it’s a variant of Bluetooth – that would be a mistake. Although it’s part of the Bluetooth family of standards, and designed to coexist within an existing Bluetooth chip, it’s a totally new standard, designed from the bottom up to fulfil a new set of requirements.
Those requirements are to enable a new generation of products that can connect to mobile phones. It covers everything from fashion accessories, watches, fitness and medical devices to office and security products. The essential thing is that they can be low power, low cost devices that only need to send small amounts of data. That allows them to be run off batteries that don’t need regular charging. In fact most of them will run for years on single coin cells.
As well as connecting to your phone as accessories, they’ll also be able to use the phone to send their data over your mobile network to a remote web service. That’s where Bluetooth low energy becomes really powerful, as it allows your mobile phone to act as a gateway.
With a variety of national ITS (Intelligent Transport Systems) deadlines looming, it’s instructive to see how far the industry has travelled in meeting the technical requirements to support widespread deployment. The sad answer is “not far”. In fact in most cases Daddy has very convincingly lost the map.
For once, Governments aren’t necessarily to blame. They’ve stated timescales in which they would like to see progress, but most of the grand ideas of ITS have been subverted by technology. Not necessarily bad technology, but instead of working on solving problems, its proponents have concentrated on bending the requirements of ITS to fit the business models and self-interest of commercial suppliers and prestige national technology programs.
As we enter 2009, with the realisation that the car industry is more fragile than it has ever been before, it is doubly important to understand the fact that commercial pressures will act even more strongly to delay innovation and introduction.
If we’re going to get there, we need to start thinking out of the box and asking what’s really needed to deliver the benefits of ITS? The telematics industry today is fragmented, but adept at selling expensive, proprietary solutions. It’s no good putting a sticker on an expensive telematics solution and claiming we’re getting close.
If ITS is to happen any time soon, the industry needs to wake up and work out how to design $5 solutions that deliver. And Governments need to get intelligent enough to cut through the dubious models they’re being sold and realise that the most important aspect to getting there is through setting realistic targets and moving to rapid deployment. Otherwise all that will happen is that we’ll see the acronym coming to mean “Inappropriate Telematics Systems” as we watch our transport systems head towards gridlock.
Horace Walpole may seem an unlikely subject for a website on Wireless Connectivity, being best known for his help in reviving the Gothic style in Victorian times, both with his mini-castle at Strawberry Hill and his early Gothic novel “The Castle of Otranto”.
What’s always intrigued me more about him is that he is credited with introducing the word “serendipity” into the English language, which is why he’s here. I’ve always liked the fact that a scholar and Member of Parliament would revert to a memory of a children’s story – “The Three Princes of Serendip” as his source. In it, Walpole explained, the heroes, the Three Princes of Serendip were always making discoveries, by accidents and sagacity, of things they were not in quest of. It suggests a man who has not had the misfortune of having to behave as a grown-up all of the time.
By referring to it as a Children’s book, Walpole devalued the fact that it is a much older story with nobler lineage, going back in oral tradition to stories of the life of the Persian King Bahran V. But for the current purpose, that’s by the by. I’ve always felt that it describes perfectly a lot of what is best and most satisfying in science and R&D – stumbling across something valuable that’s not what you expect. Hence my choice for all of the bits and pieces that I find interesting that don’t fit under the more definitive categories of this site. I hope you enjoy them