Category Archives: Technology

Ideas and musings on all things technology.

City of Tech

I have recently returned from my latest trip to what rapidly feels like my second home: California, and specifically the Bay Area. Ever since my first visit to see some friends several years ago I have felt drawn to the area, in no small part due to the fact that it is ‘tech Disneyland’ to the small, nerdy kid that is nestled at my core. It was almost a no-brainer then that I chose Lake Tahoe as my first Ironman race, oblivious at the time to the fact that it was THE hardest race in North America and that it would end up being a two year odyssey! (read about the race here) With the tech theme in mind it was to Silicon Valley that I headed last year when I wanted to learn more about the exciting and rapidly developing fields of Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality, collectively termed Spatial Computing. I even visited and subsequently applied to the MBA program at the Haas Business School at UC Berkeley. All in all, I am a big fan of the state of California, San Francisco and the Bay.
Make School, San Francisco
Make School in action

This most recent trip was principally in order to attend the same conference on spatial computing that I both volunteered at and attended in 2015: AWE (Augmented World Expo), albeit with some additional time tacked on for some R&R and additional nerdy activity in San Francisco itself. This included checking out Make School, one of many ‘coding schools’ (although they do some hardware stuff as well) present in the city, and spent time with Adam Braus chatting about the school, coding, start-ups and virtual reality (VR).

Upload VR, Taylor Freeman
UploadVR co-founder, Taylor Freeman, and the office dog

Talking of VR I was fortunate enough to be able to also visit the Upload Collective and speak with Co-Founder, Taylor Freeman about the excitement surrounding a technology that does finally feel as though it is meeting previously un-met expectations. One of the real highlights of my visit was getting to experience VR myself – not my first, mind, but certainly the most extensive and impressive experience of the technology that I had had to date – jumping in to several incredible HTC Vive experiences, including Google’s Tiltbrush and WeVR’s theBlu, an absolute must for anyone wondering what all the fuss is about “this VR thing.” I look forward to elaborating on a number of these experiences in separate posts, including sharing what I actually created in Tiltbrush!

AirBNB logo_handdrawnOne of the great things about a visit to San Francisco, and the Bay Area in a wider context, is that you are struck immediately by the wealth of tech talent and innovation that there is. It is no accident that some of the true behemoths of tech have all originated there, from Google to Twitter, Uber to AirBNB and beyond. The sharing economy, it could be argued, also sprang to life here with the most famous examples of companies that have built their fortunes on serving this part of our lives being both Uber and AirBNB. These two companies made much of my trip both possible, simple and cost-effective. I used AirBNB for both places I stayed, initially in San Francisco where I had the pleasure of staying with two awesome guys, Michael and Jimmy, and their dog, Emit, in the Mission District and for a fraction of the cost of a hotel, and then in Sillicon Valley with Kirupa, an in-house attorney at another San Francisco legendary tech firm, Square. I have consistently been bowled over by the quality of the lodging that I have been fortunate enough to book through the service and the wonderful hosts who I have had the pleasure of meeting and becoming friends with. There is something about staying in someone’s actual home that really makes you feel a greater connection to the area being visited compared to the relative sterility and formality of hotel stays. Then there is simply the cost difference. Hotels are quite simply multiple times more expensive, money that I personally prefer to spend on unique experiences in the locales that I visit. Many times the experience I have had staying with an AirBNB host has actually been on-par with or even better than a hotel. Kirupa’s place, for example, was one of the most beautiful homes I have ever had the good fortune to stay in and being within a neighbourhood, versus the faceless industrial areas that the main hotels were to be found in, I had a fantastically rejuvenating stay, including the flexibility to be able to leave at a time that suited me versus the rigid ‘checkout time’ that many hotels (admittedly have to) enforce.
Uber logo_handdrawnUber was the other service that really contributed massively to the success of my visit, especially their ‘Uber Pool’ feature that enabled me to request a ride to be shared with another person, thus significantly lowering the cost to each of the journey. Thanks to Uber’s incredible logistics technology routes are automatically planned in the most efficient manner and I made use of the service multiple times during my stay. Why would I not when they make it that easy to order a ride, track it’s progress, receive timely notification of it’s arrival, have pleasant conversations with drivers who have interesting things to say and keep their cars immaculate, and spend significantly less for the same journey than I would in a regular cab. Oh, and not be expected to cough up a tip regardless of the quality of the service! Uber just make it all so darned easy, including the payment part.
A successful return to my second home and a trip that has provided a lot of material for future posts. Viva San Francisco!

The internet is not the enemy

Knowledge has never been so readily and easily available. It is instant, mobile and has the power to revolutionise how we operate as vets and work together with clients on their pets’ healthcare.

phone, knowledgeThe problem is NOT that people look on the web; they will continue to do so more and more. The issue will not cease to be and nor should it. The internet is the ultimate learning resource.

What is at fault is that we are generally POOR at knowing HOW to LEARN and critically appraise the quality and reliability of information, especially that found on the internet.

A classic example is that of dog breeding/ puppies. I saw a Pug owner the other night whose female had been ‘accidentally’ mated (there are no accidents in these situations as there is a widely advocated option known as neutering) and so we are now looking at said bitch being due to whelp in the next 2 weeks. The owner in question admitted that they had never had any experience of breeding dogs but had “looked online” and was alarmed to “learn” various things, all of which were quite frankly sensationalist at best and downright incorrect at worst. The advice I gave, in addition to dealing with the immediate issue for which the dog had been presented to me in the middle of the night, was to advise the owner – nay, urge the owner – to visit their nearest well-stocked book store, buy and READ a comprehensive guide to dog breeding, especially the sections pertaining to whelping and puppy care. Books are great in as much as they generally still do undergo some degree of review before publication and so it is less likely that the information contained is plainly wrong, in contrast to much of what can be found online with the universal ability for anyone with a connection, voice and opinion to fire their musings out into the world. Hell, I am one of those same people as demonstrated by virtue of this very blog! How can you be sure that what I write on here isn’t just a load of inaccurate bollocks? You can’t is the truth of it. The same goes for much of what is published online, especially that found on forums/ discussion boards and blogs. Therein lays the challenge and risk associated with relying blindly on “the internet.”

I was fortunate enough to benefit from a rigorous training in the importance of critically appraising information for reliability and so do feel that I am able to mix my information sources (online versus print, etc) relatively safely. Many, unfortunately, do not and in the veterinary profession we still hear “but the breeder said..” or “a website I looked at said this (completely fanciful/ sensational/ wrong) thing…” again and again. Our battle is becoming more and more against the swathe of half-truths and inaccuracies that swirl around in the electronic ether and set against a client base that is becoming generally less trusting and more questioning of what we do, which is not necessarily a bad thing in and of itself.

I love the internet and the educational power that it contains. From TED talks to online courses, blogs from recognised experts and amateur enthusiasts alike, to social networks and their power to engage in real-time conversations and information dissemination, the web is and will continue to be utterly transformative. It is vital, therefore, that in order to get the most value out of this precious resource people know HOW to LEARN, what information to accept and what to question and potentially reject. Part of our role as modern day veterinary professionals is more and more going to be as information curators and sign-posters, directing our clients and the wider animal-owning and caring population toward sources of information that will lead to sound healthcare decisions and outcomes. As old-fashioned as it may sound, books do still serve as a good place to start and this is why I often still direct my clients to their local bookstore.

Virtual Reality. Real Potential.

“Virtual Reality was made for education.” I have no idea who first said that – can I claim it? – but I am sure it has been uttered countless times since and I assure you that it will be said countless times in the future. From feeling as though virtual reality (VR) was nothing more than a sci-fi promise of things to come yet never quite delivered to the current situation in which VR feels as if it is undergoing a true renaissance.

VR AWE 2015
VR does need to be experienced to be truly believed. If you haven’t yet then do try it out.

With the arrival of devices, such as the Vive, Oculus Rift and Samsung GearVR, that are finally capable of delivering truly-immersive, high resolution and, most importantly, non-nausea-inducing experiences that captivate both young and old alike, VR has arrived and the exciting truth is that we are simply getting started!

There are already creative, innovative and fast-moving teams working on sating the appetite for immersive content, with gaming naturally leading the charge, and 360-degree video experiences also offering many their introduction to the world of VR. This, however, is not where VR ends and it continues to excite me to see the educational promise that this technology offers and that pioneers in the field are indeed delivering on. Unimersiv, one such team, refer to the idea that whilst 10% of knowledge that is read and 20% of that heard is retained two weeks later, a staggering 90% of what is experienced, or physically acted out, is recalled. If that is indeed the case then VR, with its power to immerse users in any environment that can be digitally rendered, offers a hugely powerful educational tool. The fact that the big players in the tech arena, such as Google, are now taking VR seriously speaks volumes for how impactful it is predicted to be, and that I believe it will be.

cat with virtual reality gogglesPotential medical, especially educational, applications abound, with veterinary no exception. Whilst my interests in the technology are NOT limited to veterinary, it is an area that I have direct experience of working in and so where perhaps I am most effectively able to postulate on the future applications of a technology that IS, I strongly believe,  going to shake things up for all of us. In terms of medical and science education, for example, work such as Labster’s simulated world-class laboratories, where students can learn cutting-edge science in a realistic environment and with access to digital versions of professional equipment. It may be digital and simulated but that does not diminish the educational power that such experiences delivers. I can see Labster’s technology inspiring a new generation of scientists to develop a fascination for the subject and ultimately help solve many of the world’s most pressing problems, such as the issue of antimicrobial resistance and the drive to develop new drugs.

So what about the potential uses for VR within veterinary? Well, perhaps some of the following….

  • Dissection – Anatomical training without the need for donor animals/ biological specimens. More efficient, with multiple ‘reuse’ of specimens in a digital environment, leading to revision of key concepts and better learning outcomes, translating into better trained, more confident practitioners.
  • Physiology – take immersive ‘journeys’ through biological systems, such as the circulatory system, learning about how these systems work, both in health and disease. Simulation of the effects of drugs, parasites, disease processes can be achieved, with significant learning outcomes compared to traditional learning modalities.
  • Pharmacology – model the effects of drugs on various biological systems and see these effects up close in an immersive, truly memorable manner, thus deeply enhancing the educational experience.
  • Surgical training – simulate surgical procedures thus enabling ‘walk-throughs’ of procedures in advance of actually physically starting. With advances in haptic technologies, tactile feedback can further augment the experience, providing rich, immersive, powerful learning environments. Surgeons, both qualified and training, could learn in a solo capacity or with team members in the digital environment – great for refreshing essential skills and scenario role-playing with essential team members. For example, emergency situation modelling to train team members to carry out their individual roles automatically, efficiently and effectively.
  • Client education – at home and in-clinic demonstrations of important healthcare messages, helping drive healthcare messages home and driving clinic sales, revenue and profitability, and leading to more favorable healthcare outcomes and client satisfaction.
  • Communications training – many of the issues faced in medical practice stem from breakdowns or difficulties in communication with clients or between colleagues. Communications training is now an integral part of both medical and veterinary training and should be extended to all members of a clinic’s team, from receptionists to nurses and veterinary surgeons. With the immersive power of VR and the ability to create truly empathetic experiences, it offers the perfect tool for communications training.
  • Pre Vet School education/ Careers counseling – think you know what it means to go into veterinary practice? Can’t arrange a farm placement but still believe you have what it takes to pursue a veterinary career? Imagine being able to experience a range of VR simulations that guide you through a host of realistic scenarios faced by veterinary professionals, enabling you to make informed career decisions based on ‘real’ experience. It has been demonstrated that those who experience high-quality VR feel genuine empathy for those situations into which they digitally stepped. The power of this for making informed choices about future plans and for challenging preconceived notions about what it means to be or do something is compelling.
  • Commercial demonstrations/ trade show experiences – custom-made VR experiences for showcasing new products and services to prospective customers, creating truly memorable and impactful campaigns. I for one look forward to VR becoming a mainstream component of company presentations at trade shows.

These are simply a snapshot of some of the potential applications for VR with most easily being applied in other, non-veterinary contexts. I look forward to continuing to grow my knowledge and expertise in this exciting area and welcome anyone who shares the same sense of wonder and optimism at the possibilities to get in touch.

Virtual Reality – THIS is why I am so excited

The big issue that virtual reality (VR) faces in achieving mass adoption and truly being the transformative technology that I believe it represents is how to really extol its virtues to those who have not had the opportunity to physically try it out. How do you really sell something that requires users to try it to truly get it?

Being a self-confessed tech nerd I have always felt truly excited by the idea of VR, and also Augmented Reality (AR), and read with enthusiasm all of the reports and promises coming from companies like Oculus Rift. I also knew that pretty much anyone who got to physically try out the technology came away an instant convert. You just have to do a quick search for VR on You Tube to see the countless ‘reaction videos’ from people who donned a VR headset for the first time, from traditional gamers to the elderly and beyond.

I had my first experience of VR when I traveled to California and Silicon Valley in June 2015 for the annual Augmented World Expo (AWE) and was instantly amazed at how incredibly immersive VR was, with insanely rich graphics and the feeling as if I was suddenly physically transported to the worlds in which I found myself in. There is something magical about being able to turn around, a full 360-degrees, including looking up and down, and seeing a new world all around you. Your brain knows it’s not real and that you’re still standing at a trade fair stand, but then, your brain starts to forget that and, well, you find yourself reacting as if you’re actually in your new environment. It’s surreal. Awesome but truly surreal. I am not a gamer but I could easily see myself become one through VR such is the richness of the experience. One of the highlights of the trip for me, and my favorite VR experience, was being strapped into a horizontal harness, with fans blowing air at me and then having an Oculus headset and headphones placed on my head. Suddenly I was no longer hanging uncomfortably and self-consciously in a rig on full display to amused onlookers but was flying as a wing-suit skydiver through a mountain range, able to turn by physically adjusting my body and head position. Everywhere I looked I saw the mountains, the forests, the new world in which I was present. Except I wasn’t. But I had to remind myself of that. Repeatedly. The experience was simply that awesome and that immersive. Unsurprisingly that demonstration won “Best in Show” and anyone who was fortunate enough to experience it agreed that it was totally deserved.

Dad_Google CardboardSince returning from AWE I have kept exploring the world of VR, purchasing myself a set of Google Cardboard googles for use with my iPhone, even introducing my dad to the experience by ordering him a set for Fathers Day. Various apps have been downloaded, from the official Google Cardboard application to rollercoaster and dinosaur experiences, and amazing immersive video experiences courtesy of Vrse, and I have loved every one of them, insisting that others try them out too. In fact, everyone at work has had to hear me babble on about how awesome VR is and have experienced one if not several of the VR apps that I have on my phone. The reaction is always the same: initial quizzical skepticism rapidly followed by complete and utter conversion once the technology is actually experienced.

And so it was that I introduced my six year old nephew and two year old niece to VR during a recent trip home. My nephew is as excited about technology as I am – smart kid – and so was eager to try out the Cardboard. My niece, however, wasn’t quite so sure to start with, protesting as my sister moved the goggles towards her unenthusiastic eyes. What happened next, however, was worthy of a You Tube video all of it’s own.

VR_reaction
These grins are one of the key reasons I am so excited by Virtual Reality

As soon as her eyes locked onto the new, 3D immersive world that had been presented to her all protests evaporated. Gone! What instantly replaced them was the biggest, cutest, most genuine grin that I have ever seen and that still gets me a little emotional even now as I recall the scene. She was experiencing the pure, visceral joy that full immersion into a magical new world provides. Never have I seen such an instant and powerful reaction to a technology before. I challenge anyone to deny that VR is a game changer after witnessing what I did. Such was the power of the conversion and the fun of the experience that I then found myself sitting for the next two hours policing the sharing of my phone and goggles as they both spent time exploring worlds in which dinosaurs roamed, rollercoasters careered up and down mountains, and they absolutely loved the Explorer program on the Google Cardboard app that saw us digitally visit Tokyo, Paris, Jerusalem, the Red Sea, Venice, Rome, and many other global locations, all whilst sat in the comfort of their UK living room.

I am yet to join the ranks of those who own their own ‘high end’ VR device, such as the recently launched Oculus Rift, but that is going to change very soon. I cannot wait to delve even deeper into what is possible with this technology, both from a consumer stand-point and also with a view to creating content myself. The possibilities are indeed limitless and whatever we can imagine we can create and experience through the sheer and utter magic that is virtual reality. Reality will never truly be the same again.

Want to experience VR for yourself? The best, lowest cost way to try out the technology for the first time is to follow these instructions:

1. Get yourself a pair of ‘Google Cardboard’ goggles, many different takes on which can be found online at sites such as Amazon.

Google cardboard
Phone slots in to create a basic pair of VR goggles

2. Download the Google Cardboard app, or any one of the many VR apps that are on the various app stores.

Google cardboard app
The Google Cardboard app is a good one to start with

3. Follow the on-screen instructions and check out of reality as you know it!

Live Freshr – reigniting a passion for food

Food, as far as I am concerned, is one of life’s true pleasures and I personally find the act of cooking and consuming interesting and varied fare to be a very invigorating and inspiring process. I have always been of the opinion that if you want to have balance in your wider life and continue to feel fit and healthy, both physically and mentally, then a carefully considered and, above all, interesting diet is a must. Although I generally feel that I ate well at university I did make a conscious deal with myself when I started working full time that given I was now earning I could therefore afford to buy good ingredients and learn to prepare food of a much higher quality than perhaps I was used to during my student days. I soon rediscovered how preparing simple yet interesting meals does not demand a professional kitchen set-up and similarly does not enslave you to the stove for hours on end. In fact, some of the best dishes are really quick and easy to knock up.
“Food is one of life’s great pleasures.”
Recently I had lapsed back into the classic trap of many young, busy professionals by feeling that I simply didn’t have the time to devote to coming up with new and interesting recipes and so I found myself living on the same few simple meal ideas that I was super comfortable preparing and that took very little time to do so. Although these meals were nutritious, balanced and tasty, the lack of variety that had established itself in my diet did see me start to eat out more in order to re-introduce some of the variety that I obviously subconsciously craved, an expensive and not necessarily healthy option. A friend then told me about her experiences of using a new service in Dubai that one signed up to online, choosing between one of four options – meat eater, vegetarian, paleo, and ‘premium,’ which basically just describes itself as being an ‘organic’ option, for what that is truly worth – and that then delivered, once per week, the ingredients to prepare five meals. Hearing my friend describe the tantalising variety of incredibly tasty dishes that she had already been preparing – a different one each day – peaked my interest and literally had me salivating like Pavlov’s pooch. A quick survey of the simple yet elegant website (www.livefreshr.com) convinced me that the idea sounded like a winner and I duly took advantage of the referral code the same friend forwarded to me, and eagerly awaited my first week’s delivery.
The order process was simple and with only four options to choose from it actually took a lot of the anxiety of ‘choosing what to eat’ out of the equation. At less than 200 AED (£40 / $55) per week for the equivalent of five meals per week I considered the price to be fair, being aware as I was of hardly ever spending less than that per trip to the store and returning home with what seemed to be far less in the way of food. I guess I am not alone in also finding trudging to the supermarket, especially several times per week, to be incredibly tedious and I know that I fall into the trap of opportunity buying whilst in store – not exactly the most cost-efficient approach to grocery shopping. The fact that I was able to specify that I was a single person and so would be cooking per day for just one person, with the ingredients for each recipe arriving in pre-portioned quantities, seemed like a revelation. So simple but yet so brilliant! It is almost impossible to buy base ingredients in the store for a recipe to satisfy the needs for just a single meal for one person, meaning invariably that one either overeats, wastes food (the classic “lets watch veggies rot in the fridge” game that I am sure I am not the only one who has been a regular participant in), or ends up eating the same meal for several days. The promise of a different recipe each day, prepared with fresh ingredients reinvigorated my interest in food, something that I believe is important for wider mental well-being.
Perfect for those singletons among us who also want to cook & eat great food.
The fact that I am able to specify a delivery day and time-window, with the food duly being delivered within the requested time, is another win for the service, and the presentation is excellent. The fresh, refrigerated, ingredients come in an insulated box, complete with ice packs to keep them fresh during transit whilst the dry ingredients and small per-meal ‘ingredient’ tick-lists come in a branded cardboard box, meaning that it can be easily recycled. A simple yet impactful presentation and way less intrusive on my overall day than having to trudge to the grocery store after work.
I have been using the service now for a week and just taken delivery of my second week’s set of ingredients and have to say that the first week has been flawless, so much so that I did feel compelled to produce a simple review video, not an act that I am quick to spend time performing in usual cases. With each meal’s ingredients clearly labelled, getting everything out and in front of me before starting to cook just appealed immediately to the organised process-fan in me that likes the order that it represented. The recipes themselves are found on the website, and can also be viewed as PDFs, and are clear, simple to follow and take, on average, about 45 minutes to prepare, long enough to know that you are, in fact, preparing good food from scratch, whilst not tipping over into tedium that can come with spending more than an hour in the kitchen – after all, who these days really has the time to do that?! I find the entire process of cooking to be quite meditative and enjoy getting lost in podcasts, audiobooks or music whilst I cook. It is, actually, this aspect of cooking that I particularly enjoy as it is a great opportunity to mentally relax before sitting down to enjoy some really decent food and the feeling of immense satisfaction that comes with knowing you are responsible for it turning out great. I can also envisage the service being a great way to get friends and couples cooking together, an activity that I know can be thoroughly enjoyable and a real bonding experience.
“Cooking is actually quite meditative.”
The variety is one of the main perks I have enjoyed with the service. So far I have enjoyed recipes as varied as fresh salmon with citrus risotto, chilli-ginger chicken and pumpkin and gorgonzola cannelloni, to name but a few, with each day being a new culinary adventure. Once again I actually look forward to my main meal of the day and feel the general sense of inspiration that comes with a varied diet, a sense that I feel extends into other parts of my day.
Live Freshr Food Delivery
Live Freshr Dishes
If you fancy trying the service out for yourself, then feel free to take advantage of the following referral link – money off for you and money off for me, so everyone’s a winner!

LiveFreshr.com Review from Chris Queen on Vimeo.

Driver-less cars – we are SO ready!

The arguments in favour of driver-less/ autonomous cars are, in my opinion, compelling, with the rate of progress in the area astounding. Google has spent several years actually live-testing their driver-less cars and the results overwhelmingly point to them being significantly safer on the roads than people sitting behind the wheel.

The main advantages of autonomous cars, as far as I can see, include:

  1. Safety – with a rich network of sensors and the speed of response of a computer, a driver-less system would be expected to respond to potential threats on the road far faster and more reliably than a human, who cannot be aware of their entire surroundings the entire time. Machine learning and AI would also allow the system to learn from previous experience and to crowd-source data to fine-tune it’s various control systems, in theory making the entire system more sensitive, predictive, responsive and ultimately safer. Add in the network effect of vehicles being able to seamlessly communicate with one another in real-time and safety becomes amplified. Tesla’s recent release of it’s Autopilot software point to this idea in a very real and practical manner. The main limit still standing in the way of safety on the roads is, as far as my own personal experience informs me, people. Humans continue to do the dumbest things behind the wheel: texting, web-browsing, speeding, forgetting what the flishy-flashy lights on the side of the car are for (HINT: they’re called indicators and tell others, who are not psychic as it turns out, what you intend to do!), and a myriad of other similarly stupid actions that a computer wouldn’t dream of performing. I for one welcome the day that we can turn over control of the moving bullets we refer to as cars to machines.
  2. Efficiency – with autonomous vehicles in constant, seamless and wireless communication with one another, updating such data as location, one would imagine a much more efficient flow of traffic, ultimately speeding up transit times and all but eliminating delays. No more sitting in traffic jams on the daily commute due to that pile up caused by the idiot in the <insert popular car brand here> driving like a dick!
  3. Tesla interior
    Slick, stylish, high-tech & clean. The future in physical form!

    Time-saving/ time-liberation – personally, the idea of commuting to work, or anywhere for that matter, is an awful one on account of the fact that it is dead time, with full attention needing to be applied to the task of driving. If that experience involves spending significant periods just inching along in heavy traffic then that is unproductive time that I would far rather spend doing something else, such as reading or watching a movie. There is no reason why the task of focusing on inching along cannot be handled by a computer leaving me to at least put the time to more enjoyable use. From a business perspective, if you do a job that can, in part, be done remotely and electronically then having an autonomous vehicle would in theory enable you to ‘work in-transit’, with that time being considered part of the productive work day. Surely this should mean that you would thus be able to spend less time physically in the office. The auto-pilot feature I saw demonstrated in the Tesla Model S I was privileged to drive in during a recent trip to Silicon Valley demonstrates this principle perfectly, with the driver able to hand control in stop-start traffic over to the car.

  4. Independence – if there is no need for people to be in charge of a vehicle then why do there need to be any constraints put on who can make use of that vehicle? Much as a minor, a blind or disabled person can take a taxi to get around, an autonomous vehicle has all the same advantages with the added bonus of being their very own, personal vehicle. Cars represent freedom for those who are fortunate enough to own or otherwise access them. Autonomous vehicles promise to offer the same freedoms to anyone and everyone, ultimately improving access to resources, social interactions, employment and a generally better quality of life. What greater demonstration of equality than the ability for all to have ready access to mobility, especially given the freedoms that having such mobility provides.
  5. Good for the environment – if cars become autonomous and smart – and couple those traits with a move to electric power – then is there even any real need for everyone to actually own a car? With the power of the internet to hail services and goods, one can easily imagine a world where an autonomous car is hailed for a trip before it whizzes off on another errand at the current user’s destination, before either it or another vehicle returns to whisk the same user back home once they have need for it again. The fact that one vehicle could be off ‘busying itself’ on a number of tasks during an allotted period of time as opposed to simply sitting idle in a parking space promises to reduce the number of vehicles actually needed on the roads & thus reduce overall congestion, pollution (although if all cars are electric then emissions would be irrelevant anyway) & free up the streets for pedestrians to enjoy more. Perhaps cities could actually own a fleet of cars to be at the service of residents, with country-dwellers still likely to actually need to own their own car as it would be less efficient to provide a centralised service in rural areas.
  6. Tesla showroom
    Even the car showrooms of the future are cool

    Cool factor! – let’s be honest, one of the reasons firmly in favour of autonomous cars is simply their undeniable “awesome” factor. Watch any film that depicts visions of the future and most feature some form of driver-less transport. Ok, so we may not be at the stage (yet) of flying cars but having a car that drives itself and frees us up to do, well, whatever else, and that are designed to be sleek, sexy, high-tech and damned desirable is pretty futuristic in and off itself.

The future for our roads looks to be brighter, safer, less polluting and more enjoyable one, assuming that the pace of adoption does not ultimately get bogged down by regulatory foot-dragging. Given the current numbers of people killed annually on the globe’s roads, that future can not come fast enough. The world, it would appear, is finally ready for autonomous cars and I for one welcome it.
Tesla HQ
One of the places where the future is being created: Tesla HQ, Silicon Valley. (apparently Elon was in the building!)

A Fourth View on Three Sports

Following on from my recent post regarding Augmented Reality, Virtual Reality and their potential impact on our sporting lives, specifically skydiving, I thought I would take a look at how AR & VR might add to the other big sport in my life: triathlon.

Triathlon involves training and racing in three separate disciplines, with races ranging in total distance from super-sprint to Ironman and beyond. Data does play a role in both training and competing, whether it be keeping track of 100m splits in the pool, or sticking to a pre-defined power zone whilst on the bike. I think it would be safe to say that pretty much all of us rely, to some degree, on a sports watch, or athletic tracker of some description, with the required data available for monitoring live or analysing after the event.

AR offers the chance to have the most important and relevant data visible without breaking the rhythm of a workout, adding to the quality of the experience and value of the training or outcome of the effort.

 

SWIM – AR may not be the most obvious technology for use in an aquatic environment but I see AR offering some real advantages to those training both in the pool and open water. As far as I am aware there are no currently available AR systems for use with goggles, but with the advances being seen in the field, especially by companies specialising in athletic applications of AR, such as Recon Instruments (www.reconinstruments.com), I do not imagine it will be long before AR reaches the water.

  • Training data – the usual information that one might glance at a watch for, such as lap count, 100m lap times, heart rate and other such swim metrics could be easily projected into view, thus making such data available without having to break the flow of a swim workout.
  • Sighting & ‘staying on course’ – any open water swimmer will admit that sighting and staying truly on course can prove troublesome, during both training and especially races. Swimming further than is necessary is both a waste of energy and impacts on race time, and having to frequently sight disrupts smooth swimming action, again, impacting energy efficiency and swim time. Imagine having a virtual course line to follow, much like a pool line, projected into view both when you look down (as if looking at the pool floor) and when you do look up to sight, such that staying on course is as simple as ensuring you follow the line? Less ‘open swim wobble’ and a faster, more efficient swim.
Goggles, AR
Important swim data & virtual sight line projected into view using Augmented Reality-equipped goggles.

 

BIKE & RUN – systems do already exist that provide AR for both cyclists and runners, with the Jet, from Recon Instruments, being one such system. A range of metrics, including the usual – speed, average speed, heart rate, power, distance – could all easily be projected in AR. With GPS technology and mapping one could have a new cycle or run route virtually projected in order to follow a new course or how about having a virtual running partner/ pacemaker running alongside or just in front of you, pushing you that little bit harder than you may otherwise train? The limits to the uses of AR in both bike and run settings are really only limited by imagination, with the technology rapidly catching up with the former.

Cycling, cycle training
Augmented Reality data during cycle training

 

Cycling, AR, photo
Capture those awesome training and race moments without even having to look away. That’s the power of AR.
VR in bike & run – living in the UAE training outside in the summer months gets very testing, with any attempt at venturing outside in an athletic capacity after about 9am simply leading to guaranteed heat stroke. As such, the turbo trainer does get significantly more use at this time of year. It is, however, really dull! There are ways to engage the mind during such indoor sessions, from video-based systems such as Sufferfest and those available from Tacx.com, and of course the option of simply watching movies, but imagine how much more immersive and enjoyable an experience indoor training could be if it were possible to digitally export yourself fully to suitable setting. VR offers what even multiple screens can’t – full immersion! Training for a specific race? Fancy taking on a famous route but can’t spend the time and money travelling to the location? VR promises to solve these issues by taking you there. Again, there are companies working on this technology, with startups such as Widerun (www.widerun.com) pushing the envelope in this area.

Jumping into Augmented Reality

Augmented and Virtual Reality (AR & VR) both lend themselves to some very exciting applications in sports, especially those where data inputs in real time can be vital. Skydiving – one of my passions in life – is one such sport and here I shall explore where AR & VR might add to our enjoyment and progress in the sport.

In the interests of clarity, I shall just define what is meant by Augmented and Virtual Reality, terms that are becoming ever more part of normal lexicon and technologies that are set to redefine how we experience the world:

Augmented Reality: superimposition of digital data over the real world, thus adding a layer of additional information or detail over that which is seen in reality.

Virtual Reality: immersion in a fully digital world, such that users experience a computer-generated world as if it were real. Using VR goggles to allow users to see the simulated world, plus or minus other inputs, such as headphones or haptic devices to simulate touch, the principle of VR is to leave the real world rather than simply augment it.

 

Skydiving – there are so many data inputs that are vital to a safe skydiving experience, with the most important ones and where AR offers options to add to the experience being:

  1. ALTITUDE – the most important bit of information for any skydiver. We currently rely on a combination of wrist-worn altimeters and audible altimeters. Personally, I am more of a visual person so having my altitude displayed in front of me in an AR fashion, with pre-set altitude alerts popping up where I simply can’t ignore them would be great.
  2. OTHER SKYDIVERS – one of the biggest dangers, other than running out of sky, in skydiving comes from others sharing the same airspace, especially when inexperienced jumpers are involved. Mid-air collisions can be catastrophic, especially if they occur at low altitude. Knowing exactly where other skydivers are, especially if they are within a certain proximity to you, is very important. We cannot be expected to have full 360 degree awareness at all times – we literally do not have eyes in the back of our heads – and so an alert system that automatically identifies other jumpers in the skies would be a great use of AR.

    Skydiving AR
    Knowing who is sharing the skies with you, in addition to useful data such as remaining altitude, are examples of uses for AR in skydiving.
  3. JUMP RUN & WIND INFO – this would be of obvious use in training new skydivers in the basics of jump runs, winds aloft and the effect on their jump of winds, including adjusting landing patterns in response to changing wind characteristics. Experienced skydivers would benefit from such a system at new and unfamiliar dropzones or to revise core skills and competencies, perhaps after a period of absence from the sport.
  4. TRAINING/ COACHING – AR (and VR, especially for modelling of emergency situations) lends itself perfectly to the training of new skydivers and for coaching experienced jumpers in a range of disciplines. At present, new skydivers receive theory and ground schooling prior to their jumps, freefalling with a coach but then ultimately responsible for their own canopy piloting. Students who do need some assistance currently have to rely on audio instruction from a coach on the ground, who can only assess what he or she can see. What if the student could have the ideal flight path including important prompts for how best to prepare for their landing projected in from of them via AR? Important learning objectives would, I propose, be much faster to achieve and good practices established rapidly. The system could be taken a step further by enabling the ground-based coach to see exactly what the student is seeing via in-built cameras in the AR headset, thus significantly improving the accuracy and value of instructions to the student. Coaching uses could include real-time prompts on perfect body position for certain disciplines, such as tracking, and projected flight paths, to aid in flight accuracy. For example, following an AR line indicating a straight-line course in tracking would enable a skydiver to work on fine-tuning small body position perfections thus significantly enhancing progression in the sport.
Skydiving AR, landing
Canopy piloting and especially landing are vital parts of being a successful and safe skydiver. AR could really add to the effectiveness of training and safety for the sport.

Capital of, well, so much!

Royal Albert Hall, LondonToday has been another fascinating one here in London with a somewhat foggy start, on account of some fantastic food and the odd cocktail in Soho the night before, quickly giving rise to a cool yet revitalising jog around Battersea Park, with its incredible views of the power station and the rest of London further down the river.

Hyde Park, London
One of the many open green spaces in London’s Hyde Park

The number of spacious, beautifully green and tranquil parks here in the middle of the city is one of the perpetually redeeming qualities of London, and coupled with the centuries of history and rich culture really does make the city feel like a truly wonderful place to live and work. This view was reinforced for me during the day as I found myself with time free to simply stroll – a word and indeed action that rarely finds itself in use in my hectic life –  through Kensington, taking in the striking architectural presence of the Science and Natural History Museums, followed by a leisurely amble through Hyde Park, past the awe-inspiring Royal Albert Hall, and along the banks of the Serpentine, before jumping on the tube at Hyde Park Corner.

Imperial College, LondonThis morning’s first stop was Imperial College London for a lecture on Design Management as part of the MBA programme run at the school. I had contacted the school to see if it would be possible to visit whilst I was in town, as I had heard excellent things about their programme and was very pleased that it was going to be possible to actually sit in on one of the sessions. I was met by one of the Student Ambassadors, Masha, who came to the MBA course from a healthcare background, and found the session engaging, even feeling inspired enough to contribute on a couple of occasions myself.

Do Nation, London
Founder, Hermione and myself at Do Nation’s London offices

Next on the agenda was a visit to the offices of social, green sponsorship site The Do Nation, founded and run by my friend Hermione, over on Tottenham Court Road. One of the options visitors to my Iron Vet page have for supporting the challenge is to pledge positive actions through The Do Nation, rather than cash, thus helping to change the world one small positive action at a time. The Do Nation currently runs out of a pleasant, naturally well lit corner of the Wayra accelerator, a two storey space which is home to a plethora of innovative young businesses operating in the digital sphere, and the first impression upon entering is one of ‘Googliness,’ which apparently is what the people behind the accelerator (Telefonica, who own the mobile telephone network O2) were aiming for.

WayraI spent a couple of hours learning a little more about the running of a digital start-up and even had the honour of helping with some beta testing of a new website. One funny thing was that on account of me wearing a suit in what was otherwise a typically ‘starty-uppy’ office space (ie all jeans and casual wear), I suspect many of the people working there assumed that I was either an investor or official from Wayra, especially as they were due to receive a visit from a number of them that very day.

The view from the small tea shop near Carnaby Street.
The view from the small tea shop near Carnaby Street.

With a very business-centric day under my belt it was then time for a bit of simple R&R, and so I headed off to Picadilly to meet up with a friend, grabbed some tea in a super cute little tea shop just off Carnaby Street before hot footing up the Northern Line to get to an off-the-beaten-track Japanese Restaurant that literally served the best sashimi I have ever had, followed up by an amazing selection of Japanese ice creams. Truly incredible and yet another fantastic day, with London continuing to serve up treat after treat.

One Day. Two Very Different Organisations.

With another Windsor Triathlon under the belt today saw me pack up and leave the relative calm of Maidenhead for the altogether zippier pace of London itself, complete with obligatory traffic queues on route to my ultimate destination of Battersea.

My good friend Martin had kindly offered to host me in his apartment overlooking the currently-in-the-process-of-having-a-major-facelift Battersea Power Station, a breathtakingly striking architectural icon, with London to be my base for the next two days of my UK trip. The first challenge of the day, aside from driving there, which was slow but otherwise straightforward enough, was to find somewhere to park! London may have it’s charms but readily available parking options do not feature among them. After confirming that there was absolutely no street parking available in the immediate area, a series of exasperated text message exchanges between Martin and myself finally hit upon the option of parking at nearby Battersea Park, where I had the option of staying for up to four hours (at an exorbitant rate I hasten to add), giving me the chance to hop on a train to Victoria, meet Martin at his offices (Google), grab some food, take a tour and then head back to Battersea, keys in hand, to thus allow me to retrieve the car park access fob and thus be able to relax safe in the knowledge my car and worldly possessions were securely stowed away.

All the above went nicely to plan in the end and the fact that London is actually geographically relatively tiny became very apparent as my initial concerns about not making our agreed-upon midday meeting quickly evaporated as it transpired that Victoria was literally one stop along the train line. Simples!

Google – Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory for the Digital Generation

I had the distinctly geeky pleasure of getting a tour around the Googleplex in California back in 2012 and so I had already witnessed with my own eyes the sheer joyful awesomeness that a Google ‘office’ embodies. It was with a similar sense of giddy toddler-esque enthusiasm that I jumped at the chance to tour the London offices (or should I say, more accurately, one of them) where Martin works. We met at the lobby of the fairly standard London office block opposite Victoria, where Google rents space, and headed up to grab some lunch at one of the several eateries found within the Google-sphere. From the minute I walked in it was clear that these were no ordinary offices, with a funky, coloured reception area leading through to one of the cafes, where we grabbed our respective lunches, me going for the healthy option of a delicious turkey escalope and roasted vegetables, and joined the assorted throng of young Googlers all doing the same. Sitting there in my jeans, red Vans, matching red Swatch and Superman T-shirt I instantly felt right at home among fellow nerds, the vast majority of whom would quite easily have been able to totally out-nerd me. I had found my people! Seriously, one of the things that is almost instantly apparent at Google is the relative youthfulness of the employees, with only a couple of guys that I saw clearly being over the age of forty.

With lunch eaten it was time for the tour itself. It would be very easy to get lost in Google given the apparently random layout that seems to have been applied but on reflection this is actually a misleading mis-truth, as it was simply the fact that there is no uniformity to the spaces, as the futuristic corridors open seamlessly onto serene coffee enclaves at one turn whilst guiding Googlers into engineer areas, where the real digital magic takes place on the other. Our first stop was such a coffee area, complete with free snacks, a heady array of fresh coffee options and a naturally lit seating area complete with fake grass that made one feel as though we’d happened upon a San Francisco version of Narnia. Fresh latte and yoghurt covered raisins in hand it was into the recording studio/ music room for a bit of impromptu drum and guitar action before checking out the games room, makers workshop, massage studio, more cafes and even a 1920′s style auditorium where tech presentations are given in some style. Oh, and then there was the informal meeting ‘room’ that is basically the back of a London bus. In the offices! Love it.

Dogs & Cats & Familiar Faces

Battersea Dog & CatsGoogle fix had it was back to Battersea to get myself settled before an impromptu, spur of the moment decision to pop in and visit the Battersea Dog and Cats Home, literally a stone’s throw down the road from where I am staying. After asking if it would be possible to get a tour ‘behind the scenes’ on account of being a fellow veterinarian, I was guided by 2007 London graduate Phil, whom I am almost certain I had met before, maybe back in the midst of our university days, hearing about the day-to-day work of the home and the impressive plans afoot for a major renovation and expansion, the evidence of which was already on show, as well as being heard. The Battersea Power Station project is literally set to transform the immediate area and it seems that the dog and cat home is to join in with this major facelift, which will see, in addition to new kenneling, a shiny new vet clinic. This comes after the addition of an impressively designed and very modern cat section, complete with central spiral staircase and glass kennels, with extensive environmental enrichment to keep the resident felines as happy and stress free as possible during their (hopefully) short stays before rehoming. Such is the small world in which us vets move within that it wasn’t long before I met a fellow Bristol graduate in the form of Claire Turner, who later informed me that I literally missed out on the excitement of an evacuation of the site due to a bomb scare! (Apparently there had been an unexploded WWII bomb found over by the power station, which would explain the presence of the police as I walked past en route back from the home. Exciting stuff indeed!)

So, there you have it. In the space of a few hours two very different examples of good work being done here in the capital, and an incredibly interesting start to my short stay in London.