Tag Archives: digital

Go go Gadget, go!

Inspector Gadget, Go Gadget, Go
"Go Gadget, Go!"

Are you a gadget gourmet? A purveyor of all things gadgety, techy and, well, just awesome? Yeah? Me too. Friday thus saw me in somewhat of my idea of Heaven on Earth as I attended the Gadget Show Live, held at the NEC in Birmingham. Attending the day after having gone to BSAVA meant that my week was feeling more and more like a ‘professional holiday’ (if such a thing exists) – not a bad way to spend a week in April. The show certainly seemed to be popular, with thousands of other eager gadget enthusiasts all piling into the large halls that served as home for 5 days to a plethora of tech talk, demonstrations, a fair amount of ‘retail’ and, of course, the main event itself, the live show.

One thing I would say at this stage is that I did perhaps expect to discover a few more real innovations and “WOW” factor technologies than I did, with a lot of the exhibitors tending to fall more in to the category of standard electronics retailers, whether it be trying to flog us a new TV, games console, or accessory for our iPhones, iPads and other such existing gadgetry. Having said that, the standard of displays, stands, demonstrations, activities and talks was superb and it was pretty easy to fill an entire day. As mentioned, the live show was certainly the main highlight, with a fantastically well choreographed and stage-managed show that served up a good balanced meal of fun features, such as Laser Man, the robotic bird from the incredible talents at Festo, and the larger than life 3D faces of our hosts, to numerous chances to win big and bag some tech to take home, with the legendary Gadget Show competitions. The winners all would have gone home with a significantly bigger smile than everyone else, and that’s really saying something!

My mission, as it were, was really just to head along for the day with an open mind and see what was new, fresh and exciting, especially with a view to what might have interesting applications to veterinary and animal healthcare. Afterall, I am The Nerdy Vet so wearing both my nerd and vet hats felt normal 🙂 There were certainly a few stand-out exhibitors for me, with the main ones of note being the following:

1. Aurasma – a ‘virtual browser’ that enables you to hold your smartphone or tablet up to a particular piece of media, or real-life scene (eg a magazine, CD case or poster) and for additional ‘content’, whether it be video, a link to a website, or something even more interesting and unexpected, to appear on the screen overlaid in real-time. This is an example of AR (Augmented Reality) and clearly has some interesting potential for those of us in the veterinary field.

2. Damson – really funky, compact little portable speaker with a difference. Using resonance technology, these little noise-makers work wirelessly to play music and other audio from any Bluetooth enabled-device, such as an iPod, and basically makes use of the surface on which it is placed as a speaker. The effect is to instantly take a small sound when held in the hand and transform, for example, a table, fridge, or indeed any surface or structure into a speaker, boosting the sound. Definately elicted some “wows” from friends and colleagues at the practice.

3. FitBit – this stand seemed to be literally buzzing with activity and it was clear to see why. Their product, a small wireless smart sensor that tracks your activity over the course of the day and then uses some clever algorithms to track, record and analyse various health and fitness parameters seems set to really help in the battle of the bulge. The actual devices themselves are tiny – about the size of a USB dongle – and can even track how well you sleep. Very very cool. And judging by how well they were selling, very very popular.

There were other innovations and I plan to serve a few more of them up in greater detail over the course of the next week or so. If you’re thinking of going next year to The Gadget Show then my advice would certainly be, in the immortal words of Ben Stiller, to just “do it.”

Wireless Electricity? Really?!

WiTricity, electricity transfer, wirelessThe TED lectures that you can stream online have become one of my new favourite sources of downtime entertainment and, it seems, both education and inspiration. Seeing great people speak passionately about subjects they have a real buzz for is incredibly engaging and addictive. It was one of these talks that prompted me to sit down and write this post. The subject? Well, it was about wireless electricity transmission. Yep, that’s right. The transfer of electricity without wires.

Now, you’d be forgiven at this point for saying “why should I care?” Unless you are especially nerdy then the words that closed the last paragraph with will probably be anything but inspiring. But let me explain. The speaker, Eric Giler, told the story of an MIT professor’s sleepless night due to his wife’s Nokia mobile phone beeping to say that it’s battery was low. His thought was wouldn’t it be cool if the phone could simply access the huge source of electricity that was literally surrounding it in the form of the house mains supply without needing to be plugged in. Very much like your iPod, computer, laptop, and countless other devices now source their Wifi connection. And so WiTricity was born.

WiTricity, wireless electricity, magnetic resonanceThe technology works by means of a phenomenon known as magnetic resonance, in which a magnetic field induced by flow of electric current in an induction loop can, well, induce a magnetic field to form in another device and trigger the flow of electrons, or in other words, the flow of electricity, thus powering the device. Eric demonstrated the technology by placing a specially designed induction loop, about the size of an A3 picture frame near an average flat screen TV. Within a few moments the TV screen lit up! Pretty cool stuff. To demonstrate both the safety and the reliability of the system, the speaker walked between the loop and the TV with no disruption to the TV’s function or any obvious adverse effect to himself. The applications for such technology are pretty wide, as you can imagine, with the need to plug in any device, whether mobile phone, camera or computer to recharge a thing of the past.

The potential medical and veterinary applications are also very exciting. I can imagine a clinic where the annoying beep of a drip pump low on battery will be long-gone, or the ophthalmoscope that someone forgot to return to it’s base station still works as well as ever due to it constantly being fully charged. It may even increase the chances of us achieving the Holy Grail of a GPS-enabled implantable pet microchip. The main issue at present is how to reliably power such an implant for long periods of time (ie the lifetime of the pet), given that you can’t exactly remove it to change the batteries or plug your pet into the mains! Imagine if you didn’t need to worry about it because every time your dog or cat went into the house the chip simply charged itself safely, efficiently and silently, with no adverse effects to your pet yet the peace of mind that comes with knowing that when Pooky heads off again, you can log in and keep tabs on them thanks to GPS. Now that would be great!

A world of wireless electricity? Now that’s an illuminating thought!

Does your practice website ROCK?

Slash rock god guitaristPractice websites – does yours rock?!

The internet is more and more vital to the success of any practice, with the primary role being to gain new clients & help retain existing ones. However, simply having a website is not good enough anymore – it has to rock!

I recently attended an Entrepreneurs Circle event on websites and it really got me thinking a lot about what it is that vet practices can and should be doing to really ensure that their websites are as epic as they can be. I would like to share some of the thoughts that came out of this thinking and offer my take on how practices should be applying the lessons to their own practices. If you are serious about really growing your clinic then I do recommend considering joining the Entrepreneurs Circle.

1. Why have a website?

There are 3 main reasons: 1. to sell things online; 2. to get clients to call you; 3. to get clients to give you their contact details. Most clinics are interested in getting clients into the hospital so getting them to call you, and FIND you is key. Is it clear how they go about doing that on your site? If it is then the second question has to be is there a clear reason why they should bother calling you?

2. Two-second rule

These days we all have the attention span of a hyperactive kid with attention deficit disorder and expect websites to speak to us immediately. Does yours? Is it clear from the first fold (the first view of the homepage) what you do and who you are for? How does your site look on different devices, including mobile, which is becoming more and more important?

woorank.com is a great free resource for checking your site for a number of relevant parameters and will tell you where you can improve things.

Navigation is also an important point here as it must be clear and intuitive how users move through your site. Is it obvious how to contact you? Can users easily switch back to the main homepage by clicking the practice logo in the header, or do they have to follow a long, winding bit of digital string back to the entrance? If so then they’re just as likely to exit the site altogether and find a local competitor. Get as many different people (ideally those representing your clients) to play with your site and feedback on what they thought of the navigation and ease of use.

3. Google Analytics

Do you know how many visitors are coming to your site? Where they are entering and leaving? How many visitors compared to the number of enquiries or bookings made? What about the keywords that people are using to find your site? Information is power and Google Analytics provides information in bucket-loads to enable you to really drill down in to how your website is working and, most importantly, how it can be improved to bring more clients to your door. It is easy to set up for your site and your web developer has probably already installed it for you – ask them.

4. Reviews (What our customers say)

We all love to see that a product or service has been proven and word of mouth (reviews by another name) is still one of the most reliable ways to gain new business. I would sooner use a professional that another person, independent of the business, has had a good experience with than take a punt on an unknown – most of us don’t like being pioneers, especially when it comes to both the health of our animals and that of our wallets. Your current clients love you – if they didn’t they’d go elsewhere. Ask them for reviews, including photos if they’re happy for them to go on the website (most people are), and get them on your website in various, prominent positions.

5. Personal Touches

Veterinary is more of a people business than it is anything else and pet owners invest as much in the vets and staff they like and trust than they do in any other aspect of the practice’s offering, including price. You could be the cheapest vet in the entire country but if you’re as personable as Jack The Ripper then no (sane) client is going to stay with you. Show your existing and potential new clients just how awesome, friendly and personable you and your team are. Have photos of the team (nice, professional, smiley photos as opposed to dour, happy-snap ‘passport style’ mugshots) and include great photos of your clinic, including some scenes from both outside and inside, preferably showing what you do well.

6. Phone numbers

It is still the case that the phone is the most valuable piece of equipment in veterinary practice today – without it we’d be sunk! Is your phone number clearly visible on each and every page of your website? It is best placed up in the top right corner where it is most visible. Also, ensure that it is entered on your site as text so that it is automatically available to copy, call etc from a smartphone. One thing that might be worth considering as well is the use of call tracking numbers. These divert to your normal phone line but can be a great way of actively keeping track of where calls are originating from. Are clients calling you because they saw a flyer? Or have they searched for you online and found your website? Having a different call tracking number in each place provides a simple method for seeing which media/ marketing efforts are yielding the most calls. www.citynumbers.co.uk is a good place to get them, and they cost a few £ per month, so very affordable.

7. Language

Does your site read like you would actually speak with pet owners or is it more akin to something straight out of a stuffy office in Whitehall? If you’re aiming to project a fun, friendly, caring image then surely the language you use on your website should reflect the same. Have a go now by reading out sections of text from your website aloud. If you feel like you’re addressing the House of Lords when you speak then maybe the language needs revision.

8. Images

A picture does indeed paint a thousand words and the use of professionally taken, crisp, clear, fun photos of you and your team all working harmoniously together in your superbly clean and well equipped practice, surrounded by happy, content animals will do more to make your practice shine in the eyes of new and existing clients than any amount of well-written prose. A professional photographer needn’t break the bank and could well be a very savvy investment.

9. Video

A lot of websites make video available now and it can be a really smart way to offer an insight into what it is your practice offers. I find myself clicking to watch introductory videos on businesses’ homepages far more than I ever used to, and probably make the decision to stay on the site based on what I see more so than on what I read, if I am honest. A short, well filmed and edited video introduction to the practice, especially if presented by someone clients can identify with and relate to, will really help to bond people to your site and to the practice, encouraging them to pick up the phone and give you a call. One question that does arise is that of “to autoplay, or not to autoplay?” I personally have no issue with videos that autoplay as long as the sound is not on and I don’t run the risk of inadvertently blasting the quiet cafe or library that I might be in with noise. If it is appropriate then I can always choose to activate the sound and listen to the video commentary. Whether you choose to autoplay or not is up to you but it is worth considering whether some people might be inclined to navigate off the page rapidly if they are not prepared for a video with sound to suddenly kick into life. Short video is good, with no more than a couple of minutes generally being advised before people get bored.

There is a lot to consider when it comes to really making your practice’s website rock but with the application of some of the principles above then there is no reason why it shouldn’t be performing brilliantly and taking your clinic to epic heights.

And the award goes to…

It seems to be a week of awards. Sadly not ones that I am personally winning but they are ones I have been attending nonetheless. Having said this, Friday saw me come pretty close to picking up the coveted Veterinary Marketing Association award for Young Marketer of the Year 2011, which was sponsored by British Dairying. This award was open to young (under 30 years of age – just snuck in there then) professionals within the animal health sector who have demonstrably shown promise in the field of marketing over the past twelve months. Each contender was nominated by their line manager, or otherwise, with Penny Evans of Moor Cottage Veterinary Hospital very kindly putting me forward. The winner was decided following an interview yesterday morning, right before the annual awards ceremony itself. As you may have guess, I did not end up walking away with the top prize, although did receive a rather snazzy certificate as a Highly Commended Runner-Up. The top prize went to the very deserving Jemima Scott, Vetmedin Brand Manager at Boehringer Ingelheim, who I daresay I wasn’t anywhere close to being a true competitor to. A deserving winner indeed.

The awards themselves were fantastic! Held at the Globe Theatre in London in the exhibition area beneath the theatre, the scene was one of mesmerising and magical light, with a truly Shakespearean feel to the entire room. They even had a tree in the middle of the banqueting area! A tree I tell you! How can that ever NOT be epic?! I had the very good fortune of spending the afternoon with some very fun and interesting people and got to see a side of the animal healthcare industry that very few in practice ever get to. The clear winners of the afternoon, other than Jemima, were Boehringer Ingelheim, who walked away with no less than 9 awards. They were certainly the runaway winners and the head of their advertising agency who, from where I was sitting, bore a remarkably uncanny resemblance to Robert DeNiro, ended up spending more time posing on the stage and brandishing polished marble than he did sat at his table. I think at one point it was suggested that his table actually be moved up there to save him the walk!

Now, I like my food and have had experiences of balls and other such events before, with the general experience being one of being underwhelmed by the catering. Not so yesterday. I think I can safely say that the medieval feast put on by the team at The Globe was by far and away THE best meal I have had at such an event and if I were ever to stage an event then I would definately be considering picking up the phone to the organisers and booking the same venue.

Here’s to the work of the Vet Marketing Association and the professionals who keep us entertained, informed and generally aware and abreast of the latest products and innovations in the animal healthcare sector. Roll on next year. I for one very much hope to be there.

Oxford Entrepreneurs Shine Yet Again

Idea Idol 2012I love entrepreneurism and there is one society that really seems to embody all that is exciting and fun about seeking new ideas and opportunities, and that is the Oxford Entrepreneurs. Each year they hold their famous TATA Idea Idol competition for new business ideas and each year the entries simply get better and better and better. This year was no exception.

The format is basically the following:

  • Stage 1: Hopeful future business tycoons submit a short description of their business idea for initial consideration by the board.
  • Stage 2: Those fortunate enough to be selected are taken through to the semi-final, of which there were 40 this year, whittled down from over 200 initial entries. I am proud to say that the apps (Mucky Pup & Purrfect Paws) were among the semi-finalists this year, something I am personally hugely proud of. Following an afternoon training session on writing a great Executive Summary (1-2 page summary of the business plan), we had one week to complete and submit our summary.
  • Stage 3: Just six business ideas make it through to the final, with the lucky six receiving further training in pitching their business ideas before the big night of the final itself.
  • The Final: Each team, or rather one individual from the team, has just 2 minutes to present their business idea to the packed lecture theatre in the Said Business School (Oxford) and then 5 minutes of grilling by seasoned business experts and entrepreneurs who make up the judging panel. This year’s judges were Melody Hossaini (CEO of InspirEngage International and The Apprentice fame), Gary Frank (CEO of The Fabulous Bakin’ Boys), Will Chadwick (VP of Tata Interactive Systems), and Leo Johnson (Co-founder of Sustainable Finance Ltd).

The pitches were amazing and the business ideas presented exceptional. The six companies vying for the grand prize were, in no particular order:

  1. Rehabox – a personalised service to manage prescribed movement rehabilitation exercises for many conditions, including back pain, osteoporosis, injuries and following strokes.
  2. Oxford NanoSystems – a novel re-design of heat exchange systems found in boilers.
  3. BaNaPads – a social enterprise, initially focused in Uganda, providing locally manufactured female sanitary pads made from banana pseudo stems, an abundant organic waste, and a significantly more cost-effective material for pad manufacture.
  4. InVision – software that recognises hidden emotions by detecting facial micro-expressions with video technology.
  5. Medopad – a mobile health start-up providing hospital doctors with secure real-time access to patient data, images and lab results via iPads.
  6. FoetoH – provides home-based monitoring for babies before birth.

FoetoH winn Tata Idea Idol 2012The ultimate winner was judged to be FoetoH and the team, led by Dr Michelle Fernandes, won the grand prize of £10,000.

 

It’s a Dog’s Tweet

Toby Morris Tweet DogIt is rare that something crops up on Twitter that makes you sit up and say “Hey! That is truly awesome!” Today, however, was one of those days. I was casually flicking through my Twitter feed glossing over the usual fare of celeb announcements and product plugs when lo-and-behold this cracking story made itself known… True genius on an epic scale!

Nat Morris, an IT consultant and dog owner from Wales, put his technology skills to legendary use by rigging up a fun system that provides his Border Terrier, Toby, with a treat every time a message is tweeted to @FeedToby. The system, which incorporates a mini-computer, that receives the tweets and drives the funky device, sounds a buzzer to alert Toby of the imminent arrival of a tasty snack, and a camera that snaps a pic of Toby and tweets it back to Nat so that he can see that Toby has eaten the food. There are, however, self-imposed limits on the system to prevent Toby get overfed as a result of being the recipient of loads of well-meaning tweets!

The full story can be viewed here.

Did you hear the one about the haptic cow?

Haptic Cow, bovine simulator
The classic veterinary image

We’re all aware of the classic premise of virtual reality and the principle of experiencing a visual virtual world. But what about haptic technology? What does that mean to you? I had a unique opportunity to see this technology in action last week when I was fortunate enough to be invited to speak at Bristol Veterinary School and met with Professor Sarah Baillie, Chair in Veterinary Education at the University and inventor of the famed ‘Haptic Cow.’

I first became aware of the Haptic Cow when I was an undergraduate at Bristol myself, and found the idea simply incredible: using a computer programmed device to realistically simulate the tactile experience of pregnancy diagnosing cows, something that some vet students get immediately whilst others struggle with perpetually. I place myself in the latter category. No matter how many cows had the (dis)pleasure of me rummaging away fruitlessly in their general pelvic region, I simply could not make the link between the random ‘mush’ that I was feeling – or rather, gradually not feeling, as the blood in my arms was systematically squeezed out – and the textbook picture of ovaries, follicles and the various forms of the bovine uterus. The problem was that there was no way for the lecturer to help other than to tell you what you should be feeling and where. Most of us simply ended up nodding knowingly and feigned a sudden reversal in our ignorance. The truth was that it was easier to pretend that we could feel what we were supposed to, thus hastening our exit from said cow’s rectal area, than to battle on. After all, the cows don’t thank a trier!

Enter the Haptic Cow. The idea is that you, the user, reaches into a fake cow (a black and white fibreglass shell with a specially designed robotic arm inside) and attach the end of the aforementioned arm to the end of your middle finger – the one you would use as a ‘friendly’ greeting to someone you didn’t much care for – via a small thimble-like attachment that fits snugly on the end of your digit. The magic then happens when the computer program is launched and the ‘model’ of the cow is run. On the screen you are able to see some simplified representations of various structures, such as ovaries, and this is matched by what you are able to ‘feel’ in the simulator. It’s a very bizarre sensation but the truth is that using this technology, which relies on the computer program outputting to three motors controlling the robotic arm in three planes, it is possible to haptically simulate all manner of structures, textures and body systems. I was given the chance to ‘PD’ a cow, diagnose an ovarian follicular cyst, and even experience the sensation of rectally examining a horse, something that is an important part of a colic investigation, yet which is notoriously risky to the horse, and subsequently to the vet’s professional indemnity cover! Using the Haptic simulator removes all of the risk associated with learning these techniques and after just one short session I would feel confident going out tomorrow and diagnosing colic or telling a farmer if their cow was in calf. That’s incredible considering I didn’t manage to achieve that in an entire year at vet school.

The potential for such sophisticated technology in dramatically improving the standard and effectiveness of medical training is huge, with the technology already having been applied to modelling a cat’s abdomen for training in abdominal palpation, to teaching human doctors the fine intracacies of prostate examination – the model human a@*e was hilarious! I can easily see haptics being combined with augmented reality, or other such technological advancements, in forming sophisticated surgical training programmes, dramatically advancing career development and patient care, in all species.

Professor Baillie’s career is as equally incredible as her invention, having graduated from Bristol vet school with an additional intercalated degree, and then spending a number of years in clinical mixed practice. A forced break from the physical rigours of being a vet in practice led Professor Baillie to complete a Master’s degree in computing, in spite of no prior experience of the field, and led to the start of her work with haptic technology and a subsequent PhD and the Haptic Cow. After time teaching at London Vet School, Professor Baillie is now back at her Alma Mater, Bristol, providing students with the incredible opportunity to train with her amazing inventions.

I wish I was there!

I am officially jealous! One place I would absolutely love to be right now is at the CES (Consumer Electronics Show) in Las Vegas, Nevada, USA. Widely regarded as the key technology show in the world, where the likes of Microsoft, Sony and Apple tend to showcase their latest cool gadgets, it represents every tech enthusiasts’ fantasy setting.

Just because I can’t be there (it isn’t actually open to the general public) doesn’t mean I can’t get excited about some of the futuristic technology being showcased. One idea that I find especially interesting is a technology being demonstrated by a UK firm, Blippar, who produce Augmented Reality (AR) apps for smartphones and tablets. Augmented Reality is the process by which digital content is overlayed onto a view of the ‘real world,’ for example, by viewing a bottle of juice on your iPad using the in-built camera, AR would recognise that product and thus overlay the ‘real’ image with additional content, that moves and changes with the view of the product. This offers incredible opportunities for providing value-addition to all sorts of products, for example, by showing video demonstrations, or providing e-vouchers linked to the specific product being viewed. The potential is one that has been recognised and Blippar are being sponsored by the UK Government to showcase their technology at CES – very exciting!

Being a vet I am naturally interested in the vetty and animal applications for Augmented Reality, of which there are clearly loads. Imagine, if you will, such applications as…

  • Waiting Room – reveal interesting and informative content about your vet practice, such as a ‘view behind the scenes’ or educational advice about preventative healthcare, such as lungworm control, simply by holding your phone up to the poster on the wall. Waiting for your appointment will suddenly feel like a pleasure as you have so much interactive content just there “in front of you.”
  • Clinical – not quite sure what your vet means by your dog’s cruciate injury? Well how about if the vet were able to hold up a tablet over your dog’s leg and show you a cool, biological view of where the ligament is, how it works and what happens when it goes wrong? I reckon that would be pretty interesting!
  • Surgery – So many applications…. so very many!
  • At home – Not quite sure exactly when your pets’ vaccinations are next due? Looking after your parents’ cat and can’t quite remember what medication he is on? Imagine just holding up your phone to your pet and seeing all of their relevant information displayed there in front of you. Would work well in an app, don’t you think 😉

New Toy – Simple but Cool

Okay, so part of me sort of feels like I have been had whilst another part of me actually feels like my recent purchase is pretty cool. What is it? Well, I will start by saying that it is something to be used with the iPad – which I actually love, by the way – and is a very simple peripheral but one I had actually been looking for and then chanced upon it at a local branch of Curry’s.

So, my new toy is a Wacom Bamboo Stylus. A what?! It is basically a ‘pen’ with a specially designed spongy, soft tip where the nib would be on a normal pen, and is intended primarily to be used with their free app ‘Bamboo Paper.’ The app itself is a simple notebook app but the pen makes it feel so realistic that for someone who loves jotting notes, or doodling crazy designs etc it’s great to have a digital equivalent to real paper. The main reason I was even looking for a pen, however, was that I wanted something to use with another app I have (Sketchbook), which is an art app and which I couldn’t help feel like a five year old child finger-painting whilst using it.

Anyway, needless to say I am looking forward to getting creative with the new pen and posting more nerdy designs right here. Watch this space 🙂