Thursday, May 21, 2015

Are You Divergent?

Divergent Trilogy
In Veronica Roth's dystopian Divergent trilogy, set in a post-apocalyptic Chicago, the people are sorted and separated into factions based upon their primary modes of thinking and acting. The objective is allow each group to use their strengths to maximize their contribution to the community as a whole.

The system ultimately degenerates into war between the factions due to mistrust and lack of respect for the values and skill of the members of other factions. The focus on communal thought and behavior is also a mental straitjacket for some of the more creative thinkers in each faction.

The heroine and hero of the books are Tris and Four whose methods of thought don't fit neatly into the factional categories. Labeled as "Divergents" by the factional leaders, they are feared and considered threats to society. Their ability to approach situations using a broader skill set makes them unpredictable, uncontrollable and disruptive.

I believe that Tris and Four are good role models for business leaders. The market respects and rewards those who can create disruptive business models. The probability of building a disruptive business is much higher if you can look at situations differently than others.

How divergent are you?

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What is augmented reality?

Augmented Reality in Mini Cooper.
Image from Car and Driver
Last December, when I predicted the top technological stories of 2015, I overlooked augmented reality. In the last few weeks however, there has been an explosion of news stories featuring this futuristic medium.

Augmented reality is a media experience that adds digital information to the world that you can interact with in the same manner that you interact with the physical world.  According to Dr. Alan Craig in his book Understanding Augmented Reality Concepts and Applications, there are four key aspects of an augmented reality experience:

  • The physical world is augmented by digital information superimposed on a view of the physical world.
  • The information is displayed in registration with the physical world.
  • The information displayed is dependent on the location of the real world and the physical perspective of the person in the physical world.
  • The information displayed is interactive in a way that allows the user to sense the information and make changes to the information if desired.

While there are many mobile applications that provide supplemental information about the real world based upon the location of the user, most do not meet the definition of augmented reality because they do not display that information in registration with the physical world.

At the Shanghai Auto Festival a few weeks ago, the Mini Cooper division of BMW demonstrated in an interesting application of augmented reality where a driver wearing a special pair of glasses can "see through" the blind spots caused by the car's roof and sides.  When the driver looks in the direction of the blind spots, the system replaces the roof and sides with views from cameras located at the exterior of the car.

Many of the early augmented reality applications were designed to add information to printed material. When the user aimed a device's camera at selected content on the printed piece, the content was replaced with a video or a three dimensional representation that added information to the printed content. This is an interesting use case because the "reality" being augmented is itself a two dimensional representation of a different reality. In my opinion, most of the print applications of augmented reality have been mostly gimmicks and not very useful.

Beyond print enhancement, digital augmentation of the real world has tremendous value in entertainment, transportation and many other fields. Some of the most useful applications will be in automotive safety where the systems can highlight potential dangers before the driver might see them without the augmentation.

What part of your reality would you like to augment?

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Monday, May 4, 2015

The Price is Wright

The Price Tower
Before Terri and I left Bartlesville, Oklahoma, we stopped to see the Price Tower which is the only realized skyscraper designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. We found it to be an unusual and uniquely beautiful structure.

In designing the Price Tower, Wright was inspired by the shape and structure of a tree. Like a tree trunk, the central elevator shaft supports the entire structure. The 19 floors of the building branch out from the central core and the outer walls are clad in patinated copper which creates an effect similar to leaves.

The tower currently houses the Price Tower Arts Center which focuses on art architecture and design. It is was designated a National Historic Landmark by the United States Department of the Interior in March of 2007.

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Science and Serendipity

Hula Hoop Image by Eren Emre Kanal
Hula Hoop Image by Eren Emre Kanal
While returning home from the Oklahoma Festival of the Arts, we decided to visit the Phillips Petroleum Museum in Bartlesville, Oklahoma. In the museum, we learned a wonderful story about the discover of crystalline polypropylene and high-density polyethylene that beautifully illustrates the role that serendipity sometimes plays in scientific discovery.

In June of 1951, Phillip's researchers Paul Hogan and Robert Banks were looking for a better method to convert natural gas into gasoline. While experimenting with catalysts, they noticed a solid white powder that was clogging up their instruments. After looking closely at the newly discovered substance, they immediately switched the focus of their research and developed the plastics that would help transform the latter half of the 20th century.

Phillips introduced high-density polyethylene in 1954 under the brand name Marlex. While the new plastic would eventually be used in everything from baby bottles to automotive bumpers, it was the Hula Hoop which brought widespread popularity to the new material.

What will you discover today?

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