Today Seamus speaks with Distinguished Professor Genevieve Bell AO. She’s a cultural anthropologist who spent two decades at Intel and is known as one of the most important thinkers on technology and culture. She returned to Australia in recent years to create an entirely new school of research at ANU, named 3Ai.
We explore the aims of the new school, why it matters, and what the big issues are for technology in society today. And like any conversation with Professor Bell we get anecdotes from the past to help us understand that where we’re going next isn’t all that new… if only we can learn from the history lessons that can help pave the way…
LIFX is one of the biggest names in the world around smart lighting. Big enough that a lot of folks might not realise they’re an Australian brand!
With that in mind, and with Australia Day just around the corner, we decided to have a chat with Marc Alexander, co-founder and CTO of LIFX, about the journey so far, his thoughts on how to get started with smart home and smart lights, and where things are heading next.
Why did you decide to get into smart lights at the very beginning?
We had this incredible – at that time) idea in 2012, to be able to use your smartphone in your pocket to change a light around you, and have that light so vibrant and colourful that it was better than any light before it.
That was the beginning of smart home for us and many others. We already had great app and hardware product development experience in the team, so it really felt like we could do it. We prototyped it, made a video for Kickstarter, and were blown away by the public response from around the world.
How big a deal was access to crowdfunding at that time?
Being able to access crowdfunding was one of the best things to kick us off. The launch was outstanding, going almost overnight from a small home invention to become a globally recognised business and leader in the smart lighting industry.
We benefited from ten thousand or so backers and pre-orders, were noticed by global retailers and were able to file patents and unique IP to our designs.
When I look at coverage of LIFX, colour seems to be a standout for your gear – why is that? What are you doing to make that a key LIFX feature?
We’ve always been passionate about the depth and richness of colour, how people feel about it, and what we do to achieve it.
Everything from special LEDs across LIFX products, having colours and whites mixed from four ‘channels’ of light blended together, to how high in quality and brightness our white light selection is.
With our new firmware, our lights show more than a trillion different colours (I’ll spare you the maths on that!), and thousands of tones of white. We have the deepest, richest colour spectrum among all our competitors. More vibrant reds, deeper blues, and we can also reach true cyan and a realistic warm incandescent white and amber, for example.
In technical terms of colour space, we have the largest CIE 1931 colour space of any consumer light we have seen or tested. And LIFX lights are modulated at a high frequency to support natural photography or videography without the usual flicker or rolling stripes seen often in other LED smart lights.
What’s been the biggest success for smart lighting so far? Has there been a ‘breakthrough’ moment yet or is that still ahead?
Beginning with our 2012 combination of Wi-Fi and internet-connected smart lighting “that works from any smartphone”, our step in growth was from zero to a global, Australian founded business, in our first year.
We’ve overcome a lot of tech challenges, and we are proud to have created a significant number of patents – in Wi-Fi and wireless smart connected lighting, thermal management, user interface, power control, and other smart home product categories (some yet to come to market).
Then we made more advances in our second and third generation of products, making them more compact, cost-efficient, faster, 30% brighter, and now using 30% less electricity than competing products.
Now we’re into our fourth and fifth generation of products, and have added unique feature lighting, blended colour zone Z Strips, Beams and Tiles. And, of course, we’re continuing to work closely in voice operation with Apple, Google, Amazon and many other smart home partners.
How do you explain where to begin to people who are still a little uncertain about where to start with smart lighting?
Start with just one light. With LIFX, you don’t need network cables, a hub or a bridge to set up your lights – so it is the perfect way to easily and affordably kickstart your smart lighting journey.
We suggest opting for a Mini Colour and experiencing it first in a lamp. It’s a perfect way to play around and feel how you can control your lighting near you and around you.
From there, expanding your collection is easy – just add to your smart lighting light by light, room by room.
Are straight up bulbs the most popular area still or are strip lights or tiles or other new product areas the biggest?
For gamers, LIFX Z strip lighting is very popular, and for our average customer, standard lights like our Mini Colour are the most popular.
Home decorators and people doing amazing things with their home’s rooms or an apartment will often use LIFX Beam or Tile as a special feature.
What’s the craziest setup or smart trigger arrangement you’ve heard about in the use of LIFX kit?
We’ve seen some very creative applications of our products, from practical uses that assist with accessibility to simply jaw-dropping desk setups.
One example of a very impressive smart trigger arrangement was from a customer who is hard of hearing. He had a lot of triggers set up, including flipping his phone over to trigger a dim light on, which then allowed him to talk with his wife! We are constantly learning about new ways our customers automate our products.
So what’s the ultimate mission? Every light a smart light or something else?
Part of our ultimate mission is to have every light a smart light – but with a purpose. To transform the space around you, share incredible experiences with light, and save energy with efficient design and automation.
Marc also sent me these links to some of his favourite office/gaming setups too. Now I want to run off and get the Byteside setup looking this cool.
I got a new car recently. By recently I mean a year ago. I like cars, but I’m not a ‘car person’. I do my research ahead of time, but then I pretty much make my final decision based largely on how it just feels to be sitting in that driver seat taking things for a spin.
I like to think about car reviews when I think about how the tech I’ve often reviewed – phones, TVs, laptops – can get too caught up in year-over-year changes. Those of us living in the thick of the new things can get caught up in the tiny differences. But most people are upgrading a model they’ve owned for many years. My old car was over ten years old! For these buyers, almost every new model – including the inexpensive ones – will blow their minds.
When I bought my car (a Honda Civic), I didn’t pay any mind to features like cruise control. Any time I’ve driven a car with cruise control I’ve only ever tested it for the sake of checking what it feels like.
And I think it feels terrible.
I’m all for self-driving cars, and look forward to just having driverless cars on demand in our future. When cars truly drive themselves why should we even own them? But cruise control is the awkward teenager of vehicle automation. It takes the joy out of driving while putting you into a terrible realm where the car is speeding along without your feet being involved at all. Scary stuff.
Anyway, yes, my Civic has cruise control. But amongst the same set of controls, I discovered it also has a Limiter. And I adore it.
I use the limiter every single day, every time I’m in the car, and I tweak and twiddle the setting constantly. It’s brilliant.
So what’s a limiter? Like cruise control, you set a speed you want to ‘cruise’ at, except now it’s a speed you simply don’t want to accelerate past. With this setting in place, you are still doing all of the driving. It just stops the throttle from letting you push past the magic number.
Maybe that doesn’t sound too different, but it really is. Because while you would never use cruise control in a 50 or 60 zone, the limiter is perfect for these environments just as it is at home on the freeway at 110.
The limiter has helped me to do the single most important thing while driving. To keep my eyes on the road, surrounding vehicles, and overall conditions around me.
Having to constantly glance down and check speed to maintain a speed limit without speeding is a constant dance of the eyes. It’s fine, it’s doable. But now the limiter worries about that for me. I can just drive the way drivers should.
The limiter doesn’t brake for you, it only controls the accelerator, which means it can slide past the limit you’ve set if you are going down a hill. But if you do go three clicks above the limit you set you’ll get an audible alert to let you know it’s happening so you can react accordingly. And if you plant your foot hard to the floor it will also override the limit.
I feel like the limiter makes me a more active driver. My eyes are where they should be, and when I change speed zones I quickly tap and adjust the limit to reflect the change. Once set I can tap up and down to tweak the exact limit I’ve set, or cancel and reengage to whatever speed I’m driving at.
And, seriously, it makes me feel like an F1 driver leaving pit lane when I have my foot down cruising at 60 and get to cancel the limit as I enter a freeway on-ramp and feel the car just take off at the push of a button.
It also keeps my drive at a more constant, smooth speed than ever before, across all speed zones. I live outside the city, so I’m rarely stuck in traffic like some people. But I’m also in a regional town, so it’s not pure cruising. Over the last few thousand miles my fuel economy sits at around 6.3L/100km (a little ahead of the Honda claim of 6.4L).
I think no car should have cruise control. And I think every car should have a limiter. It’s active, it helps keep our eyes where they should be, and it helps maintain a smoother drive. I love it.
Check your car settings. Maybe you already have one too?
Starting August 10, incredible Augmented Reality (AR) experiences will be offered in six major cities around the world in a collaboration between Apple and New York’s New Museum.
The AR[T] project sees special experiences available as a walking tour from Apple Store locations in San Francisco, New York, London, Paris, Hong Kong and Tokyo, featuring artists Nick Cave, Nathalie Djurberg and Hans Berg, Cao Fei, John Giorno, Carsten Höller and Pipilotti Rist.
According to Apple:
The three new sessions include an interactive walk featuring works by some of the world’s premier contemporary artists, an in-store session that teaches the basics of creating AR using Swift Playgrounds and an AR art installation viewable in every Apple Store worldwide.
While these installations are in select locations around the world, every store can experience a work called “Amass” by American artist Nick Cave.
iOS 13 has some particularly exciting new AR tools coming to iPhone and iPad, which will make creating experiences more accessible than ever. So the timing feels particularly exciting to encourage people to see what’s possible and explore ideas of their own.
I first covered Gogoro nearly four years ago for CNET while in Taiwan for Computex. The Taiwanese electric scooter company was designing beautiful scooters but had also devised a battery swap platform around the city to make charging a non-issue.
At the time the company was open about trying to make its battery service something that other companies could interoperate with. In countries where scooters are everywhere but no one has a garage to do their own recharging, it was a great idea and if it operated independently across different makes and models it would be a great service for all.
Now Techcrunch reports that Gogoro has new partners on board. Yamaha, Aeon Motors and PGO are all about to launch new scooters to work with Gogoro hardware.
I’ve always hoped the company would succeed. Such a great concept and it would be a shame for others to fight to control end-to-end instead of join forces and make EV more viable for the scooter industry across South-East Asia.
USB-C hubs are finally starting to pick up some steam, and as the range of options grows we’re seeing some well thought out (but not overcooked) versions hit the market.
I’ve loved TwelveSouth accessories for many years. From the classic BookBook cases that made your iPhone or MacBook look like an old leather-bound volume; to the gorgeous Compass iPad stands; to the rest of their stands and accessories for Macs, iPads and iPhones. Yes, they’re all about Apple stuff.
The company’s StayGo USB-C hub features all the key ports you want. 3x USB-A 3.0 ports (one does fast charging); 1x HDMI port; 1x SD + 1x micro-SD slot (not a shared slot); Gigabit Ethernet; power input and power passthrough. All in a subtle dark grey package.
The extra details relate to the way it is setup to give you the cables you need for core usage both at your desk and when you’re on the road. Thus the StayGo. Get it now?
There’s a storage slot for a 6-inch USB-C cable so you’ve always got that main connector cable with you when you need to grab and get gone already. The hub itself is metal and TwelveSouth says the design for this cable should keep the cable (and the hub) nice and protected in your bag.
Here’s the video if you want to see the TwelveSouth pitch.
Alexa not doing it for you? Now you can ask Google to help you out via your Sonos speakers instead. The new features landed in an update on Tuesday night.
Alexa has been available since last year for Sonos One and Sonos Beam speakers. And while you can’t have both at the same time on the same single speaker, if you have more than one of either, or both, or whatever combo, you can have both Alexa and Google Assistant in different parts of the house and they can work together relatively seamlessly.
Few urban artists are as monumental as Christo. Not everybody has nailed the idea of wrapping buildings in fabric and rope, and now – almost 60 years after first conceiving the idea – he gets to wrap Paris’ Arc de Triomphe.