Phone usage on the road is admittedly not the best practice to advocate, but let’s face it– we use our phones for everything now. Long gone are the days of printing out directions from Yahoo! Maps in size 18 font for a trip to a new destination– many of us no longer bother with any of the at-home preparation; we grab our phones, make sure we have enough battery life left, and head out the door.
GPS is arguably one of the most useful applications on a smartphone, allowing us the freedom to go wherever the wind takes us. However, one thing GPS navigation systems do not provide is information about the paths we are taking; construction, road blocks, sporadic traffic jams, and police checkpoints often catch many drivers by surprise– leading to frustration, apologies, and a lighter fuel tank.
Waze is a GPS application meant to combat the surprises that may pop up, claiming on its website to be the “world’s fastest-growing community-based traffic and navigation app.” Once installed on a smartphone, Waze goes to work gathering real-time data to update its database with anonymized information such as your speed and location. This crowdsourcing method gives Waze users the opportunity to share navigation issues and travel time without having to lift a finger, allowing for effortless contribution.
Users can also report accidents, speed traps, police, and even gas prices so that other users will be navigated accordingly– all hands-free, of course. These reports show up as alert bubbles on the navigation screen, which also displays the avatars of any friends close by (if they choose to be visible). The turn-by-turn voice navigation takes into account the current state of the roads, giving users the fastest route to their destinations– and even re-routing if there is a better path.
Of course, Waze also has social network integration. It connects with Facebook to give you the ability to track your friends and their locations, with a live map keeping all parties posted on each others’ travel statuses. Arrival times for meet-ups become less of a guessing game, as you can watch the progress of those on the road or check to see who has already made it to the destination. New functionality has also been added to help users carpool– a pick-up request can be sent and accepted, which would then automatically route the driver to the rider’s GPS location. If the rider isn’t using Waze, it’s no problem– a URL with a live map can be shared to keep everyone up to speed.
The makers of Waze have latched onto a pretty important concept when it comes to driving: Waze is often used to connect us to others, whether they be friends, family, or colleagues. This mindset has garnered them some 30 million users, all aimed at making mundane trips more streamlined and social. If we were able to, say, facilitate meet-ups in a similar fashion for those traveling to Buffalo Wild Wings (@BWWings) to watch a game, or if we could harness the collaborative carpooling idea to help Red Brick (@RedBrickBrewery) patrons find their designated drivers, we could have something big on our hands as well.
The second important lesson to learn from Waze is that we need to be all-inclusive. All too often we get carried away with the shininess of our newest mobile phones and gadgets, and it becomes easy to forget the fact that not everyone has access to them. Remember how grandma switched back to her rotary phone after complaining about how she couldn’t feel any buttons on her smartphone? She probably doesn’t use any mobile apps, but when we journey onwards, we need to make sure we bring her with us, too.
Controlling a computer system with a wave of the hand may seem like a gimmick reminiscent of the fictional systems in Minority Report and Iron Man, but we may be reaching that technological milestone sooner than you think. At the end of May 2012, San Francisco-based startup Leap Motion (@LeapMotion) unveiled its Leap 3D motion control system, one that is making huge advancements in bringing the aforementioned systems to fruition.
The company claims that the Leap Motion controller is “200 times more accurate than anything else on the market”– and judging by the demo video (and an independent review by Wired), that claim seems to be true. The device features a series of small camera sensors that track the user’s gestures within an 8-cubic-foot space, with accuracy down to 1/100th of a millimeter.
With these incredible specs, you must be wondering how many limbs you would have to pawn off in order to acquire such a system. Surprisingly, all of this amazing technology fits into a controller the size of a USB flash drive, and is offered at the low price of $70 apiece.
Leap Motion solves one issue that has kept gesture control technology from being prevalent in society, namely, the amount of commitment required by the user. Let’s take into account Tony Stark’s J.A.R.V.I.S., for example. Conceptually, it is amazing– but the price of such a customized system would definitely be something to balk at, not to mention that the constant waving of the arms may result in a new variant of “Wii-itis.” With a constrained (yet precise) area of gesture tracking and a price tag akin to that of a fancy dinner for two, the Leap Motion controller definitely has potential to spread.
For one, PC maker ASUS has already jumped on the Leap Motion movement, with a select line of its “All-in-One” notebooks set to come bundled with the controllers later this year. Best Buy has also entered an agreement with Leap Motion, making the controllers available for purchase exclusively in U.S. Best Buy stores and online upon launch this spring.
Finding compatible applications to interface with the device should not be an issue, either– the company received more than 50,000 applications from developers wanting to test out the product and build apps, and roughly 12,000 of them have received their devices.
Let us take a moment to consider the implications of this technology in our own company setting. Not only would the developing applications mean tools for quicker mockups, proof of concepts, etc., for us to provide for our clients, it could be implemented in many of our clients’ stores. This could mean the end of sauce-covered menus at Buffalo Wild Wings, or stations in Publix that could use gesture recognition to translate sign language for those who are having a hard time communicating with the staff.
Intrigued yet? You should be. If the thought of this little wonder controller sparks any ideas, or if you want to try it out for yourself, let your ideas be known and stop by the innovation lab! We have just received our own Leap Motion controller, and we are anticipating great things to come from it.
If This, Then That. Everyone knows the meaning of this simple catchphrase. Doing one thing causes another thing to happen. It doesn’t get much more simple, right? Well, what if I told you that a team of developers has taken this basic logic to heart for the very purpose of making the Internet an easier place for you? If you are even remotely intrigued, then you may love IFTTT.
IFTTT has attempted to place the simple power of the if/then statement in the palm of your Internet-wielding hand. It uses straight forward metaphors in its branding to effortlessly guide users through its setup. You create a “recipe” by combining actions, or “ingredients,” from any of the 59 channels that they offer. The channels are popular web services such as social media sites, cloud-storage programs, email, and many more. Actions from the first channel (the “if”) then trigger actions from another channel (the “then”). A simple example of this formula goes like this: If I am tagged in a Facebook photo, then download that photo to my Dropbox. You can find thousands of recipes at IFTTT’s very own Recipe Browser. With the ability to create an endless number of recipes, the website quickly starts acting like your very own cyber-secretary.
The flexibility of the system makes IFTTT a very interesting automation device. The pitch makes it feel like a connection system between all of the Internet sites that you visit and use most often. While that is true, I found the most intriguing recipes are those that operate across multiple devices. This includes things like texting you when it is about to rain, finding a phone by emailing to it and initiating a call, and acting as a reminder system connected to a particular date or to calendar events. Smartphones can do many of these things in their own ways, but IFTTT offers a separate system that operates outside of any one platform.
The puzzle piece that may bring this system to full use is the ability for outside parties to create their own channels within IFTTT’s system. This promised expansion could open up the door for companies to launch their own tie-ins that could be used to bring in new customers or keep current customers informed of offers and deals. If companies have online services –promotions, newsletters, weekly ads, etc.– all they would need to do is supply the ability to link to these services in IFTTT. Users could then create recipes that utilize the company channel, linking the company deals and ads to a whole slew of other Internet services. Buffalo Wild Wings (@BWWings) could add channels that update when new sauces or promotions are added, allowing users to receive updates or spread the message automatically. They could even create their own IFTTT recipes, and then advertise them to spread their use and awareness, bringing in a completely new audience. The possible consumer expansion is really promising in this new environment.
IFTTT is great for personal use, keeping track of much of the content that you manage on the Internet. Even greater is its potential expansion into the consumer marketplace. When companies are able to fully integrate their services into the IFTTT ecosystem, it will become an expansion point for advertising and consumer awareness.