Tag Archives: innovation

In Silicon Valley, Transportation Innovation Is a Flat Circle

A customer on one of Leap Transit's luxury buses in March 2015. The company would file for bankruptcy six months later. (Josh Edelson/AFP/Getty Images)

Ride-sharing app Lyft has a new service available in Chicago and San Francisco that they’re calling a “shuttle.” According to Lifehacker, it works like this:

Lyfts can add up fast and Lyft Line, while less expensive, can take you out of your way and make your travel time much longer.

Lyft Shuttle addresses both those issues by having you walk to a nearby pick up spot, get in a shared car that follows a pre-designated route, and drops you (and everyone else) off at the same stop. So, basically, you share a ride with other people (most of the time) so your ride price is lower, but you know exactly how long the ride will take because you’re on a pre-designated route.

Sounds… familiar. Wait a second.

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When Innovation Fails: Doing Hard Time in the Offender-Monitoring Business

In Bloomberg Businessweek, Lauren Etter explores another problem with the privatization of law enforcement: technology. From scrambled signals and dead batteries to false violations, the electronic ankle bracelets 3M created failed to protect wearers’ civil liberties even though the process used to design them reflected the company’s way of thinking about innovation and experimentation. Unfortunately, creating monitors for human beings involves higher stakes than yellow stickies.

The sheer amount of data generated by GPS-tracking devices creates problems across the industry and in every state, but the number of alerts in Massachusetts has far exceeded the norm, experts say. Documents reviewed by Bloomberg show that in the 12 months ended in October 2015, 3M bracelets produced 612,492 violation alerts in Massachusetts—more than 50,000 per month, from about 2,800 individuals wearing the devices. Almost 40 percent of the alerts were due to a device not being able to connect to the network or the GPS not being detected. Roughly 1 percent of alerts resulted in an arrest warrant being issued. Tom Pasquarello, former director of the electronic monitoring program for Massachusetts, estimates that half those warrants were potentially based on faulty or incomplete data. That would be roughly 3,000 warrants. “There were people that were pulled from their house in the middle of the night, that lost their kids, people that lost their job,” he says.

The problem of glitchy ankle monitors became so pronounced that the Massachusetts probation department set up an after-hours office in the lobby of a Boston police station so offenders could bring in their bracelets when problems occurred or batteries died. In August 2015, Massachusetts Superior Court Judge Heidi Brieger became so frustrated with the devices that she vowed to stop sentencing anybody to them. “It is simply administratively improper to run a system in this fashion,” she said, according to a court transcript. “We don’t lose liberty in this country because somebody’s software is not working. It just isn’t right.”

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Who Says Healthy Food Can’t Be Accessible and Affordable?

Patterson stepped out the back door onto a sunny patio where three neighborhood men worked as “ambassadors” — greeters, really, but also unofficial security guards and community liaisons tasked with convincing neighbors that Locol really was for them. Watts has such a deep history of economic betrayal and abandonment, such pervasive skepticism about outsiders making big promises, and such well-founded fear of gentrification — a billion-­dollar “urban transformation” plan has the support of Mayor Eric Garcetti — that acceptance of a splashy new restaurant created by two famous outsider chefs who are not African American was not a given.

Patterson embraced an ambassador named Anthony “Ant” Adams, a 44-year-old poet who was in the middle of telling a visitor about getting shot five times with an AK-47 during a 2007 attempt on his life a few yards from where he was currently standing. Patterson then walked past an ATM/lottery/tobacco shop where floor-to-ceiling bulletproof Plexiglas separated customers from the cashier and inventory. He entered a store called Donut Town & Water, where a young man sold doughnuts, water, and other convenience foods, also from behind Plexiglas. Patterson ordered coffee to go and said, as if exhilarated by the speed and audacity of his own thoughts, “I can’t remember if I told you that Roy and I might start a coffee company, too. We’re bringing back the great $1 cup. The fancy coffee industry is not going to be happy with us. We’re going into institutional food, too. We’re already talking about prisons and hospitals and schools. It all comes back to this question of ‘Why does our society always serve the worst food to the neediest people?’ It makes no sense. And everybody always says, ‘That’s just the way it is, there’s no other way,’ but we are going to prove that whole paradigm is fundamentally false.”

In the California Sunday Magazine, Daniel Duane narrates the difficulty of establishing a new way of serving fast healthy food in the impoverished neighborhoods that the conventional industry has helped trap in a food desert.

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The Battery Breakthrough That Could Juice U.S. Manufacturing

In a new report, McKinsey describes a broad new age of manufacturing that it calls Industry 4.0. The consulting firm says the changes under way are affecting most businesses. They are probably not “another industrial revolution,” it says, but together, there is “strong potential to change the way factories work.”

For decades, the US has watched its bedrock manufacturing industries wither away, as they’ve instead grown thick in Japan, in South Korea, in China, Taiwan and elsewhere in Asia. According to the Economic Policy Institute, the US lost about 5 million manufacturing jobs just from 1997 to 2014. This includes the production of lithium-ion batteries, which, though invented by Americans, were commercialized in Japan and later South Korea and China.

So Chiang’s innovation could be a poster-child for a new strain of thinking in the US. This says that, while such industries are not likely to return from Asia, the US can possibly reinvent how they manufacture. The country wouldn’t take back nearly as many jobs as it has lost. But there could be large profits, as the country once again moves a step ahead in crucial areas of technology.

To be clear, this is not Chiang’s goal. He is a professed universalist, divorced from scientific realpolitik. But should he succeed, as he plans to, then in addition to helping to decode the perplexing problem of batteries, he might contribute to continuing America’s political and economic dominance.

—Steve LeVine, Washington correspondent for Quartz and author of The Powerhouse: Inside the Invention of a Battery to Save the Worldexplains how Yet-Ming Chiang’s startup 24M is reinventing lithium-ion battery manufacturing, potentially making the devices able to compete on cost with gasoline.

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Which Kind of Failure Are You?

Clay Christensen has compared the theory of disruptive innovation to a theory of nature: the theory of evolution. But among the many differences between disruption and evolution is that the advocates of disruption have an affinity for circular arguments. If an established company doesn’t disrupt, it will fail, and if it fails it must be because it didn’t disrupt. When a startup fails, that’s a success, since epidemic failure is a hallmark of disruptive innovation. (“Stop being afraid of failure and start embracing it,” the organizers of FailCon, an annual conference, implore, suggesting that, in the era of disruption, innovators face unprecedented challenges. For instance: maybe you made the wrong hires?) When an established company succeeds, that’s only because it hasn’t yet failed. And, when any of these things happen, all of them are only further evidence of disruption.

-From Jill Lepore’s 2014 critical look at the language of disruption and innovation, in The New Yorker.

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More on innovation in the Longreads Archive

Photo: chefcooke, flickr

Before Google: Larry Page’s Early Ideas for Changing the World

Even in Google’s earliest days, Page had always wanted the company to do more than just basic Web search. Since he was a kid, he’d been dreaming up world-changing schemes. As an undergrad at the University of Michigan, he’d proposed that the school replace its bus system with something he called a PRT, or personal rapid transit system — essentially a driverless monorail with separate cars for every rider. Later, at Stanford, he’d peppered his adviser, Terry Winograd, with thesis ideas that sounded as far out there as some of Tesla’s later schemes. One idea involved building a superlong rope that would run from the Earth’s surface all the way into orbit, making it cheaper to put objects in space. Another proposal called for solar kites that would draw energy from space.

With Google now essentially minting money from advertising and Schmidt managing its steady growth, Page began to realize that he was finally in a position to bring his visions to life.

Nicholas Carlson, in Business Insider, on the career of Google co-founder and CEO Larry Page.

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Photo: bloomenergy, Flickr

Can a Company Keep Innovating After the Founder Is Gone?

Marc Andreessen is obsessed with the idea that tech companies need to focus on innovation above all else. He believes that the “output” of technology companies isn’t products — at least not the way the “output” of Ford is cars. The “output” of tech companies, he says, is innovation.

Andreessen’s second theory of innovation is that the people who are the very best at it are the people who create successful technology companies — founders. They are the people who have a proven ability to develop a concept and bring it to fruition.

For this reason, Andreessen believes that tech companies should be run by their founders. The problem for eBay is that its founder, Pierre Omidyar, had no interest in running it. And John Donahoe, a talented manager, had the wisdom to know he was not the kind of visionary who could found an innovative tech company.

So he decided he was going to have to go after the next best thing. He was going to have to build a team of founders, or founder-types, and give them the run of the place. He, meanwhile, would operate as their in-house consultant (and boss).

Nicholas Carlson, in Business Insider, on the origins of a secretive eBay project, led by Jack Abraham, that helped the company reverse its fortunes. Read more from Carlson.

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Photo: nikonfans, Flickr

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