Latest industry insights

DRM comes to the kitchen

When coffee pod machines became popular, it was only a matter of time before bootleg ‘cartridges’ or ways of ‘pod-ifying’ your favourite coffees came along to cater for those who like the convenience of the system, but not the prospect of a limited coffee repertoire. Now, we have the follow on step; the rebellion of the pod machine makers: DRM. Keurig 2.0 brewing machines will work only with Keurig-licensed pods. You may think this is a move designed to freeze out competition, but apparently this is all for our own good, to ensure quality... and indeed ‘quality’ is the card they’ll be relying on… with this tactic ‘quantity’ won’t fly. Bootleg pods have seen success because there was a gap in the market, and the machines themselves became more appealing as the choice and flexibility improved and broadened. Restricting that and touting it as being ‘for the greater good’ is a risk, and the comments, posts and tweets surrounding this issue have a distinct aroma of disdain for the company’s choice to take this route. Personally, I’ll stick to my beloved bean-to-cup, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see a rise in Youtube tutorials or services dedicated to ‘jail-breaking’ coffee machines.

Facebook drones

Facebook is one of the main backers of an initiative to bring the Internet to the approximate 5 billion who are still unconnected. There is talk of Facebook purchasing a company called Titan Aerospace. Titan make near-orbit, solar-powered drones that are capable of flying for five years straight, without a need to land. This makes them a good potential vehicle for bringing what is effectively satellite communications to as yet un-serviced parts of the world (an un-tapped market). While the service from the drones is likely to be very poor by the rest of the world’s standards, Facebook is also working on researching new data compression technologies to allow services such as Facebook and WhatsApp to run more lean on weaker internet signals. If successful we could see Facebook recruiting large numbers of lifetime users, simply by being there at the start.

Privacy phone

On the back of the whole NSA debacle we now have a device affectionately known as the “Snowdon Phone”. It’s a phone created by a company called FreedomPop. It’s fully encrypted and if you want to go the whole hog, you can buy it with BitCoin to further protect your identity. Voice, text and data is encrypted, with data being sent via secure VPN. What you get is a Samsung Galaxy II for an initial outlay of $289, with a $10/month subscription (payable of course with BitCoin). Not a bad deal if security trumps functionality in your priorities. My gut feeling is that this is definitely the phone for you if you’re into spying, government secrets or criminal activity. I’m curious to see the sales figures for it and whether the tension of functionality vs. security is worth it for users who aren’t planning on espionage anytime soon. For the mostpart, I doubt it and I wonder if the price for the ‘freedom’ it grants is worth paying in the long run.

3D printing for operating procedures

Beyond printing out cute little plastic figures or the mild drama surrounding the rather odd-looking 3D printed gun, 3D printing is still finding its feet in the world in any serious sense. The greatest benefit appears, thus far, from the world of medicine. We’ve seen specialised cases of design and build of low-cost prosthetic limbs, and the beginnings of the use of nanolithography for constructing custom made structures for the growth of living tissue. A new type of polymer that is similar in consistency to muscle tissue has been used for the first time to create a 3D printed model of a heart. It was created from 3D scans as an aid to surgeons in Kentucky to plan a complex repair on the heart of a 14-month-old. The models were created in cross sections allowing the surgeons to view the interior of the heart in something tangible. This is a wonderful use of the technology, and another example of the demonstrable benefits of 3D printing. It also shows that the technique relies perhaps less on the printers themselves and more with the materials with which they build, expanding the repertoire of applications vastly with each step.