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How Sustainable Tech Is Changing the World

July 15, 2019 | Blog | No Comments

Can the environment and a thriving economy co-exist?  Through sustainable tech innovation, Yair Crane has no doubt they can.

As Principal of CTG Consulting, Yair offers strategic counsel and services for implementing clean energy and clean transportation technologies to businesses and government agencies in the Southern California region.

I recently spoke with Yair at a Young Professionals in Energy event, a networking group he co-leads, to discuss the state of the sustainable technology industry.

“Most companies want to do the right thing when it comes to sustainability,” Yair said. “It’s just a matter of bandwidth and budget.”

He said several factors are currently driving adoption of solar energy by companies, including local and state government policies, increased peak-demand energy rates, and the advent of affordable, onsite solar and energy storage technology.

Investor-owned utilities recently increased both the pricing and timing of peak energy rates for commercial businesses, he said, extending peak time of use rates (TOUs) well after regular work hours until 9 p.m., directly impacting the energy bills of commercial customers small and large.

“If you’re a large retailer like Whole Foods or a CVS, it’s a growing expense,” Yair said. “Retail stores, movie theaters, fitness centers – they can’t change their hours. People are going to come in after work. That’s their busiest time.”

That’s why most of Yair’s work is currently focused on helping firms achieve ‘peak clipping’ through solar energy generation complemented by battery storage. His firm analyzes a company’s energy bills then works with a solar partner and a battery storage manufacturer to design a system that reduces peak demand costs.

When completed, energy from solar panels is stored onsite in advanced battery systems. During peak demand hours, a building’s energy is drawn from the solar-charged batteries rather than from the grid. Even if the solar energy is only a percentage of the total energy use, it’s enough to lower peak demand costs, and can lead to a return on investment in as little as 18 months in some service areas.

Solar energy storage is being adopted across sectors in Southern California, Yair said.  Ports like the Port of Los Angeles in San Pedro and the Port of Long Beach are implementing solar energy and battery storage for on-site generation and for added resiliency to their terminal operations. The two ports have been gradually meeting their emissions reduction goals defined in their joint Clear Air Action Plans, including reducing the emissions of ships while they are docked by plugging into on-shore or on-dock power.

In addition, biotech companies that require reliable power 24×7 are using solar energy and battery storage to support mission-critical portions of their operations.  Even microbreweries and car dealerships are exploring the technology, he said.

Yair sees many innovative companies rapidly commercializing their clean technology solutions, including:

  • NantEnergy, which has created a rechargeable zinc-air battery storage system that it says can provide power at a lower cost than lithium-ion batteries and with longer life. Its systems already are being used in commercial energy management, remote microgrids, and as reliable backup power to critical telecom infrastructure.  The firm is currently building a factory in El Segundo, Calif. that will produce its zinc air and lithium hybrid storage solution.

 

  • Newlight Technologies in Irvine, Calif. has found a way to recycle methane and carbon emissions produced by landfills and other sources into a bioplastic that can serve as a substitute for petroleum-based plastic. It has partnered with IKEA to create chairs and other furniture and is currently ramping up production.

 

  • Soon, electric vehicles will not only draw energy from the grid but serve as mobile sources of power back to the grid as well as to homes and commercial buildings as backup during outages. This “vehicle-to-grid” (V2G) model is exemplified by San Diego-based Nuvve.

Yair believes sustainable energy technology goes together with economic growth and success. The need for local workers to install systems and retrofit buildings also ensures that jobs are kept in the U.S.

“There is a way to thrive and not just survive in California and other states where more sustainable or green policies are being enacted,” Yair said. “Local governments, community choice aggregations or CCAs, and utilities aren’t waiting for federal action to make clean energy come to pass.”

 

 

The future of communications is unreal these days.

What has become known as “extended reality” (XR) is quickly coming to the fore in marketing and PR.  Nothing that has been in the communicators’ toolkit before can quite compare to the storytelling power that is now possible in the age of XR.

First, a brief description of the technologies that fall under the umbrella of XR:

  • Virtual reality (VR) which delivers immersive, computer-generated experiences
  • 360-degree video which uses VR glasses to immerse the viewer in the real world
  • Augmented reality (AR) which overlays digital imagery onto reality with mobile devices or smart glasses
  • and mixed reality (MR) which features elements of both AR and VR where real-world and digital objects interact.

HKA client Free Wheelchair Mission recently created a 360-degree video experience for its annual Miracle of Mobility Gala fundraising event coming July 25.  After donning VR glasses by Oculus, attendees will be immersed in the delivery of wheelchairs to three disabled residents of Guatemala, including a mother of eight children.

HKA account manager Stacy Nagai got a preview of the segment and said it was transformative.

“It was six minutes but it went by quickly because it was so engrossing,” Stacy said. “In the opening, you’re standing on a dirt road leading to a shack with children all around you.  It’s very moving and I can’t imagine a better way of communicating this woman’s plight and how important this humanitarian mission is.”

HKA vendor Beard Boy Productions recently created an AR experience for John Deere that has been traveling to agricultural shows around the country.

Once the John Deere AR app is downloaded to a mobile device, detailed features of a new tractor and related products can be viewed, including inside views of the equipment, animated video of the equipment in motion, and captions for more information.

According to Mike Smith, executive producer and creative director at Beard Boy, the AR experience has been a huge hit for John Deere.

“After 182 years of being a farming equipment company, they are repositioning themselves as a technology company that is helping to feed the world,” Smith said.  “Which is one of the reasons they are leveraging AR – it sets them apart as a forward-looking company.”

Smith said many firms are looking to tell their stories in one of the XR mediums.  He attributes XR’s appeal to the fact that our viewing lives have been dominated by 2D video since the 1950s and many people, especially younger generations, are interested in a different kind of experience.

“XR is more participatory,” Smith said.  “When you offer an XR experience, the individual fully engages in a way that’s not possible with video and they understand much more keenly what your product or service is all about.”

Smith points to the successful Burger King “Burn that Ad AR campaign earlier this year as a milestone in the use of XR technologies in marketing.  With the Burger King app, users could frame their mobile device’s camera on a competitor’s advertising which would then “explode” in flames.

“With XR, the audience is making decisions about what they want to see,” he said.  “It’s a highly effective way to implant your message into the mind of the viewer.”

Smith said his company starts with a discovery phase to understand what the organization wants to communicate and who the audience is they are trying to reach.  Once those questions are answered, they turn to creative ways XR technologies might underscore the messages a client is trying to convey.

At this point, AR and VR experiences are still cost-prohibitive for most smaller businesses, with projects averaging between $25,000 and $200,000 depending upon their complexity.  But Smith expects pricing to come down and be more affordable for average businesses over the next few years.

The good news about XR experiences is that they are highly measurable.  Data can be gathered and analyzed through app downloads from a link in a press release, website, PDF, trade show signage or brochure.

XR is an experience – and marketing tool — whose time has arrived.

It should be pointed out as well that Southern California has been a hotbed for XR innovation.  Oculus founder Palmer Luckey created his VR glasses prototypes in the garage of his parents’ Long Beach home.  Epson America, based in Long Beach but moving its headquarters to Los Alamitos next year, has been a leader in AR glasses for years.

 

As an emerging tech entrepreneur, you should consider all communications mediums suitable for telling your company story, being viewed as an expert in your field, and gaining the attention of investors, customers and partners.

One medium that many companies often overlook is podcasting.

It’s estimated that 62 million people in the U.S. listen to podcasts weekly, while one of the most popular podcasts in the world, The Joe Rogan Experience, is estimated to have over 90 million global listeners.  According to the latest statistics, there are currently more than 700,000 podcasts and more than 29 million podcasts episodes available on iTunes alone, and those numbers are rising rapidly.

Once relegated to the backwaters of media, podcasting has come into its own.  For smart entrepreneurs, it’s past time to investigate what’s possible in the world of podcasting to reach the valuable eardrums of the audience.

What has driven the growth of the podcast audience?  According to Ron Ploof, a podcast pioneer and storyteller, an initial factor was when Apple pre-installed its Podcast app on new iPhones, making podcasts more accessible by the company’s enormous customer base.  The more recent rise of voice-activated assistants has made it even easier to listen to a favorite podcast.

The breakthrough popularity of the Serial investigative journalist podcast, with its true tales of justice denied, was also a key moment as it became the subject of office ‘water cooler’ talk.  Google’s introduction of its own podcast app for Android phones has also expanded the podcast audience.

Ron says companies should take a good look at podcasting as part of their marketing efforts.

“Podcasts are an intimate medium where someone is talking in your ear,” Ron said.  “They can be accessed anywhere – in your car or while you’re working out.”

“People focus when they’re listening to podcasts – it’s eyes- and hands-free,” he said. “You can’t skim a podcast like you can an article.”

So how should companies proceed?

According to Fred Fishkin, a Bloomberg radio broadcasting veteran who now runs the Techinstation podcast, companies should consider starting their own podcasts.

“If a company has something new they could talk about every week or so, it makes sense to consider doing a podcast,” Fred said. “If you have someone in-house with the right skills, you can do it yourself or bring in an outsider to run it for you.”

Fred said the key is to make the podcast listenable, with interesting topics, a non-scripted conversational approach, and by using quality mics, mixers and other audio tools.

Once completed, podcasts can be made accessible to audiences far beyond your company website on platforms such as iTunes, Spotify, Google Podcasts and Stitcher.

Of course, companies can also pitch podcasters to become interview guests as they would traditional media outlets and bloggers.

Before approaching podcasters, make sure you’ve done a thorough study of the kinds of podcasts that might make sense for you and your company.  iTunes has a podcast directory that you can scan by category to find shows that fit your communications objectives. You can also simply pull up the podcast app and add a keyword to find shows that focus on your firm’s relevant topics.  You will also want to read a podcast’s show notes which often contains guest booking guidelines as well.

Targeted podcasts for the emerging tech executive may include This Week in Startups by Jason Calacanis who covers the world of tech entrepreneurship, or Something Ventured by startup insider Kent Lindstrom who interviews founders of the most compelling new startups.

You can also approach podcasters in your specific industry such as The SaaS Podcast or Stacy on IoT.  Don’t ignore the smaller niche podcasters because of audience sizes that might be less than 10,000 or even 1,000.  Many companies will send executives half-way across the world to address a target audience of a few dozen in their space.  Podcasts can be an easier and more affordable way to reach those early adopters, and they often grow a “long tail” of audience over many months from social media sharing and Google searches.

Listen to the episodes of your chosen podcasts to get a feel for how the podcaster interacts with his or her guests.  See what angles you might be able to offer that would interest the podcaster.  Don’t shy away from the controversial if it makes sense for your business.

Remember the cardinal rule for the podcast guest – BE INTERESTING.  The focus of your interview should be about solving an industry issue, or how you persevered through a business challenge, not a commercial about your company’s offerings.

The good news about podcasts is that they are generally long-form interviews, so you can really get into the details of your topic.  The caution is that podcasts are often live or recorded live, meaning there is rarely any editing before they are posted.  Make sure you are well-prepared for an audio medium that will be heard by an audience just the way you presented it.

To hear podcasts produced by the two pros interviewed for this story and to learn some valuable communications tips, visit SmartDrivingCar.com by Fred Fishkin and StoryHow.com by Ron Ploof.

 

 

 

 

OCTANe Fuels Local Tech Sector

June 7, 2019 | Blog | No Comments

Q&A with Bill Carpou of OCTANe

We recently checked in with Bill Carpou, CEO of OCTANe, to get his take on the local emerging tech scene.  Not surprisingly, Bill had a lot of interesting and informative things to say.

Founded in 2002 and headquartered in Aliso Viejo, OCTANe is dedicated to driving innovation and economic growth in Southern California by helping connect companies and people to resources and capital.  The organization offers entrepreneurs an award-winning accelerator called LaunchPad; Growth Services, a platform to help companies scale; regular educational and networking events; and capital access.  It focuses on technology and life science companies seeking Late Seed, Series A and Series B funding ($500K-$25M).

(The following Q&A has been edited for clarity.)

What is the current health of the OC tech startup ecosystem?

While there’s still an enormous amount of opportunity to make it a whole lot better, I think it’s improved significantly in the past four years. When I arrived, everyone was saying there wasn’t an ecosystem in Orange County.  But the more I started to peel it back, I found we had a marvelous ecosystem. It just wasn’t intuitive.  It was siloed and anything but collaborative – it was competitive.

One of the key things OCTANe does is help companies raise capital. As I spoke to people in New York or Boston and they asked where OCTANe is located and you say Orange County, their response was a blank stare. Their perception is, ‘I’ve driven through on my way from L.A. to San Diego. I’ve gone to Pelican Hill. I’ve stayed at the Montage and maybe been to Disneyland.’ And that’s about it.

We decided that it was important to change our thinking and elevate the entire Southern California ecosystem.  The reason is that if you look at just about any other ecosystem, it’s a metro area. The New York ecosystem – it’s not New York City alone. It includes North Jersey, Connecticut and Long Island. We were ignoring the SoCal ecosystem of L.A., Orange County and San Diego which set up barriers and competition that really didn’t need to exist.

So we created the Innovation Network of Southern California (InSoCal), a group of like-minded organizations that wanted to pull together the entire ecosystem. We are now much more engaged with San Diego and L.A.  And frankly, the thought was that if we focus on Southern California, it will be an easier lift and Orange County would likely be disproportionately elevated because of our location in the middle of the region.

Why is an integrated SoCal ecosystem beneficial to entrepreneurs and investors?

There’s enormous innovation that goes on here. When you look at Southern California in its totality and you pull in Caltech and USC, UCLA, and UCSD along with UCI, Chapman and others in OC, this is the best university ecosystem in the country. It graduates more engineers and computer scientists than any other ecosystem in the country — Southern California is No. 1, the Bay Area is No. 2.

There are roughly 66,000 undergraduate engineering students in Southern California.  There’s about 64,000 in Northern California.  The next largest ecosystems in Boston and New York graduate about 20,000. After that, the numbers drop to 7,000 and 4,000.

That’s what I think is explosive because it feeds the front end of innovation.

Who is the typical Southern California entrepreneur?

We have a different kind of entrepreneur here.  Everyone knows about the entrepreneur that comes out of college and succeeds but a very small percentage of innovation created inside a university ever makes it to commercialization.  What we often seen here are more middle-aged entrepreneurs who leave companies to start their own.

As compared to somebody that’s younger and never really had practical business experience, the more valuable entrepreneur is the one that leaves an Allergan or a Medtronic or a Broadcom who has had 20 years of practical business experience and leaves with a little bit of wealth to bootstrap a company for a year or so.  That’s an entrepreneur that’s really in our wheelhouse. If you look at our LaunchPad accelerator, I’d say probably 75% of the people that come through have spent several years working someplace first.

The older entrepreneur offers a much higher degree of credibility to investors. At the end of the day, you’re going to have confidence and trust in somebody that’s been out in the world than someone who just graduated from college. And the odds of the company’s long-term success are much higher.

What are the hottest technology sectors in the region?

The state of the technology in Southern California is in a very good place. Each area has its key competencies. There’s not a lot of crossover or competition. If you were looking to move your business to Southern California, and you are involved in deep machine learning, or biotech, you should go to San Diego. If you’re looking at ad tech media apps, you should go to L.A.  If you’re looking at medical devices, cybersecurity, FinTech, data analytics or gaming, you should be in Orange County.

Any specific industry in Orange County that OCTANe is focusing on?

At OCTANe, we’ve built a community around ophthalmology. Orange County is the epicenter of ophthalmology innovation in the world.

One reason is that a lot of the big pharma and device companies have their eyecare unit here such as Johnson & Johnson, ZEISS, Alcon, and Bausch + Lomb.  Then you have Allergan where founder Gavin Herbert created an industry for Southern California. There’s somewhere between 70 and 80 companies that have been created in the eyecare space by people who worked at Allergan. The company has been progressive in promoting this. Not that they want to lose talented individuals, but in their opinion, if somebody’s going to leave, let them start a company. Allergan can then consider investing in them for much less than it would cost doing their own R&D.  Small ‘r,’ big ‘D.’

What is your best advice for aspiring entrepreneurs?

At OCTANe, we’ve built a vibrant innovation community. However, people still don’t quite understand all the things that are available to them. People ask us which incubator or accelerator they should work with.  Our answer is – use everyone. Because most of these platforms are available on a pro bono basis, at least initially. So, if you have the opportunity to use three different entities, why not use them whether it’s us, or Eureka or UCI Applied Innovation? Draw whatever you can from each.  Chances are you’re going to find something a little bit helpful.

At the Launchpad accelerator we are staffed to work with about 40 companies a year. We start by interviewing between 350 and 400 companies. We review them very thoroughly via a predictive analytics model.  Out of those 40 startups, 86% of them end up getting funded within 15 months. We ensure a very high-quality deal for investors.

Is Social Journalism Worth the Effort?

May 17, 2019 | Blog | No Comments

In PR, we work constantly to earn the media’s attention through compelling, fact-based storytelling and interest a reporter in featuring your company in their piece.  The results can be game-changing for companies in search of visibility and credibility.

In recent years, the goal of earning media attention has been broadened to earning audience attention.  Today’s marketers, including HKA, have embraced new methods to reach audiences directly as well.  Digital marketing efforts involving a variety of tools, from email campaigns to Google ad buys, have risen in prominence.  Organic audience growth via social media content also continues apace.

An emerging area of the new marketing paradigm – social journalism – requires earning both media and audience attention.

An offshoot of ‘citizen journalism’ where amateurs go it alone online, social journalism involves platforms that feature articles from both non-professional writers and professional journalists.

Medium is the most successful example and can be a great place for emerging tech companies to expand their audience.

Developed by Twitter co-founder Evan Williams and launched in August 2012, Medium has grown to become one of the most highly trafficked sites in the world with roughly 90 million unique monthly visitors.

Medium’s goal is to be a democratic platform of good writing.  Anyone can write an article on any topic without even having to join Medium as a subscriber.  However, a team of editorial curators then decides if your article has met the site’s standards.  If it does, the article will then be displayed on the relevant topic pages assigned by the curators.  Your story will also be recommended to readers on the Medium home page, in emails to Medium users, and through the mobile apps.

If the editors feel the article has special merit (and will draw an audience), your article may be posted on relevant ‘publications’ managed by both Medium editors and outside journalists as well as independent users.  Companies that post their stories and feature the stories of others on Medium publications include Hubspot, Google and Airbnb.

Articles that aren’t promoted by the editors can be promoted via Medium’s algorithm that measures audience engagement in several areas to eliminate ‘clickbait.’  The goal is to reward content for its quality not the author’s celebrity or the company brand, or the salaciousness of the headline.  This can also raise the level of visibility of a quality article on relevant topic pages to attract more audience.

The result is that, through curation or audience support, anyone can have a story listed on the top of a topic page, or the top of the Medium home page for that matter, enabling your article (including bio and company name) to be potentially viewed and shared by millions of readers.

In my view, it’s a wonderful model that leverages the best of both worlds – articulate subject matter experts with something to say and the fact-checking, objective and non-commercial eye of journalists – to deliver what everyone wants – thoughtful, well-written and useful information.

For emerging tech companies, there are dozens of relevant categories to choose from, including data science, AI, cybersecurity, robotics and much more.  Outside links in the article to your website are allowed if they provide additional context and relevant data.

Of course, the best way to succeed on a platform that requires earning both media and audience attention is by leveraging trained journalists to develop content.  Securing favor from Medium curators, publishers and readers is not easy.  Your chances will increase immensely through the recommendations of highly trained communicators that will allow you to expand your audience, inspire shares and increase followers.

On Medium, with a commitment to quality editorial and heeding the advice of communications experts, any person or company can be on equal footing with any top journalist.

Contact HKA, comprised of former journalists, and we will help you make it happen.

Space, the Final Frontier for Women in Tech

May 10, 2019 | Blog | No Comments

We picked an opportune time to write about the burgeoning commercial space industry:  Jeff Bezos of Amazon just announced yesterday that his Blue Origin space company hopes to be shuttling astronauts to the moon and back by 2024.

Bezos is part of an exclusive club of business titans involved in the space industry that includes Elon Musk of SpaceX and Richard Branson leading Virgin Galactic.

But space is no longer the exclusive domain of government or the well-capitalized.  Cost efficiencies in rocketry and communications enabled by emerging technology is making it possible for an ecosystem of startups to arise, much of it based in the Los Angeles area where the aerospace industry has long thrived.

Companies such as Relativity and Rocket Lab are currently leading the way while the recent formation of two space industry incubator funds – the Techstars Starburst Space Accelerator and Space Ventures Coalition (SVC), a partner of the Alliance for SoCal Innovation – ensure continuing growth.

With all the exciting possibilities of the space industry, I was looking forward to attending the Women in Space Tech event in Manhattan Beach this week.  Three pioneering women from local companies joined a panel to share their experiences.

While the panelists offered inspiring personal histories and fascinating details about their everyday jobs, it was a bit disheartening to hear about their struggles with gaining respect in the still male-dominated field of aerospace engineering. Fortunately, none of the women were defeated by it and continue to persevere and succeed.

Below are brief highlights from each panelist’s discussion.

Jacqueline Ryan
Payload Uplink/Downlink Specialist for Mars Science Laboratory
NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL)

Ryan introduced herself as someone who “wakes to an alarm, goes to work and explores another planet every day.”  She is part of the team that processes images from the Mars Curiosity Rover and said the awe she feels as the first human to view the latest images of the Mars landscape “never really goes away.”

She says the Curiosity is seven-years old and tens of millions of miles away, so issues come up regularly that she and the team must figure out.  Often, Ryan said, they will model potential solutions digitally first before sending instructions to the Curiosity robotic rover.

Ryan was attracted to liberal arts most of her life but decided she might have a more rewarding career in engineering.  She focused on electrical engineering and said she was often the only woman in her classes at New York University Polytechnic.  By chance, her grandmother had visited JPL and told her that she should apply for an internship.  While only halfway through her first programming course, she was accepted.

Ryan said JPL seeks a general set of skills that can help engineers anticipate and solve a variety of unforeseen challenges.  She also said her emotional intelligence as a woman has played a key role in narrowing the focus of discussions among male engineers to expedite solutions.

Khali Cannad
Aerospace Systems Engineer
Northrop Grumman Corporation

With more than 20 years of experience in the aerospace industry, Cannad is involved in satellite operations, orbit determination, software development and verification and validation of ground systems.

Growing up, she was inspired by Space Shuttle missions and by astronaut Mae Jamison in particular, the first black woman in space. Cannad decided she wasn’t cut out to be an astronaut but wanted to be the person who has the “big picture view” and help ensure their safety at mission control.

Cannad said her ability to work well with others has been key to her success in the industry.  While initially shy in her career as the rare woman among male engineers, she learned how to gather the resources and people required to complete a project.  “Being quiet in this industry doesn’t get you anywhere,” she said.

She said as more women graduate from engineering schools, the newer crop of male engineers are generally more accepting of women in the aerospace industry.

Jacqueline Sotradis
Propulsion Design & Analysis Engineer
Virgin Orbit

Sotraidis focuses on structural design and analysis for Virgin Orbit, the satellite counterpart to Virgin Galactic’s human-based space travel plans.  She is part of the team developing LauncherOne, a service that will launch commercial and government satellites from the wings of a dedicated 747-400 carrier aircraft (Yes, you read that right). The first launch is expected sometime this year.

Sotraidis said she is still amazed when her designs are selected to go into space, often leveraging a ‘generative design’ technique that perfects a structure through many iterations via 3D printing.

Sotraidis agreed that good communications skills are critical in her field.  She said her ‘fabulous’ experience as a camp counselor has helped her effectively control and direct some of the more raucous meetings with male engineers.

While at times she has felt ‘imposter syndrome’ in her career, Sotraidis has come to realize that is a common feeling among women entering a male-dominated field.

*****

All three panelists said they like to serve as role models to younger women wanting to enter the engineering field, participating in STEM events whenever possible.

The comment from a high school junior in the audience may serve as an example of the attitude of the next generation of women in the space industry.  She told the panel she wants to be a space pilot and described her career path involving the Air Force, engineering school and commercial aviation experience.

All the panelists agreed there will be a need for commercial space pilots in the coming years and her path – and confidence – was right on target.

 

 

A Quantum Leap in Computing Is Coming

May 3, 2019 | Blog | No Comments

Trying to write a brief introduction to the field of quantum computing feels like something a quantum computer should probably tackle.  Instead, we only have my brain power to access, so my apologies in advance.

I have long been fascinated by quantum mechanics, an area of physics describing the behaviors of atoms and subatomic particles such as electrons and photons.  This is the strange, subterranean realm of nature where the laws of Newtonian physics break down.

What I hadn’t understood until I met recently with Doug Finke, editor and publisher of the Quantum Computing Report, is that we built our digital world on what’s known as ‘classical computing.’  Our entire computing infrastructure is founded upon the basic principles of physics and math discovered in the 19th century, such as electromagnetism and Boolean logic, from the lowliest bargain-priced desktop PC, to the snazziest new smartphone, to a supercomputer.

To learn more about this amazing field, I encourage you to join Doug at the next Southern California Quantum Computing Meetup in Pasadena this May 15 from 6-8 p.m.  For more information, visit: https://www.meetup.com/Southern-California-Quantum-Computing-Meetup-Group/events/260212479/

Quantum computing, on the other hand, leverages the insights of quantum physicists from the 1920s and ‘30s, including Einstein, Erwin SchrödingerWerner HeisenbergMax Born and others, to create an entirely new kind of computing.

Why go to all that trouble? The simplistic answer is to number-crunch at mind-numbing scale and speed.

Doug gave me this analogy:  Imagine you’re a traveling salesperson and you need to drive the shortest route between four cities.  Seems easy enough.  But let’s say your boss says you need to add a dozen more cities.  Then it gets more complicated and you may need to access a classical computing device to get your answer.

But what if the number of cities is a 100 or more?  Well, the variables are so great that even our best supercomputers can’t figure out the optimal solution, at least not in any amount of time that would be useful.  That’s where quantum computing comes in.

The goal of quantum computing is to leverage phenomena found at the subatomic particle level to deliver mathematical answers millions of times faster than today’s highest-performing computing systems.

One example of quantum phenomena being leveraged is known as ‘superposition.’  Classical binary computing relies upon manipulating ‘bits’ that exist in one of two states: a 0 or a 1, essentially like a switch that’s either off or on. (For example, the binary code to instruct a computer to create this single letter to appear – A – is 01000001.) In quantum computing on the other hand, information is encoded as quantum bits, or ‘qubits.’ In superposition, qubits can exist simultaneously in both states of 0 and 1 or in gradations of the two states, enabling computational “instructions” to be processed exponentially faster than binary code.

Other quantum phenomena used includes ‘entanglement’ where a pair or larger group of subatomic particles will simultaneously mimic what happens to a single entangled particle, no matter how far they are separated by distance.  Imagine two entangled photons with one located in Los Angeles and the other in New York.  In entanglement, if you measure the state of the photon in L.A., the photon in New York will instantaneously follow suit and enter the same state. (Einstein called this phenomenon “spooky action at a distance.”)  Massive numbers of entangled qubits can enable computations to be completed more rapidly.

In some ways, the quantum computing industry looks a lot like the early days of the computer industry in the 1950s. Doug said researchers are trying different ways to extract incredibly fast and accurate calculations through designs using photons, trapped ions, superconductors and other methods.  IBM is one of the furthest along with its IBM Q System One which can be accessed publicly in the cloud.  Their most advanced current system is a 20-qubit 9-cubic foot quantum computer that must be housed at a smidgen above absolute zero, or just around minus-460 degrees Fahrenheit.

Doug told me that the first quantum computer that surpasses our fastest supercomputers for certain applications (they call this reaching the “quantum advantage”) is expected within the next few years.  In addition to IBM, Google, Intel, Microsoft and a variety of other tech companies, top academic and government labs, and startups are all pursuing the quantum dream in one form or another.

Industries performing early research into quantum computing include the chemical and pharmaceutical industries where advanced computational chemistry enabled by quantum computing algorithms can help discover new materials or drugs. Other early interest includes the finance industry where quantum computing can provide new approaches to portfolio management and other functions, while the automotive industry is working on a few different use cases, including calculating the best traffic routes and finding better battery chemistry for electric vehicles.

An Orange County resident, Doug started his publication to serve as the leading source of information and analysis on the quantum computing industry for venture capitalists, startups and established companies in their efforts toward commercialization of the technology.  Doug has a long history of being at the ground floor of developing and marketing game-changing, complex technology innovations with positions at IBM and Intel during their glory days as well as with several successful startups.

While the bulk of quantum computing startups are located in several different clusters in the Bay Area, Canada, Europe and Australia, there are a few firms located here in Southern California as well, including Qulab in Los Angeles and Qubitekk near San Diego.

5G… 5G… Anyone Seen 5G?

April 26, 2019 | Blog | No Comments

5G… 5G… Anyone Seen 5G?

If I had a dollar for every time a company claimed that the advanced telecommunications network known as 5G is coming soon, my financial advisor would be doing back flips.

5G has become one of those ‘evergreen’ stories in tech where everybody wants it to be here but it never seems to arrive. Companies have over-promised on timelines for years. The fact is implementing 5G is not an easy thing.

First, what is 5G and why should you care?

5G stands for the ‘fifth generation’ upgrade to cellular networks based upon new industry standards and specifications.  5G takes advantage of previously unused radio millimeter bands in the 30 GHz to 300 GHz range. Current 4G networks operate on frequencies below 6GHz which are getting more crowded every day.  The higher frequencies of 5G have shorter wavelengths and can move more information more quickly, and there is currently very little data traffic in these new telecommunications lanes.

Designed to enhance current 4G networks rather than replace them, 5G promises to accelerate cellular data transfer speeds from 100 Mbps (megabits per second) to 20 Gbps (gigabits per second) or more.  This massive increase in bandwidth will make 5G faster than even the fastest fiber-optic cable technology, providing serious competition to cable- and telephone-based Internet service providers.

With those kinds of data speeds available, the possibilities for innovation are endless. Autonomous and connected vehicles, smart cities, smart energy grids, smart factories, robotic drones, streaming virtual and augmented reality experiences, and remote health monitoring are just a few of the areas that could be transformed by 5G.

It all sounds like a technological nirvana.  But the problem is 5G is unlike previous cellular network upgrades.  First, it’s not a widespread “coverage spectrum,” meaning 5G’s millimeter waves don’t travel far from the cell site or penetrate materials very well.  Because of these limitations, telecom companies have admitted 5G will likely never scale beyond dense urban environments.

Another issue little understood by the public is that to attain the seamless data world of 5G requires a lot of real-world infrastructure. 5G requires thousands of small antennas deployed onto cell towers, utility poles, lampposts, buildings and other public and private hardscape.  Already Los Angeles and other cities are balking at the prices the federal government has mandated they accept from the telecom industry, while some residents are protesting the intrusion of the antennas in their neighborhoods.

These challenges have slowed an already delayed rollout of 5G services across the country.  Verizon initially announced 5G capabilities in Chicago and Minneapolis (though the media had a difficult time finding the 5G data stream) and promises to expand to 20 additional cities this year.  (San Diego and Los Angeles are included but somehow Orange County has been squeezed out thus far.)

On the mobile phone front, Samsung and Verizon have partnered to market 5G-enabled smartphones in the first half of 2019.  Interestingly, Apple is moving more cautiously and says it won’t roll out its 5G phone until 2020.

Even with all these issues, the Southern California emerging tech community is moving forward to take advantage of the opportunities that will be afforded by the 5G network.  EvoNexus, a startup incubator based in Irvine, has announced a partnership with Qualcomm seeking new companies looking to deliver services via the 5G network.  Newport Beach-based startup Mondavi recently announced a system to extend the range of the 5G coverage area, while Irvine-based CellOnyx is offering a software solution that expands the cellular capacity of 5G networks.

I will avoid joining the long list of failed prognosticators regarding when 5G will finally arrive in our daily lives.  For all its potential benefits, however, I do count myself among its well-wishers.

The fire at Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris this week was a heartbreaking tragedy for the entire world.  Our hopes and best wishes go to the people of France (and around the world) that somehow this beloved, historic landmark can be successfully restored.

While the cause of the fire is still under investigation, my thoughts have been on prevention. How could a fire take down such a major historic site today and not in the 800 years since Notre Dame was built?  Where was the modern technology to ensure this didn’t happen?

The answers to these questions likely won’t be clear for some time.  However, they do bring up a prescient point about our own homes and technology.  We’re now on an unstoppable growth path for smart homes because consumers have seen real value in the security, safety and convenience enabled by home automation technology.

In the early days of the industry, from the late 1970s to the early 2000s, smart home technology was mostly relegated to dedicated early adopters and do-it-yourselfers who were willing to put up with kludgy gadgets and an unreliable network technology called X10. The joy was in the challenge of connecting and remotely controlling lights, locks, cameras and more around the home.  These brave souls created a solid consumer base for a company called Smarthome in Irvine, California.  Smarthome started the first e-commerce site dedicated to home automation products in 1995.

One of the first smart home products to capture the imagination of consumers was the Roomba, the vacuum cleaning robot, first released in 2002.  But home automation was still mostly for hobbyists for the next 10 years until the advent of the Nest.  Introduced to the market by two former Apple engineers, the Nest Learning Thermostat was a sleek, programmable, Wi-Fi-enabled thermostat that leveraged ubiquitous smart phones to control and optimize the heating and cooling of homes.

While the Nest helped educate the public on the efficiencies to be gained from home automation, there was controversy in its early days regarding claims that it reduced energy costs.  These doubts weren’t helped by recalls of the company’s next product, the Nest Protect smoke and carbon monoxide detector, when it was found the alarm feature could be easily disabled.  (Don’t worry, Nest Labs recovered and was purchased by Google for $3.2 billion in 2014.)

After the advent of the Nest products, most smart home industry observers believed the “killer app” needed for mass adoption still hadn’t arrived.  A consensus has now formed that the Ring video doorbell deserves that recognition.

There had been ‘smart’ doorbells offered by home automation providers before, but Ring creator Jamie Siminoff benefited from a convergence of several trends for his success: 1) the price of compact HD cameras had become affordable, 2) viewing HD video on smartphones had become commonplace and, 3) consumers had become concerned over the growing number of Amazon deliveries being stolen from doorsteps.

It also didn’t hurt that Ring could serve as a deterrent to burglars from trying to enter homes, while parents enjoyed receiving a video confirmation their children had returned home from school safely.

The Ring video doorbell has now become the gateway for homeowner interest in smart home products.  Many have integrated a smart thermostat like the one first marketed by Nest, as well as installed connected smoke and carbon monoxide detectors for the protection of their homes and families.  The popularity of Amazon’s Alexa and Google Home’s AI voice assistants has also led to consumers considering new ways to automate devices in the home through voice commands.

The appliance, home improvement and medical device industries are all looking to take advantage of this long sought-after consumer interest in home automation.

In some ways, Ring was the right product at the right time.  But it was the ability of a smart home product to deliver critical, real-world value of safety and security that made the difference.  All future home automation product makers should take heed.

 

 

 

How to Be a Tech Hero and Not the Villain

April 12, 2019 | Blog | No Comments

For me, the best movie villains make you hate that character for the rest of your life.

The top film villain on my list would have to be Hans Gruber from the original “Die Hard.”  For the rest of his career, I couldn’t watch Alan Rickman in anything else without connecting the actor to Hans in my mind.

A close second in movie villainhood for me is Caledon Hockley, the forever smug, privileged, murderous rich kid from “Titanic” played by actor Billy Zane.

Having appeared in his share of successful movies, Zane obviously knows how to tell a story.  That’s why I looked forward to attending his keynote titled “The Art and Science of Storytelling” at EurekaFEST in Irvine on April 6.  Afterall, he’s only villainous in character, not in person.

Zane currently runs The Convergence Lab, a technology research incubator and fund operated in partnership with Caltech’s office of Tech Transfer. The mission of his company is to build a bridge between the best scientific minds and Hollywood storytellers to help secure R&D funding and IP licensing for innovations in the fields of AI/machine learning, AR/VR, autonomous systems and more.

The actor provided a lot of sound advice to the crowd of tech entrepreneurs on navigating their way through the startup minefield.  However, the advice that resonated most for me as a professional communicator was:  In the age of the tech backlash or ‘techlash,’ it’s best to communicate the human side of your company’s story as early as possible to as many audiences as possible.

As Zane said, there is a growing apprehension in the general public regarding the tech industry these days.  People are much more wary of tech giants such as Facebook and Google in having their best interests, much less the broader interests of society, at heart.  Politicians have taken notice, and many are calling for legislation to restrict their power and influence.

Zane explained that he keeps his kids away from most current technology and content, instead having them focus on entertainment that validates common human values and bolsters the social contract.  He pointed to older Hollywood movies such as “Singin’ in the Rain” and “Chitty-Chitty Bang-Bang” that championed kindness, generosity and silliness as examples.

“The goal of our age shouldn’t be to simply build better technology,” Zane said.  “The goal should be to build better people and a better world.”

As Group Director for Technology at HKA, I couldn’t agree more.

Having represented tech companies large and small for more than two decades, I’ve seen too many tech firms, enabled by their all-too-accommodating PR agencies, get far into the weeds of their “solutions” without ever providing the all-important why.  Too often, marketers focus on telling their stories to themselves, or to a very limited number of potential early adopters, rather than the larger business community, media and society-at-large.

The key, as Zane correctly pointed out, is to “anthropomorphize” your company by being clear from the start about your motivations and aspirations.  Build a wellspring of early supporters who are cheering for your success, have them understand the people behind the technology, and show them how you will change the future for the better.

Zane said that building this goodwill early will also help your company through any “single point of failure,” and investors, partners and customers will stay with you through to the end.

To do this, you need storytellers who understand the broader human aspects of your company’s journey and how to tell a story simply.  That’s where HKA can help.  While we know tech, HKA is a generalist agency that also works with nonprofits, professional services firms and other people-focused industries.  With each client, we dig deep to find the compelling human side of their stories, and we build a narrative over time among influential audiences that leads to impactful results.

The moral of this story?  HKA can show you how to be a tech hero.

And in that vein, we should mention that Zane’s company is conducting pro bono work for Children’s Hospital Los Angeles and its Innovation Studio at the Gamifying Pediatrics Hackathon today through April 14.  The goal is to “transform pediatric healthcare through mobile games, virtual reality, augmented reality and immersive digital experiences.”