The Power of Simplicity

Hello World!

What if there was a global ID card? You know what I mean right ? Today I walked into my swanky office, swiped my ID card and the doors flapped open.

I was just wondering, if this single ID held the key to everything? Open ID to the extreme , yeah! You could vote with that card, its your voters Id card. You could also double it up as a driving license ( If you wanted to upgrade from a two wheeler license to a four wheeler, its just a database upgrade at the central db!) , it could also be your ration card ( if you still have one) , it could be the account to your multiple bank accounts, credit cards, phone bills etc.

You get the drift right?

Also the security ( and backup ) of such an important piece of real estate needs to be primal. But thats another story altogether

My Status

Human beings are social animals. Personality, mood, body language etc of a person determine the way one socializes in a group setting. However, when in person one-on-one interactions are replaced by telephonic meetings,  there is hardly any scope of finding out the other person’s mood or body language.

Caller tunes address this social void to some extent. The song or music that a user chooses to greet one’s callers, demonstrates one’s mood and personality. As a result this concept gained instant popularity among the most socially active segment of population- the youth. Once the technology had made its inroads into the market and everyone else became aware of it, it spread like wild fire across the telecom subscriber circle. Today a significant percentage of mobile phone users across the country use caller tunes.

However, a caller tune can only partially meet our needs of depicting our moods and personality. Caller tunes are static. Once selected, they remain unless again changed by the user. Moreover songs can not depict the multitude of feelings that constitute human emotions.

What if we had a tool that would automatically pick up signals from the body (ECG, EEG, Body Temperature, Hormone Levels from sweat etc.) and determine one’s mood and then update the greeting status of one’s cell phone?

And what if it also allowed users to set custom ‘availability’ status based on one’s schedule as available in instant messengers? For example one could have status like ‘busy in a meeting’, ‘with family’, ‘at home’ etc that would be available to the caller even before the call is placed. This would not only save time (and sometimes embarassment) for the caller but also for the recipient.

I don’t know when such things would be practically possible. But one thing is for sure- when it happens, I’d be one of the first to use it…

The big bang

It was a Sunday morning when the hour hand of my bedside alarm clock was just about to finish one complete revolution around the white dial.  The sun light from outside was streaming in through the partially raised Venetian blinds covering my bedroom window.

I was still lying on my bed. I could feel a severe pain pounding inside my head. Partying all weekend had its own after effects.

As I peeped out of the sides of my barely opened eyelids to catch a glimpse of the time, my heart just skipped a beat. Another day had just slipped away from my life.

I worked for a global oil and gas giant in the energy capital of the United States, Houston. I enjoyed the benefits of a fat pay package and a laid back work atmosphere that limited my work hours to a 9-80 schedule. It was apparently a scheme invented by the Houston traffic board to control traffic congestion along its freeways. However, its impacts on my life was completely different. When the rest of the world would begin its weekend celebrations with a TGIF, I started celebrating my TGI Thursdays. This particular day just happened to be on one such long weekend.

As I sat up on my bed, still rubbing my eyes, trying to gauge the impact of the hangover, I could not help but think about what I was doing with my life.  My lifestyle was the envy of my friends who still worked in India or those who were still toiling over their PhDs in the US. It pumped my heart with a feeling that could best be described as pompousness.

But not now. My head was playing tricks with me. It started spewing out questions like a freshly opened soda bottle. And all the questions boiled down to only one thing- was I happy?

Once I realized what was bothering me, I set out on my quest to find its answers hidden in the unfathomable depths of my mind. I fumbled through half forgotten memories, unfulfilled wishes and long lost prayers.

I remembered how as a teenager I would admire my dad as a man who created his own destiny. A self-made man who built a business out of nothing but sheer determination, foresight and hard work.

I remembered how I would pray in every religious function to become a successful entrepreneur, who would  make even his entrepreneur father proud for scaling heights in business that even he had never been able to reach himself.

I remembered how as a college student, I would kindle the fire of entrepreneurship among my friends when they seemed disoriented and confused- lost in the turbulent sea called career.

And I realized how I was leading my life now- choosing the option that comes easy, completely addicted to short term pleasures, completely unmindful of what I always wanted to do.

And I woke up….

Where are you?

Is it not difficult to remember every time to set vacation reply messages for your email or update your current location information on various social networking sites whenever you are traveling? about if this information was automatically updated so that your friends always knew where you were without having to inform them about it personally?

One way to do it would be to have a web-application maintaining every user’s personal profile and login information for each of his/her email and social networking profiles at one end. At the other end, one could synchronize the user’s mobile phone (that needs to have GPS) to update the location info onto the web-application.

For people who might not want to invest in an expensive GPS phone, the web-application could just note the last ip address from where the user last logged in to the world wide web  and use it to know his/her latest location on the globe.

Once the web-application has the user’s location co-ordinates, it can automatically update the info on all social networking sites as well as setup vacation replies if the user is not detected in his hometown.

Vehicle Tracking

When I searched Google for ‘vehicle tracking’, it returned over 9.5 million results in just 0.31 seconds. That is the power of Google. And that also shows how important vehicle tracking is today.

Twentieth century was the age of automobiles. Motorized vehicles gave man the capacity to cover greater distances in shorter periods of time. As a result automobiles gained popularity as the mode of choice for sending goods to distant places. However, with goods and assets traveling far and wide and in greater volumes, the need to locate the assets and to manage their supply and delivery became increasingly difficult.

Man started experimenting with various technologies available at those times to track remote vehicles and consignments. One of the first modern age methods of tracking invented was that using swipe cards.

In this method, the driver of a moving vehicle was supposed to swipe a card at different checkposts along the route of the vehicle. So as soon as a driver reached a checkpost and swiped his card, the owner of the vehicle would receive the information.

Although it seems like a simple and easy way to track vehicles, think about the infrastructure required to sustain such a system. For example, think about the number of checkposts that would need to be maintained for just one route to get movement data with sufficient granularity. So if it had to be done for several routes, the capital cost for creating such an infrastructure would significantly shoot up. Moreover this technology is very static i.e. only movement along routes where checkposts have been setup can only be tracked. If owing to business demands, a vehicle needs to travel along a new route, it would not be possible to track its movement.As a result, this technology never picked up.

Around this time, cell phones were gaining popularity as the means of communication with remote users. So people started using cell phones to call up their remote vehicles and finding out their location and status from the drivers.  However, drivers always found out plenty of opportunity to present to the owners only the information that they wanted to present, easily bypassing all other information that might be of critical importance to the owner.

This problem was like asking a student to evaluate his/her own answer script in an examination. Owners soon realized that they needed unbiased third party information on the movement and other information relating to their vehicles.

People then thought of using cell phone towers to locate a cell phone. The method is commonly known as cell phone triangulation. The method uses concepts from high school geometry- to locate a point in a plane, you need to know its distances from at least three points (equivalent to the vertices of a triangle) on that plane. So using this principle, it is possible to calculate the location of a point if its distance is known from at least three nearby cell phone towers.

Cell phone or GSM based vehicle tracking as it is usually called, seemed like a definite improvement over swipe cards based tracking.  However, this technology had its own drawbacks. The major drawback was the (non) existence of cell phone towers along all routes through which a vehicle would be traveling. The lesser number of towers that are visible to a cell phone, the more inaccurate the position estimate becomes.  And in places of no towers, no position estimate is possible. As a result, this technology could not become a fool-proof solution for remote vehicle tracking.

Towards the end of the century, the US Government opened up the use of its military satellites to consumers. This move suddenly opened up avenues for consumer technologies which were so far only restricted to military and intelligence.

Global Positioning System or GPS as it is called now allows locationing of any point on the earth’s surface. It is not limited to availability of cell phone towers. Wherever the vehicle moves on the globe, under the open sky, its location can always be found out from the satellites. It is like having an eye in the sky.

This advantage of GPS meant that it immediately replaced all existing technologies in the field of vehicle tracking. In fact today, if any one talks about vehicle tracking more than 99% of the time one implies GPS enabled vehicle tracking.

Its use is no more limited to the transport and logistics sector that saw the development of this technology. Today it is used for locating stolen vehicles,  tracking ships and yachts in the open sea, tracking children and old people, tracking wild life and plenty of other areas where location information is absolutely critical.

GPS enabled tracking is a technology of the future. The world around us is changing every fraction of a second. The location and time information of every event that brings about this breathtaking change is a power whose full potential we are yet to harness.

As we try to figure out how to use this power, it is the responsibility of companies like ours to create and build technologies to help people collect and eventually analyze this information.