Tag Archives: thane ritchie

Mar 30

Whether for home solar panels or electric vehicles, it’s common for governments to offer consumers subsidies for buying and using sustainable products. Unfortunately, it’s an imperfect process: given the uncertainty of market demands, it’s difficult to project numbers that correlate accurately with sales.

Why settle for inaccurate, ineffective subsidies? Shouldn’t there be a better way to calculate them? The short answer is yes, and a new paper by MIT researchers sought to find out how. The paper shows that governments are likely to make subsidies too low due to market uncertainty, and ways in which it can be improved. Their intention was to design a better way to back clean technology.

The paper, co-authored by doctors and professors Georgia Perakis, Maxime C. Cohen, and Ruben Lobel, is called “The Impact of Demand Uncertainty on Consumer Subsidies for Green Technology Adoption.” It was published online by Management Science.

Governments typically provide subsidies based on overall adoption targets: the number of products they’d like to see adopted over a period of time, rather than a realistic projection. Since cleantech products are usually new, it’s hard to know whether the demand will be huge or non-existent without a crystal ball.

Higher subsidies?

To figure out better model for subsidies, the project examined existing products and their subsidy levels to determine whether the subsidy was effective. They concluded that in most cases, the subsidy should have been as much as five times higher to kickstart sales.

Higher subsidies, the authors say, is critical for cleantech product launches because it helps sell products faster and at a higher volume. These increased subsidies should pay for themselves, they say, because of the estimated savings in the larger context by preventing environmental damage and the costs associated.

The paper found that higher subsidies would drive the adoption of green technologies in their early stages, spurring their growth. As sales grow, the subsidy level could be adjusted accordingly.

The research has been called “important and timely” by experts, but not all are on the side of subsidies for innovation. Subsidies, the contrarians say, can put undue strain on government finances and are unable to respond to market changes, which can lose investors money. Still, I remain optimistic about overall adoption of new clean technologies: if there is value in subsidies for the earth and for consumers, and accuracy is prioritized, it’s a win-win scenario.

Featured image: Tony Hall via Flickr

Feb 9

When the largest game of the year is hosted in California’s Bay Area, you can expect the NFL to get a little help from the locals: Silicon Valley tech giants. This year’s game, as the 50th Super Bowl, was an important anniversary worthy of showcasing the latest specs in technology. From the stadium, to the halftime performance, to the athletic gear, #SuperBowl50 did not hold back.

As it happened, the game itself wasn’t much to brag about. The Denver Broncos beat the Carolina Panthers 24 to 10 in a monotonous display of good defense, which though a feat for Peyton Manning did not make for exciting viewership. Luckily, there’s so much more to the Super Bowl these days than touchdowns and field goals. What lacks in the match can be made up for by the digital fan experience, both onscreen and behind the scenes. This year, boundaries were broken in both the delivery and the message of technology at its finest.

The support

The spectrum of Super Bowl 50’s technology didn’t begin and end on February 7th in San Francisco. Rather, it was many months in the making, with preparation taking up a huge portion of technological real estate, so to speak.

The Super Bowl Host Committee is largely responsible for ensuring these preparations come together smoothly in the weeks leading up to the game. This year, the committee’s CEO Keith Bruce emphasized that first and foremost, Super Bowl 50 would be all the about the tech.

“Our goal was to be the most technologically advanced Super Bowl ever,” Bruce said. “We’re at the center of the digital economy of the world, home to a lot of the stalwarts of tech, and we thought we should embrace that.”

Software and tech companies needed very little urging to get on board with this mission. Transportation came via Google’s commuter fleet and Uber on-demand, while laptops, phones and other equipment were provided by Apple. Google also helped develop the Road to 50 app, a virtual guidebook to the event, which fans could use to order food to their seats enjoy other perks.

With the help of Verizon and other providers, Levi’s stadium fully equipped with 400 miles of fiber optic cable, 1,200 wifi access points and 1,700 BlueTooth beacons to keep fans connected at all times. All in all, the committee raised $50 million from corporate sponsors to hold Super Bowl 50 to the highest of standards, worthy the sport’s 50 year mark and the region’s technology prowess.

The specs

Beyond sponsorships, the fun continues from all angles. Super Bowl 50 featured camera technology was at its finest: the EyeVision 360 displayed a 360 view of the stadium streamed from 36 cameras around the venue, while the debut of the Pylon Cam placed 16 cameras in end zones to film goal line sand sidelines, aiding officials in making tough calls. Athletic gear has advanced over the years as well — this year, players donned state of the art gear with RFID tracking in their shoulder pads.

Behind the scenes, there’s also advanced cyber security to take into account. Following terror attacks in Paris and San Bernardino, the biggest American sporting event of the year took no chances with security — luckily, and they had the technology available to make it an utmost priority. Though FBI declined to reveal their measures in full detail, we do know that disarming robots, helicopters, military jets were on standby.

Perhaps the greatest security measure, though, was surveillance. With over 600 cameras and an advanced scanning system that aggregated threats from the ground, sky, and social media, streams of real-time data were analyzed by agents at a Joint Operations center at an undisclosed location.

The social

Social networking continues to be an enormous boon for brands and fans alike. The “second screen” experience, which allows live tweets and commentary from anyone with a device, proved successful once more: it’s is the ultimate augmentation of the Super Bowl, maximizing engagement in and out of the stadium.

Since the game wasn’t stirring up huge excitement in and of itself, we can thank our lucky stars for the halftime performance, which generated significant buzz online. Halftime shows often feature high-tech spectacles: for example, the mechanical cat ridden by Katy Perry last year, which was somehow overshadowed by the antics of Left Shark.

This year, Coldplay lead a technicolor display complete with interactive light-up LED wristbands, video walls, lasers and light-up inflatable balls. But as if proving technology for technology’s sake is bound to fall flat, it was Beyonce that stole the show with the performance of her brand-new song “Formation.” Together, Beyonce, Chris Martin and Bruno Mars evoked themes ranging from LGBT pride to African American empowerment, making the show as politically charged as it was electronically.

All in all, fans of the Broncos, Beyonce, and technology should be pleased with Super Bowl 50. And for those still unsatisfied, there are only seven more months until football season starts up again, with the power of a million screens and screams close behind.

Featured image: duluoz cats via Flickr

Jan 28

In the aftermath of a winter storm that mercilessly slammed DC to NYC this past weekend, severe weather is on the minds and lawns of many Americans this winter. Mother nature can be an unforgiving force in all regions and seasons: whether she manifests as a sizzling drought or blizzard of the ages, humans are left to scramble for safety with emergency supplies and stockpiles of canned goods. Too often, severe weather events lead to injuries, deaths, and costly damages to property and infrastructure.

Living on a planet with a weather cycle and plate tectonics comes with its inherent risks, and that’s not to mention the severe weather events that climate instability could result in. Regardless of cause, humanity is lucky in the sense that we’re better able to predict, prepare, and stay safe under dangerous conditions. This is largely due to the advancement of weather, disaster relief, and rescue technology.

Extreme weather and other natural disasters can now be detected early on, meaning you’re unlikely to have a typhoon sneak up on you reading Kafka on the beach. It’s thanks to technology that this early and accurate forecasting is possible: for decades, doppler radar, observation tools and computer calculations have been utilized to generate weather predictions. The improvement of these tools along with the addition of weather satellites has upped the accuracy of forecasting over time.

The improvement of forecast technology has been instrumental in the implementation of weather alerts and other types of notifications that help people prepare for harsh weather. Tools like the American Red Cross’ DigiDoc send mass alerts to people in affected areas; most of smartphone owners in the US have built-in alerts that warn of flash floods and other weather-related dangers. Sometimes these may seem superfluous — if it’s raining hard, you probably don’t need a text to tell you — but if the weather event is something like a tornado, these alerts can save lives.

There’s also new technology that allows people to stay connected and safe both during and after severe weather events. Facebook recently released a tool called “Safety Check” that lets people in disaster-affected areas check-in to let their friends know they are safe. But technology goes beyond even this — survivors can alert emergency responders with their mobile phones, sometimes even without Internet connection, for example, through mesh networks like the Serval Project. There are also many emergency and survival apps that work with or without wifi and cell service.

For those in need of emergency relief, rescue and assistance has improved tremendously over the years as well. From drone supply deliveries to rescue robots and radar search tools, individuals at risk can be located, supplied, and ultimately rescued from unsafe areas — whether from flooded homes or piles of rubble.

It’s a relief to know that through the blizzards of today and the quakes of tomorrow, the probability of safety and survival is greater thanks to intelligent minds and effective technology. While we’ve no way yet to change or control the weather all together, the ability to detect danger and avoid harm is a bright spot in a stormy sky, capable of saving millions of lives (and dollars) each year.

Featured Image: NASA GSFC via Flickr. 

Dec 11

There are all types of methods, used and abused by human beings, that have stunning effects on athletic performance. Steroids, widely banned, have the ability to make athletes better, faster and stronger — nonetheless, such drugs are largely illegal for ethical and medical reasons.

In the meantime, the concept of the human body as a machine that can be tweaked and optimized is gaining traction thanks to advancements in science and technology. But the world of sports remains committed to the all-natural athlete, despite the fact that this ideal no longer exists. Today’s athletes are aided by special uniforms, technological training, nutritional supplements — and, in spite of regulators’ best efforts — new types of doping methods that are difficult to ban and impossible to trace.

It may seem odd that athletes are expected to adhere to primitive standards of excellence while the rest of the world embraces technological advancement, unhindered. Drug bans in the name of health and fairness make sense, but steroids are not the only way athletes can boost their performance. Safer and stranger modern innovations exist — the use of which some term “tech doping.” These futuristic methods don’t always fall under the realm of cheating, but some may toe the line.

Tracking and perfecting


Sans drugs, there are many ways athletes can (and do) fine tune their bodies to near super-human results. Perhaps the simplest and least controversial way involves technology that tracks performance for valuable insight on what drives successes and failures. With proper data, the athletic achievements can be replicated, mistakes reduced and overall performance improved.

Today’s athletes can swallow pills that monitor core temperature, wear sensors that track movement, and attach devices that record video and statistics. The wealth of information yielded by this technology can help athletes (along with their coaches and trainers) understand their performances and tweak their technique accordingly.

And it gets more advanced: athletes that digitally track their eye movements are able to discover which retinal fixations (and corresponding cognitive functions) correlate with success. This isn’t cheating, but it’s not natural either. Understanding the body and the brain this intimately would not be possible without the breadth of technology we use today to obtain and harness information.

Uniforms and equipment


Can high-tech sportswear constitute as cheating? Apparently so: ultrasonically welded swimwear by Speedo was determined to have artificially enhanced athletic performance in the 2008 Olympics, after which the high-tech swimsuits were banned. There is little reason to believe that cutting edge shoes, outfits and equipment couldn’t, in time, give athletes a similar edge on land.

Already, today’s athletes benefit from lightweight, sweat-resistant sportswear that boosts performance by minimizing hindrances like weight and heat. NFL quarterbacks have in-helmet speakers, Olympians have bobsleds made of carbon fiber, and speed skaters wear suits that reduce drag. Is this cheating? Some think it comes close, or at the very least gives certain athletes unfair advantages.

The big issue here has a lot to do with resources, or the lack thereof. When the quality of equipment and sportswear dependant on a team or nation’s money flow, it’s little wonder wealth and wins so often go hand in hand.

Techy Training

Screen Shot 2015-12-14 at 3.51.49 PM

The optimization of body and brain isn’t only done through careful tracking, but physically altering the way an athlete thinks, moves and acts in prep time.

A system called Neurotopia is one of such methods used by Football players for brain training and stimulation. Through this technology, athletes can train their brains to influence physiological processes that amplify their performance. The machine lets its user play a game with their mind in which lively mental focus is rewarded, and low focus punished. If used correctly and often, the player’s brain will optimize performance for rewards outside of the machine, too.

And speaking of science fiction-style training: athletes have experimented with all types of equipment — like pods that simulate exercising, and altitude chambers that replicate low-oxygen conditions — all for improved metabolism and endurance. They may also have highly-engineered diets, workout routines and therapies to ensure their brains and bodies are fine tuned to perform under pressure.

Training has always been key to success, but it’s only recently that advanced technology, science and metrics have become this valuable, and in some cases manipulative of mind and body. When these innovations become mainstream, the athletic training montages in sports movies like Rocky will seem crude and prehistoric.

Health and wellbeing

One of the biggest boons to athletes is the likelihood of injury, and the lasting impacts of, well, impacts. Luckily, there are emerging innovations that help prevent athletes from getting hurt, or ensure quick and effective treatment when they do. With athlete safety more scrutinized than ever, preserving bodies and careers is a priority for those in the sports tech industry.

Recently, various types of wearable technology have been used to detect high-impact collisions and other injuries so that medical treatment can be undergone right away. Gear is designed to be protective, with highly-engineered fits that support moving bodies and prevent injury. Head trauma may soon be able to be diagnosed on the sidelines with advanced spit and blood tests.

On top of this, athletes may soon benefit from a scientific feats that make them even better functioning than the normal human. For example, a cooling glove that eases muscle fatigue and produces results equal to steroids, supplements and cryotherapy to enhance athletic recovery, or even genetic engineering for built-in athletic strength.

What’s next?

Put all of these together, and we arguably have athletes that are better, stronger and faster as a direct result of science and technology. Today’s athletes are not natural at all, and it’s not a bad thing — some might even call it an inevitability.

When it comes to cheating, it will be difficult to know where the line should be drawn. Even with regulations in place, many athletes continue to quietly partake in performance enhancement drugs undetected. Some argue that sports would be better off allowing steroid use — transparently and with and medical advisement — than to let it continue in the shadows. As for “tech doping,” it’s also a sticky issue. As long as the playing field is unequal, players with money and science on their side will likely keep the upper hand.

The same goes for safety. Though many technological innovations protect athletes, not all teams can afford the standard let alone the extras. Winning almost always trumps safety, and only rigorous and long-term research will tell if emerging performance enhancement methods are truly sound.

At some point, fans, athletes and others in the industry will have to acknowledge the implications of these advancements, and decide: Can we equal the playing field? Do we allow enhancements of some kinds, and not others? Or none at all? Will we embrace the super-athlete, or decide natural is better after all? Whatever the case, I hope decisions are mindful of both athlete well-being and the potential of tech to transform sports as we know them.

Nov 20

What happens when you put two teams decked head-to-toe in green and red on one football field? Thousands of fans seeing nothing but gray.

NFL sponsor Nike’s Color Rush initiative did just that during a game between the Buffalo Bills and the New York Jets on Thursday, November 12. The uniform designs, intended to be a “bold new look” celebrating the 50th year of football on color TV, ended up worse than black and white for color blind spectators.

It appears that Nike forgot to consider just how common color blindness is: one in twelve men have it, along with .5 percent of women. Without any other visual cues, the Bills’ red suits and the Jets’ green ones were nearly identical to many. NFL uniforms are typically distinguished not only by team colors, but by featuring one team fully or partially in white.

Because colorblind folks have the most trouble with reds and greens, it didn’t help that the Bills and Jets were decked out in bright holiday colors. They may have well been watching a homogeneous 22 person team in monochromatic spandex. I guess five decades of color TV is enough time to forget that some people don’t have the retinal cone cells, no matter the quality of their television.

Even the Bills’ head coach, Rex Roy, was confused. “I look out there and my team’s in red. Blue, I might have had a chance,” he said. “But I’m like, ‘Who are they? Oh shoot, that’s us. So, it’s different.” The NFL called it a Christmas-tinged nightmare, though it was obviously porridge-tinged for some.

As for fans without vision impairment, they haven’t reacted all too positively to the look either. Football fans aren’t known for their mild manners any more than New Yorkers are, and there’s a 100% particular overlap in this case. Twitter exploded with complaints and jokes, as Twitter is wont to do, with players compared to power rangers, gummy bears and Christmas ornaments.

The Color Rush initiative is meant to honor each franchise by combining current and historic team colors in unique and bold uniforms, which each of the 32 teams will don during Thursday night games. Fortunately, Nike now knows that there are other factors than pomp and circumstance to take into consideration while testing new uniform designs.

Nov 16

As I’ve touched on before, wearable technology is bringing new and astounding changes to the world of sports. Wearable tech can improve player safety, team visibility, call efficiency and so much more. In other words, it’s a game changer — literally.

Some wearable technology is already used by athletes, but when it comes to imagining what the future could hold, the sky’s the limit. Brilliant hypothetical designs can demonstrate the potential of wearable technology to improve sports like soccer, rugby and football. Some may even be useful for non-athletes as well.

The following concepts (by Bwin via CNET) imagine how athletes’ outfits will look and function in the future. I don’t know about you, but I’m looking forward to seeing these innovations in action on fields, courts, and rinks across the globe someday.

1. Offside lights & watches

Screen Shot 2015-11-10 at 2.11.28 PM

It can be difficult for everyone — including referees — to tell when athletes are out of bounds. With light-up offside indicators, flexible LED displays would flash on players’ outfits when they’ve crossed a boundary. This can minimize and even eliminate human error, or worse, cheating — the lights don’t lie.

GoalControl is one organization already focused on clarifying boundaries through wearable technology. In this case, the referee would have the wearable: a watch that displays real-time data based on camera footage so refs can make more accurate calls.

2. Player cameras

Screen Shot 2015-11-10 at 2.11.40 PM

Speaking of footage, imagine getting a view of a game from your favorite athlete’s perspective. With wearable cameras like GoPros in use commercially, it’s feasible that similar devices could be embedded into athlete uniforms, assuming the rules would allow it.

Already, wearable technology like Google Glass has been used to record behind-the-scene or even on-the-scene footage at sports events by both reporters and athletes. In the future, POV footage could give viewers a unique perspective of the game, while giving sports organizations a brand new product to broadcast or sell.

3. Wearable ads & statistics

Screen Shot 2015-11-10 at 2.11.49 PM

Advertising is a huge part of professional sports, as is evidenced by Super Bowl commercials, corporate sponsorships, on-site activations and more. Flexible LED displays could theoretically turn an athlete’s uniform into another screen for brand promotions.

LED ad outfits are unlikely to become the standard anytime soon, least of all in the United States. Though sports teams globally have long brandished the names of sponsors on their jerseys, it’s one of the only spaces the “big four” professional American leagues won’t advertise on.

Alternatively, LED textiles could display player statistics on their jerseys so fans can peek at the data without doing additional research.

4. LED visibility outfits

Screen Shot 2015-11-10 at 2.11.57 PM

When the weather’s bad, it’s not just moisture that makes sporting events unpleasant: bad visibility can be physically dangerous for players and bothersome for fans. High-visibility textiles, which light up in bad weather, could remedy this issue.

Though some kinds of high-visibility gear already exists, even the brightest neons won’t be of much use at night in the rain. Apparel embedded with flexible LED technology would be the ideal solution, but only if it can be powered effectively without adding extra weight.

5. Built in generators

Screen Shot 2015-11-10 at 2.12.12 PM

So how are the sports outfits of the future powered? Since clunky batteries would weigh down wearable electronics, the best solution may be battery-free: specifically, outfits could be charged with kinetic energy generated by the players’ movements.

There are a number of wearable electronics that are self-powering, some through body heat, others through body movement or even human blood. For athletes, running and jumping could someday be efficient enough to power at least some of their high-tech wearables.

6. Impact visualizers

Screen Shot 2015-11-10 at 2.12.50 PM

Lastly, here’s one type of wearable that is already making waves in American football: the impact visualizer, which (in this design) changes colors when a player takes a hit. An outfit with this kind of tech built in could flash green, amber, or red to alert referees and doctors when a player needs medical attention or a break.

Impact sensors have already been embedded into helmets, mouth guards and chin straps to measure the force and duration of collisions players endure. The hope is that recognizing severe impacts right when they occur can help athletes get treated as soon as possible, minimize suffering and long-term side effects, and prevent further dangerous incidents.