24 February 2010


I was poking around a few days ago for stories on RFID; I've been interested in the technology for about a year, and am really into the ways that so many different industries have experimented with it in making operations & the exchange of information more efficient. (If you haven't heard of Songdo yet, your mind will shatter to pieces. Mine is still recovering, 14 months later).

What I found was pretty awesome: this new technology called Energy-Harvesting Active Networked Tags (or, EnHANTs) that does just that: harvests energy and communicates information. A team at Columbia University is working on this flexible chip that harvests energy from things like the sun and movement, and communicates with other wireless devices using this power. We've all been hearing about harvesting energy to power small electronics for a couple of years; this is the same kind of thing, but in very tiny form, and with communications capabilities. It's getting a lot of attention right now because it won a Vodafone contest that was searching for new ways wireless technology could be used in times of global crisis. The EnHANTs team's project for the contest is called Active Networked Tags for Disaster Recovery Applications, and deals with using these flexible, energy-harvesting chips in places where buildings are prone to fire or collapse. If something terrible happens and a building collapses, the chips could assess the area and communicate with rescue workers on their wireless devices. From an interview:
The system will be designed to enable the rescue forces to get a good understanding of the situation within a disaster site. In particular, the tags will be carried by people within the building and embedded in the infrastructure. In case of emergency, the tags will construct a network. This network will be used in order to transmit information (e.g., last known location of a survivor) from the survivors to receivers that will be deployed by the rescue forces around the disaster site. The multi-hop nature of the network will enable rescuers to obtain information from survivors that are relatively far from the receivers without depleting their energy resources.
Now that is pretty wonderful! And it gave me an idea. Remember the thing I mentioned in my butterfly article about sensors that can detect harmful vapors in the air? Radislav and the gang over at GE are working on these sensors; wouldn't it be great if they could combine this wearable RFID technology with the EnHANTs to add atmospheric monitoring capabilities? If there are harmful gases in the air, for example, this added functionality could help rescue workers mobilize accordingly (and even help keep them safe as well). I'm no engineer, but couldn't this be possible?

Anyway. Once this technology is ready to go, it will only be a matter of (several) months or (a few) years until a bunch of other industries begin using it to solve all sorts of problems. Let's just say I don't think the pronunciation of the acronym EnHANTs was an accident ;)

17 February 2010

Social Behavior is not new

My friend Marisa recently wrote a post over on her Tumblr called Our digital stone age and why we need to trust our intuition. It might seem a little strange at first to liken digital communications – a discipline that is so new that we laugh at head hunters who tell us they're looking for someone with 10 years of experience in it – to the stone age. In her post, she is referring to the fact that motivations and behaviors across digital channels are examined and pontificated on as if they are completely new sets of behaviors that we have never seen before. In some ways, they are new, since new platforms are popping up every day that serve different purposes for different types of information and relationships between people.


But the fundamentals of social behavior online shouldn't be that surprising to us, because they are rooted in a long heritage (as in, centuries old) of group behaviors.
…Passing down social rules of thumb from generation to generation is again NOT rocket science. It is social wisdom, it is the intuitive force that creates culture. “Digital” or “Online” or “Media” are no excuse for us to completely lose what millions of years have taught us about how to interact, create, live. We are humans, we already have culture; the digital world is not separate from this culture, and so this new digital chapter should be informed by the previous “real life” chapter, treating it as the foundation that it is.

In order to achieve this we need to look backwards and internally before we look forwards and externally. We need to trust our pre-existing social intuition to inform our digital tools. We need to innovate based upon what we already know about human interactions, community structure, relationships. We need to rely on this intuitive social knowledge to be smarter and more innovative about our “digital” selves. As brands, civilizations, humans.
This is one of those things that is so true that I don't know why more people haven't called out the "social media experts" sooner, Emperor's New Clothes style.

It's turning out that this subset of communications I've found myself in is helping me pull from my Social Cognition background a lot more than when I started my career as a Strategic Planner. It kind of intuitively makes sense to me, since a lot of Strategic Planning (the work I did in it, at least) had more to do with individual behaviors and motivations, while observing people across digital channels is more about group behavior. It's one of those common sense things, but not one that I might have necessarily thought about before. In either case, I love that I'm seeing more and more people pull from these principles and apply them to this business. It only makes sense, right?
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