- We've had a blurb on our website for awhile that says we're not the team to restyle a toaster for the latest trend, so we appreciated this account of how good design (based in function, understanding of user behaviors and pain points) contributes to making a toaster something more than just aesthetically in fashion. In this case it's a feature called "a bit more" that cooks whatever you're toasting just a little more. It's a simple problem solved in a simple way: no apps, no timer display screen, no internet connection required. It is technology not for technology's sake, but genuinely in the service of the person using it.
Machines for Moving:
- Self-driving cars have some degree of spatial "awareness" but don't have any ability to make perceptual judgments, leading to situations where they can be deceived by something like a 2D image of a cyclist. Having a suite of different sensor types helps to mitigate this trompe l'oeil scenario, but there are concerns about how well they can deal with real cyclists, where movement, behavior and shape is much more fluid, which makes reliable detection difficult. One proposed solution is to add devices to bikes so that they can "talk" to autonomous cars, but for many cyclists that's a solution that is too cumbersome and costly to be acceptable for many city-dwellers.
- A solid article on how technology companies (once disruptive startups themselves) have developed powerful systems to stave off challengers, either through well-timed R&D funded with their deep pockets, or aggressive acquisition strategies to consolidate power. This isn't necessarily bad for startups- they may have better odds to cash out quickly, but it's likely bad for customers/end users, who find themselves in a market with prolonged periods of reduced choice.
- AlphaBay and Hansa Market, two large marketplaces on the "Dark Web" were shut down after a federal operation wrapped up and key operators of the platforms were arrested. According to reports on the sweep, AlphaBay had accumulated around 200,000 users and 40,000 vendors, making it about ten times larger than The Silk Road marketplace that was shut down in 2013.
- A company is Wisconsin is slated to be the first U.S. company to implement microchipping of workers. A spokesperson for the company is quoted as saying "It's the next thing that's inevitably going to happen, and we want to be a part of it." While this is a voluntary procedure, the fraught history of U.S. employer-labor relations and statements about "inevitability" should make people wary of such invasive, semi-permanent modifications to the body being part and parcel of jobs. When you end your workday and clock out, your body should go back to being yours alone - it seems hard to say that anything other than that arrangement should be viewed as an acceptable inevitability. The bottom line on the current generation cyborg bio-hacks is that they actually provide very little utility to the individual, while providing big privacy risks that would only benefit an aggregator of such information.
- We're all producing and consuming more plastic than ever before, with as much plastic waste created between 2002 and 2015 as was made between 1950 and 2002. The biggest culprit seems to be packaging: water bottles, individually wrapped snacks, soaps, and so on. In the face of such a massive scale of waste, recycling does little to stem the tide. Only serious efforts focused reduction could make a dent in the problem. It's a reminder that most of the marketing promises around 'convenience' are really just shifting problems down the road. Designers and engineers should think long and hard on exactly what is at stake when they bring a product into the world.