- Kyle Chayka on Allbirds, Everlane, and other blasé Silicon Valley brands reflecting the casually affluent and white-collarless world that produced them: "Allbirds’s glorified slippers are most useful if all you do is pad around an office all day, and even then you should still avoid inclement weather. They’ll support your feet for a few hours at a standing desk but not a service job. The informal style of Entireworld would be great for an L.A. creative director but not if your job has an actual dress code. The innate exclusivity is wrapped in a veneer of non-exclusivity. Functionalism is affected but not enacted. It echoes how digital platforms like Facebook, Uber, and Airbnb are meant to be democratic—anyone with an internet connection can use them—but in practice they work in very different ways for different users, benefitting some and excluding or exploiting others."
- IBM's design history as represented through posters and typography.
- Understanding the history of your industry, and the companies that came (and collapsed) before, greatly increases the chances of finding the unique recipe that will make it possible to survive long enough to make an impact.
- A look at what product-market fit wayfinding looks like in a robotics startup. We've worked with a number of robotics startups over the years, for both consumer and industrial applications. In some ways, industrial robots resemble appliances: they are given particular controlled contexts, and very specific jobs to do. Consumer robots on the other hand, operate with the expectation of being able to handle a weirder, wider array of scenarios and spaces, all without skilled technicians to set them up or maintain them. Add to that the pricing pressures on consumer products, and the opportunity space shrinks down to a tiny sliver. To succeed within that sliver is very nearly a magic trick, requiring shrewd engineering, brilliant marketing, thoughtful design, and as with all things, a good deal of timing and luck.
- Grasping is among the technical hurdles preventing more useful robots from entering complex and constantly changing environments like the home, though the field is progressing quickly towards greater gripping capabilities and comprehensive modeling of how objects exist and move in the world. For now, the costs of the combined vision, computing, and mechanical grasping systems are above the consumer level threshold, instead serving industries like warehouse fulfillment and food packing.
- An article from the Boston Globe on the freshly made meal food-vending startup Spyce. The author writes of "robots making meals" though that's a vast overstatement of what is really happening. Such linguistic simplification on behalf of eager technologists isn't just inaccurate, it's an act of erasure for the real, very human labor toiling behind the curtain. In the case of Spyce, the food is picked, cleaned, sorted, and cut by human hands before it reaches the automated hoppers that then combine, heat, and dispense. Put into a more complete context, the robots are not so magical. The smoke-and-mirrors show here resembles the broader branding mirage common to top-tier restaurants and tech companies alike: one or more prominent (usually white, usually male, usually affluent) individuals act as the public-facing symbol of bold, brand new innovation while behind the scenes the products (whether gourmet meals or slick smartphones) are only possible because of the many skilled hands (often of color, often female, often underpaid) performing the substance of the work itself.
Roadmapping the Future:
- A wide-ranging story on vaping, teen culture, the startups challenging the gigantic tobacco industry, and a bit of history on smoking in general. The anecdote of teenagers buying vapes wholesale on Alibaba with pre-paid debit cards and then hawking them via sales promoted through Snapchat feels like a hyper-capitalist, U.S. flavor of cyberpunk come true—a profitable hustle by young people as clever as they are aware, nihilism delivered complete with CGI dancing hot dogs, exchanging wry imagery as the world heads towards disaster through no fault of their own. When the world burns, might as well make that money, might as well vape.
- While citizens of wealthy nations enjoy bespoke medical implants or fantasize about augmented reality futures and cyborg upgrades, much of the world gets by without even the most basic of assistive technologies. The New York Times describes the huge impact that bringing glasses to people living in poverty around the world can have, and some of the technologies that are making it easier to diagnose and treat impaired vision.