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Are you a frictioneer?

The driver for both consumers and businesses today is the insatiable demand for frictionless experiences. Every time one client experiences a dropped call, a delay in delivery, or anything else that potentially wastes their time and energy, they experience friction. The same logic applies internally, writes SACHA MATULOVICH, Marketing Director at Connection Telecom.

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For just a moment, think back to how businesses functioned only a few short years ago. The cloud, for instance, was still in its infancy, which meant that physical hardware was very much necessary. Server rooms were a prerequisite, company networks needed complicated infrastructure setup, and other bits and bobs of technology were required for an organisation to merely operate and remain competitive. 

Today, however, we are lucky enough to operate in a more seamless environment; one that comes with far less complications, fewer hassles, and, ultimately, minimal friction. In fact, what drives both consumers and businesses today is just that – the insatiable demand for frictionless experiences. 

Think about it in the context of your own business. Every time one of your clients experiences a dropped call, a delay in delivery, or anything else that potentially wastes their time and energy, they experience friction. The same logic applies internally. If an employee has tech issues to the point where their productivity is hindered, even if only slightly, they too are facing a form of friction. 

To remedy these, and countless other instances of resistance, business leaders need to view their organisation through a new lens. They should take a closer look at their customer experience, for example, and ask themselves, “How can I minimise existing friction?” and “How can I create more frictionless experiences?” To answer both questions effectively, the following three laws of frictioneering should be considered.

1. The law of the lazy mind

Thinking requires lots of energy. When faced with a challenge, the mind has evolved to automatically seek the lowest-friction solution.

In his bestselling book, Thinking, Fast and Slow, the author, Daniel Kahneman, notes, “…one of [the mind’s] main characteristics is laziness, a reluctance to invest more effort than is strictly necessary.” This represents human nature in general and is absolutely true with regards to customers and who they choose to do business with. 

Think about it. The moment you present your clients with a bulky contract they need to read, or forms they need to fill out, sign, scan, email, and more, you are creating friction. As humans, we are biologically, chemically and electrically wired to find the easiest route possible. If your customer finds a competitor who seemingly offers a similar solution to the problem at hand, and can do it for them faster with less hurdles, chances are they’ll make the move without so much as a second of hesitation. Why would they choose you, and all your operational complications, when they could have access to the same product or service without having to expend more precious mental than is absolutely necessary? 

2. The law of visible and invisible friction

Friction starts out invisible and is tolerated unconsciously by the market. But once this invisible friction is discovered, it becomes real. If significant friction is removed very quickly, “disruption” can occur. 

The gist of the second law of frictioneering is this: the moment a new innovation or experience is created, it delights and wows customers. All too soon, though, this practice or service becomes the norm, and customer expectations shift once more. Technology within your own business can illustrate this perfectly. As we’ve already touched on above, consider the impact of the cloud on day-to-day operations. Before this innovation penetrated every industry, there were invisible frictions we all tolerated – slow scalability, cumbersome infrastructure setup, and more. Now, however, we take the cloud for granted, and we certainly can’t go back to working without it. 

So, what can business leaders take away from this law then? How can it be used to better their own organisation? The best place to start, is by trying to identify frictions that we are unaware of, that can potentially be reduced, or even removed. 

Uber is the perfect, well-touted example in this regard. By removing the invisible friction that surrounded the act of organising, directing and paying a taxi Uber created a relatively frictionless path for users. The differential in friction between the old and the new was significant enough that customers couldn’t resist flowing into the new-normal, and thus, this sector was disrupted. 

3. The law of utilisation over invention

There is an abundance of friction in the system. There is also an abundance of appropriate tools available. Frictioneers should utilise today’s tools to remove today’s friction and avoid the “invention trap.” 

Today, far too many people are trying to reinvent the wheel, and this can sometimes have the adverse effect of creating more friction, as opposed to eliminating it. It’s completely unnecessary, given that disruption and innovation can happen with the tools we already have at our disposal – like microservices, cloud services and digital partnerships. 

Instead of assuming the role of inventors to combat friction, we should rather focus on becoming exceptional integrators. In his address at Singularity University Johannesburg, Larry Keely explained that out of the fourteen components that make up Uber’s tech stack, not a single one is proprietary. And at Airbnb, only seven of the fifty-seven components in their tech stack are proprietary. This means that today, if one has sufficient integration, and front end development capabilities you could essentially build something that does what these two organisations do, by simply licensing and integrating tools that are already available. Now, imagine what could be built on top of your existing business. 

A world without friction

With these three laws in mind, you should now be better equipped to identify any friction your organisation may be experiencing, and generating, both internally and externally. All that’s left to do now is figure out how to tackle every instance. 

To set you on the right path, over and above the questions we posed right at the start, you should also look at answering the following: 

•Where are the obvious friction points in my customer journey?

•What fear or threat were we addressing when we created this friction?

•Does this threat still exist? 

•How probable and how material is it?

•What value could I create for my customers and for my business by removing this friction? 

•How can I use existing tools to reduce the friction?

Figure those out and you’ll be well on your way to making your business a frictionless one. 

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Why your first self-driving car ride will be in a robotaxi

Autonomous driving will take longer than we expect, and involve less ownership than the industry would like, writes Intel’s AMNON SHASHUA

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As we all watch automakers and autonomous tech companies team up in various alliances, it’s natural to wonder about their significance and what the future will bring. Are we realizing that autonomous driving technology and its acceptance by society could take longer than expected? Is the cost of investing in such technology proving more than any single organization can sustain? Are these alliances driven by a need for regulation that will be accepted by governments and the public or for developing standards on which manufacturers can agree?

The answers are likely a bit of each, which makes it a timely opportunity to review the big picture and share our view of where Intel and Mobileye stand in this landscape.

Three Aspects to Auto-Tech-AI

There are three aspects to automotive-technology-artificial intelligence (auto-tech-AI) that are unfolding:

  1. Advanced driver-assistance systems (ADAS)
  2. Robotaxi ride-hailing as the future of mobility-as-a-service (MaaS)
  3. Series-production passenger car autonomy

With ADAS technologies, the driver remains in control while the system intervenes when necessary to prevent accidents. This is especially important as distracted driving grows unabated. Known as Levels 0-2 as defined by the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE), ADAS promises to reduce the probability of an accident to infinitesimal levels. This critical phase of auto-tech-AI is well underway, with today’s penetration around 22%, a number expected to climb sharply to 75% by 2025.1

Meanwhile, the autonomous driving aspect of auto-tech-AI is coming in two phases: robotaxi MaaS and series-production passenger car autonomy. What has changed in the mindset of many companies, including much of the auto industry, is the realization that those two phases cannot proceed in parallel.

Series-production passenger car autonomy (SAE Levels 4-5) must wait until the robotaxi industry deploys and matures. This is due to three factors: cost, regulation and geographic scale. Getting all factors optimized simultaneously has proven too difficult to achieve in a single leap, and it is why many in the industry are contemplating the best path to achieve volume production. Many industry leaders are realizing it is possible to stagger the challenges if the deployment of fully autonomous vehicles (AVs) aims first at the robotaxi opportunity.

Cost: The cost of a self-driving system (SDS) with its cameras, radars, lidars and high-performance computing is in the tens of thousands of dollars and will remain so for the foreseeable future. This cost level is acceptable for a driverless ride-hailing service, but is simply too expensive for series-production passenger cars. The cost of SDS should be no more than a few thousand dollars – an order of magnitude lower than today’s costs – before such capability can find its way to series-production passenger cars.

Regulation: Regulation is an area that receives too little attention. Companies deep in the making of SDSs know that it is the stickiest issue. Beside the fact that laws for granting a license to drive are geared toward human drivers, there is the serious issue of how to balance safety and usefulness in a manner that is acceptable to society.

It will be easier to develop laws and regulations governing a fleet of robotaxis than for privately-owned vehicles. A fleet operator will receive a limited license per use case and per geographic region and will be subject to extensive reporting and back-office remote operation. In contrast, licensing such cars to private citizens will require a complete overhaul of the complex laws and regulations that currently govern vehicles and drivers.

The auto industry is gradually realising that autonomy must wait until regulation and technology reach equilibrium, and the best place to get this done is through the robotaxi phase.

Scale: The third factor, geographic scale, is mostly a challenge of creating high-definition maps with great detail and accuracy, and of keeping those maps continuously updated. The geographic scale is crucial for series-production driverless cars because they must necessarily operate “everywhere” to fulfil the promise of the self-driving revolution. Robotaxis can be confined to geofenced areas, which makes it possible to postpone the issue of scale until the maturity of the robotaxi industry.

When the factors of cost, regulation and scale are taken together, it is understandable why series-production passenger cars will not become possible until after the robotaxi phase.

As is increasingly apparent, the auto industry is gravitating towards greater emphasis on their Level 2 offerings. Enhanced ADAS – with drivers still in charge of the vehicle at all times – helps achieve many of the expected safety benefits of AVs without bumping into the regulatory, cost and scale challenges.

At the same time, automakers are solving for the regulatory, cost and scale challenges by embracing the emerging robotaxi MaaS industry. Once MaaS via robotaxi achieves traction and maturity, automakers will be ready for the next (and most transformative) phase of passenger car autonomy.

The Strategy for Autonomy

With all of this in mind, Intel and Mobileye are focused on the most efficient path to reach passenger car autonomy. It requires long-term planning, and for those who can sustain the large investments ahead, the rewards will be great. Our path forward relies on four focus areas:

  • Continue at the forefront of ADAS development. Beyond the fact that ADAS is the core of life-saving technology, it allows us to validate the technological building blocks of autonomous vehicles via tens of new production programs a year with automakers that submit our technology to the most stringent safety testing. Our ADAS programs – more than 34 million vehicles on roads today – provide the financial “fuel” to sustain autonomous development activity for the long run.
  • Design an SDS with a backbone of a camera-centric configuration. Building a robust system that can drive solely based on cameras allows us to pinpoint the critical safety segments for which we truly need redundancy from radars and lidars. This effort to avoid unnecessary over-engineering or “sensor overload” is key to keeping the cost low.
  • Build on our Road Experience Management (REM)™ crowdsourced automatic high-definition map-making to address the scale issue. Through existing contracts with automakers, we at Mobileye expect to have more than 25 million cars sending road data by 2022.
  • Tackle the regulatory issue through our Responsibility-Sensitive Safety (RSS) formal model of safe driving, which balances the usefulness and agility of the robotic driver with a safety model that complies with societal norms of careful driving.

At Intel and Mobileye, we are all-in on the global robotaxi opportunity. We are developing technology for the entire robotaxi experience – from hailing the ride on your phone, through powering the vehicle and monitoring the fleet. Our hands-on approach with as much of the process as possible enables us to maximize learnings from the robotaxi phase and be ready with the right solutions for automakers when the time is right for series-production passenger cars.

On the way, we will help our partners deliver on the life-saving safety revolution of ADAS. We are convinced this will be a powerful and historic example of the greatest value being realized on the journey.

Professor Amnon Shashua is senior vice president at Intel Corporation and president and chief executive officer of Mobileye, an Intel company.

1Wolfe Research 2019.

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Sea of Solitude represents mental health issues through gaming

It’s a game that provides a tasteful visual representation of mental health issues. BRYAN TURNER dives into the Sea of Solitude.

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Disclaimer: This review is based on four hours of gameplay.

Sea of Solitude, the latest adventure game by Jo-Mei Games and EA Games, takes a sobering look at loneliness. It represents this loneliness visually, using light and dark environmental changes, as well as creatures players must encounter. The main character, Kay, must make it through the sea without finding herself trapped in a sea of loneliness. She meets fantastical creatures along her journey, and she must help them solve their challenges while keeping herself in a sane environment.

The game is systematic in the way it represents its important aspects. It starts with a striking visual art style and a soft storyline, which gives characters a chance to absorb the beauty of the game. As one gets a hang of the controls and used to the art style, the story kicks it up a few notches to reveal the harrowing backstories of the creatures that reside in the sea Kay must travel.

In particular, it features a creature that keeps flying away from Kay. This was frustrating because the previous chapter of the game presents a backstory for the creature that was not only devastating to the main character, but also to the player. Once Kay meets this creature, players must be ready to cry. It’s a brilliantly crafted story and hats off to Jo-Mei Games for being great storytellers.

Cornelia Geppert, CEO of Jo-Mei Games, told EA: “Sea of Solitude centres on the essence of loneliness and tugs on the heartstrings of its players by mirroring their own reality. It’s by far the most artistic and personal project I’ve ever created, written during a very emotional time in my life. Designing characters based on emotions was a deeply personal achievement for our team and we’re so excited for players to soon experience Kay’s powerful story of self-discovery and healing.”

Generally, I steer clear of games that are metaphors about mental health issues because they tend to be crass in how they address mental health. Sea of Solitude is quite different because of its level of relatability. Other games about mental health tend to be about a specific disorder that not many people experience, while loneliness is something that so many of us experience. Additionally, the representation of how loneliness affects Kay in the real world is sharp but tasteful. The combination of relatability and respectful representation is what makes the game’s story so brilliant.

Another great aspect of this game is the music scoring. It uses sound and the absence of sound very carefully to invoke the right feelings expected from players. The game wouldn’t be as good with the sound off and subtitles on, so future players are recommended to turn up the volume or put on headphones.

The game is long for an indie game, at around three or four hours of gameplay until the end is reached. Several sources say there is a hidden ending, so players can look out for that in a second playthrough.

The game’s story isn’t perfect, though. The eventual sameness of creature encounters is a little disappointing. This may be down to the expectation of being extremely devastated by all the stories of the creatures, especially when one is less than devastated by the subsequent stories. One of the most affecting creature stories was also presented at the beginning of the game, which set the bar very high for the rest of the creatures.

One creature, in particular, tries very hard to have the greatest emotional impact, but this comes across as blunt and dampens the meaning of what it was supposed to represent.

While I didn’t mind sharp representation, the perception of themes like bullying, estrangement, and suicidal thoughts may vary in appropriateness from player to player. Prospective players with existing painful mental health issues should consult gameplay videos, like the one below, before purchasing the game, to gauge appropriateness.

Overall, the game is incredible at connecting with what it is to be human and what it means to be lonely. Dealing with issues as physical creatures is a great touch, as the main character tends to resolve the problems of the creature by understanding what the problems mean.

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