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Roadmap to the next big thing

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In less than a decade, Tel Aviv has become the second biggest start-up hub in the world. Now it’s poised to take on Silicon Valley in the quest for the next big thing in high-tech, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK.

The line-up at last week’s Digital-Life-Design (DLD) innovation festival in Tel Aviv was as astonishing as the high-tech explosion that has placed the city at the epicentre of the information revolution.

The inventor of the USB flash drive, the founder of global navigation app Waze, and a former president of Israel who won the Nobel Prize and helped inspire the electric vehicle revolution all shared their visions of the next big thing.

But it was Steffi Czerny, who founded DLD in Germany, who offered the overriding perspective on the significance of the event: “If you want to see what’s next, come to Israel,” she told an audience that included delegates from several dozen countries.

The event attracts start-up entrepreneurs, high-tech giants like Intel and Microsoft, and government trade representatives from countries like France and the Netherlands. Two start-ups from South Africa, WhereIsMyTransport and Funda, were there as regional winners of a global startup contest.

All delegates were alert for either the next big investment opportunity or the next big thing in technology. Most of all, they were on the outlook for the technology that will shape the future.

As a result, it is not only the new ideas and apps that make an impact at DLD, but also the ideas that will shape the future. Ironically, many of these ideas come from arguably the oldest man at the event: 91-year-old former Israeli president Shimon Peres, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate and one of the main drivers of Israeli investment in research and development for the past 50 years. His passion for electric vehicles has been an inspiration for research into battery technology and the electric grid.

His thoughts on what it takes to predict the future in themselves help to understand what will be important in the future: “We can predict things up to a point,” he told the audience. “To do that we need maximum information. And for that we need a combination of a human being with imagination, and infinite patience.”

Asked to make three predictions for the next big area of technology breakthrough, he had no hesitation: “The first domain will be about medicine. The second will be about sharing; instead of having our own houses and car, we will share most things, as we do with shared rides and accommodation today. It will change our assumptions of capitalism. Then I can see a third change that is particularly important: robotics.”

He struck a cautionary note, however, warning against an obsession with technology for its own sake.

“We invest so much in robotics that is not being invested in human beings. The human being produces thoughts, which means the human being is superior to the robot. Why make a better robot instead of a better human being?”

His conclusion: “The human being has a long way to go.”

Not that there was a shortage of start-ups and established companies trying to show the way. Tel Aviv has the distinction of having more startups per capita than any economic hub in the world outside Silicon Valley. Of around 3400 startups in Israel, 972 are in Tel Aviv. With 40 per cent growth in number of tech startups since 2012, some suggest it may even overtake Silicon Valley.

The city also hosts 49 research and development centres for multinational organisations like Google and Facebook, and 58 co-working spaces and startup accelerators.

Those may sound like mere numbers, but they add up to an equation that begins to explain Israel’s impact on the high-tech world. One of the smallest yet most revolutionary technologies originating there, the USB flash drive, was invented by Dov Moran and his company, M-Systems. It’s $1,6bn sale to SanDisk in 2006 still ranks as one of the biggest ever acquisitions of an Israeli high-tech company

“It’s about opportunity,” Moran said in a panel discussion at DLD.  “It grows and grows and grows, and every success brings us new entrepreneurs who then know what to do next.”

He, too, offered a forecast for the next huge thing or two: “The industry of self-driven cars, and the effect of genome research on health, are going to change the world.”

A slightly different perspective came from Shahar Waiser, founder and CEO of Israel’s answer to Uber, a taxi app called Gett that is now also available in New York, London and Moscow. Revenue has been growing at 300 per cent a year for the past three years, and it is likely to be one of the next “unicorns” – startups with a valuation of $1-billion a year.

The one area where we won’t see a unicorn, said Waiser, was telecommunications. Quite simply, the big unicorns like WhatsApp and Facebook have cut short the meteoric growth in profits we once saw from telcos.

But it goes beyond just the industry sector, he said: “It’s very difficult if take something with both a digital and offline component and scale it. There is no company with a telecommunications component, where it has more than $100-million in revenues, that keeps growing at the kind of 300 per cent growth we are seeing.

“Food research is one area where we may see unicorns emerge. Transportation is another.”

In short, sectors that address urgent human needs.

And it means that, from food to medicine to the sharing economy, the DLD festival put several signposts on the roadmap to a future that will confirm one of the oldest rules of innovation: “Necessity is the mother of invention.”

* Arthur Goldstuck is founder of World Wide Worx and editor-in-chief of Gadget.co.za. Follow him on Twitter on @art2gee, and subscribe to his YouTube channel at http://bit.ly/GGadgets

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CES: So long, and thanks for all the beer!

Last week, the Las Vegas expo showed off its fun side with state-of-the-art technologies for enjoying beer, writes BRYAN TURNER

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From craft beer-making machines to robots that pour beer, CES had more beer than usual in Las Vegas last week. And even free beer if you found the right stand. Stampede’s saloon-style booth offered beer to visitors who tried out its latest drones, virtual reality, and other gaming products. No beer tech, though.

Here are some of the beer technologies that stood out:

LG HomeBrew – Craft beer made at home

LG’s HomeBrew craft beer-making machine,  debuted at CES 2019, brings the brewing process home thanks to single-use capsules,  a self-cleaning feature, and an algorithm optimised for fermentation. 

Like a Nespresso coffee machine, the beer maker uses capsules, which contain malt, yeast, hop oil and flavouring. At the press of a button, LG HomeBrew automates the whole procedure from fermentation and carbonation to ageing. A companion app lets users check HomeBrew’s status at any time during the process, from their handsets.

The beer machine not only offers a simple way to make craft beer, but also enhances the quality of beer it makes. The fermentation algorithm intelligently controls the fermenting process with precise temperature and pressure control. It automatically sanitises itself, using nothing more than hot water, ensuring everything is hygienically clean for the next batch.

Designed with discerning beer lovers in mind, HomeBrew allows for in-home production of batches of more than 4 litres of beer in a variety of styles. The following five distinctive, flavoured beers are available now: 

  • Hoppy American IPA
  • Golden American Pale Ale
  • Full-bodied English Stout
  • Zesty Belgian-style Witbier
  • Dry Czech Pilsner

The only catch? It takes about two weeks to make, depending on the beer type.

“LG HomeBrew is the culmination of years of home appliance and water purification technologies that we’ve developed over the decades,” said Dan Song, president of LG Electronics Home Appliance & Air Solutions Company. “Homebrewing has grown at an explosive pace, but there are still many beer lovers who haven’t taken the jump because of the barriers to entry, like complexity, and these are the consumers we think will be attracted to LG HomeBrew.”

Click here to read about the party speaker that holds beer and robots that pour beer.

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CES: Alienware gets Legend-ary

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At CES in Las Vegas last week, Dell’s Alienware released a family of high-end, thin, light, and affordable machines for both amateur and professional gamers – and a new identity.

Alienware marked CES 2019 as a brand milestone with the debut of a new design identity, Alienware Legend. It aims to set a new bar of excellence for what gamers want most – performance and function. Alienware says it evaluated multiple concepts and chose one that was the biggest and boldest departure from its current look.

Alienware Legend, says the company, stays true to the brand’s core design tenets, taking cues from its deep roots in sci-fi culture and its early industrial designs, to distinguish the brand from the rest of the industry. The new Legend design is optimised with cutting-edge thermal cooling technology to achieve and sustain overclocking power, improved AlienFX lighting, and ultra-thin screen borders. It also unveiled a new “three-knuckle hinge” design that reduces the overall dimension while creating a stronger assembly, all combining to yield a better gaming experience.

“We’re excited to come to this year’s CES with some truly groundbreaking products, next-gen software and strategic partnerships that will bring more people to experience PC gaming and advance the industry,” said Frank Azor, vice president and general manager of Alienware. “The legend design answers the call for more and better from our gaming community, and the new G Series laptops will make PC gaming even more accessible to those looking for high-performance gaming at a cost they can appreciate.”

Click here to read about Alienware Legend in action with the Area-51m and m-series laptops

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