The World Is Bigger Together

Recently my son created a drawing that revealed a little about how he was feeling while we were apart for a year. In 2018, I left Japan to work in California, leaving my wife and two little ones behind. But only temporarily was the intention but the time apart was 1 day too long for us all. The drawing he created was something that he shared with his fellow classmates, albeit virtually this week. It shows two images — one where we are all apart with tears flowing and the other one where we are all together again. The blue and green represents the earth and the black represents space. If you look closely, the picture of us together shows the earth ever so slightly bigger. How appropriate. Thank you son for touching my heart with your delicate and thoughtful artwork.

AgTech: Just Another Buzz Word?

In the past 12 months since moving to Silicon Valley, I have been hearing the word “AgTech” quite a bit.  Initially, my reaction was, “just what we need, another new buzz word.”  But I believe this trend is a noble one that will likely continue to be around for a long time to come. Technology in the agriculture space, I believe, is an important one due to the real world problems that we are facing.  The silver lining here, at least for me, is that this is a great example of where technology is being used to benefit humankind and the planet.
Recently I attended a talk about AgTech hosted by Keizai Silicon Valley.  At this talk, 3 start-ups talked about their products and shared ideas about how we can address some of the real world problems in the food industry.  Here are short snippets about each of the start-ups:
Zippin:  As they proclaim during the talk, this small start-up has the bold aspiration to banish standing in line—for good—with their AI check-out technology platform.  This solution is already being deployed by some retailers such as Amazon Go.
Byte Foods Provides retailers with a smart vending kiosk solution that allows them to offer fresh food, including perishable items in a vending machine.
Yo-Kai Express: Provides a fast gourmet restaurant in a box.  This service can be set up in a factory, mall, or in a company’s office.  Regardless of setting, end-users can enjoy quality gourmet ramen in less than 45 seconds.
Some of the key take-aways that I captured from this talk include the following:
  1. There is a seismic shift happening at retail — consumer demand is driving by convenience more than any thing.
  2. Today’s vending machines are not designed for fresh foods which also represents a real business opportunity for the AgTech industry.
  3. We may need an additional 70% more food to feed 10 billion people by the year 2050.
  4. A popular word in the industry has become “sustainable food”  The mindset here is increasing the resiliency, productivity, and profitability of food.

Certainly AgTech is an area that I am not knowledgable about but it is precisely that reason why I am glad that I went to this talk.  One key point this talk reinforced is that we all have a role in doing the right things now to ensure our food supply is used responsibly.  Rather than focusing on increasing food production — due to the 4th point above — we  should first ensure we are maximizing what we produce today by minimizing waste.  I believe that this sentiment was shared by all of the panelists at this talk.  

So, if you have not heard about AgTech, well now you know.  This will likely be around for a long time to come and companies that truly invest in solving food sustainability will benefit in result (and, just maybe, mankind, too).  

The Best Smart Glasses I’ve Seen But…

Last week I had a chance to experience Smart Glasses for the first time since Google Glass.  The company name is called “North” and is headquartered in the Bay Area.  They do not have physical stores at the moment but they have been demonstrating their product in pop locations across the country.

I do not recall how I came across the technology when surfing the web but somehow I saw their advertisement and inquired to learn more.  As you may figured by now, I’m an inquisitive person when it comes to technology.   The advertisement then took me to their site where I could sign up to visit one of the pop locations to actually do a “fitting.”  Other than time, I did not have much to lose so I decided to sign up for a Saturday visit at their popup location in Santa Clara.

My experience with the technology was overall OK — it seemed interesting and fairly fluid as I went in with really no expectations.  The idea that I could get notifications on my glasses unknown to anyone else seems very attractive and forward-looking.  The glasses has a red laser that projects a small image on to the lenses of the glasses which will only be visible to the person who is wearing the glasses.  The applications that I viewed included voice-activated Alexa, weather, SMS, and some games that can be controlled by using a ring that you wear on your finger and use like a joystick.  

As someone who wears traditional glasses, one will notice that there is a significant difference in weight vs. normal focals.  It might be something that you can get use to over time but that really depends on the person.  The cost of the glasses is about $599 with an additional cost for prescription lenses.  Yes, you read the number correctly…..

I truly believe that the technology is on to something but I am not sure how practical something like this will be now especially with the aforementioned price point.  North will have to convince end-users why this is better than using a smart watch which will be far less.  Personally, if I am looking for a reason to not look at my smart phone during dinner with family for example, I might just try discipline for now.  This is far more inexpensive and more healthy, too.  

Bringing Silicon Back to Silicon Valley

Just the other day I attended the Chuchill’s Club annual event of the top trends in tech.  This year’s event “featured Brian Ascher of Venrock, Navin Chaddha of Mayfield, Jeff Crowe of Norwest Venture Partners, Lauren Kolodny of Aspect Ventures, and Rebecca Lynn of Canvas Ventures presenting two trends each.”

You can learn more about the trends presented here:   21st Annual Top 10 Tech Trends – May 2019

After each trend was presented, the panel would either agree or disagree that the trend would go big in 2019 or somewhere in the near term.  If the trend was either obvious or thought of as a non-factor in the near -term, the panel would reserve the right to disagree and state why.   It was an interesting discussion and debate as it is every year.  Naturally, ideas can be challenged or have consensus but the reality is, nobody knows.  This is what makes attending these events always fascinating and entertaining.

The audience was also able to get into the act and vote after the panel discussed each respective trend.  The one trend that got the most votes was the “Renaissance of Silicon Will Create Industry Giants.”  Truth be told, if one would have told me that this would have the most votes at the very beginning I would have said, “I doubt that.”  But I was proved wrong as a majority of the audience agreed with Navin Chaddha.  His argument was that what made silicon valley what is today will come back with full vengeance of  new potential players who know how to play the game.

Time will tell if this will come to fruition but one thing that we can agree is that data from the edge all the way to the cloud will demand increasing computing power and performance.