Quantumobiles: VW Catches D-Wave

The New York Times: “Efforts by Volkswagen, trying to remake itself as a technology leader as it recovers from an emissions scandal, show how far into exotic realms of technology carmakers are willing to go. Volkswagen, a German company, recently joined the handful of large corporations worldwide that are customers of D-Wave Systems, a Canadian maker of computers that apply the mind-bending principles of quantum physics.”

“While some experts question their usefulness, D-Wave computers — housed in tall, matte black cases that recall the obelisks in the science fiction classic 2001: A Space Odyssey — can in theory process massive amounts of information at unheard-of speeds … While classical computers are based on bits with a value of either 1 or 0, the qubits in a quantum computer can exist in multiple states at the same time. That allows them, in theory, to perform calculations that would be beyond the powers of a typical computer.”

“This year Volkswagen used a D-Wave computer to demonstrate how it could steer the movements of 10,000 taxis in Beijing at once, optimizing their routes and thereby reducing congestion … Such claims are met with skepticism by some experts, who say there is no convincing proof that D-Wave computers are faster than a well-programmed conventional supercomputer … Volkswagen executives say they will publish the results of their work with D-Wave computers, allowing outsiders to try to debunk them.”

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Kronkiwongi: How Lego Fans Fandom

Fast Company: “In a presentation at the Cannes Lions Festival of Creativity on Sunday, Lego’s senior global director of social media and video Lars Silberbauer, broke down how the brand built and approaches that strategy … The two pillars of the brand’s social strategy are based on two core human social needs: the need to play and build together, and the pride of creation … By facilitating, supporting, and promoting the efforts of its fans, Lego amplifies their passion to a global audience, further fanning the flames of fandom everywhere it goes.”

“Silberbauer outlined three examples of how they do this. The first is through a competition called First Lego League, a Lego robotics competition that’s not run by the brand at all, in which up to 70,000 kids worldwide against each other in building Lego robots that can solve challenges. Second was the crowdsourcing platform Lego Ideas, where the brand invites people to propose and build new Lego sets. Like a branded version of Kickstarter, aspiring Lego designers have to get 10,000 supporters for their projects in order to be considered.”

“The third example was the Kronkiwongi Project.” Silberbauer explains: “The insight behind it is that 98% of us were creative geniuses at age three, but the challenge is that only 2% of us retain that level of creativity. With this project, we wanted to reveal and celebrate, not that we get less creative, but the amazing openness and creativity that kids have. So we asked kids from all over the world to tell us what a Kronkiwongi is and to build one for us.”

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Game On: The Future of Sports Arenas

The Guardian: “With its own dedicated fromagerie, microbrewery and Michelin-calibre restaurant, it might be easy to forget you have come to watch the football when you are reclining in one of the premium lounges of Tottenham Hotspur’s new £750m stadium. The 61,000-seat behemoth will feature the longest bar in the country, heated seats with built-in USB ports, a glass-walled tunnel so you can see the players before the game and even a ‘sky walk’ allowing fans to clamber over the roof of the arena.”

“Besides the fancy catering, the football pitch itself has to work a lot harder, too. This is the first field of its kind designed to split into three parts and slide seamlessly under the seating stands, revealing an astroturf field beneath for American football, positioned at a lower level to ensure perfect sight lines for both modes of play. Acoustic consultants were brought on board in order to guarantee maximum amplification of crowd noise, ensuring a “wall of sound” will resonate from the 17,000-seat south stand.”

Christopher Lee, an architect, “says the next big frontier is holographic representation, describing a world where players might be beamed on to the field from thousands of miles away.” However, architect Jacques Herzog “says his focus is always on capturing the local specificity of the place, designing a venue that somehow responds to the fan culture of the team in question, whether that’s a glowing lantern for Munich, a sharp white temple for Bordeaux, or an archaic masonry complex of vaults and buttresses for Stamford Bridge.”

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Zero-Margins & The Future of Retail

Vox: “Competing with Amazon is terrifying for any incumbent business because the company’s executive team operates on a radical model whereby the company’s overall net income is nearly zero quarter after quarter … That’s an enormous problem for every grocery chain in America, which already operate on razor-thin margins … A Whole Foods under Amazon’s stewardship will almost certainly accept lower profit margins than it does as an independent chain — and that spells trouble for everyone else in the grocery business.”

“Whole Foods could deliver value to Amazon without necessarily delivering profits. The stores would create a useful additional channel for selling Kindles, Echoes, Fire TV boxes and other Amazon hardware. And by linking discounts to Amazon Prime membership, it could drive sales of those. More subtly but perhaps more importantly, encouraging Whole Foods shoppers to in some sense ‘log in’ with their Prime accounts would generate tons of new user data that could feed the larger Amazon beast.”

“The bottom line is there are lots of ways that a cheaper, but fundamentally similar, version of Whole Foods could contribute to the Amazon gestalt even while run as a zero-margin business.”

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Future Sausage: Fruit Salami?

Quartz: “Swiss product designer Carolien Niebling was not a sausage fan, at least not until she spent three years tasting 50 to 70 different types of sausages from all over the world. She took everything she learned to create what she calls ‘the future sausage.’ Among her futuristic sausage collection, you can find the fruit salami, a dried sausage made of berries, dates and almonds. Or there’s insect pâté, a sausage made with insect flour and a tonka-bean infusion.”

“Niebling’s goal is not only to create new types of sausages with less meat in them, but also to use her designs as a message to encourage people to expand their palates. She believes the rise of supermarkets has distanced people from the natural production of food. As a result, the only food many consider ‘edible’ is the food they see on a supermarket shelf.”

“Though Niebling used substitutes to reduce the meat content of her future sausages, she says she’s not interested in using vegetables to mimic the taste of meat. On the contrary, she hates the idea of faking meat.” She comments: “What I’m trying to say with my design is that changing your diet doesn’t have to be, ‘instead of meat, you eat carrots.’ There’s so much else out there. There are hundreds of different grains, there are so many plants and flowers that we haven’t fully explored yet.”

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From Baking Powder & Cardboard to Amazon

The Washington Post: “A&P Baking Powder was an important product in the history of retailing,” Marc Levinson wrote in The Great A&P, a history of the company and grocery stores. “With it, the Great Atlantic & Pacific Tea Company, and many of its competitors, began a transition from being tea merchants to being grocers. It was a transition that would dramatically change Americans’ daily lives.”

“The branding of baking powder was important because most merchants back then were just essentially selling, as Levinson wrote, ‘generic products indistinguishable from what was for sale down the street.’ And in selling their powder in a tin, the owners were ahead in another important way — packaging.”

“The invention of the cardboard box changed everything. The company could now make, brand and sell its own condensed milk, butter, spices — just about any staple of the kitchen … There was difficult, transformative work ahead. The company needed to upend an entire culture of shopping built around neighborhood stores … A&P’s business model began to sound a lot like the one pursued by its retail descendants — Walmart and Amazon … Amazon’s tea was books. Then it diversified.”

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The Ikea Recipe Series

Fast Company: “The Ikea Recipe Series … is a collection of posters that you can use to cook your dinner–literally. The posters serve as both a recipe sheet and a cooking wrapper for meals that range from salmon to cobbler to ravioli with meatballs.”

“Each recipe resembles a paint by numbers sketch. Rather than list the ingredients as a long string of text, you’ll see circles in which you sprinkle a tablespoon of salt or a half teaspoon of pepper, and outlines of proteins where you can place the salmon. All of this is drawn with food-safe ink on parchment paper … all you do is roll up the paper and toss the dish into the oven.”

“The recipes are all created with components from Ikea’s own frozen foods available for purchase at its stores … parchment paper traps in moisture as food bakes, making it a forgiving and flavorful way to cook that requires no skills with a sauté pan. It’s also clean. Just toss the wad of paper into the garbage at the end of the meal, and the dishes are done. And perhaps most importantly of all, the Recipe Series looks fun, like an adult coloring book that you can eat.”

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Jig-Sawge: Hacking Saws for Massage

The Wall Street Journal: “The popularity of massage is rising along with the price of electric gadgets for it. So some do-it-yourself-ers are raiding garages and Home Depot and turning power tools into turbocharged robo-masseurs. Bill De Longis, head strength coach at Trinity College in Hartford, Conn., uses a jigsaw—with a lacrosse ball pierced and epoxied to its business end—for limbering the limbs of the school’s varsity athletes. He calls it his ‘jig-sawge.’ He opted to hack the $60 saw after seeing a similar massage tool priced at $600.”

“The coach also has appropriated an orbital sander (with sandpaper removed) and a battery-powered car buffer, which Trinity’s baseball pitchers and women’s lacrosse team use to warm up. Using power tools for massage seems to have originated among weightlifters and other serious athletes. The idea spread on social media, and now power tools can be found everywhere from chiropractors’ offices to tie-dyed campouts.”

“Nova Han, artistic director for the Electric Forest music festival in Rothbury, Mich., equipped a 1940s Quonset hut-style space on the event’s grounds with massage tables. Last summer, staff members dressed like Rosie the Riveter and worked rotating shifts for 12 hours a day, giving short car-buffer massages to concertgoers.” Tim Perra of Stanley Black & Decker comments: “We do not condone, approve or recommend that our tools be used for any application beyond those for which the tool was designed and intended.”

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Footwear Revolution: Sneaking Up on Fast Fashion

Quartz: “A sneaker starts with a sketch. Before a brand can turn that idea into a prototype, it has to produce the patterns that serve as the instructions for the factory putting it together, and create the metal mold used for the sole. This process alone takes weeks. It then makes a sample, which usually requires more fine tuning. Several samples may be necessary, with the process repeated each time a new one is made. It can take a year before a final design is ready for production.”

“Now virtual prototyping is letting brands shorten that timeline dramatically … 3D printing is also hugely beneficial for rapid prototyping, since it lets brands skip the tooling step needed to build molds for foam soles. That alone can take a month. But brands can now print prototypes of a sole in a matter of hours.”

“Why should shoppers care? Together these changes in design and manufacturing mean they won’t need to wait to get the products they want, and it should soon be feasible to get items custom-made, since it will be easier and cheaper for brands to produce just one of an item … For the brands themselves, cutting back lead times will let them respond to the market better, meaning they won’t need to make vast quantities of shoes in advance.”

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