Dyson Goes to School on Innovation & Shopping

The Wall Street Journal: “This fall, James Dyson launched the Dyson Institute of Engineering and Technology in Malmesbury, England, where his company is based. Students—there are currently 33, with plans to grow to around 200—are paid to work for the company three days a week. Two days a week they go to classes on Dyson’s corporate campus, in subjects such as electronics and mechanical engineering. (The company covers tuition.) Students work toward a bachelor of engineering degree from the University of Warwick, whose professors teach the classes.”

About innovation, Dyson comments: “You can’t ask your customers to tell you what to do next. They don’t know. That’s our job.”

Dyson also “is opening his company’s first stores in the U.S. One opened Nov. 30 in San Francisco and the second, on Manhattan’s Fifth Avenue, will open Dec. 14 … It’s ‘an odd thing to do when so many people are buying things online,’ Mr. Dyson says. ‘You might say it’s counterculture to go rent a very expensive premises on Fifth Avenue, but we’re doing it almost precisely because of that.’ Mr. Dyson says that he wants to use the space to demonstrate how his products work and to learn how consumers interact with them. ‘It’s very difficult online and certainly in a normal store to explain what we’re doing’.”

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Merry ModelXmas!

Boing Boing: People who drive Tesla’s Model X have a cool ‘easter egg’ feature built right into their vehicle: a holiday music and light show set to the tune of Trans-Siberian Orchestra’s “Wizards In Winter”! When activated, this all-electric luxury vehicle will display a synchronized show using the car’s headlights, turn signals, and falcon wings.”

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How CVS & Aetna Could Change Healthcare

Business Insider: “CVS Pharmacy’s $69 billion deal to acquire the health insurer Aetna — the second-biggest deal of the year — is different. It could actually make treatment simpler and easier for Americans, and it catches a bunch of trends in the market that push costs down. There are two big streamlining ideas at work here. First … Pharmacy Benefit Managers (PBMs) are the gatekeepers between insurers and a patient’s medical treatment, and CVS already has one. Ideally it ensures that the PBM is incentivized to keep costs for the insurer as low as possible.”

“For the most part, though, this doesn’t fundamentally change Americans’ experience when they get sick. PBMs are faceless entities, and insurance is a foreign language to a lot of people. This is where the second streamlining idea in this CVS acquisition comes into play … the company will be ‘promoting lower-cost sites of care’ after this acquisition. That means turning brick-and-mortar stores into treatment centers and hiring medical staff. That’s expensive, but it will keep sick people out of more expensive hospitals, which keeps costs down for insurers and ultimately customers.”

“And unlike a lot of new urgent-care facilities hitting the market to do this very thing (keep people out of hospitals), CVS comes with a ton of brand familiarity. Plus, quarter after quarter CVS has seen that its other businesses are outperforming sales in its retail channel. Turning brick-and-mortar stores into healthcare facilities is one way to make good use of them.”

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Robo Ocado: The Grocery Without a Store

Fast Company: “Ocado, a British online-only supermarket that delivers orders to customers straight from its warehouses … sells everything you can find in a brick-and-mortar supermarket–from meat, dairy, and produce to its own brand of home products, third-party goods, and even flowers, toys, and magazines … While other companies rely on human workers to find and buy all of the items on an online customer’s shopping list, Ocado is using a new kind of robot–or, more specifically, a swarm of them.”

“At an Ocado warehouse in the English town of Andover, a swarm of 1,000 robots races over a grid the size of a soccer field, filling orders and replacing stock. The new system, which went live earlier this year, can fulfill a 50-item order in under five minutes–something that used to take about two hours at human-only facilities. It’s been so successful that Ocado is now building a new warehouse that’s three times larger in Erith, southeast of London. When it comes online, it will be the world’s largest automated warehouse for grocery shopping.”

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Virtual Eateries Put the ‘App’ in Appetizer

The Wall Street Journal: “Tucked inside industrial parks, commissary kitchens and refitted basements in cities like New York, Chicago and San Jose, these restaurants have no dining room, no wait staff, no takeout window and no signage … Many don’t take orders over the phone and are accessible only through online services like Grubhub, DoorDash or Postmates. Virtual restaurants, with their low overhead, are allowing restaurateurs to shift away from the capital-intensive model that kills 60% of new restaurants in their first five years toward something decidedly more techy.”

“Virtual restaurants tap into a larger trend: Americans’ increasing aversion to cooking for themselves. For the first time ever in 2016, Americans spent more at eating and drinking establishments than on groceries, according to U.S. Census data. The food-delivery market is a small slice of that sector: It is only $30 billion in 2017, but Morgan Stanley estimates it could balloon to $220 billion within a few years.”

“The fundamental challenge that all these players are trying to solve is that prepared food remains one of the least-scalable businesses in our economy: Production has proved resistant to automation, the materials themselves are highly perishable and swiftly changing consumer tastes can destroy momentum. A typical internet startup can go from 3,000 customers to 3 million customers just by spending more on Amazon Web Services. No restaurant can do the same.”

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The Huarache: When Weird is Beautiful

Quartz: “The Nike Huarache almost never existed. The shoe, made of a sock-like bootie encased in a supportive exoskeleton, was definitely unusual when Nike began showing around the prototypes in the early 1990s. Practically nobody placed orders, and Nike seemed to have little choice but to kill the idea. Lucky for Nike, one product manager didn’t listen … the Huarache has become Nike’s top-seller globally.”

“The shoe dispensed with a number of conventional ideas in sneaker design. It had no heel counter—the firm backing of the shoe that wraps around your heel to support it—opting instead for the distinctive, harness-like strap, similar to a sandal. (A ‘huarache’ is a kind of Mexican sandal.) It also used neoprene, which had never before been done in a running shoe … when no one placed orders after seeing the prototypes, Nike decided not to make the shoe for release.”

Tinker Hatfield, who designed the shoe picks up on the rest of the story in his new book, called Sneakers: “But one of our product managers actually thought it was awesome, and without proper authorization, he signed an order to build five thousand pairs even though there were no orders. He stuck his neck way out there. He saw what I saw. And he took those five thousand pairs to the New York Marathon, not a place you typically went to sell shoes, and he sold them all in like three days at the exhibition hall right there near Times Square. Word got out. They went like hotcakes. In a month, we went from zero orders to orders for half a million pairs.”

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Fake Meat: Growing Bloody Fast

Business Insider: “Fake meat is a fast-rising food category that could change the way we eat. It replaces animal products with alternatives made from plants that look and taste like meat, with the goal of reducing the global dependence on animal agriculture.”

“The substitute meat market is expected to grow 8.4% annually over the next three years, reaching $5.2 billion globally by 2020, according to Allied Market Research … Companies that produce fake meat and seafood, ranging from ‘bloody’ burgers to sushi made from tomatoes, have targeted college campuses as testing grounds for their creations … In October, startup Impossible Foods announced it will expand distribution of its vegan burger, which sizzles on the grill and bleeds juices like real beef, to universities and company cafes.”

“Impossible Foods opened its first large-scale production facility in September, which will allow it to produce at least four million meatless burgers a month by year’s end … New Wave Foods, which manufactures an algae-based shrimp alternative, and Ocean Hugger Foods, which is working on plant-based seafood — including a raw tuna substitute made from tomatoes — have also set their sights on food-service companies as a path for distribution.”

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Amazon & The Delivery Experience

Axios: “Amazon has gotten so good at moving merchandise that it now accounts for 43 cents of every dollar spent online in the U.S., according to eMarketer … Lost in this torrent of news are indications that Amazon’s revenue formula is fundamentally changing: from a reliance on retail and cloud services, the e-retailer appears likely to power future growth with fulfillment and shipping services to third-party sellers.”

“Amazon’s latest offerings — Seller Flex and Key — are next in the line of this tradition. Seller Flex launched last month: It’s a new courier service that ships goods from outside sellers to customers’ homes. Amazon Key was announced last week: Using a smart lock and an indoor security camera, this program offers in-home delivery for Amazon Prime members. ‘This is not an experiment for us’: Peter Larsen, Amazon’s vice president of delivery technology, tells WSJ, ‘We think this is going to be a fundamental way that customers shop with us for years to come’.”

“The key to understanding Amazon is its monomaniacal focus on giving the customer what he or she wants, even before they know they do. Amazon is not going to wait around for FedEx and UPS to experiment with changes that could improve the customer experience, whether that means new products for home entry or faster delivery options. And history shows it would be wise to take notice when Amazon starts experimenting in your backyard.”

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Toyota Yui: Your Father the Car

The Wall Street Journal: “If you love your car, Toyota Motor Corp. thinks your car should love you back. That’s the reasoning behind the company’s artificial-intelligence project, dubbed Yui: an onboard virtual assistant that gauges your mood, indulges in personal chitchat and offers to drive if it senses you are sleepy or distracted. In one Toyota video, shown at the Tokyo Motor Show, a woman sits on a seaside cliff, talking about her father with her car. ‘He sounds like a great father,’ says Yui, in a baritone male voice. ‘You’re a bit like him,’ the woman says.”

“To be sure, rarely do futuristic vehicles at auto shows make it to the roads. But Toyota plans to start testing a car equipped with Yui on Japanese roads in 2020. In autonomous-driving mode, the seats recline and massage your back in a manner Toyota says will slow your breathing and calm you down … Toyota imagines Yui being treated like a friend or family member, with whom access to social-media accounts is shared.”

“It wants to monitor your social-media posts to know if you are obsessed with a particular band or sports team. It also wants to monitor the news, so it has potential context when you look happy or sad. Did your favorite team drop out of the playoffs? Did your favorite singer come out with a new song? … Not all car makers see people wanting a humanlike relationship with their cars … ‘I’d rather not have this, because I’m a private person,’ said Yasuko Takahashi, a 54-year-old office worker… ‘I’d rather have the cars talk to each other, instead of me,’ she said.”

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