5 Examples of Insect-Inspired Robotics

Everyone knows that robots are merely lifeless machines, no matter how amazing their abilities may be. However, you may be surprised at how often scientists replicate the features and capabilities of living creatures to increase robotic performance. In fact, there’s even a whole branch of robotics called “biomimetics” dedicated to that single premise. The term biomimetics means literally to “mimic life.” Insects are one form of life from which biomimetic scientists draw significant inspiration for new types of robotic technology.

Functions and behaviors that evolved over hundreds of millions of years in insects can be hard to top. So scientists increasingly looking to Mother Nature and biomimicry for innovative design ideas. The resulting technology is blurring the lines between living beings and machines more than ever.

Silently Communicating Crickets

African cave crickets communicate by using their wings to form airwaves that send a pocket of low-pressure air toward potential mates. The communication is silent, so that predators cannot be alerted to the insects’ presence. Andy Russell, from Monash University in Australia, explains the communication of the African cave cricket, saying, “Vortex rings are produced when a puff of air is ejected through a hole into still air…Vortices like these can travel for surprisingly long distances.”

This means of communication has been replicated by engineers in Australia, allowing robots to silently exchange information with one another. Robots that are able to silently communicate may prove useful for high security applications or in environments where noise is undesirable.

Lightning Fast Cockroaches

Researchers at UC Berkeley studied the way in which cockroaches can scurry up walls and across ceilings. The UC Berkeley project is entitled “DASH,” for Dynamic Autonomous Sprawled Hexapod. Not only do DASH robots have the ability to walk on vertical surfaces, they can traverse gaps and run upside down by using the same movement as the cockroach.

In an article published in 2012, DASH scientists explained that they only discovered the secret to the roach’s movement after reviewing videos of it in slow motion. Now, however, others can see how the cockroach is such a mobile pest – by watching the DASH robot in action.

Swarming Bees

Robobees or “bee-bots,” as they are sometimes called, are in varying stages of development around the world. Mimicking bee behavior, on the scale necessary to replicate an entire hive, means controlling thousands of mini-bots simultaneously. When scientists are able to provide the bee-bots with sophisticated-enough brains, of course, that may be possible. However, scientists have not been able to accomplish this yet.

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Photo via harvard.edu

Even if the ability to create a bee-sized bee-bot is still years away, experimentation and development continue. Research teams around the world are working on problems such as colony communication and robot size. In 2013, New Scientist magazine reported:

Robots have replicated complex insect flight: the BionicOpter, built by German technology company Festo, mimics a dragonfly, albeit one of prehistoric size… The DelFly Micro, created by researchers at Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands, spans a mere 10 centimeters wing to wing. At the University of Pennsylvania, researchers have used swarms of quadcopters, each small enough to fit into the palm of your hand, to pick up and move heavy objects.

No, we won’t see robobees pollinating orchards anytime soon, but there are still discoveries being made that some day may lead to this possibility.

Intelligent Ants

Ants are known for their ability to work together in order to accomplish a common goal. By modeling ant behavior, scientists are searching for ways to allow robots to team up and repair themselves, travel underground, or share tasks. At the Georgia Institute of Technology, for example, researchers are particularly fascinated in how fire ants create bridges out of themselves. Not only do these creatures form bridges by linking appendages, they are also able to adjust the strength of their grip to keep the living bridge flexible and strong. This means that if the ants sense a weak spot in the bridge they can immediately compensate.

Simon Garnier, a Rutgers University scientist explains, “The construction rules followed by the ants represent a formidable source of inspiration for people working on self-assembling robots and self-repairing materials.”

Other ant-mimicking robots have already been developed. For example, scientists have been able to replicate the insects’ ability to find the most direct path to their goal by using light signals and relatively simple programming. The result is that the robots can now act autonomously to find the most efficient way to tackle a goal. Scientists believe this technology may be applied to road and space design in the future.

Rolling Caterpillars

Caterpillars have soft, flexible bodies along with five or six pairs of legs. They’re capable of generating momentum by rolling into a ball and propelling themselves along a variety of surfaces. This means of locomotion, sometimes called “ballistic rolling,” is currently being used by robots such as the GoQBot, which was developed at Tufts University several years ago. Until GoQBot was invented, soft-bodied robots were relatively slow-moving. The GoQBot, however, uses its silicon rubber body to propel itself nearly 20 inches (one-half meter) in one second. Amazingly, this robot is only ten centimeters, or about 4 inches, long.

Huai-Ti Lin, one of the senior researchers who worked on the GoQBot, commented a few years ago on the possible applications of this new design, suggesting that it could, “…enhance several robotic applications such as urban rescue, building inspection, and environmental monitoring.”

Summary

One might develop a bit more respect for the lowly insect after learning how important their physical structures, sensory features, and means of locomotion have become to scientists developing the next generation of robotics. The evolutionary forces that shaped their development are difficult to top. Now more than ever, insects are leading the way into the future of robotic technology.

References

Bar-Cohen, Yoseph. (2014) “Biologically-Inspired Intelligent Robots Using EAP as Biomimetic Actuation Materials.” NASA. Powerpoint.

Marks, Paul. (2011). “Cave Cricket’s Trick Keeps Robot Chatter Confidential.” New Scientist. 209(2802). March 5. p. 28.

Poeter, Damon. (2012). “Cockroach-like Robot Scurries Over Ledges in Creepy Fashion.” PC Magazine. June. p.1.

Williams, Caroline. (2013). “I, Bee Bot.” New Scientist. 220(2943). Nov. 11. p. 42-45.

“Fire Ants Lock Arms to Keep Bridges From Falling.” (2014). Science Now. Jan. 7. p2.

Lewis, Tanya. (2013). “Ants ‘Use Math’ to Find Fastest Route.” LiveScience. April 17.

“Caterpillars Inspire New Movements in Soft Robots.” (2011). Institute of Physics. Tufts University. April 27.

How Free Call Software is Changing the Phone Industry and How we Talk to Each Other

Technology is revolutionary and has a continuous affect on the world we live in. As a new technology is discovered, the existing technology is going to be dramatically altered, and even sacrificed. TV killed the radio star; the mobile phone made landlines obsolete, and now free calling software is changing how we communicate and altering the well-established phone industry. 

The Phone Industry

The phone industry has experienced faster and more dramatic changes in recent years then it has seen in the past 2 decades. Although it’s not great news for the phone industry, it is great news for customers who have been at the mercy of unfair bills, expensive plans, and restrictions.

The Internet and smart phones have had a dramatic impact on just about every sector in the world, and the lucrative phone industry isn’t exempt. The web, smart phones, and tablets have matured, improved, and become undeniably reliable at delivering information and connecting people. These free call software platforms have no networks, no hardware, spend very little on marketing and can be run by a minimal amount of people. This means that they can keep their prices extremely low, free in most cases, and force the phone industry to become more competitive. In Denmark, telecommunications have made threats to block free software communications because of the imbalance on network costs. Although most countries telecommunications are not making the same threat, they are feeling the pressure to create their own VoIP programs (of course, not for free.)

Today millions of people use free call software such as Skype, Viber, apple’s iMessage and FaceTime, Tango, or the new free call player KNCTR, and many more. Therefore, people are disconnecting from their 3G or 4G network, connecting to WiFi and sending free text messages and making free phone calls – without wasting the expensive data plans. Why would you spend 9¢ per minute to call your friend traveling to France, when you can use Skype for free – and with video?


Photo by Steve Garfield

The mobile phone corporations are trying to determine how long can they hold onto their current revenue models and IDC predict that free phone call software is rapidly on the rise. Although the majority of Phone Corporation’s revenue is still coming from SMS and voice rather than data, the model of charging by minutes or SMS is becoming increasingly distant from the reality. Although free software calling isn’t a replacement for a regular mobile phone plan or landline just yet, the phone industry is facing an upheaval in the face of free call software.

The Way We Communicate

If you’ve spent sometime around a smart phone or the internet lately then you know that there are seemingly new free calling software programs created every day to help you stay in touch domestically and internationally. Free Internet calling software has dramatically changed the way we communicate and how often. Skype revealed that its users spend more than 2-billion minutes per day using its VoIP services.

Free communication software has virtually done away with time zones, distance, boarders, and roaming cost. People no longer have to wait 10-days to hear about their family’s vacation, or look at photos to remember the face of their loved ones. We can now be in constant communication with our friends and families from all corners of the world – for free.


Photo by Ewan McIntosh

Free calling software hasn’t just changed the personal world, but the corporate world too. It has provided reliable and viable alternatives to expensive communication methods, made it possible for video conference calls, and has made connecting with partners all around the world easy and cost-effective. This has had a direct effect on how and where business done, making it more effective for both the business owner and the customer.

Technology is going to continue changing the world, as we know it. Rather you are using a desktop, mobile phone, or tablet, you can take advantage of the free calling software that continues to improve on both quality and reliability. Free calling software is changing established business models and how company’s conduct business, but one of the best changes is that free calling software has made distance irrelevant and brought the world closer together.

Coming to an Ocean Near You: Taking Wifi to New Depths

For thousands of years, nets have been actively used in all of the major bodies of water around the world. However, so far, the world’s largest net—the Internet—has been almost completely absent from the underwater world.

Internet users can log on from land and air, but water-logged logins are as rare as Loch Ness Monster sightings. While Wi-Fi radio wave signals have helped to make the Internet a ubiquitous presence on dry land, regular Wi-Fi doesn’t work underwater.

Lifesaving Potential

This situation may change if research being conducted by the University at Buffalo pays off and becomes more widely adopted. A team of researchers are working to develop a deep-sea Internet that might someday be used for a wide range of practical applications.

Tommaso Melodia, the UB associate professor of electrical engineering in charge of the project says, “A submerged wireless network will give us an unprecedented ability to collect and analyze data from our oceans in real time.”

UBPhoto by Douglas Levere (source)

As an example, Melodia explains that information gathered from beneath the sea and transmitted via an Internet connection could warn anyone with a smartphone about an approaching tsunami or other kind of natural disaster, possibly saving lives.

Overcoming the Obstacles

The team had to abandon the use of radio waves to develop a prototype underwater Wi-Fi network and instead turn to sound waves. In a historical perspective, it’s an interesting reversal of events. Using sound waves underwater has a long history; in fact, sonar—the underwater locating system that uses sound waves—was being developed in 1912. It wasn’t until the 1930s that radio waves were used for location in the first radar systems.

Organizations like the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the Navy already use sound waves to communicate underwater. NOAA, for example, uses sensors on the sea floor to detect tsunamis. These sensors use sound waves to send information to buoys floating on the surface of the ocean. The buoys then transmit the data to satellites that send the information to computers on land.

This system, and others like it, all have their proprietary means of communication. If communication could be standardized to the Internet protocol that the World Wide Web uses, it would be far easier for users around the world to “plug into” this information and make good use of it.

UB 2Photo by Douglas Levere (source)

Lake Erie Testing

To prove the new system’s viability, Melodia and his team tested it in Lake Erie, not far from the Buffalo campus. They dropped two 40-pound sensors into the lake. Using a laptop, they sent commands down to the sensors, and within seconds, they received the response they were hoping for. You can check out photos of the operation in the UB photo database.

Not only could the system help improve tsunami warnings around the world, but also, it could be used to study pollution, detect sophisticated smuggling operations that are now using submarines, monitor aquatic life, protect shipping and assist in underwater mining exploration. The potential applications are limitless.

While the system seems to hold a lot of promise, whether or not the world is ready for monster squid selfies may be questionable.

Mira Yarden, who works with http://Fax87.com, enjoys working abroad wherever there is wifi. From high mountaintops to sandy beaches, Mira has a laptop and is hard at work. Perhaps she’ll soon be chartering the ocean with her laptop in tow…with an internet connection! Follow Mira on Twitter.

Sources

Technology, Gadgets and Cool Features of the Best Luxury Cars

There’s something very disappointing about concept cars.

Sure, they look great. They promise advances in car driving technology that baffle the mind and dazzle the eye. Sure, they would be dreams to drive.

Unfortunately, in the end, that’s all the features and technology of a concept car is—a dream.

What about real innovations in technology and gadgets? What about the real luxury cars that drive like something out of a science fiction movie while offering all the comforts and conveniences of a command bridge from Star Trek?

Those are very real. Let’s take a look at some of the best luxury cars features that are more than just high-minded concepts. They’re actually available.

Night Vision and Infrared
Not long ago, the idea of a self-parking car or a camera to display your blind spot seemed impossible. In 2013, they’re very real concepts. In addition, luxury cars are leading the way on a new technology that may be more widely available soon: night vision.

Night vision displays in the dashboard of the car allow you to see the heat signatures of animals and people far beyond the reach of your headlights at night. You can drive more safely and feel a bit more like the creature from Predator at the same time. This feature, initially introduced by Cadillac, is becoming more common in offerings by manufacturers such as BMW, Lexus and Mercedes-Benz.

Manettino
Translated to mean jackknife, this feature introduced by Ferrari is something that appeals to those who really, really like driving sports cars. In short, this toggle allows you to adjust the steering settings for your car based on the type of driving you want to do. We don’t recommend that you switch to “race” mode unless you’re an experienced driver and are in a safe and legal driving area. Of course, if you’re the kind of person who’s driving a Ferrari for racing purposes, you don’t need us to tell you that.

Car MD
If you don’t know a lot about cars, you’re not very likely to diagnose your vehicle’s latest problem. Most likely, you have to take it to a mechanic, get an estimate, and even then, you’re not sure that you’re getting the service you deserve. Luckily, cars are getting better at self-diagnosis with Car MD, which is becoming more and more common in luxury cars.

Technology Leading the Way
Sure, concept cars are the most interesting, but they’re also the most disappointing because they rarely ever see the light of day.

If you want to look for the real future concepts in technology, look no further than the luxury cars of today. They are the ones spearheading the innovation, experimentation and implementation that will eventually leak into the broader automobile market and result in a better driving experience for us all.

There was a day when Bluetooth, push-button ignitions and voice-activation technology were features found only in luxury cars with the latest technology. Now, they’re in new cars across the market spectrum. It’s easy to predict the future of cars. All you have to do is discover the present.

This blog post is written by Chris Turberville-Tully from HROwen.co.uk, a luxury car dealership in England specializing in Rolls-Royce, Ferrari, Audi, Maserati and Lamborghini cars. When not working with HR Owen, Chris enjoys a holiday at the beach, traveling abroad or spending time with his family. Follow Chris’ travels and interests on Google Plus.

Image courtesy of Axion23, Flickr creative commons license

Google Introduces New Services And Features At I/O Conference

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Google announced a flurry of new services and updates to existing services at their I/O Conference in San Francisco. There were a steady stream of new products and enhancements to established services, so much so at times it was like trying to get a drink of water out of a fire hose.

For developers Google announced three new APIs, all of which will supply big improvements in battery usage. The fused location provider will supposedly use only 1 percent of the battery power used by older APIs. Along with that will be the Geofencing API, which tracks user location changes and activity recognition which can tell if a user is driving, walking or biking.

Whatever you’re doing you’ll be able to tap into Google’s new All Access streaming music service. Sign up now and get a free month and only $7.99 a month if sign up before June 30th, after that it will be $9.99 a month. Google says its service will make it easy to find and organize the type of music you like and with everything that Google knows about you that might be more frighteningly accurate than you would imagine.

Google Maps is getting a raft of new features that will make it easier to explore the world around you while keeping track of traffic, mass transit schedules and the fastest route to your favorite places to eat. Map enhancements will include 3D views, integration with Google Earth and…don’t ask me how they’re doing this…real-time rendering of cloud cover around the globe.

Google is touting the cross-platform theme for all their services and gaming APIs, one of the reasons I believe they’ll ultimately survive to take over the world from Apple and Microsoft. Users just don’t care about operating systems anymore, but developers do. Being able to build for all platforms against a single set of APIs is a very big advantage for Google. Cross platform and single sign-on for a variety of services is convenient for users and, if it’s one thing I’ve learned about technology over the years, always bet on convenience.google_maps_traffic

It remains to be seen if updates to Google+ will make that application any less of a muddled mess, but I’m not hopeful. HangOut keeps getting better and stands to become a serious competitor for Skype, TeamViewer and other group sharing apps, able to support multi-user video conference calls right out of the box.

With a continued emphasis on open development and small, quick apps, Google is like a digital candy store that keeps cranking out the gummy bears. If Apple and Microsoft don’t come up with a competitive strategy to co-opt developers and package services for users, it’s going to be a long, slow slide to obscurity for both of them.

Windows Blue Will Be Free Update

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Windows Blue, otherwise known as Windows 8.1, will be a free update for people who have already purchased Windows 8, according to an announcement made by Microsoft at a tech conference in Boston.

There’s still no official release date for Windows 8.1, jokingly called “The Apology” by some in the tech industry, but analysts expect Microsoft to have it fully deployed for the 2013 holiday season. To have Blue loaded on PC makers newest models, it would need an official release date sometime this summer.

Microsoft and PC makers have struggled with a general decline in PC sales and sluggish sales of Windows 8 machines as more users find mobile devices and tablets are adequate for much of their personal technology needs.

ballmer_win8Even though Microsoft is touting 100 million Windows 8 sales, calculations based on internet traffic indicate an installed base to be under 60 million. The discrepancy can be accounted by users rolling their Windows 8 installs back to Windows 7. Consumers are not choosing Windows 8 over Windows 7, in most instances they don’t have a choice.

I ran through the configuration of several laptops at Dell, both touch and non-touch models, and there are few options the average consumer could find to get a laptop configured with Windows 7 from the supplier. HP store is still showing some Pavilion models available with Windows 7, but most newer models are all Windows 8. It’s hard to see how sales figures are meaningful when there’s no real option for alternatives other than making changes after the purchase.

The good news is the changes in Blue should address many of the shortcomings that have been annoying users. According to leaked screenshots users will have the ability to resize the startup application tiles and can expect the return of the Start button. There will also be more options for customizing Windows 8.1 without digging around in the internals.

We’ll know after the holiday season whether Windows 8.1 can salvage PC sales or, as we previously speculated, the decline in PC sales are a reflection of the changing market in personal technology. Outside of gaming and specialty applications like CAD, video editing and 3D rendering applications, there are very few applications for the average user that require big hardware.

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The Samsung Galaxy Note 2 – photo courtesy of Samsung

To get a read on the PC market and future of Windows 8 you may not need to do much beyond gauge how often you run across tasks that require a full size laptop or PC. How much of what you used to do on a laptop can now be managed by your smartphone or tablet? The drive for bigger screens and more powerful phones, resulting in models like the Samsung Galaxy Note and HTC Titan, may ultimately be more telling about the future direction of technology than any changes Microsoft could make to Windows 8.

Three Easy Ways To Backup Your Gmail Account

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Back in 2011 thousands of GMail users got a shock when the company informed them that their emails and contacts had just disappeared. Presto, change-o, you gotta be freaking kidding me, gone. The company’s statement, delivered in a blog, was “…and we’re very sorry.” Google was eventually able to restore part of the missing data but that one incident points out that even the most robust data system, run by the smartest people in the room, can have a bad day.

Whether your email provider is Google, Yahoo, or Microsoft, not everything that can go wrong is under the vendor’s control. Added to the relatively remote possibility of a data loss accident is the greater potential for you to get cut off from your email account due to an administrative error or a hacker getting control of your account and changing the password.

Given all that can go wrong I believe it’s prudent for individual users to keep a local backup of their email. If you run your own business it’s imperative that you do so as many states have laws about maintaining records and email is a key driver in litigation these days. Fortunately drive space is cheap and the tools to backup your personal account are free. Businesses can opt for a number of relatively low-cost services for backing up email on an enterprise scale.

Desktop Email Client

Gmail has both POP3 and IMAP compatibility which you can use to keep local copies of your Gmail account. There are desktop email clients like Thunderbird or Apple Mail, available for every desktop operating system that can be used to backup your Gmail account. Instructions for how to enable Gmail for either IMAP or pop3 access can be found here.

Gmail Backup

This free python app is what I use to backup my Gmail account. It’s lightweight and verbose, making it easy to keep tabs on its progress. You can backup all your emails or select a date range. The app hasn’t been updated since 2011 but still works fine.

This is one solution that works better on Windows than Mac or Linux. I’ve had it running on Linux, but it wasn’t fun getting it setup. This is one task I offload to the Windows 7 box.

Mailstore

A Windows-only solution but it has some compelling features such as the ability to store your email on a flash drive in portable mode and compatibility with Exchange Server. The home backup version is currently free and Mailstore also has paid backup options for businesses all the way up to cloud service providers.

I’m aware I spend a lot of time harping on backups, both online and local data, and there’s a good reason for that. Of all the times I’ve seen where technology really ruins someone’s day, nine out ten times that event was a data loss. By backing up your personal data and files you may still have days technology lets you down but you’ll be able to configure a new device, restore your data and be right back in business.

Five Podcasts To Feed Your Mind

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In the days I had to commute, it was a long drive. One day I figured out how to connect my MP3 player to the car radio and it seemed to open up a whole new world. How primitive those first steps seem in light of what’s available out there today.

There are a world of educational podcasts that cover everything from cooking and foreign languages to science and technology. In just a few minutes you can load your phone or tablet with enough fascination to make your daily commute the most educational part of your day.

Astronomy Cast

Need a crash course on the Oort Cloud? Or maybe you’re more into supersonic shock waves and planetary science. Whatever your interest in astronomy and physics, you’ll find many fascinating topics at Astronomy Cast.

NPR

I like NPR but their radio show covers a lot of subjects that might not work for you. The masters of audio have a podcast directory where you can mix and match your own news feed.

How Stuff Works

Many fascinating topics here like Stuff You Missed In History Class and Stuff Your Mom Never Told You. Put together by the Discovery Channel.

Radiolab

Many science related podcasts that also ask thoughtful and compelling questions. Radiolab is appropriate for a range of ages with an interest in science.

The Naked Scientist

If a scientist got naked on a podcast would anyone notice? Not on this show, which boils scientific topics down to clear and sometimes humorous basics. A fascinating range of timely and interesting science questions.

This is just the tip of the educational iceberg. There are literally dozens of great podcasts out there and it took some work to reduce it down to the best of the best. It’s safe to say that if there’s a topic you’re interested in, someone is putting together a podcast for it.

PC Sales Plunge But Is It Fair To Blame Windows 8?

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Global PC sales suffered a dramatic drop in sales the last three months; the numbers were startling even considering PC sales in general have slumped over the last year. The news took a bite out of PC makers and Microsoft stock prices with HP losing 6.5 percent and Microsoft losing 4.4 percent.

While it would be easy to blame Microsoft and Windows 8 for the sudden collapse of PC sales, and as a Linux user I would find that somewhat satisfying, this is really a problem that runs deeper than the operating system for the PC industry.

Even my big Linux PC doesn’t see as much use lately, there just isn’t any compelling reason to fire it up. I have a laptop that meets my needs just fine, so why bother with the big hardware? Sometimes when I’m doing photo editing I miss my big, dual monitors but that’s about the only time. The problem for the PC market may not be Windows (for once) but the improvements in more compact hardware and connected devices.

One could have predicted the continued popularity of smaller connected devices by looking at Japan where the connected device market is nearly a decade ahead of the U.S. and has continued to eat away at PC sales as most consumers just don’t need big applications.

Productivity Applications In The Cloud

Probably the most disruptive change for the technology market is the easy availability of productivity apps. If you still need desktop productivity you have many options; gone are the days when Office was the only serious game in town. Online apps like Google Docs and Zoho are quickly replacing desktop applications all together, even for big companies like KLM and Disney. Those tools will only get more functional and ubiquitous as time goes on.

Without productivity apps what does that really leave for big boxes? Video editing, gaming, maybe big graphics work, not really a long list.

So it’s not just an operating system issue. There’s enough power in relatively modest hardware to do most of the tasks users require. New tablets, netbooks and smartphones don’t need an outside monitor or mouse and even keyboards are optional. Storage and applications are moving to the cloud, reducing even the need for external storage. Connected devices are light, convenient and powerful, cheap enough to be almost disposable and you don’t need Geek Squad or an IT department to set it up for you. The OS is largely peripheral to the equation.

To be fair Windows 8 does deserve some of the blame. Instead of separating the desktop and device markets, Microsoft went for a one-size-fits-all solution that didn’t really work for anyone. That was followed by the Microsoft admission that Office for Android will be delayed by at least a year. In the meantime Google is forging ahead with the integration of Google Docs and QuickOffice.

For the time being Microsoft Office still dominates the productivity market, but one wonders how long they can maintain the lead while absorbing a near continuous series of body blows, some of which are self-inflicted. It’s good to remember that RCA once dominated the personal electronics market and Kodak dominated imaging. In their day it seemed impossible that more nimble competitors could overtake them, but that’s exactly what happened.

Microsoft needs to pull it together or their legacy is going to be joining the ranks of those serving as a warning to companies of the future.

The Bundle Goes To Court – Again

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Cable and media companies square off in court. Photo By –HellasX

The ongoing war between cable companies and media companies has finally spilled over into a court challenge between Cablevision and Viacom over an industry practice called “bundling”.

The suit, filed in New York, alleges that Viacom forcing cable companies to buy less popular channels, like Palladia and MTV Hits to get the more popular ones like Comedy Central and Nickelodeon. Those costs are then passed along to consumers, whether they like those channels or not. Cablevision is alleging the practice is illegal.

Viacom says its practices are legal and that cable and satellite companies carrying all their channels get a discount for carrying the less popular stations. Federal courts have tended to side with the media companies in the past.

If the court did side with Cablevision it would turn the media industry upside down. None of the media companies would be able to bundle the crappy stations no one wants with the more popular programming channels. What the courts might not like are all the media companies playing the same game, effectively operating as a cartel instead of an open entertainment market.  Media companies have also gotten silly with the number of ancillary networks cable companies have to carry to get discounts, with some requiring carriers to load up with as many as 14 lumps of coal in exchange for one or two diamonds.

Either way it’s in the legal hands of the federal court in Manhattan to sort out.