The Longest Last Mile

Imagine a rain of hot soup, a hail of pills, and a meteor shower of packages…

The Logistics of Delivery Drones

Don’t believe the hype…

I used to get a question from clients on a fairly regular basis—the question went along the lines of: When do Delivery Drones begin being a thing? My answer would disappoint most, but really you have to kind of do the math on this one, before you realize just how much has to be done before we get there.

Besides the obvious problems of battery life versus distance along with weight and how much a single drone delivery costs and how many flights before ROI. There’s problems about where and how to land, like should we all have designated landing areas in our yards or rooftops. If it’s a building rooftop, who does the sorting and delivering or is everyone’s stuff just left in a pile? Assuming it’s not a giant online retailer, but say the local pharmacy, do you drop the drugs without a human presence, or do you have to hover until a human with a pin code arrives? And where and how does the drone recharge? I’ve seen and heard so many possible systems!

But even beyond all that logistical dilemma lies a much larger one…

The real logistical issues are going to be with the UAS Traffic Management (UTM) systems. It seems like such an easy thing until you think about a city like Manhattan. You’ll have drone messengers, food delivery, delivery services, laundry services, diaper services, retail delivery, groceries, and just about every other thing you can imagine.  Millions of drones. All in a perfect and non-stop ballet of precision and avoidance!

…and that’s not considering the thousands of pilotless air taxis!

Or an entire system of priorities, like emergency equipment, police and fire drones, unmanned ambulances, etc., etc.

Sunny with a chance of hot soup rain and possible pharmaceutical hail…

The photo above was a common one at the turn of the 19th century, when there might be only two cars in an entire county and yet somehow they’d find each other.

Imagine a rain of hot soup, a hail of pills, and a meteor shower of packages…

How do you go about creating a system that will not only manage the flights of millions of payload-heavy drones but also monitors the manned flights above and intersecting that air space as well as any unidentified objects and what to do about them? A system like this will no doubt require AI, and all of the AI trappings/baggage that will go along with it. But more importantly, how does the system track and manipulate millions of devices down to the centimeter.

The UTM is going to become an incredibly intricate part of any city’s government. It will need to have the ability to include special missions, new parameters, and will no doubt be a huge budget line item for maintenance and repair. It’s going to need auditors and supervisors and investigators. It will need to interact with other city systems, private business systems, as well as state and federal systems. If you’re getting the impression that this is going to cost millions if not billions of dollars, you’d be right.

Currently, there are UTM tests under way at the FAA test areas. NASA has been testing UTM at its Ames facilities, and other private companies are also testing UTM.

How does a system like this work? The details are still sketchy. But here’s what you can probably expect. Companies and individuals will register with the UTM (either an area or city system) and will get a hardware package to add to their drone.This will make sure each drone has the minimum requirements to operate in the system and will include a communications chip like 5G, an altimeter, a GNSS chip (similar to a GPS chip but much more accurate), a chip that stores flight data and a unique ID.

And this is just from the city side… you still would have a whole other system on the drone owner side that would include, package data such as weight and mass, energy management,craft maintenance, mileage, flight logs and any additional pertinent data.

5G Most Disruptive Technology Change Ever

Always look at infrastructure changes to make easy predictions about the future. You could get very rich.

A decade ago I attended meetings around the world where the topic was “how can we, as a country, join the Internet revolution?”   Brazil and Columbia stick in my mind. Don’t even get me started on Australia and their wasteful endeavor to create a National Broadband Network(NBN). I never had the floor but I wanted to stand up and shout “deregulation!”  That is what sparked the internet revolution in the United States. In 1993, here in Michigan, it cost 8 cents a minute for telephone calls that went outside your immediate area code. You could be a mile away from your ISP’s nearest POP (Point Of Presence) and see outrageous phone bills that ratcheted up quickly at $4.80 an hour.  At RustNet we sold internet access for $19.50/month. If we wanted to get customers in a different area code we had to put stacks of dial-up modems in an office in that area code. Then we backhauled the traffic to our main office and sent the packets out to the internet through our upstream provider in Chicago. (Anyone remember Net99?).

The big break up of ATT had occurred in 1982 and the regional telephone companies (Baby Bells) started to compete for your business after the 1996 telecom deregulation. Per minute charges went away just in time to fuel the rapid growth of internet subscribers. By that time the telcos offered their own backhaul so you did not need to maintain huge stacks of modems in every POP. You just paid for a T1 to the telephone company’s Central Office (CO) and they delivered the calls to you.

In 1995 I published a business plan for How to Start an ISP. It gave me great visibility into the wave of deregulation that was sweeping the world. As each country figured out that per minute charges were holding them back they would deregulate, encourage competition, and I would see sales of the plan going to that country. South Africa and Mozambique used my plan as a starting point. The internet took off.  By 2005 you could tell which countries still had per minute charges. They had Internet Cafes because people could not afford to dial-in.

Of course 4G spelled the end to all that. Now you can get internet on your phone and, if you can tether your phone to your computer, you use that for internet access. I can get 95 Mbs over Verizon 4G.

Well 5G is going to explode many things. And it is coming fast. Ericsson predicts there will be one billion 5G subscribers in six short years.

What is different about 5G?  It is very, very, fast. Huawei has tested 5G connections at 70 gigabits per second. Gigabits. At that speed even immersive experiences like SecondLife will work. No wonder people are excited.

But what could this do for security?

5G introduces new networking paradigms. It is going to have dramatic effects on the Internet of Things (IoT) as very small, low power radios will be able to connect. That will pose an opportunity for data theft and continue the weekly news cycle of privacy violations that we have come to know and love.

But think about what these speeds will do to your typical enterprise (and SMB) networks. Why would anyone use the pokey internet connection at work when they get 5G at home and on their smart devices?  Businesses have already moved the critical tools they need to the cloud, (email to Office365, document sharing to Microsoft hosted Sharepoint or Google Docs, or DropBox, HR systems, Salesforce, etc.) They don’t need your network at all. And if you force them in through a VPN they are going to be tunneling through your pokey network to get access to those mission critical services.

Ever see the scene in Gettysburg where General Buford rants about how clearly he can see what will happen in the morning? 

The hardwired connection is dead for office use. Sure, every firewall vendor will add 5G radios to their UTM devices for remote offices and HQ, just as they have added 4G. But going through a gateway means dealing with the slow wifi in the office.  It will be faster for users to jump on the 5G network themselves. So they will.

Goodbye cable triple play. We won’t need twisted pair, CAT5, or fiber to the home anymore. All home devices, including your TV, will connect directly to the internet via 5G.

New, very fast growing, businesses will start up to address these problems.

Here is what happens next.

Stage 1. A startup that is probably already out there will introduce a policy overlay to the carrier networks. An enterprise will just enroll all employ devices and manage what they can do over the network. It will be like a virtual UTM. They will encrypt traffic, filter content, and apply firewall rules. Managed Service Providers will do that policy work for SMBs.

Stage 2. The carriers will recognize that they have created a monster as every enterprise starts cancelling their lease line subscription. Seeing the opportunity they will start to develop their own service offerings for security.

Stage 3. One carrier, late to the game, will acquire the fastest growing 5G security management platform from Stage 1.

Stage 4. All the other carriers will cut off that 5G management platform for their own networks and make their own acquisitions.

Stage 5. All carriers will bundle security into their offerings. Network security will finally be part of the internet.

 This whole time frame will play out by 2030.

Thank you technology.

Originally published at Forbes.com December 6, 2017

Chromebooks, Network Computing & AI lessons learned

[Reading time 2:30]

Key takeaway: Why did it take two decades for Network Computers to finally arrive? Translating vision into reality can take many decades. The delays are exacerbated when a lot of very difficult, non-obvious collateral-innovation is needed. Same with AI. That will take even longer to mature. Fall for clear immediate business outcomes, not fantastic visions.

The backstory

This holiday season I bought one of my granddaughters an Acer Chromebook to take to school. And I bought it for under $120 US at a special Black Friday sale. (Only slightly more than the 2018-equivalent of $94.00 which, after inflation, is what I paid in 1975 for my $20 Texas Instruments Digital watch with an LED display.)

Bells of surprise rang in my head. 

Network Computers!

The NC (do you remember them?) has finally and definitely arrived. It’s roaring in the student marketplace. Except you may have missed the name change, from Network Computer to Chromebook.

By User:Flibble, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=42875942

Back in 1996, Netscape championed the notion of NCs for all. (To be fair, others also jumped on the bandwagon. For example, Larry Ellison of Oracle put some of his own money into another Ellison startup. Sun had its Javastation. IBM launched its Net Station and, in 1997, Apple announced the MAC NC.)

They all had visions of server-based systems meeting all the needs of users and their devices. In Network Computing, the network would be the computer. (Some wags at the time, equated user devices with dumb terminals.) But user’s 3270 or VT200 terminals were no match for the vision of Network Computers.

With Network Computers, the network would manage, control and service the users devices, software and data. NCs would be smart, able to run downloaded code (in sort of the same way modern PCs, MACs and smart phones run downloaded apps.)

It was a heady time

I was driving the Network Computing vision for Gartner and Gartner’s clients. Our expectations included:

  • The older (5 layer) Client-Server (CS) architectures would become obsolete
  • Network Computing architectures would replace them
  • The next generation of enterprise applications would be NC based, not CS based.

The Chromebook is the Network Computer of the current decade!

Timing is everything. The Network Computer didn’t happen in the 90’s or naughts. There were a lot of complimentary innovations missing, including:

  • Adequate user device hardware (CPUs, displays, batteries were all wanting)
  • New user device classes (touch sensitive smart phones, tablets)
  • Communications technologies (LTE, WiFi 802.11ax and, soon, 5g)
  • Servers (including GPUs and TPUs for AI inferencing)
  • Software protocols
  • Application architectures
  • Marketplaces
  • Multi-sided platforms
  • Payment methods

In the autumn of 1999, an email ASP (application service provider) was trying to recruit me as CTO as they rushed to beat the closure of the IPO window. I turned them down. The timing was so wrong, even more wrong than I thought at the time.

In fairness to even older visionaries, Netscape didn’t come up with the notion of “The Network Is the Computer.” Digital Equipment Corporation (DEC) was using that term in advertising two decades earlier than Netscape. All of which demonstrates that it’s not enough to have:

  • Extremely powerful vision
  • An outstanding set of architects and engineers
  • A commanding position in the market

Visionary success requires breadth, depth and variety of unexpected innovations in diverse areas:

  • Business and technology ecosystems
  • Collateral innovations at the economic, social and technical level
  • Demographic changes (the young are typically less resistant to new ways of doing things)

It takes time, a massive effort and luck! 

Which is one of the fundamental reasons why you should scoff at suggestions that we are going to see “Artificial General Intelligence” anytime soon. Not that people shouldn’t try (as in researchers.) And it’s not that people shouldn’t philosophize or write fictional accounts of what might be. They also should try. But you and I should spend our money where it delivers quick results in the here and now.

Go back and reread the conclusions from my last two blog posts! Follow the five easy criteria and don’t be distracted by Easter Bunny stories.

Disclosure: I have no vested interest in any of the firms or institutions mentioned in this post. Nor does the Analyst Syndicate.