Apple is compensating for two mistakes (1) the failure of Apple TV. (2) big investment in content too quickly without figuring out distribution.
At the moment, SeDriCa isn’t much of a looker: It resembles a couple of stacked cardboard boxes precariously balanced atop three wheels. It’s not much of a mover either. Mounted with a beacon light, the vehicle ungracefully rambles along narrow, marked routes, usually on playgrounds, at a reluctant pace.
But Ankit Sharma and Rishabh Choudhary, final year students at the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT)-Bombay, are convinced that the ungainly three-wheeler can provide the foundation for developing a driverless car for Indian streets. The duo leads the SeDriCa (short for self-driving car) project at the institute’s Unmesh Mashruwala Innovation Cell, where successive batches of students from multiple engineering streams have been working to develop an autonomous car since 2011.
They aren’t the only ones. For over a decade, IIT-Kharagpur, too, has been working to develop autonomous ground vehicles; similar research is underway in IIT-Kanpur. At India’s most elite engineering schools, the dream of driverless cars on Indian roads is turning into something of an obsession.
But for all their research into autonomous vehicles, all three IITs are working separately with scarcely any collaboration between the teams. With years of experience on the subject, it might make sense for these institutions to work together.
Nevertheless, it’s a useful fixation to have at a time when global carmakers and tech giants are throwing money and resources to develop self-driving cars. But all that hardware and technology will need some serious adaptation to be able to work on India’s extraordinary streets, where bovines, cars, pedestrians, and other assorted jalopies compete for space.
Made in India
In 2016, SeDriCa ranked fourth out of 36 teams from across the world at the Intelligent Ground Vehicle Competition (IGVC), an annual student contest held at Oakland University. The competition involves avoiding obstacles, navigating a track while staying between the white lanes, and reaching specific global positioning system (GPS) points.
SeDriCa, which measures two feet by three feet, has an on-board GPS device, an inertial measurement unit that calculates motion, and wheel encoders that track movement. A vision system on the vehicle is used to detect the lanes and LiDAR, a remote sensing technology that uses laser light, is employed to steer clear of static obstacles. All the data from these devices is collected and analysed by a set of algorithms to guide the vehicle along the required route.
The IIT-Bombay team is now working to adapt this technology for a small car for the Driverless Car Challenge of the Rise Prize, an innovation contest under the aegis of the Mahindra Group. Thirty one shortlisted teams must build a driverless car (pdf) for Indian conditions, which will first be tested in a controlled environment, like a university campus, and then on city streets.
Sharma, Choudhary, and the rest of the team are still waiting to get their hands on the Mahindra E20, a four-door electric car that they’ll try and transform into a self-driving vehicle. After their experience with SeDriCa, they’re sure of pulling it off with around six months of testing.
Already, they are trying out some of the technology on the SeDriCa, which they’ll need to fine-tune on the E20. “The algorithms that we have implemented, they are working,” explained Choudhary, 21, a chemical engineering student who is the team lead on the Rise Prize. “For example, our positioning system is working on the roads. Even when the road is covered by trees, we have good positioning.”
“We are working on other sensors also,” he added. “We have completed pedestrian detection, so it can detect pedestrians and some types of vehicles.” Much more remains to be done, including developing and testing the vehicle’s ability to recognise and deal with traffic lights, road signs, and speed breakers.
From mine rescue to the road
The challenges aren’t much different for the Autonomous Ground Vehicle Research Group (AGV) at IIT-Kharagpur, also competing for the Rise Prize. The AGV traces its roots to research that began at the institute around 2004. “There was a need for coming up with an autonomous rescue robot for mining applications,” recalled Debashish Chakravarty, an associate professor at the IIT’s mining engineering department, who heads the AGV project.
By 2008, a group of PhD students from the computer science department got to work on building a driverless car, which then led to an IIT-Kharagpur team participating in the 2012 IGVC. “We actually have a test purpose robot, which was built from scratch and is used on a small portion of the campus road to run autonomously,” said Chakravarty. “And now, we are trying to fine-tune the technology for Indian roads.”
In 2013, a group of three students from IIT-Kharagpur spun off a company, Auro Robotics, to build autonomous shuttles for transportation within campuses, such as universities and corporate parks. Auro, backed by Y Combinator, a prominent Silicon Valley accelerator-turned-seed fund, is already testing driverless shuttles at California’s Santa Clara University. Last year, it raised $2 million to roll out autonomous shuttles across US universities.
Meanwhile, at IIT-Kanpur, Gaurav Pandey, an assistant professor in the electrical engineering department, is also on the bandwagon. A former research scientist at Ford’s automated driving group based in Dearborn, Michigan, Pandey is currently working on developing autonomous vehicle technology for a foreign carmaker. He declined to provide details of the project, which is backed by IIT-Kanpur, due to confidentiality considerations.
“I am mostly looking at the problem from the western perspective right now, so I haven’t really thought about how it will be translated to an Indian condition,” Pandey explained. “But we have started to look at it.”
“We have another project where we have outfitted a car with multiple sensors that are being used by these autonomous cars and we have started collecting data from outside the IIT-Kanpur campus, and within the campus also,” he added. Pandey and his team are collecting camera and LiDAR data from these trips to understand how traffic in Indian conditions differs from roads in the US and elsewhere.
After all, the driverless technology that works in California will scarcely suffice for Kanpur’s Chaman Ganj.
Honing your typography skills for UI design — an action plan
Just recently I felt the need to improve my typography skills for UI design, so I outlined this action plan for myself, and I hope it will also help you in designing better interfaces with better typographic choices!
Action 1. Read
Here are 5 books on typography that I consider must-reads for user interface design.
Thinking with Type: A Critical Guide for Designers, Writers, Editors, & Students
— by Ellen Lupton
I first came across this book as a textbook for a design course. It laid the foundation for a solid understanding of typography.
I was able to use what I learned in design projects right away.
Filled with visual examples, this book is a definitive guide on typography for visual communication.
The Elements of Typographic Style
by Robert Bringhurst
This is the book to get if you really want to nerd out on typography and get a deep dive into the technical aspects of it.
I love the parts of the book where the history and evolution of typefaces are discussed.
Getting to know the history of typography helped me understand what makes a font look old-timey, what makes it look modern and what gives it a contemporary twist.
This knowledge really comes in handy when choosing the right font pairings.
Parts of this book can be packed with exhausting details that you may not be able to read through in one sitting.
However, you can use the rules and guidelines for reference anytime you want to create that typographic magic for a design project.
Type on Screen: A Critical Guide for Designers, Writers, Developers, and Students
by Ellen Lupton
This book concerns mainly typography in digital forms, such as how people read on different devices and common interaction patterns.
It also includes lots of example case studies that can immediately be put to use by a digital product designer.
I especially love the highly applicable do’s and don’ts on elements like navigation, tables and data display.
On Web Typography
by Jason Santa Maria
I wish I had read this book when I was a junior designer. It covers the essential aspects of typography that a digital product designer uses on a daily basis.
It includes sections on choosing and pairing fonts, setting hierarchy and creating contrast when composing a typographic system.
My favorite section of the book is when Jason cautions designers on using free fonts.
Before you go download and use that free font from a random corner of the internet, read this book first!
by Bram Stein
When it comes time to implement the fonts that you have chosen for your designs, this is the book to get.
Whether you’re in a position to implement your own fonts of choice or you’re working with a developer, knowing the technicalities outlined in this book will help get your fonts to load fast and render correctly.
This will greatly reduce your chance of hearing: “Well, maybe we’ll just switch back to using Arial…”
Action 2. Practice
I wanted to give myself a chance to experiment with choosing and pairing fonts for a variety of projects.
You don’t always get to do that in a work situation, so here are two ways that I found that offer designers a chance to play and experiment.
Daily UI Challenge
You’ve probably heard of the daily UI challenge before. It’s a great way to experiment with typography with a project a day sent by email.
These projects can be small and quick. Over time you may be surprised by the amount of work and progress you’ve made!
Focus on how your typographic choices influence the user’s overall experience.
Action 3. Observe
Have the critical eye running in the background of your daily life
There are tons of typographical user interfaces in the physical environment that we live in.
For example, highway signs, furniture assembling instructions and emergency exit signs to name a few.
Keep an eye on how these text and signage look, and your experience interacting with them.
Keep a visual collection
When you encounter interesting typography examples in digital products or design inspirations from around the web, take a screenshot and save them in a collection that you can go back to later.
When you need some inspiration for a project, you may just find the perfect solution from your personal visual collection.
It’s time for action
I hope this action plan gives you some steps that you can take right away to start honing your typographic skills for UI design.
I believe that no amount of reading or looking can replace doing the actual design work.
So go forth and design something with typography today!
Editor’s Corner—Apple TV will die so TV+ can live
Apple may have whiffed on its Apple TV+ announcement Monday by offering too few key details about the service. But the company did say that its TV app was coming to Roku and Fire TV devices, essentially sounding the death knell for Apple TV.
Apple had been telegraphing this move for months. At CES, the company announced that a version of iTunes was launching on Samsung smart TVs later this year and touted incoming AirPlay 2.0 support for smart TVs from Samsung, Sony, LG and Vizio. These moves, while not a complete distribution strategy by any means, signaled Apple’s willingness to break down its walled garden for the sake of getting its video service further out into the world.
Wide distribution is key if Apple wants to take on Netflix—which is the notable holdout for Apple’s video aggregation scheme. As Strategy Analytics pointed out, Apple’s new TV app (arriving via update in May) is starting out with a huge built-in disadvantage, with only 175 million addressable TVs compared to more than 900 million for Netflix.
Apple has plans to close the gap. The company is launching the TV app on Mac this fall; launching on smart TVs, starting with Samsung in spring followed by LG, Sony and Vizio; and on Roku and Amazon Fire TV devices “in the future.”
The Roku and Fire TV agreements were the announcements of the day, according to Alan Wolk, co-founder and lead analyst at consulting firm TV[R]EV. He pointed toward a tweet from Prashanth Pappu, founder of Vizbee, as a good summation of why those two deals are significant.
Wolk said that Apple used to be able to sit back, wait until an emerging product category became nascent, and then swoop in with a superior product and take over. But lately that strategy has failed, with Apple Music still dwarfed by Spotify and the pricey HomePod lagging behind Amazon and Google in the smart speaker market.
Apple TV is another example of the company’s hardware strategy falling flat. According to Parks Associates figures from the first quarter of 2018, Amazon and Roku combined control more than 50% of the streaming device market among U.S. broadband households. Apple has about 15% of the market. A big contributing factor to Roku and Google’s market dominance over Apple TV has to do with their $30 price points compared to Apple’s $180.
“There aren’t that many people going ‘I want to spend six times as much money,’” Wolk said.
Apple has been able to create perceived value because its products are so expensive. But Apple’s rigid adherence to premium pricing has come back to bite the company in the form of iPhone sales plateaus and sagging revenues for the company’s other devices.
“They’ve hit a point of diminishing returns,” Wolk said.
That hardware conundrum had sparked Apple’s renewed focus on growing its service revenues. The strategy appears to be paying off. In January, Apple said fiscal first-quarter services revenue reached an all-time high of $10.9 billion, up 19% over the previous year. That figure could keep climbing considering that, in addition to its video streaming service, Apple on Monday announced a subscription news and magazine service, a credit card and a streaming video game service.
The tradeoff for this services pipeline, at least in terms of video, appears to be the abandonment of the Apple TV. Once the Roku, Amazon and various smart TV deals are in place for the TV app, the Apple TV will essentially become an overpriced streaming box stripped of some of its exclusivity with Apple software and services like TV+.
Wolk said that at that point, Apple can let the Apple TV slowly die off and stop pushing upgrades; or do a complete reboot and put out a less expensive version of the device, similar to what the company did with the iPod Nano.
Google Stadia Gaming Service ‘Will Not Have Any Adults-Only’ Content, Executive Says
A Google executive offered new details on Wednesday about the company’s upcoming video game streaming service, telling Reuters that game makers may use competing cloud providers and must avoid some inappropriate content.
Google, owned by Alphabet Inc, unveiled Stadia on Tuesday, saying the service launching this year would make playing high-quality video games in an internet browser as easy as watching a movie on its YouTube service.
The game would operate on Google’s servers, receiving commands from a user’s controller and sending video streams to their screen. Player settings, leaderboards, matchmaking tools and other data related to the game would “not necessarily” have to reside on Google’s servers, Phil Harrison, a Google vice president, said in an interview.
Hosting the data elsewhere, however, could lead to slower loading times or less crisp streaming quality, he said.
“Obviously, we would want and incentivize the publisher to bring as much of their backend as possible” to Google servers, he said. “But Stadia can reach out to other public and private cloud services.”
The approach could limit Google’s revenue from Stadia. It has declined to comment on the business model for the new service, but attracting new customers to Google’s paid cloud computing program is one of Stadia’s aims.
If a game publisher was using Amazon for some tools, “the first thing I would do is introduce you to the Google Cloud team,” Harrison said.
In addition, Stadia will require games to follow content guidelines that build upon the system of Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB), a self-regulatory body, he said.
“We absolutely will not have A-O content,” Harrison said, referring to the ESRB’s moniker for the rare designation of a game as adult-only because of intense violence, pornography or real-money gambling.
He said Stadia’s guidelines would not be public.
Asked about growing public concerns about game addiction, Harrison said Stadia would empower parents with controls on “what you play, when you play and who you play with.”
Google views Stadia as connecting its various efforts in gaming, including selling them on its mobile app store, Harrison said. But game streaming, he said, is an opportunity to tackle among the most complex technical challenges around and potentially apply breakthroughs to other industries.
“We think we can grow a very significant games market vertical,” he said. “And by getting this right we can advance the state of the art of computing.”