About Tom Foremski

Tom Foremski

Tom Foremski is the Editor and Founder of the popular and top-ranked news site Silicon Valley Watcher, reporting on business and culture of innovation. He is a former journalist at the Financial Times and in 2004, became the first journalist from a leading newspaper to resign and become a full-time journalist blogger.

Tom has been reporting on Silicon Valley and the US tech industry since 1984 and has been named as one of the top 50 (#28) most influential bloggers in Silicon Valley. His current focus is on the convergence of media and technology — the making of a new era for Silicon Valley. He also writes a column at ZDNET.

Latest Posts by Tom Foremski

Growth of Drones Will Soon See Blue Skies Full of Them…

December 22, 2014 by  



The word “drone” often conjures up images of autonomous, militarized technology. But in the context of small aircraft with multiple rotors that you often see carrying cameras, drones are more accurately associated with hobbyist sport and commercial applications.

They’ve begun attracting mainstream attention as drone makers such as Parrot introduced affordable models putting them in the hands of a broader range of buyers.

The giant Las Vegas International Consumer Electronics Show (CES) has for the first time, created a dedicated  Unmanned Systems Marketplace, where over a dozen companies will be grouped together to show off their latest flying machines.

According to the Consumer Electronics Association, sales of consumer drones are predicted to reach 400,000 units and $130 million in revenue in 2015, and surpass $1 billion in annual sales within the next five years.

Drones’ affordability and their extraordinary flying agility is directly related to Moore’s Law and lower costs for powerful chips. Drones are complex systems requiring precise control of multiple rotors and positioning in three dimensions.

Sensors feed data to a microprocessor, which decides on the rate of spin for the individual rotors, clockwise and counterclockwise…and that’s just to hover.

A pilot’s command to pitch, roll or yaw is received, calculated and translated to motor response in thousands of a second. Thanks to the miniaturization of key components as a result of smart phones and laptops, low-power CPUs, RAM, flash, sensors and I/O can be crammed into compact spaces and sold affordably.

As more powerful microprocessors become available,future consumer and military drones will have many new capabilities.

The space is evolving rapidly. Modern drone “brains” add orientation control, GPS-based points of interest, failsafe mechanisms, cruise and cameras to the list of features siphoning compute cycles.

Large drones designed for the defense industry, such as the RQ-4 Global Hawk,  already have massive computer power “equivalent to an airborne super computer.” They’re immensely expensive (think hundreds of millions of dollars).

Manufacturers of cost-sensitive drones will use more affordable systems on a chip.

“It’s really not too different from the benefits of advanced computing on a mobile device,” says Brandon Basso, senior research and development engineer at 3D Robotics.

“Specific to drones, there are a couple of application domains that make sense for advanced computing. The first is computer vision—being able to sense the environment more effectively. Optimization and routing are also math-intensive problems.”

3D Robotics sells a sub-$1,000 quad-copter able to track and follow GPS-enabled devices running Android. Its 32-bit ARM Cortex-M4 powered controller can keep the drone’s camera pointed at you. Or, using DroidPlanner 2 software, it’ll follow a flight plan of your creation and train its GoPro on a specific region of interest.

The company recently demonstrated a version of its Third-Person View (3PV) with Follow Me technology, which employs optical tracking of a subject, rather than following a GPS signal. According to Basso, the task is as much as 100 times more compute-intensive.

3D Robotics’ engineers needed to beef up their controller and turned to Intel’s postage stamp-sized Edison module, plus a dual-core 500 MHz Atom SoC with 1GB of LPDDR3 RAM, 4GB of flash memory, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth.

“The Edison hardware is better suited for vision tracking because of its high clock rates and more RAM,” says Basso. “Plus, it integrates well with open-source libraries for vision processing.”

With smarter chips, the next big thing in drone technology will likely be affordable radio and laser remote sensing subsystems to address routing — flying from one point to another in the presence of obstacles or adverse environmental conditions.

“One of the enabling technologies that got drones to where they are today is cheap MEMS (microelectromechanical systems) sensors—accelerometers and gyroscopes,” says Basso. “That was wave one. The next wave of lidars and radars, which used to cost thousands of dollars on their own, are coming down in price.”

Also, expect significant advancements to the cameras carried by drones. Today the emphasis is on higher resolutions and stable picture quality. But hyperspectral imaging, which involves the collection of information across the full electromagnetic spectrum (and not just the narrow band that humans see), promises a greater level of information than current systems.

3D Robotics drones are often used in surveying farms and with a full spectrum camera system they’ll be able to collect better data on crops and make farming more efficient, using less water and pesticides.

A sensors improve, new business applications will materialize. Delivery is one example. Amazon always wants to serve customers more quickly at lower cost, and is experimenting with its Prime Air drone delivery concept.

As the technology continues to improve and becomes less expensive, it is likely that multi-rotor drones will significantly change Amazon’s business.

A future world with skies swarming with buzzing drones will require some form of air traffic control. Regulations will likely mandate that drones will require permission to take-off and land just as aircraft do today. It’ll have to be a highly reliable and automated system and it’ll need a lot of computer power.

Until that happens, today’s hobbyist flight controllers benefit from return-to-home functions. Should a craft fly out of radio range, an autopilot will guide it back towards its point of takeoff.

Today’s hobbyist drones are packed with advanced technologies — not bad for something that’s priced in the hundreds of dollars.

Photo by Intel Free Press…


Paperless Restrooms Send User Generated Alerts

December 6, 2014 by  



Flush with the success of a pilot program at its Silicon Valley HQ, Intel is rolling out digital restrooms across 22 campuses globally. From overflowing toilets to empty towel dispensers to faulty faucet motion sensors, Intel employees can now swipe their washroom maintenance requests using smartphones.

Near field communications (NFC) chips  installed in the restrooms of Intel’s Robert Noyce Building at the beginning of 2014let employees anonymously report maintenance needs with a tap of their mobile phone. Those without NFC-enabled smartphones have the option to scan a QR code.

Based on positive feedback from the Silicon Valley pilot, Intel is re-plumbing restrooms in all of its global offices to include NFC and QR codes. In order to ensure a clean flowing process, signage is being translated into eight different languages and the mobile application is being updated to have the most commonly reported restroom issues being the most accessible within the app.

Each of the restroom signs is custom-coded for that particular restroom so that when the mobile application is triggered, it is for that restroom. 2,215 signs with NFC/QR codes will be hung worldwide.

Streamlining the service request process addressed a big challenge for facility maintenance staff, according to Joe Maestas, a former project manager for Intel Corporate Services involved in the initial pilot program.

“One of the things that everybody loves to complain about is bathrooms,” he said. “But people never report issues.”

That general lack of movement prompted Maestas and his team to plunge into finding a way to unclog the restroom maintenance request process and get things flowing down the right pipe.

30-second window…

According to Suzy Hart Langdell a communications specialist in the projects and solutions team of Intel’s Technology Manufacturing Group, there are over 20,000 restroom service requests per year worldwide.

“There is [generally] a 15- to 30-second time period from when a person sees something to when they will report it — if you make it really easy,” said Maestas. “Outside that 30-second window, the opportunity is lost.”

Previously, employees could submit service requests via an 11-step process on the company intranet or call them in, neither of which had much sense of urgency. The restroom signs with NFC chips and QR codes keep opportunities to report issues from going down the drain by making the process easy — now three clicks or fewer — and immediate.

Gender bias…

Initially, usage has been divided along gender lines with approximately eight in 10 requests coming from men’s restrooms. According to IT in the Toilet, a study conducted by marketing firm 11Mark, smartphone use in the bathroom doesn’t differ much for men (74 percent) and women (76 percent), but men are more likely to bring their smartphone: 30 percent claimed they never go to the bathroom without their phone, compared with 20 percent of women.

“I know I don’t bring my phone into the restroom,” said Michelle Creed, a project manager on the program. “Maybe the guys keep it in their pockets or have it on their belt. So, that could be the difference, the mobile phone actually going with the person.”

In order to attract restroom visitors to use the new system and ensuring that bathroom “surfaces” are clean, Intel corporate services teased a giveaway of a Microsoft Surface Pro 3 that Intel employees could enter to win using the new smartphone restroom app.

The janitorial staff in charge of clean restrooms noticed an increase in bathroom “issues” as people tried to enter via reporting a problem in the restroom. Even though the link to enter the giveaway did not require an “issue” being entered.

Regardless of where the requests come from, there is some anecdotal evidence that the new smartphone process has shortened response time to maintenance requests. Maestas cites the example of an empty soap dispenser that was refilled before the person who submitted the request had even left the restroom.

“From a customer perspective, that is what you want — real-time results,” he said.

Photo by Intel Free Press.

Silicon Valley’s Liquid Amorality – Water Will Find Its Way

November 27, 2014 by  



The Facebook campus sits next to colorful algae on salt flats along San Francisco Bay.

Ten years ago in mid 2004 I left the Financial Times and started publishing Silicon Valley Watcher. Silicon Valley was starting to wake from a long downturn from the dotcom deflation and Google’s August IPO was a good sign after several years of bad news.

The culture of Silicon Valley was different then. The software engineering community was more radical than today, and far more socially conscious. The open source software movement was very strong among engineers and there was overall an anti-commercial attitude and a respect for protecting an open commons.

It shared much in spirit with the radical English groups from the mid-seventeeth century such as The Diggers, and also with the The Diggers of the 1960s in San Francisco, who ran free stores and served free food from their kitchens.

The business bible of 2004 was The Cluetrain Manifesto and it came directly from that culture. Here’s an excerpt:

…People of Earth

The sky is open to the stars. Clouds roll over us night and day. Oceans rise and fall. Whatever you may have heard, this is our world, our place to be. Whatever you’ve been told, our flags fly free. Our heart goes on forever. People of Earth, remember.

Google was a rebel…

Google was very much a part of this radical culture. Its IPO was shocking at the time because it tried to stop the Wall Street bankers and their insiders from profiting from the one-day flips on opening day. Its “Dutch” auction was designed to give small investors the same access to shares as anyone else.

Its passion towards social responsibility was front and center, its ”Letter from the Founders” was the first thing you saw in its IPO filing.

Google was a mystery black box…

I was working at the Financial Times when the much anticipated IPO documents were filed with the SEC. Until then, Google was a black box — no one knew how much money it was making. We raced back from lunch to comb through the hundreds of pages of financial statements.

The numbers were fascinating and told an amazing story of how immensely profitable “search” had become. But it was the “Letter from the Founders” that stood out. It was extraordinary, I had never seen anything like it in any IPO filings.

Here was Larry Page and Sergey Brin telling future shareholders that making money was not the prime goal, that building a business that improved the world was their motivation. The founders explained how a dual-share structure, that gave them ten-times the voting rights, was essential to its mission.

Here’s an extract:

Don’t be evil. We believe strongly that in the long term, we will be better served-as shareholders and in all other ways-by a company that does good things for the world even if we forgo some short term gains….

We aspire to make Google an institution that makes the world a better place. . . We are in the process of establishing the Google Foundation. We intend to contribute significant resources to the foundation, including employee time and approximately 1% of Google’s equity and profits in some form.

We hope someday this institution may eclipse Google itself in terms of overall world impact by ambitiously applying innovation and significant resources to the largest of the world’s problems.

Corporate social responsibility

Google became an important thought leader in the burgeoning social corporate responsibility movement, which was kick-started earlier by Salesforce.com founder Marc Benioff.

Corporate Social Responsibility was important because it was important to the software engineering community. It was essential in recruiting the best engineers. A company bus and a company lunch didn’t cut it with that generation of coders.

Today’s Silicon Valley culture is dominated by a peculiar amorality, a narcissism that claims Ayn Rand for its aspirations, even though few have read her books or even their dust jackets.

It’s as if everyone has forgotten, “What the right thing to do is.” And Google has worked hard to play down its “Don’t be evil” rule.

The culture of Silicon Valley today sits somewhere on the autistic spectrum and exhibits the elemental qualities of water.  Water will always find its way, it will find the unseen cracks, and find ways through obstacles and even tear them down, as a tiny leak can bring down a mighty dam.

Water is an amazing disruptor — materializing from thin air, it can torrent and push aside mountains, or it can patiently work at opening up tiny cracks in solid stone, freezing and expanding, thawing and flowing.

Water doesn’t need ethics or morality it is a force of nature. It will always find its right level. It’s an appropriate metaphor for Silicon Valley’s culture of amorality. For example,  the “Double Irish Dutch sandwich” tax accounting scheme used by (Bermuda based) Google, Apple, and others, to reduce corporate taxes in Europe and the US.

These loopholes in tax laws require extraordinary measures by large teams of accountants and lawyers to exploit, but like water finding its way through obstacles, if the holes are there water will flow through. Or as Eric Schmidt, Google’s Chairman told angry British politicians last year: plug the holes if you want more tax revenues.

This culture of amorality extends to lobbying in Washington where Silicon Valley companies don’t see a problem in giving money to re-elect politicians working against measures to control climate change, or restrict marriage to heterosexual couples.

And the amorality of winning at all costs even when you are winning.

Look at the secret conspiracy by  Silicon Valley’s most successful and richest companies, Apple, Google, Intel, Intuit, Adobe, against their own workers, to hold down their salaries and restrict their career moves; Zynga’s admission of nasty revenue scams; Uber’s uber-sleazy growth strategy; Twitter’s demands for tax relief simply for locating its HQ in San Francisco’s poorest neighborhood – an economic burden for the city.

Silicon Valley companies have discovered the simple fact you can have your cake and eat it because there’s always more cake. You can be shitty and behave despicably and never have to eat humble pie because there will always be more cake.

And like water, this culture of amorality doesn’t set out to be evil, but it also doesn’t set out to do good — it sets out to see what it can get away with, what holes it can find to win and keep winning.

Ten years ago Silicon Valley aspired to be more than this.

Wearable Tech, Stylish or Not, May Not Get Through Airport Security

November 16, 2014 by  


Thinking of gliding through airport security wearing your new FitBit, Android Wear watch or soon, your Apple Watch? Think again.

New wearable technology in the form of smart watches, activity trackers and jewelry with embedded tech may cause confusion for security screeners.

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) have yet to write official policies around security, safety and usage of wearable technology.

The TSA says that over 1.75 million people pass through its security checkpoints every day.

“There are millions of things that people can bring through a checkpoint so it’s hard to give a policy or directive on one piece whether it’s a phone or other type of jewelry, so it’s in the best interests of the passenger to get items screened or put through an X-ray machine just to verify that they do not alarm,” said Ross Feinstein, spokesperson for the TSA.

“Our goal here is to ensure that there are no prohibited items on the passenger or in their luggage when they get access to the airport.”


Under current rules, the FAA classifies wearable technology as a Personal Electronic Device (PED), defined as any piece of lightweight, electrically powered equipment capable of communications, data processing and/or utility. Examples are: lightweight electronic devices such as tablets, smartphones and electronic toys.

The FAA doesn’t distinguish between a PED and wearable tech products such as a smart watch or a light-up skirt. “If the device performs PED functions, then PED rules apply,” said an FAA spokesperson.

It is not clear how much attention companies working on wearable technology are paying to security situations such as at airports, but the issue is bound to become more prevalent as more devices come onto the market. Because there’s no specific policy in place, experiences – and opinions of protocol – during travel may vary.

Tim Pettitt, product line manager in Intel’s New Devices Group who helped design the MICA wearable (below), says that while Intel and Opening Ceremony follow the Federal Communication Commission’s (FCC) guidelines on capabilities needed, they haven’t worked directly with the TSA or FAA.


Bluetooth wearables…

Pettitt says whether or not your wearable has a cellular modem may determine what actions you need to take when going through security or using it on an airplane.

“In most cases, you can leave your wrist-worn wearable on through security and won’t need to power it off in flight,” says Pettitt. “Most airlines are not concerned about Bluetooth and will explicitly tell you to shut down your Bluetooth device if required. However, if you have a device, like MICA, which has a cellular radio, you need to put it into airplane mode just like you would a phone.”

A recent travel experience while wearing a Samsung Galaxy Gear Live Android Wear was in line with Pettitt’s statement. For security checkpoints that allowed jewelry and other accessories to remain on the person, the smart watch was treated no differently – though it’s unclear if security personnel recognized that it was an electronic device.


Fashion wearables such as the MICA may further blur the lines of what’s considered jewelry and a PED. While removing a bracelet or necklace may just be a minor inconvenience, tech-laced clothing with integrated sensors could pose logistical problems for passengers asked to place all electronic items in the plastic bins.

Onboard aircraft, passengers are now always instructed to switch all personal electronic devices into airplane mode, and most wearable devices today have such on/off capabilities for radios.

“For travel purposes, we did make it possible to turn off the wireless capabilities directly from the touch-screen interface of the new [Basis] Peak,” said Jef Holove, former CEO of Basis and now general manager in Intel’s New Devices Group. Basis, a maker of biometric smart watches, was recently acquired by Intel.


Intel Free Press writers Michael Sheehan and Marcus Yam show their smart watches at IDF 2014.

While there’s yet to be a formal policy in place, agency representatives and wearable makers recommend following a number of guidelines when traveling with wearables.

Tips for Travelers with Wearables

Consolidate – Feinstein recommends consolidating all of your electronic gadgets into your carry-on, handbag, purse or briefcase and passing your carry-on through the X-ray screening device.

Leave it at home – If you don’t absolutely need your expensive wearable, it’s best to leave it at home.

- Fully charge your wearable – Condé Nast Traveler reported the TSA wants travelers to validate that your cell phone is real by powering it on. When asked about this new policy, Feinstein said it was for certain airports outside the United States for flights coming to the United States and that it was not a policy implemented in domestic airports. It’s often difficult to find free plugs and enough time at airports to charge your device, and most airplanes don’t have plugs.

Follow the PED rules  As per FAA guidelines, if the flight attendant asks you to turn off your wearable or put it in “airplane mode,” do it otherwise you may have it taken from you.

Remember, not every security screener has seen each and every wearable on the market. Some ankle-worn activity trackers have even been confused by authorities as a law enforcement ankle bracelet.

Looking at St. Louis’ Tech Culture As The City Celebrates 250 Years

November 14, 2014 by  


St Louis 00133 2

With it’s famous arch in the background, St. Louis celebrates 250 years in 2014.

I recently returned from 4 days in St. Louis, meeting the local startup community and contributing to a new conference, Startup Voodoo organized by local tech news site Techli and Elasticity, an innovative digital marketing agency.

I was more than impressed with the strong sense of social responsibility everyone seemed to have from young business students, entrepreneurs, to philanthropists. Even newly transplanted residents with just a few months residency talked about S. Louis as “we” and exhibited a strong loyalty to their new community.

It is worth remembering that Silicon Valley used to have a strong sense of social responsibility, too. It once was very important in recruiting software engineers, they cared about it more than free lunches and free haircuts.

When Google registered for its IPO in 2004 the first pages of its SEC filing was a letter from the founders, in which they spelled out their goal of building an enterprise for greater good:

Don’t be evil. We believe strongly that in the long term, we will be better served-as shareholders and in all other ways-by a company that does good things for the world even if we forgo some short term gains….

We aspire to make Google an institution that makes the world a better place. . . We are in the process of establishing the Google Foundation. We intend to contribute significant resources to the foundation, including employee time and approximately 1% of Google’s equity and profits in some form.

We hope someday this institution may eclipse Google itself in terms of overall world impact by ambitiously applying innovation and significant resources to the largest of the world’s problems.

Underground Cellar Helps Wineries Sell Wine Online

October 6, 2014 by  


I recently met Jeffrey Shaw, CEO of Underground Cellar, a startup focused on helping wineries sell wine online. He and his team has developed a great technology platform to allow wineries to market themselves and sell their wines but it is also using its own platform to sell wine on behalf of many wineries — using a clever business model.

Shaw explained that when wineries want their help to shift certain wines, Underground Cellar will taste the wines first and then agree to sell a set number of cases and take a sales commission. It always asks the winery to give it additional cases of some of its other lines, often high-end expensive vintages, and those are used to reward its customers.

When customers order wine, they have a chance to win additional bottles for free, equivalent to what they have ordered, or better. The probability of winning extra bottles is shown each time in real time.

[All it needs (below) is some revolving cherries to create a virtual one-armed bandit.]


Customers used to have to wait until their order arrived to see if they had won but Shaw says telling them immediately if they have lost gave them a ready opportunity to place another order and try again, and many do.

Additional services include storage of customer’s wine in its “Cloud Cellar” with courier shipping for same day delivery.

Shaw says that his startup is a technology platform and he thinks it could be used for many other types of products and services. But it clearly is more than that. The startup also represents wineries online with sharp marketing and page designs, and it is becoming an important e-commerce partner for many wineries.

Underground Cellar is really a new hybrid, a high-tech enabled marketing and e-commerce agency. I’m sure we’ll see more of this type of company because it combines three essential business services in one package.

San Francisco’s Friday Night Market On Mid-Market Street

September 12, 2014 by  


The new Friday market on mid-Market Street in San Francisco was a big hit with hundreds of people enjoying drinks, food trucks, and shopping eclectic stalls on a warm autumn evening. Mayor Ed Lee and several supervisors arrived, too. I managed to speak briefly with the Mayor about some of the tech community issues and urged him to integrate the tech community and not keep it segregated. He agreed and said the Friday market was a step in that direction.

Mid Market 47

Mid Market 62

Mid Market 84

Unfortunately I didn’t get a chance to tell the mayor about an idea I had, to have Google et al. up the extra quarter on Muni bus fares. They rose by a quarter to $2.25 on September 1. It would be a great publicity gesture if those firms picked up that quarter for all riders as a show of support for busses for everyone. They have often been criticized for using bus stops and city resources and not paying a full share.

Mid Market 75

The mayor poses with a Homeland security guard who is always ready to draw.

A charity called San Francisco Beautiful that was founded in 1947 helped organize the event. I spoke with its Executive Director Kearstin Krehbiel. He was very pleased with the turnout. “It’s a success, the Mayor is here and at least three supervisors have come.”  He said he was hoping to entice local restaurants to be involved in future Fridays, not just food trucks.

Mid Market 112

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Mid Market 205

There will be a Friday Night Market every Friday until October 24 and then it will be extended if it continues to do well.


A New Smart Bicycle Helmet Design With Life-Saving Features

September 5, 2014 by  



Intel Intern Aniket Borkar modeling the Smart Helmet

Students at Oregon State University and Intel interns collaborated 0n a smart helmet with life-saving features.

For the past half year, a group of five undergraduate students from Oregon State University has been working with interns at Intel to create a smart safety helmet for cyclists. In a perfect world, the primary function of the helmet — to detect a crash and communicate to emergency contacts — would never be used.

The job of today’s bicycle helmets is to provide protection to the head in a crash. The group of interns wants to extend this functionality, especially when used with smaller children, as well as provide tests to determine if a rider involved in a crash may have suffered a concussion and requires medical attention.

Viewed as a “smart helmet,” which is connected to a smartphone, the prototype uses sensors (e.g., accelerometers) to detect a crash and communication hardware to automatically dial a predefined emergency contact. Built into the helmet are above-the-ear speakers, a microphone, an LED headlamp and a 3.7V, 2600mAh lithium-ion battery. The team also created a custom logic board that incorporates Intel Edison along with Bluetooth, magnetometer, gyroscope and two accelerometers.

A smartphone app, developed in Java parallel with the hardware, serves as the companion to the smart helmet’s functions and features. The app enables a user’s smartphone to record ride distance, speed and the path. It currently runs on Android but can easily be ported to other platforms.

Abhay Dharmadhikari, a technologist and architect in the Device Development Group for Intel, who has been at the company for over 17 years, mentored the interns working on the smart helmet. Dharmadhikari has a personal interest in the helmet project, as he has two children, ages 8 and 12, who are cyclists. Children are seldom good communicators and are often embarrassed to talk about problems or don’t give the full picture, said Dharmadhikari.

The helmet knows all…and who to call

“If my kids get into a crash, we will never know what happened. Did they hit their heads? Did they get really injured? Because when they come back [after biking] they just say ‘I got hurt,’ so we aren’t really sure how bad it was,” said Dharmadhikari. “Could we build something that would help us understand; [and] if a crash happens, the helmet can act like a black box?”

The intern team behind the helmet likened it to the automobile assistance program OnStar, but for cyclists.

In the event of a crash, the smartphone application initiates communication with the bike rider through the helmet speakers and microphone to ask if he needs help.

If he says “yes” or does not respond, the app automatically will call and/or text the emergency contact (which can be 911) with location information. The rider can also be asked several medical questions to assess if he’s suffered a concussion or other injury, such as asking the rider to read the current time on an analog clock displayed on the companion app.

The helmet also stores crash data that can be analyzed after the fact to better understand the incident, like a “black box” for bicyclists. The helmet will store sensor data, which is helpful in telling doctors which part of the head sustained the impact. T

The companion app can also connect to the cloud to upload and pool ride and crash data, so that the crowd-sourced data can be used to better understand head injuries as well as identifying dangerous intersections.

Because the interns developing the prototype wanted to extend the functionality to something useful beyond emergency situations, the microphone and speakers can be used for hands-free calling as well as streaming music. Because the speakers do not cover the ears, the bicycle rider can still hear the surrounding environment.

The helmet as a platform…

“We think of the helmet as a platform and there are many things we can do with it. We focused on the present features from a product perspective,” said Dharmadhikari, adding that haptic feedback could be a future feature.

The smart helmet project is part of an extensive internship program that Intel has with university graduate and undergraduate students. The Intel Collaborators program is on its third year employing undergraduate and graduate students and Ph.D. candidates from around the country to participate in high-visibility, cross-functional mentored programs.

Contrary to traditional Intel intern programs, which are typically funded by individual business units at Intel, the Collaborators program receives support and funding from Intel Human Resources.

“We believe in this next generation of students and mentoring them and helping them become better engineers; that is our motivation,” said Dharmadhikari. “I believe in working with the students where they really have energy and challenge the energy with the right problems and tools.”

The smart helmet project started in December 2013 with the five selected interns initially devoting their free time to the project. Once school had completed, four of the five worked full time as official Intel interns. Three students are studying computer and electrical engineering and one is studying computer science.

Saving lives is an adrenaline rush…

Cam Tu Vo is a junior at Oregon State University studying computer science, and at her internship at Intel she works in web development. Vo extracted crash data from databases and visually represented it in a way that was useful to users or researchers.

“The tasks were fairly straightforward in the beginning, but it gradually became interesting after more feedback. My manager really focused on the user interface and meaningful information,” Vo said. “From those expectations, I had the opportunity to work with graphics and 3-D model manipulation of our helmet.”

The intern team finally got the chance to show off their smart helmet at an Intel Collaborators showcase.

“A camera man told us about a close friend’s death. He said our smart helmet would have contacted emergency services after the bike accident and could have saved his friend’s life,” Vo said.

“The man expressed true appreciation, which gave me the sense that I am a part of something that can positively impact people’s lives. It was such an adrenaline rush for me.”

Photo by Intel Free Press.


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