TIME Innovation

Five Best Ideas of the Day: February 11

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

1. Syria’s own ‘Monuments Men’ are trying to stop antiquities from becoming looted to finance terrorism.

By Joe Parkinson, Ayla Albayrak and Duncan Mavin in the Wall Street Journal

2. Scientists have combined a bionic leaf with a bioengineered bacteria to convert solar energy into liquid fuel.

By Elizabeth Cooney at Harvard Medical School

3. A dozen states are using a smart data center to keep voter information up to date. Meet ERIC.

By the Pew Charitable Trusts on YouTube

4. Deciding to embrace big data is a lot easier than changing your culture to use it well.

By Matt Asay in ReadWrite

5. Fighting malaria is going to take more than just nets.

By Utibe Effiong and Lauretta Ovadje with Andrew Maynard in the Conversation

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

MONEY Tech

Apple and Tesla Battle for the Most Important Resource

Apple HQ (left); Tesla (right)
Justin Sullivan/Getty Images (left)—Reuters (right)

The fight for talented employees

Although they are in substantially different industries, Apple APPLE INC. AAPL -0.67% and Tesla TESLA MOTORS INC. TSLA 1.44% are often compared in terms of innovation, brand equity, and quality. Even Tesla founder Elon Musk is often compared, favorably, to Apple’s late co-founder Steve Jobs. In many ways the designation fits: both are groundbreaking visionaries who are looking to reinvent existing products — simply put, Musk wants to reinvent cars like Jobs reinvented the cell phone.

Outside of that, you’d be hard-pressed to find any similarities to their products — or would you? Apparently Tesla feels like you should. In fact, fact, Tesla is desperately competing with Apple; but instead of market share, it wants something much more important over the long run: talent. According to a new Bloomberg article, Tesla is aggressively poaching engineers, lawyers, and other employees from the Cupertino-based tech giant — 150 as of last count.

Unsurprisingly, Apple isn’t happy about this. Bloomberg reported that Apple is itself trying to woo Tesla employees with “signing bonuses of a quarter-million dollars and salary increases of up to 60%.” This is good work if you can get it, and it shows the importance of human capital to an organization.

A long-term competitive advantage

It’s unfortunate that Wall Street analysts focus on revenue and earnings without considering the strongest long-term driver of results: innovative employees. And when employees are cited for spectacular results, it generally tends to be only the CEO or other C-Suite management types. While prudent vision and management is important, so are those on the front line adding value every day.

Wall Street tends to look at labor quite unfavorably, mainly due to the fierce clashes of yesteryear between management and labor unions. Those battles are mostly over, and capital won in a rout as labor union participation in the private sector is less than 7% — but the nasty relationship has remained. In many cases, management views labor (read: employees) as something that needs to be controlled and culled. Even now, conversations about company productivity tend to revolve around doing the same with less rather than “scaling up” (doing more with more).

That’s unfortunate. Quality employees might not show up on the balance sheet, but they are perhaps the best long-term advantage any company could have. Apple and Tesla shareholders can rest assured these two companies understand that.

A tale of two companies

For perhaps the best example of two distinctly different human capital strategies in action in a familiar industry, look no further than Wal-Mart WAL-MART STORES INC. WMT -0.95% and Costco COSTCO WHOLESALE CORPORATION COST -0.14% . Both Wal-Mart and Costco pursue a low-cost strategy, but Costco as of June 2013 reportedly paid its hourly employees $20.89 per hour on average, versus Wal-Mart’s $12.67.

And how is that working out for the two? Over the last four fiscal years, Wal-Mart has grown revenue by 3.9% per year while Costco’s sales have risen at an annualized rate of 9.6%. While there are notable differences between the two companies, mainly the revenue generation model and scale, Wal-Mart’s woes seem to center on poor staffing, inadequate stocking, and a poor shopping experience. These are all problems that arise from an extreme low-cost model.

In the end, business models can be copied, copyrights and patents expire, and products get old. Meanwhile, successful businesses and brands can innovate on a daily basis. To do that you need to employ and retain better talent than your competitors have. It seems Apple, Tesla, and Costco understand that investing inhuman capital is an important part of business. I’d encourage Wal-Mart to work on this overlooked asset.

 

TIME Innovation

The U.K. Is Making Rules for Driverless Cars

British Transport Minister Claire Perry and British Secretary of State for Business Innovation and Skills Vince Cable ride a driverless 'Meridian' vehicle in London, Feb. 11,2015.
Andy Rain—EPA British Transport Minister Claire Perry and British Secretary of State for Business Innovation and Skills Vince Cable ride a driverless 'Meridian' vehicle in London, Feb. 11,2015.

It's all part of an ambitious, nationwide program to put self-driving cars on the road

The United Kingdom is paving the road for driverless cars by reviewing road regulations and launching autonomous driving trials across the country.

By the spring, the government will publish guidelines that will allow the testing of driverless cars to begin in the country, BBC reports. A full review of current legislation will be completed by the summer of 2017. The effort will involve rewriting highway regulations to take into account the effect of automated vehicles on traffic.

The U.K. is also providing £19 million—or about $29 million—to launch driverless car projects in four locations, including a vehicle called the Lutz Pathfinder pod, which will be tested on the pavements of Milton Keynes this year.

“Driverless vehicle technology has the potential to be a real game-change on the U.K.’s roads, altering the face of motoring in the most fundamental of ways and delivering major benefits for road safety, social inclusion, emissions and congestion,” said transport minister Claire Perry.

[BBC]

TIME Innovation

5 Things You Need to Know About the Coolest Company Google Owns

Boston Dynamics makes incredible robots that look like animals

What’s cooler than robots? Robots shaped like adorable puppies, of course.

That likely explains why a new video of a robotic dog is making the Internet rounds. The dog, named Spot, is from Boston Dynamics, a robotics company Google acquired in 2013. Google has been relatively quiet about its growing robotics ambitions, but there’s plenty to be gleaned by understanding how Boston Dynamics operates and why Google bought the company.

Here’s what you should know:

Boston Dynamics has been around for a long time

The company was founded in 1992 by Marc Raibert, a former researcher at MIT. Boston Dynamics originally focused on developing human simulation software used to train law enforcement. But Raibert had done extensive research on robotic mobility at MIT and Carnegie Mellon, leading the company to eventually expand to producing robotic machines.

They’ve built a whole robot animal kingdom

Spot is not Boston Dynamics’ first animal-like design. The company has also built BigDog, a 3-foot long, canine-like creature; WildCat, which can run at speeds of 29 miles per hour; and the six-foot humanoid robot Atlas.

Mobility makes their robots special

Boston Dynamics’ robots are renowned for their incredible balance. In the video of Spot, company employees can be seen kicking the robotic dog, trying to topple it over. However, Spot simply staggers sideways a few steps and easily regains its footing. The larger BigDog can walk up slopes as steep as 35 degrees and navigate through snow, water and muddy hiking trails.

Broadly, Boston Dynamics’ goal is to create a fleet of robots that can easily navigate real-world terrain. This could be useful for everything from sending Atlas into a disaster zone to letting Spot clean up a cluttered apartment (sorry, DJ Roomba).

They work with the military

Boston Dynamics has partnered with DARPA, the U.S. Navy, the Army and the Marines, according to its website. BigDog was funded in part by DARPA and is envisioned as a kind of robotic pack mule that could accompany soldiers on missions. The robots are incredibly strong—check out BigDog hurling a cinderblock—but to this point their uses seem centered on aiding people, not being weaponized to hurt humans. There’s a growing debate within the United Nations about whether nations need to establish rules about weaponied “killer robots” before they become easy to produce.

They’re part of Google’s robot army

Boston Dynamics is the most famous of Google’s robotics acquisitions, but the search giant snatched up at least seven other robotics companies in 2013. It also put Android creator Andy Rubin in charge of a new robotics division, though Rubin said last October that he was leaving Google. Google hasn’t said what it plans to do with all these robot companies, but the New York Times reports it will initially target enterprise customers and offer robots that can be used in manufacturing or retail.

TIME Innovation

Five Best Ideas of the Day: February 10

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

1. Is the technology that is supposed to increase resilience actually making us vulnerable?

By Colin Dickey in Aeon

2. Stock buybacks — usually to prop up a corporation’s perceived value on Wall Street — are draining trillions from the U.S. economy.

By Nick Hanauer in the Atlantic

3. The Navy of the future wants to use lasers and superfast electromagnetic railguns instead of shells and gunpowder.

By Michael Cooney in Network World

4. An after-school culinary skills program gets teens ready for work — and thinking about food in our society.

By Emily Liedel in Civil Eats

5. The next wave of bike lanes in London could be underground.

By Ben Schiller in Fast Co.Exist

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Innovation

Five Best Ideas of the Day: February 9

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

1. A humanitarian intervention for Aleppo could provide a glimmer of hope in Syria.

By Ana Palacio in Project Syndicate

2. The U.S. needs a new Church Committee to strengthen oversight of our intelligence services.

By Michael German at the Brennan Center for Justice

3. A regional force is the wrong approach to fight Boko Haram — and might make things worse.

By Hilary Matfess in Al Jazeera America

4. The mystery of autism might be unlocked by studying the microorganisms in children’s stomachs.

By Ruth Ann Luna at the Baylor College of Medicine

5. Test for HIV and syphilis with an iPhone.

By Tasbeeh Herwees in Good

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Innovation

Five Best Ideas of the Day: February 6

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

1. To salvage democracy in Afghanistan, leaders must make the next election really work.

By Tabish Forugh in Foreign Policy

2. In a U.S. first, New Orleans finds homes for all its homeless veterans.

By Noelle Swan in the Christian Science Monitor

3. As rich nations plan the next decade’s agenda for global development, they must bring human rights and accountability to the fore.

By the United Nations News Centre

4. Science and the media need each other. They just don’t know it yet.

By Louise Lief in the Wilson Quarterly

5. This simple Lego contraption allows scientists to safely handle insects.

By Emily Conover in Science

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Innovation

Five Best Ideas of the Day: February 5

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

1. Could Blockchain — the secure, encrypted network that powers Bitcoin transactions — be used to build a safer alternate Internet?

By Scott Rosenberg in Backchannel, on Medium

2. One NGO is crowdfunding the fight against human trafficking.

By Leif Coorlim at the CNN Freedom Project

3. High-achieving, low-income students get into selective colleges when they actually apply. Virtual college counselors can make sure they do.

By Bloomberg Philanthropies

4. “Vocal fry” and other patterns in the speech of younger women might signal a change for generations to come.

By Chi Luu in JSTOR Daily

5. Scientists are hoping genetically-modified coral can save the Great Barrier Reef.

By Laura Clark in Smithsonian Magazine

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Innovation

Scientists Have Made Computer-Chip Transistors Just One Atom Thick

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Getty Images

This could change everything

In a breakthrough that could potentially revolutionize the technology industry, scientists have constructed transistors made out of a silicon-based material with the thickness of a single atom.

The transistors, created by researchers at the University of Texas at Austin’s Cockrell School of Engineering and unveiled in the journal Nature Nanotechnology, hold the possibility for faster, more efficient computer chips.

The material, silicene, is made up of silicon atoms but has proved difficult to work with in the past due to its volatility when exposed to air. But Deji Akinwande, an assistant professor at the school, teamed up with researchers in Italy to create a layer of silicene between a block of silver and a sheet of aluminum, which they then peeled and scraped to create the silicene strip.

“The major breakthrough here is the efficient low-temperature manufacturing and fabrication of silicene devices for the first time,” Akinwande said.

[Science Daily]

TIME Innovation

China’s Alibaba Is Beating Amazon to the Drone-Delivery Punch

Watch Alibaba drones deliver tea to Chinese customers

Chinese mega e-tailer Alibaba is testing the use of delivery drones to deliver shipments to hundreds of customers in Beijing and other cities, Bloomberg reports. The technology is demonstrated in Alibaba’s video above.

Amazon has long said it wants to experiment with similar drone deliveries here in the United States. However, it has yet to receive federal regulators’ blessings to do so. While advocates of small drones say they could boost innovation across fields from delivery to agriculture, some are concerned that having too many drones zipping around the skies could pose a safety risk.

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