Monday, 27 July 2015

Fourth of the 8 Malaysian inventions - THE LYTRO CAMERA

The Lytro camera solves the age-old problem of unfocused photos. Since its inception, many competitors have been mimicking the technology onto their own products.
The inventor : Ren Ng.
What it is: Lytro is a plenoptic camera, which lets users adjust the focus of a photograph after the fact thanks to an array of micro-lenses over the camera’s sensor.
How did it happen? Ng was doing theoretical research at Stanford University in light fields at the time he tried to photograph his friend’s daughter. After sitting in on a research meeting discussing the design of a light field camera (which was formerly composed of an array of about a hundred digital cameras attached to a supercomputer when the technology was first introduced in the 90s), he thought to himself, “That sounds really cool, but that’s not going to be very practical.”
So Ng was prompted to switch his emphasis to cameras, specifically how he could shrink light field technology down into a commercial-size package. He spent time studying optics and working with electrical and mechanical engineering professors to put the camera together, since as a computer science student, he didn’t have that training.
After getting his Ph.D. (and receiving honors like the ACM Doctoral Dissertation Award in the process), Ng set out to put his research to use by starting a company that would produce light field cameras that everyone could enjoy.
Lytro's camera technology enables a user to change the focus of a picture after it has been taken.
The Lytro sensor’s sensitivity to light also makes it possible to take photos in very low-light conditions without the need of a flash. It also makes it possible to take 3D-like photographs with only a single lens, and without the need for glasses to see the immersive effects.
“Lytro’s breakthrough technology will make conventional digital cameras obsolete,” says Lytro investor and well-known venture capitalist Marc Andreessen of Andreessen Horowitz. “It has to be seen to be believed.”

Sunday, 26 July 2015

Third of the 8 Malaysian inventions - THE NEHEMIAH WALLS

Did you know those hexagon-shaped blocks along flyovers are invented by a Malaysian? The design is such a success that it is being used in countries such as Singapore, Australia, and Hong Kong.
The Nehemiah walls are more durable and faster to build compared to rigid concrete blocks.
The inventor : Dr. Nehemiah Lee.
What it is: A Nehemiah Wall consists of three major components: a facade, reinforcing bars, and soil.
Its facade, or facing panel, comprises hexagonal (honeycomb-shaped) blocks of pre-cast concrete, each interlocked with dowel bars. But the real ingenuity lies behind these panels: the compressed soil, usually sand, that holds up the facade is strengthened with galvanised carbon steel rods running through it and into the panel. Each hexagon in the facade has at least four of these steel bars, with each bar secured by an anchor block.
How did it happen? "In the early 1980s I was working with Reinforced Earth, a concept developed in the 1960s by French engineer and architect Henri Vidal. He turned the concept into an engineered system and popularised the idea of using reinforced soil in construction."
“I studied the system, learnt the technology, and researched heavily into creating my own modified system while working on my Masters degree,” says Dr Lee, adding that, “I’ve always been fascinated with the idea of building walls that are not for dividing people, but are strong, versatile, and useful.”
Liew Shaw Shong, consultant engineer and director of G&P Geotechnics Sdn Bhd, likes the design: “We’ve used Nehemiah Walls for about 30 projects that were awarded through open tenders. The advantage of the walls is their design that can tolerate differential settlement of soil along a single stretch of wall. A typical reinforced-concrete wall is unable to accommodate this and will crack."
Apart from its technologically sound product, Liew offers another possible reason why the company has been so successful: “There are variations of reinforced earth walls but Dr Lee gave us the most competitive pricing and proposal. His team is very pleasant to work with, as its members are prudent, responsive, and have integrity. They don’t just simply do things. They even assessed the project beyond their job scope to offer technical advice to us.”

Second of the 8 Malaysian inventions - THE RUBBER STAMP CLONE

Before this invention, you would have to wait for days for a custom rubber stamp to be made. The Polyclone can do it in 5 minutes.
The Inventor : Robest Yong.
What it is: The Polyclone rubber stamp machine has changed the rub­ber stamp industry of the world. With this invention, it takes only five minutes to make rubber stamps when previously one had to or­der days or weeks in advanced. The invention eliminates completely the need for lettering bits, composing messy plaster moulds, the use of high temperatures, and the need for photographic equipment.
How did it happen? His first claim to fame was the instant rubber stamp machine, which has since revolutionized the way rubber stamps are made. The idea first came to him when he wanted to start his own company. “Everybody needs to get a rubber stamp,” he says. “But I noticed it took so long to make them - up to a week. I felt this process could be improved.”
So, he set about to do something about it. While in Japan he had noticed a printing technology using a photo-polymer that he believed could be used for his instant rubber stamp device.
In creating the prototype he realised that photo polymers were not suitable for making rubber stamps, so he went to Japan to find out if it was possible to adjust the formula to fit his needs. He found his answer there. The material he used for the stamp is not natural rubber but Polyclone, a polymer that looks like transparent rubber.
The next year, he won a gold medal for that product in the International lnvention Competition in Geneva and he returned a local hero, lauded by strong newspaper coverage.
‘People used to laugh at my product because they couldn’t believe I was the first to create something like this,” he says. “They thought surely someone overseas would have already come up with it.”
Bonus: Robest reached out to us and shared that he has a new product, the VisionTouch Braille Phone, a screen protector with an app to help the visually impaired navigate the touch screen phone. Read how he came up with the idea here!

Saturday, 25 July 2015

A Malaysian Invention - The Automatic Egg Boiler

This is the first of 8 inventions by Malaysians which deserves credit where it is due.

1. THE AUTOMATIC EGG BOILER [First of 8 Malaysian inventions].
Located in almost every kopitiam and mamak shop, this nifty device made all half-boiled eggs perfect to its core.
The Inventor : Datuk Hew Ah Kow
What it is: It is a detachable 4-piece plastic ware. Basically, you place raw eggs into the container, pour in boiling water, then wait for the water to slowly drip to the bottom. Your eggs are done when the water has drained fully!
Datuk Hew Ah Kow invented the device that would revolutionise all soft-boiled eggs forever.
How did it happen? Back in the days when Datuk Hew Ah Kow was just a lad working as a bulldozer operator in the jungles of Kelantan in 1973, there was little time to keep count of the minutes.
“There were about 20 of us in a lumber camp who liked nothing better than to start the day with half-boiled eggs. The problem was, we always lost track of time, carried away with things like checking the engines and refuelling. So, by the time we got back to our eggs, they were always overcooked,” recalls Hew.
“Young and full of bravado, I took it as a challenge and began to conduct my own experiments, puncturing the bottoms of Ovaltine cans with a nail and filling them with eggs and hot water,” says Hew.
It took a year before Hew found the correct ratio of water to eggs. As he drew closer to a solution, Hew’s tests made him go off eggs. It also affected his colleagues who had to help eat his experiments.
The effort eventually paid off when one day, a direct-selling stockist rode his Honda Cub into Hew’s work camp and got marooned by the rain, forcing an overnight stay. At breakfast, he got to sample the most perfect half-boiled eggs he had ever tasted.
“It was the camp cook who pointed me out. At first, he came to me and asked if I could give him one of my Ovaltine cans to take home. I said ‘No way.’ Then he asked if I could sell him the prototype so I said, ‘Fine, let me see the money first.’ He returned and gave me RM7,000,” recalls Hew.

Friday, 17 July 2015

Do you think its time your product needs a make over to create demand like Mazda.

NANJING — Chinese car sales have barely got out of first gear this year, yet a shift in consumer behaviour has sent Mazda Motor Corp hurtling out of the pack, posting records and struggling to keep pace only with demand.
Japan‘s fifth-biggest automaker has found its sporty design philosophy clicked with an emerging class of drivers who have abandoned copycat buying and the widely held perception that only long-established leaders, notably Volkswagen AG , make decent cars.
“Other cars are either too round or stocky, but the CX-5 has more of a flowing character,” said Nanjing office worker Xu Duo, 27, who bought Mazda’s sport utility vehicle last year.
China car sales grew 1.4 per cent in the first half of 2015, the weakest in six years. An industry body last week said a stock market slump exacerbated consumer concern about prospects in an economy expanding at its slowest in over two decades.
Yet Mazda logged its best-ever first half at 17 per cent, boosted by sales of the CX-5 as well as sedans Axela and Atenza. Demand has been so strong that supplies have failed to keep up for some models, a Mazda spokesman told Reuters.
Mazda’s market share nevertheless remains under 1 per cent and the number of cars it sells each month is a fraction of those of rivals like Volkswagen. The German automaker built a leading share of about a fifth over the past 30 years, while Mazda’s first major push was as recent as 2007.

Sporty design
But the market has been shaken in recent years as more drivers gain experience of cars from a wider variety of makers, and learn firsthand that German vehicles do not necessarily excel above all others as is commonly believed, analysts say.
An influential annual consumer TV show added to the doubt when it picked on Volkswagen in two of the past three years for issues with quality and service, said Yale Zhang, head of researcher Automotive Foresight. Sales practices at Daimler AG’s Mercedes-Benz were also targeted.
“The German myth is being broken,” said Zhang.
The changing perception has given Mazda the chance to rapidly gain ground while remaining a niche player with its streamlined, sporty design philosophy, dubbed kodo.
“It’s impossible to convey our kodo design to all of China‘s 1.3 billion people,” Norihiro Matsuo, president of Changan Mazda Automobile — one of Mazda’s two Chinese joint ventures — said in a group interview in Nanjing last week.
“For now, we are focused on increasing our core client base,” Matsuo said. “This approach is something Volkswagen or General Motors Co cannot take because they are out to control market share.”
As the market matures, drivers will choose cars based on design or perceived uniqueness, rather than the view that certain brands are somehow inherently superior, Matsuo said. Mazda is targeting that segment of the market, he said.
Sidestepping price wars
First-half sales may have spiked, but Mazda is maintaining its full-year target growth at 4.3 per cent to 220,000 vehicles. Senior company executives have also repeatedly said its strategy is not to rapidly expand in China but to focus on branding.
To boost brand appeal to Chinese consumers, automakers have localised features and aspects of design. Ford Motor Co revamped its Taurus for China in April, meeting a preference for a spacious backseat and conservative exterior.
Mazda’s China-focused features include air-conditioning vents for the backseat and double horns given the heavy usage in the country. But the automaker will not compromise its exterior design philosophy to cater to local tastes, said Matsuo.
On pricing, Mazda is similar to its rivals, with the 115,500 yuan (RM70,662.96) starting price of its Axela compact comparing with the 109,900 yuan of General Motors’ Chevy Cruze. But a niche approach allows Mazda to step back from price wars.
The likes of General Motors and Volkswagen have started to lower prices to counter market slowdown while dealers offer steep discounts to stop inventories building up.
Mazda, however, is not offering discounts and is supervising dealers’ inventories to ensure price stability, Matsuo said.
“We are too small a company to get involved in a price war,” he said.

Wednesday, 15 July 2015

Getting a sharper picture of social media’s influence

New research shows that buzz plays a greater role than previously thought in getting consumers to buy and that the pool of the most effective influencers is largely untapped.

Over the past decade, marketers have increasingly turned to social-media networks like Facebook and Twitter to create buzz around their products. But what impact do tweets and other recommendations have on sales, and how can companies get a bigger return on their investments in these important channels?
To get a clearer view, we examined the purchase decisions of 20,000 European consumers, across 30 product areas and more than 100 brands, in 2013 and 2014. Respondents were asked how significantly social media influenced their decision journeys and about instances when they themselves recommended products. We found that the impact of social media on buying decisions is greater than previously estimated and growing fast, but that its influence varies significantly across product categories. Moreover, only a small slice of social influencers are creating the buzz.

A growing importance

Social recommendations induced an average of 26 percent of purchases across all product categories, according to our data. That’s substantially higher than the 10 to 15 percent others have estimated.  For the 30 product categories we studied, roughly two-thirds of the impact was direct; that is, recommendations played a critical role at the point of purchase. The remaining third was indirect: social media had an effect at earlier decision-journey touch points—for example, when a recommendation created initial awareness of a product or interactions with friends or other influencers helped consumers to compare product attributes or to evaluate higher-value features. We found that in 2014, consumers made 10 percent more purchases on the back of social-media recommendations than they had in 2013.

Nuances are essential

Consumers, we found, access social media to very different degrees in different product categories. At the low end, only about 15 percent of our respondents reported using social media in choosing utility services. For other categories, such as travel, investment services, and over-the-counter drugs, 40 to 50 percent of consumers looked to social recommendations.

Product categories tend to have their own discrete groups of influencers. Our data showed that the overlap of recommenders between any two consumer categories was very small—a maximum of 15 percent for any two pairs of products we analyzed. Timing matters as well: a first-time purchaser, for example, is roughly 50 percent more likely to turn to social media than a repeat buyer.

While the role of digital influence is expanding, the analog world remains important. Among the more than 100 brands we studied, about half of the recommendations were made offline—in person or by phone. Offline conversations were up to 40 percent more likely than digital interactions to influence purchase decisions of products such as insurance or utilities.

Power influencers and the long tail

Our research shows that 10 percent of the active influencers accounted for 24 percent of the total recommendations, tweets, “likes,” and so forth (exhibit). These power users are even more significant for product categories such as shoes and clothing: 5 percent of the recommenders accounted for 45 percent of the social influence generated. The upshot is that in most product categories, there’s a substantial long tail of less active recommenders who could be spurred on to greater engagement.


Navigating in a changing environment

As companies look to maximize returns from their social strategies, they can both encourage would-be customers to engage in more social interactions and inspire more influencers to express enthusiasm for their products.

On the demand side, our research suggests that online articles written by journalists prompt consumers to seek out social media to further inform purchases (and that public-relations spending to generate such articles may be a worthwhile investment). Consumers who use search engines to gain some initial knowledge of a product are also more likely to tune in to social media before a purchase. Companies that spend effectively on search-engine optimization (to move their product mentions to the top of search results) can expect to benefit from a greater social-media impact, as well.
Television advertising, by contrast, tends to act as a substitute for social media rather than complementing it. Relatively few customers were prompted to seek out social influences after viewing a TV spot.

On the supply side, prompting the long tail of less active influencers may require creativity and a greater use of data analytics. Our research found, paradoxically, that if companies allowed endorsements only, they generated a less strong response than companies that invited any sort of comment. Positive remarks were three times more numerous than negative ones, and some companies demonstrated that they could turn negative vibes to their advantage by responding quickly.
Other companies are amplifying positive noise by making the recommenders’ data “speak.” Through machine learning and the application of advanced analytics to recommenders’ profiles, they obtain a granular understanding of product preferences and purchasing behavior. That analysis becomes a key input into sophisticated recommendation engines that identify potential customers and send them messages such as “purchasers like you bought this appliance” at key points along the decision journey. These engines are highly effective at converting customers, though with an important caveat: the influence the engines generate can be as much as 75 percent lower if messages aren’t highly personalized and targeted.

The pathways of social influence are shifting constantly. Looking ahead, better mobile devices and more robust social applications will make it even easier to share experiences about products and services. Companies can’t afford to fall behind this powerful curve.