Saturday, September 11, 2010

Pilotless planes

Ryanair CEO Michael O'Leary recently commented that there is no need of co-pilots in the current sophisticated as well as automated airplanes, and hence suggested we get rid of them to save costs. He also suggested that every flight would have a flight attendant trained in flying the plane and could take over in case of an emergency. He did get a lot of press for his comments.

What a great idea. Of course, the pilots' association snubbed it.

I assume Michael O'Leary has never flown a plane, especially a jet plane. Maybe, he doesn't even understand the roles of a pilot or a co-pilot. Even if he pilots a small plane, he will learn about the number of things a pilot needs to keep track of. Flying a plane is relatively easy, but what makes it tough is all the small things that need to be done: communications, reading charts, reading and interpreting the multitude of instruments (have you seen the instrument panel on a Boeing?), making quick decisions in tough conditions, etc. All this on top of flying the plane. In fact, just flying a plane in the sim tells you a lot about how complicated it is (my barebones flight sim setup pic above).

Redundancy is the name of the game here.

It is not only redundancy, but the tasks that need to be taken care of. And, on long distance flights, how can one pilot take care of flying the plane for 18 hrs straight? The co-pilot is there to fly the plane (did you ever notice that the co-pilot has a yoke, pedals, and all controls in front of him too?), and helps balance the workload. They both back each other up, and use combined judgement to handle emergency situations.

There are many ways to streamline the airline operations and cut costs, but cutting the co-pilot is not one of them. For a person who travels often, I can tell you that it is comforting to know that there are two competent pilots flying the craft.

Of course, a day will come when we will have wormholes for the planes to travel in (similar to the driverless trains) and we will not be needing either the pilot or the co-pilot, but those days are not here yet.

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

Being Better is Better

This is a must see video of Kathy Sierra talking at the Business of Software 2009 conference.
She talks not about making a killer app, but about making a killer user (of your app).
She stresses the importance of creating an amazing user experience, and making an amazing user of your product/service.
Great talk.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Park and Service

I drive up to the parking lot and hand off my car keys to the valet. I had already filled out a brief form (about the fact that I want the car serviced when I am away, and what the problems are) when I reserved my spot online. I pick up my luggage and head over to the shuttle. The shuttle takes me to the terminal and after a quick security check, and a short wait, I am boarding the plane. Right then, my phone rings. I pick it up to find it is from the parking lot. The mechanic wants to let me know that the distributor is showing wear and may need to be replaced. He gives me a quote and I give him thumbs up. I board the plane and fly off to my destination.

Four days later, I land back home and head over to the parking garage to meet my serviced and washed car!

Doesn't this sound sweet? No more planning for car servicing. No more weekends spent going to the mechanic. No more days spent driving loaner cars.

Since I travel often on work, I park my car in long term garages for days. What this means is that I also have less time to be home, and take care of things. One of them is to take care of my car: get it serviced, washed and maintained.

The last time I parked in my regular covered parking garage, I thought how wonderful it would be, if I could have my car serviced while I was away. The car was anyway going to be sitting around doing nothing. And, I had already driven all the way to the garage. Since this garage is a valet only garage, they also had my keys. Wouldn't it be wonderful if the garage also housed a service station and offered service to anyone who parked there.

Looking forward to a day when this becomes a reality.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

JIT grocery shopping

Of late, I have been observing that a lot of people order groceries online and having it delivered. I see a couple of companies doing great business. Don’t know if they are making money or not, but the delivery trucks keep rolling along.

That is what got me thinking about efficiently managing the deliveries. I went back to the days when I was growing up in India. Not everyone had refrigerators in their homes. Farmers markets could be found around the corner on a daily basis. Fruits, vegetables and milk (and other perishables) were sold on the road (home delivery). A cart would come in front of the house with all varieties of seasonal and non-seasonal vegetables, and you would just walk to the cart, pick whatever you wanted, pay for it and buy it. So, buying vegetables, fruits and milk was a daily affair. Milk was delivered (in some cases, milked from the cow) right at your doorstep every morning. Remember those glass milk bottles? When fresh produce is delivered to your doorstep on a daily basis, who would want to store them in a fridge? You can't get any more fresh than that!

Let's apply the same principle here and try to see if it yields us a way to make this planet much more green. Consider this scenario:
Order produce/meat/milk online (on a daily/weekly basis)
Delivery truck drops it off at your door step everyday
Use the produce for the day
Repeat the cycle

Now, there are a few problems with this model. For one, when does the delivery take place? It is going to be inefficient to deliver to every house at the same time. So, there is a lag, and some people may receive their goods in the afternoon. Then, there is the issue of the unused produce. Where do we store it?

There are several ways to solve this problem. Let's take a look at an already present infrastructure for delivery: USPS.
Have you noticed that the USPS truck rolls down every street every week day. There you have it. Deliver supplies along with the mail. The manufacturer supplies produce/supplies to the distribution (aka, local USPS post office). The produce is packaged appropriately for individual delivery. Remember, we are trying to deliver on a daily basis, so, the individual packages are not going to be huge. USPS personnel load these boxes into their trucks along with the mail. Of course, the trucks are going to grow in size and acquire a refrigeration unit. The postal worker delivers the boxes along with the mail to every household.

The next step in the equation is to design the delivery boxes (reusable, of course) so that they can maintain a constant temperature for 3-4 hours. The assumption is that mail will be picked up within this time period and the contents transferred into the house.

What this does is that it removes the necessity of every home having one huge refrigerator inside the house and another smaller one in the garage (like most of us do). This new arrangement will be a paradigm shift in the way we shop, get things delivered and store it. Once we get used to it, the amount of energy consumed by every household would come down, and the supply chain would be streamlined so that manufacturers do not need to add preservatives in our foods.

For now, the closest we can come to getting rid of the refrigerator is to reduce its size considerably. JIT food supply is the mantra here, and it will take some effort on everyone's part to make it happen.

Of course, Amazon Fresh, Safeway and others would love to ship on a daily basis.

Monday, June 07, 2010

Green Home

Ingenious use of space. Check this video on how a Hong Kong architect converted his tiny apartment into multiple living spaces. Of course, this works extremely well if you are the only person living in the apartment, since you can only occupy one space at a time.