Flying Cars Over Europe

January 19, 2012

Since I was a child, I’ve always been fascinated by the possibility of having a flying car. In other words, one that can move in 3D as opposed to 2D (and more often) 1D.

There have been many previous attempts at this, it’s not a novel idea. Some are quite hard to believe – see here and the picture below.

So I was interested to read about a modern version of this idea in Der Spiegel recently. The project is in the research concept (flying robotic drone) stage at present but it sounds quite fascinating.

Here’s a photo and some extracts:

But now Europe wants to soar past the competition — with partially autonomous flying cars. The €4.3-million ($5.5-million) EU program called “myCopter” is designed to help develop the third dimension for personal travel as part of a so-called “personal air transport system” (PATS).


Of course, the dream is almost as old as the airplane itself. As long ago as 1917, a prototype made the first hops into the sky. In the United States, the Terrafugia project is on the verge of introducing its flying-car concept vehicle on the market.

Still, if large numbers of commuters are to fly through cities in the future, collisions and crashes are to be expected, unless the machines are largely self-guided.


In a sense, the drones learned their swarming behaviour from Batman. It is based on the so-called Reynolds algorithm developed by the American programmer Craig Reynolds in 1986. Reynolds later created digital swarms of bats for films, such as “Batman Returns.”

Reynolds recognized that the complex choreography of a flock of birds or a school of fish is surprisingly simple. It requires no more than a few simple commands, such as “maintain the same distance from all neighbors” and “fly with them in a single direction.”

Maybe Woody Allen’s look at the future might eventually come true?

Picture credits: top, middle two, bottom.


Collective Intelligence And The Internet

January 17, 2012

The Guardian has a list of the ‘top ten books on the internet’ selected by John Naughton (who is an Irish academic and journalist and well-known as a historian of the internet).

Doubtless all ten are extremely good but one in particular caught my attention to the extent that I’ve decided to actually read it:

Darwin Among the Machines: the evolution of global intelligence by George Dyson

One of the most original and intriguing books of the last two decades.  Dyson argues that intelligence is always an emergent phenomenon – that is, a property of whole systems that cannot be inferred from studying their components in isolation.  Thus human intelligence “emerges” from a collection of unintelligent neurons.  Dyson pushes this idea to what he sees as its logical conclusion: if the internet is (as indeed it is) a global system of densely interconnected computer networks – together with the intellects of their users – then this global system should exhibit a new kind of “collective intelligence” as an emergent property.  It’s a sobering – and exhilarating – thought.

I’ve heard of it before (it was first published in 1998) but I’d never got round to acquiring it. The synopsis above certainly whetted my appetite!

As an aside, at MIT they’ve set up a Center for Collective Intelligence:

While people have talked about collective intelligence for decades, new communication technologies—especially the Internet—now allow huge numbers of people all over the planet to work together in new ways.  The recent successes of systems like Google and Wikipedia suggest that the time is now ripe for many more such systems, and the goal of the MIT Center for Collective Intelligence is to understand how to take advantage of these possibilities.

Our basic research question is:  How can people and computers be connected so that—collectively—they act more intelligently than any individuals, groups, or computers have ever done before?’

The Role Of Attitude

January 15, 2012

Apart from skills that you can learn, such as creativity and strategy, there are also attitudes, such as determination and doggedness, that can be just as important in delivering business success.

I’ve written on this previously and consequently I was interested in this quote of Charles Swindoll (from Lifehacker):

The longer I live, the more I realize the impact of attitude on life. Attitude, to me, is more important than facts. It is more important than the past, the education, the money, than circumstances, than failure, than successes, than what other people think or say or do. It is more important than appearance, giftedness or skill. It will make or break a company…a church…a home. The remarkable thing is we have a choice everyday regarding the attitude we will embrace for that day. We cannot change our past…we cannot change the fact that people will act in a certain way. We cannot change the inevitable. The only thing we can do is play on the one string we have, and that is our attitude. I am convinced that life is 10% what happens to me and 90% of how I react to it. And so it is with you. We are in charge of our attitudes.

Getting The Culture Right In Startups

January 12, 2012

A number of my colleagues are starting up businesses and are facing all the usual problems. Because of the stress and the need for tangible progress, it’s understandable that some of the intangible aspects can easily get second place.

However I came across this interesting insight which emphasizes that thinking about the culture from the very beginning can be crucial as well as the ability to adapt it in the light of formative experience.

Brendan: Start-ups are like running a gauntlet. The advice I say is to step back and think a little about the culture at the outset because it’s at the beginning that it gets formed. Plan for success but also plan for what the culture can be as well. If play is important to you, and I hope it is if you’re planning on being an innovative company, it will start with the founders. You can look at Google certainly as an example.

Joe: I guess I’d say, don’t hold on to any one idea too tightly. Be ready to adapt. When we design a product for the first time, we don’t know how people will really use it, and I think the same can be said of businesses.

Just what is your startup culture?

How could it change as you grow or partner with others?

Growth, Clusters And Networks

January 10, 2012

The two key themes for economic progress in the UK for the next few years are increasing growth and reducing debt (the latter being much easier than the former). Regarding growth, this also covers developing a better balanced economy.

I was curious to investigate the current Government ideas for stimulating business growth in areas that I have previously worked in.

A structural aspect is to refocus on local development and as part of this the Regional Development Agencies have been replaced with Local Enterprise Partnerships (see picture above). In principle this should be a better approach provided it’s supported by adequate resources and some creativity.

As Local Enterprise Partnerships are based on more meaningful economic areas, they will be better placed to determine the needs of the local economy along with a greater ability to identify barriers to local economic growth.

Another aspect is fostering and developing successful clusters

Clusters are geographic concentrations of inter-connected companies, specialised suppliers, service providers, firms in related industries, and associated institutions.

In other words, thriving business ecosystems. Clusters can provide high barriers to entry as competitors, as well as having to provide an equal or better product, also have to compete with all the players in the integrated and probably highly complex support network.

By examining the existing successful clusters in the UK, some key characteristics appeared. Some factors were deemed essential whilst others desirable (my interpretation: ‘would/should’ = essential, ‘may’ = desirable):


  • well-functioning networks and partnerships – informal and/or formal
  • engaged in innovation – no standard profile but inter-company linkages are often key
  • entrepreneurial dynamism – this seems a bit vague!
  • capacity to change and adapt – for internal or external reasons


  • easy access to a skilled workforce
  • strong educational base – high quality training available, universities for advanced topics etc
  • exhibit expansion – businesses joining the cluster, new startups etc
  • internationalisation – increasing exports or inward investment from overseas

It’s interesting how these factors are so variable. This means that spotting and developing near-critical clusters is not easy, at least until well after the fact. So understanding successful (and unsuccessful) cluster formation better could be an incisive step forward.

Taken at face value, it’s revealing how the role of networks, linkages and the ability to change is so crucial – maybe just considering these aspects alone might be extremely illuminating?

I’ll do a bit of research on this and give it a bit more thought…

See also Knowledge Hotspots and Visualising Innovation Clusters.

Picture credit: see second link above.