2014 Top Embedded Innovators: Chad Jones, Vice President, Xively Product Strategy, LogMeIn
June 01, 2014
Chad Jones is the Vice President, Internet of Things Strategy at LogMeIn. He has more than 18 years' experience driving strategic initiatives for star...
What are the largest obstacles to innovation in the embedded realm, and how should those challenges be solved?
Moore's Law can be seen in the acceleration of miniaturized embedded platforms, whose power and capabilities are increasing at an amazing rate. When you combine this phenomenon with contract manufacturing, the ARM licensing model, and other advancements, you get an "innovation network effect," where one innovation plays off and extends another. This is great news for the Internet of Things, but a couple challenges exist.
First off, some business technology is created just because it can be, but without a real use case. If we apply what I call the "technology purpose axiom" – which states "technology for technology's sake, serving no higher purpose, tends to end in either mediocrity or failure" – then we see that lasting advancements only come as a result of business vision that serves trending customer needs and use cases. By applying that vision to multiple emerging horizontal and vertical markets, and building upon the commonalities we find there, we can build evolutionary feedback loops that continually advance useful technology.
Second, the need for power at an even more ubiquitous and miniaturized level is more important than ever. Wireless electricity, hyper-charging (for example, 30 second phone charging), battery capacity advancements, ambient backscatter harvesting, and kinetic electrical generation are all promising technologies. However, without the ability to power devices for longer amounts of time, they will have limited applicability. It has only been recently that visionaries and funding sources have begun looking differently at these problems and I believe therein lies the solution. Does it matter if a battery only lasts seven hours if it can be charged in thirty seconds or as you drive along a road? Probably not, but we've only been looking at battery technology alone. Newer advancements based on non-linear thinking are really the key.
How do you stay on the leading edge of innovation, rather than just following the embedded crowd?
The key for me is looking at the market broadly, talking to as many customers and partners as possible, and applying a lot of different perspectives to the thinking. I'm also a huge movie guy. It's amazing how many times I'll study a problem and read about areas of the market then watch a movie or two and let it stew overnight only to wake up with an epiphany. Look at Gene Roddenberry of Star Trek fame. Does the 3D printer not have the potential to be the replicator? We already know the floppy disk has come and gone and cell phones are our modern communicators. All this comes from vision applied in Sci-Fi. Being able to expand thinking by removing limits can yield interesting results
How do you recognize when a new technology or application is one your company should invest/innovate in, versus a technology that will experience fast burnout?
It's a combination of science, art, magic, and luck. By doing deep research and asking the right questions you can get to a good idea. Questions like "what will commoditize and when," "what market areas are likely to consolidate through acquisition and when," "where is venture capital investment going and from whom," as well as "what will actually become sticky." In the end, a lot of technology "movies" tend to repeat themselves in other areas. If you can spot the patterns and get the right answers to those questions, you'll know a great deal about whether you should invest.
In the next 5 years, which embedded technologies, applications, markets, and geographic areas present the most interesting opportunities?
One of the most interesting areas is something you wouldn't get that fired up about. I call it "everything old is new again." The IoT and embedded technology make some of the most dated technologies relevant again. Take the fire monitoring boards in almost every commercial building. They play quite an important role in protecting people as they work. But the only line most of them have is a phone line to call 911, and you still have workers that have to touch the board to understand what is going on. But now, retrofitting these devices and connecting them to a NOC opens up a whole new world of possibilities. I think we'll see tens of thousands of use cases like this that will bring a new level of service to our world.