Archive for the ‘Web 2.0’ Category

tendril-iphone-appHere’s an iPhone app that really could help save the planet while saving stressed consumers’ money: Boulder, Colo.-based startup Tendril this week unveiled a mobile software program that lets people monitor and control their home’s energy use while on the go.

Say you’re sitting in the unemployment office listening to some bureaucrat drone on, so you pull out your iPhone to update your Facebook status and then check on whether that next unemployment check will cover the utility bill. When Tendril tells you that your electricity consumption is spiking and so will your estimated monthly bill, you remember you left the air conditioner set on Arctic. Flick your finger and shut that energy hog down.

That scenario won’t become common for awhile it as relies on a widespread rollout of smart utility meters that will bring the interactive smart grid and real-time electricity pricing into the home. That is happening, albeit very slowly (though the pace is expected to accelerate with billions in the stimulus package being poured into smart grid-related projects. The ability to remote-control your appliance, however, is some years away).

For instance, Tendril, is rolling out a home energy management system for Texas utility Reliant Energy (RRI) that allows customers to monitor and control their electricity use through a video display that sits in the living room. When Green Wombat visited Reliant’s smart house project in Houston last September, the utility’s tech guys showed me their own home-brewed iPhone app.

As anyone with an iPhone knows, Apple’s (AAPL) app store makes it ridiculously easy to turn the gadget into Dr. Who’s sonic screwdriver – a gizmo that does everything but put out the trash and feed your pet bunny. But earth2tech’s Katie Fehrenbacher questions how widespread Tendril’s app would be used given the difficulty in putting any third-party software program on a BlackBerry or other smartphone. But that’s changing by dint of Apple’s growing share of the smartphone market and the advent of the app-friendly Google (GOOG) phone.

Green Wombat is most intrigued by the potential of such apps as the Tendril Mobile Vantage to tap into people’s inherent competitiveness, keeping-up-with-Jones mentality and, in the Facebook era, compulsion to share, share, share. The data generated by smart meters and home energy management systems like Tendril’s will let consumers compare their energy use – and thus contribution to global warming – with their neighbors and friends.

In fact, Tendril is planning to add a carbon footprint feature to its mobile app. Funnel that data into a Facebook newsfeed and let the peer-to-peer pressure go to work to see who can claim Twittering rights to a low-impact lifestyle.

Read Full Post »

Web 2.0 to the rescue


A non-profit bankrolled by Google.org launches Thursday with a mission to deploy technology to detect disease and coordinate responses to global health and environmental disasters. And a prime weapon in its arsenal?


InSTEDD (Innovative Support to Emergencies, Diseases and Disasters) has big plans for the instant messaging service that techies, teenagers and twentysomethings use to instantly – and constantly — update their network of friends by broadcasting instant messages over their cell phones.

“It’s an example that seems almost laughable,” InSTEDD chief executive Eric Rasmussen tells Green Wombat. “But from our perspective, Twitter has remarkable capacity.”

InSTEDD will use free social networking services like Twitter and Facebook and Web 2.0 programs like Google (GOOG) Maps to coordinate health programs and disaster relief.

Rasmussen — a physician, former U.S. Navy commander and veteran relief worker — says one of InSTEDD’s first projects will be working with the Mekong Basin Disease Surveillance Network Project, a joint effort of six Southeast Asian nations. Field workers, for instance, can send out Twitter updates on their work to colleagues, hospitals and relief organizations.

“I was very impressed that Twitter worked in Laos,” Rasmussen says. “We were in the highlands of the Mekong Delta and had one bar [of cell phone signal strength] but we could get messages out. I have had trouble finding my team members from time to time when people go to remote villages to deliver supplies. But if there is a cell signal I can get an SMS message out. It is the ubiquitous form factor.”

InSTEDD’s Palo Alto-based team — which includes former Microsoft (MSFT) executives — will tap $5 million from Google.org (Google’s philanthropic arm) plus money from the Rockefeller Foundation to develop technology tools for humanitarian organizations, the United Nations and other groups.

“The eventual hope is that there will be a robust, resilient platform that goes end to end, from field reporting to deep analysis,” says Rasmussen. “We only build what we can’t find off the shelf.”

One humanitarian mashup might combine Twitter, Facebook and Google Maps. Managers and members of a relief organization, for example, could check their Facebook group to see the location of far-flung field workers on a map and receive updates on their work via Twitter.

“It’s the broadcast aspect of Twitter that’s so powerful,” says Rasmussen. “I can go to the people in a tent next to me, I can go to four different emergency centers and headquarters all at one time.”

For the field worker, all that is needed is a mobile phone.

Says Rasmussen: “We recognize the hot, tired, scared aspect of working in these environments so we’re looking at keeping things simple.”

Read Full Post »

berkeley-shoreline.jpgThe devastating San Francisco Bay oil spill brought out thousands of volunteers over the weekend eager to help clean up miles of beaches and shoreline contaminated with toxic bunker fuel and rescue hundreds of petroleum-coated birds. If ever there was a disaster area suited to exploit Internet technology to crowdsource an army of green berets and deploy them where they’re needed most, it’s this Twittering, Google map-mashing epicenter of Web 2.0, right?

Not quite. The masses may be wired but California authorities’ disaster response was strictly 1.0, as Green Wombat discovered when he showed up at a meeting on Saturday called by the state Department of Fish and Game to brief would-be volunteers about the oil spill from the Cosco Busan. The container ship hit the Bay Bridge last Wednesday, dumping 58,000 gallons of heavy oil into the water. A couple hundred people crammed a room at the Richmond Marina in the East Bay, spilling outside into the drizzling rain. As the crowd peppered officials with questions about how they could get to work — a few yards away a dull oily sheen streaked the harbor — DFG representatives patiently explained that volunteers must first receive training before they can be allowed to handle wildlife or clean beaches covered in a hazardous substance.

“We have to get information from you to place you,” said a representative from the DFG’s Office of Spill Prevention and Response as paper forms were handed out for volunteers to fill in. They soon ran out of forms — more than 500 people had shown up at another volunteer meeting held a few hours earlier in San Francisco. Many members of the audience, BlackBerries and Treos in hand, stared in disbelief. Paper? “I’m from Autodesk (ADSK) in Marin and we have 1,500 people that want to get to work on the cleanup,” said one woman. “Can’t you just put up a PDF on your site so we can download it?” Said another volunteer: Can’t we just send you an e-mail?”

To be fair, state officials were overwhelmed by the response from Bay Area residents. (“An oil spill in San Francisco is so different than any other place for one reason: the people,” one DFG official said at the meeting. “People here are passionate about where they live.”) And by Sunday morning, the oil response unit’s site had posted a Yahoo (YHOO) e-mail address (coscobusanspill@yahoo.com) so volunteers could send in their contact details. Still, if you wanted to report sightings of injured wildlife or contaminated shoreline, you had to spend a lot of time hitting redial to try to get through jammed phone lines.

bolinas-lagoon-oil1.jpgThe authorities’ old-media disaster response strategy of relying on newspapers and television to broadcast one-way messages to a population accustomed to Internet interactivity is missing an opportunity to coordinate a faster and better targeted cleanup operation. For instance, as the San Francisco Chronicle reported, residents of the coastal hamlet of Bolinas north of San Francisco were left on their own as they struggled to place a boom across the mouth of the Bolinas Lagoon to keep oil out of the environmentally sensitive Marin County estuary, home to a hundred bird species and a colony of harbor seals.

Now imagine if an Internet database of volunteers and their locations was mashed up with a Google (GOOG) map of oil-threatened areas. Would-be volunteers could go online to see where assistance was needed near them or they could be notified by e-mail or text message. Extra bodies and equipment might have helped avoid what Green Wombat found when he and his son visited the eastern shore of Bolinas Lagoon on Sunday: globs of thick purple-black oil dotting the rocks while a dozen endangered California brown pelicans floated off a nearby sandbar where seals bask during low tide. (Photo at right.)

An online map mashup or a wiki page would have also helped wildlife rescuers collect old sheets and towels and other materials needed to clean oil-soaked birds as well as coordinate volunteers to provide support to cleanup crews. As it was, Green Wombat happened to hear a volunteer at the Richmond meeting mention that you could drop off sheets at the Berkeley Marina, where rescued birds were being collected. Stopping by the marina on Sunday, we found another ad hoc group of volunteers helping along the shoreline cordoned off with yellow police tape.

This is not to say creating a Web 2.0 emergency response system would be easy — particularly when it means integrating such an operation with government agencies. But it sounds like an opportunity for some established Internet company or entrepreneur. In the meantime, Bay Area residents, environmental groups and local governments are organizing themselves online, turning to — where else? — Facebook to set up oil spill clearinghouses to exchange information and coordinate haz mat training sessions for volunteers.

Read Full Post »