Philippe Kahn: The Future of Mobile is Motion
April 5th 08, 2012
by Lisa Morgan
Galileo, Newton, Kahn: All mathematicians who changed - or in Kahn's case is changing - the world through physics. And who better to take smartphones into a new dimension? Camera phone inventor, serial entrepreneur, and sailing champion Philippe Kahn.
The former Bill Gates rival became a Silicon Valley legend when he created and built Borland, which at the time was one of the world's most successful software companies. In those days, Kahn was an outspoken CEO and noted contrarian who fearlessly pursued his own path with the goal of affecting positive change.
Following a fall-out with the Borland board, Kahn started Starfish Software in 1994 to pioneer over-the-air (OTA) global data synchronization and integration of wireless and wireline devices. That company was purchased by Motorola and later by Nokia. In 1997, Kahn invented the camera phone and started LightSurf, which licensed the camera phone intellectual property (IP) to popular mobile device manufacturers and service providers. That company was acquired by VeriSign.
Kahn's latest venture is Fullpower Technologies, a motion sensing technology company founded in 2003 that provides sensor-based solutions to select organizations whose power and influence are shaping modern society. Most of what Fullpower does is confidential, although its technology is seeping into public awareness as a result of popular mobile apps and partnerships with name brands.
"We are always inventing the future so we're constantly building new IP," said Kahn. "Because we are not in the business of consulting or making public speeches, we tend to be discreet."
Mobile Devices Know Your Every Move
Fullpower has a technology platform and it also produces proof-of-concept Apple iOS apps that have become some of the most popular apps on the Apple iStore.
The MotionX Technology Platform supports a broad array of sensors including imaging sensors, light sensors, GPS, biosensors, altimeters, pressure sensors, toxin sensors, magnetometers, and temperature sensors with the goal of improving the human condition. It also uses predictive algorithms to anticipate the user's next move.
When Kahn invented the camera phone, he essentially embedded an imaging sensor into a cell phone. Adding more sensors was the next logical step in the evolution of intelligent mobile devices.
"We do for 'user motion states' what the weather community does for predicting tropical storms," said Kahn. "And we are continually getting better at it."
The MotionX platform includes a motion recognition engine, a motion inference engine, an embedded physics engine, and a soft body dynamics engine.
"The two key engines are the MotionX Recognition Engine and the MotionX Inference Engine," said Kahn. "The MotionX Recognition Engine does for motion what a great voice recognition engine does for voice. The MotionX Inference Engine turns collections of motion states into meaningful and verified user motion states."
The MotionX Recognition Engine is based on years of research and development focused on biomechanics and the mechanics of machine motion. The MotionX Inference Engine transforms accelerometer data into information that can be used in a predictive manner using neural networking technology, a rules-based engine, and advanced mathematical modeling. The Embedded Physics Engine models Newtonian reality (three physical laws describing the relationship between force and motion). It also provides complete 3D modeling and collision management.
Fullpower uses the Soft-Body Dynamics Engine internally to model user motion states. According to Kahn, the technology is similar to what some of the most advanced simulation machines use, but it is designed to work on mobile platforms.
Life Beyond GPS
The buzz today is about the power of location-based relevance particularly as it relates to mobile marketing and mobile commerce. MotionX technology aims to improve lifestyles (and in some cases work styles) by translating sensor-based data into actionable information. Obvious applications are improving sports performance, physical well-being, and of course gaming. In some cases, social media functionality has been integrated so that the data collected can be shared with third parties (location, speed, course, etc.).
"We love location-based sensing. However, I think that for too many people it means better ads," said Kahn. "We use location and sensing to improve everyone's well being, like with MotionX-Sleep."
MotionX-Sleep is the latest in a series of three apps for Apple iOS devices, designed and produced by the Fullpower MotionX development team. The iPhone and iPod Touch app analyzes user's sleep patterns and daily activity to improve sleep quality and in turn physical performance during waking hours.
The two other MotionX apps are MotionX-GPS and MotionX-GPS Drive. MotionX-GPS is an iPhone and iPad app that allows users to see their location on land or sea via topographic maps, road maps, satellite maps, marine charts, and other maps. Olympic skier Eva Twardokens uses MotionX-GPS on her iPhone to post her speed, location, and photos. She also uses the app for cross-training purposes.
MotionX GPS-Drive, also an iPhone and iPad app, provides turn-by-turn guidance and traffic maps, among other things.
"The iPhone is the perfect showcase platform for the MotionX mobile sensing platform," said Kahn. "We wanted to do with the iPhone what nobody else could do by being more accurate and at least a generation ahead. The MotionX apps are some of the 25 most downloaded applications of all time and leaders in healthcare and fitness."
A number of popular brands are using Motion X technology or integrating MotionX apps with their products with the goal of improving user experience. For example, Nike developed its Nike+ GPS iPhone and iPod touch app for joggers using the MotionX technology platform. Using the app, joggers can map their runs, track their progress, and hear cheers anytime friends "like" or comment on their run status. Texas Instruments (TI) is collaborating with Fullpower to combine its MSP430 microcontrollers with MotionX technology so developers can easily differentiate portable devices such as smartphones, sports equipment, gaming equipment, and Bluetooth headsets. And speaking of Bluetooth and headsets, Jawbone created a headset with a built-in accelerometer that recognizes gesture-based commands.
"The MotionX TapTap and ShakeShake commands are what makes the new Jawbone ERA headset so cool," said Kahn. "Motion controls the user experience, so you don't get have to look for a button to press when you're driving, for example."
Gesture-based commands can add an entirely new dimension to "hands-free" user experiences whether the user is driving, riding a bike, jogging, walking, or engaging in any other motion-based activity during which touch screen interaction is inadvisable or dangerous. In addition to providing gesture recognition and pedestrian navigation capabilities, MotionX enables image stabilization that rivals far more expensive solutions. Imagine taking better quality pictures and shooting better quality video while in motion.
According to Kahn, accurate, powerful (and obviously cheap) sensors can be embedded in “almost” every mobile device to enable motion sensing. The limitations as always are size, cost, battery consumption, and performance. Today, MotionX technology is being designed to be embedded in ultra low power devices such the Jawbone ERA headset and the Jawbone UP wristband. The Jawbone UP wristband is used with an iPhone to track user activity, sleep patterns, meals, and calories burned. If a user has been sedentary for too long at work, at home, or at leisure, the device can alert her to get up and move to boost metabolism. (Okay, okay, I'll get up!)
"Different applications use different sensors," said Kahn. "When MotionX uses multiple sensors, we call it 'MotionX Sensor-Fusion.' An example is MotionX-Sleep, which uses the accelerometer, the proximity sensor, the magnetometer, and the [gyroscope] if present at different levels. That's how we achieve such precise accuracy."
Where Motion Sensing is Headed
Kahn said Fullpower is working with a number of industry leaders across industries to create breakthrough solutions, although he won't share the details for fear of divulging trade secrets or how his customers intend to use MotionX technology for competitive differentiation. However, Fullpower has stated publicly that it is working with organizations in the energy, gaming, government, life sciences, sports, and security sectors.
"We focus on the most advanced solutions in each industry," said Kahn. We work with the market leaders in their space, because that's how we can get premium value for our technology. In return, we help [them] strengthen their position."
In the meantime, innovation is the name of the game at Fullpower, which includes simplifying user experiences. "With every one of our applications we try to improve usability," said Kahn. "It's an obsession for us at Fullpower-MotionX."
Delivering new levels of intelligence is also an area of focus. For example, a person skiing, riding a bike, driving, or jogging is not in the best state to answer email. With MotionX technology, a device "knows" what the user is doing, even if that is standing, sitting, or lying down. Accordingly, the user experience can be adapted in a predictive manner such as disabling email while skiing or switching to gesture-based commands while a user is running. The same concepts could be applied to field operations, for example.
What could you do with motion sensing on a mobile or embedded device that would either improve or revolutionize how you conduct business or how your customers use your products? Kahn has a vision. What's yours?