Tag Archives: alcatel-lucent

Bell Labs goes looking for lost mojo

by Steve Blum • , , ,

First we’ll invent Unix, then we’ll figure out what to do with it.

When Silicon Valley was just pear orchards and a junior university, and a google was an obscure bit of math trivia, the wellspring of geek creativity was a continent away. Bell Labs sprawled across several campuses in northern New Jersey, filled with scientists and engineers who were paid to come up with interesting ideas and novel technology. Not necessarily marketable products, although it was correctly assumed that profits would follow somehow. Partly because the Bell System was a monopoly with profits more or less determined by regulators on a cost-plus basis, but mostly because Bell Labs delivered: the transistor, Unix, C, fiber optics, CDMA, TDMA and the list goes on.

The break up of AT&T thirty years ago brought an end to that cloistered world. Even as it was collecting Nobel prizes for past glories, Bell Labs was bouncing from one corporate parent to another, continually shedding talent and narrowing its scope, and finally ending up as a vestigal stump in an R&D backwater of Alcatel-Lucent.

It seems, though, that Alcatel-Lucent has woken up to the fact that the smart boys and girls are not just hanging out at the Jersey shore these days. Corporate CTO Marcus Weldon was also named president of Bell Labs in November and, according to LightReading, he’s going to try to lure them back…

Weldon will be looking to add some people to the Bell Labs team, though some will also be lost as part of [previously announced] layoffs. The R&D operation lost people to the web giants in Silicon Valley a decade ago. “We need to hire some people who would otherwise work there. We’ll be hiring some talent in that area.”

Weldon is promising to give Bell Labs interesting and important problems to solve. If he and his bosses have the wisdom and patience to let the answers fall naturally from those problems and not be driven by predetermined corporate roadmaps, some of the mojo might return.

I had a summer job at Bell Labs’ Piscataway campus in the 70s, but all I figured out was how to use this odd interconnecting network to log onto the system back in Berkeley and play Star Trek.

Tweets from Showstoppers at CTIA 31 March 2009

We are the Borg. Lower your shields and surrender your ships. We will add your biological and technological distinctiveness to our own. Your culture will adapt to service us. Resistance is Futile.

Zannel pulls together video, photos, text and pushes it to your social nets. Take video on phone, upload to Zannel, push it to Facebook.

Zannel site provides portal for video, photo, text microblogging, can mash it up, for example on map via geotagging.

Supported sites include twitter, facebook, blip, blogger, wordpress, flickr. Pushes content in whatever format/form the site supports.

Zannel playing in same space as 12seconds.tv, @scgeeks CEO wants to come down and do a demo.

Lots of other unified communications vendors at Showstoppers, pulling together email, sms, voicemail, chat, socials nets, whatever.

Alcatel-Lucent unified communications platform features widgets for social nets, can do a voice chat within Facebook.

combines email & social nets, pushes to a single app on mobile device, sells it to handset makers, Nokia on board.

RocketVox.com is a consumer play, users pull together their email, sms, voip, im. basic account free, can pay to upgrade.

Hantech showing Tablo, a $99 gizmo that lets you write directly on your computer screen with special pen, way cool.

DeviceAnywhere puts lots of different mobile phones in racks, sells access by minute via web to developers: it’s a Borg cellco.

What the gods would destroy they first give to corporate brand managers

That’s a TikiTag there.

Took a first look at TikiTag. It’s perfect for Santa Cruz. It could put geeks on the beach. If we can save it from the suits.

Saw it at the Showstoppers event at CES last month, and the TikiTag people were kind enough to send me a demo kit.

Technically, it’s simple. The kit contains a USB-enabled RFID reader and ten sticky RFID tags. Download the app from the website, set up an account, plug in the reader, swipe a tag and something happens.

“Something” is defined by a web-based app on the TikiTag server. For example, one app is a “social business card”. When you swipe the tag, a browser window appears with, say, your current Twitter and Flickr feeds and links to your Facebook and Linkedin profiles. You stick a tag on the back of a business card and give it to someone while you’re networking at Rosie McCann’s. If she has a TikiTag reader too, when she gets home she’ll swipe the card and see you in all your glory.

It can also function as an alternate user interface. Put a tag on a teddy bear, then your toddler smacks the reader with the bear and something absolutely fascinating appears. You get a few minutes of peace and quiet. Combined with a USB-enabled taser, it could be a powerful pedagogic tool.

Another use is simplifying remote access. Borrow a computer at NextSpace, swipe the tag attached to your key ring, and your desktop pops up.

There’s more. Something physical moves somewhere in the world and triggers something else via the web. The TikiTag people call it “the Internet of things”.

If an ecosystem develops, it is a powerful idea. It needs to go viral for the really cool stuff to appear, though.

One promising step they’ve already taken is enabling it via a two-dimensional bar code. It’s something you can print on your card, or send via mobile phone. It’s even conceivable to hack a reader into your phone’s camera. Eliminates the need to buy a gadget.

Unfortunately, it’s starting to lean in a corporate direction. Not surprisingly, it’s owned by Alcatel-Lucent, which is about as grey-suit as it gets.

First sign of trouble is that the suits have renamed the company. It’s now called Touchatag™. TikiTag had potential. It could have become a verb. “Next time you’re in town, why don’t you TikiTag me?” But Touchatagging™ someone sounds, well, creepy.

Why did they do it? It doesn’t sing, but it does look better on the purchase order you submit to accounting. According to their Facebook page:

“We changed our name today, and we hope you love it as much as we do. Touchatag™ expresses exactly what it is about and fits our dream: make every application we use better via an easy, fast and intuitive one touch user interaction.”

Unfortunately, that’s not my dream. I want to make a living sitting on a beach wearing a Samoan shirt while listening to Radio Margaritaville. Slap a TikiTag on an umbrella drink and I’m good to go.

The sun is shining on Monterey Bay, and it’s just dipped below the yardarm. Time to go do a little product development work…