Hamburgers, Coffee, Guitars, and Cars: A Report from Lemnos Labs

6/12/12Follow @wroush

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the company is benefiting from advances in areas like sensor technology and DC motors.

Momentum Machines hopes to install machines in five hamburger joints in 2013 and 1,500 by 2017. While the device won’t be cheap, it will pay for itself rapidly, Vardakostas says. “We think it would be hard to compete if you don’t have a robot,” he says.

Local Motion

Clement Gires, who co-founded Local Motion two years ago at Stanford University, says “the big problem we are trying to solve is that local mobility is huge, messy, and broken.” One third of all trips in the United States are less than five miles, yet 99 percent of them are made in cars burning gas in internal combustion engines. Local Motion is building “mobility networks” consisting of both fleets of electric vehicles, and the software needed to deploy them intelligently; it’s marketing these networks first on corporate campuses such as the Googleplex in Mountain View, CA.

The Local Motion prototype vehicle's dashboard (iPad included)

Some 30 million people in the U.S. work on corporate campuses, university campuses, and military bases, Gires observes. The company’s prototype four-seater vehicle is designed to help people get around those campuses, or make short trips to and from campus, for less money than companies would spend on shuttle buses or car sharing. (Local Motion’s vehicles can be operated for 12 cents per mile, which is one-third the cost of renting a Zipcar and one-tenth the cost of operating a campus shuttle service, Gires says.)

The company’s software platform is just as important as its hardware. The system senses where a vehicle is, how many people are on board, and “builds a graph to connect people, places, and events,” Gires says. The goal is to enable users to go online shortly before a trip and locate and reserve the nearest vehicle, while coordinating with others heading the same direction.

“You want a campus to be a vibrant place of communication, exchange, and creativity,” Gires says. To enable that, “people need to feel empowered to move around during the day, not just sit at their desk. Building a real mobility network will change the perspective people have on their local environment. We think that’s the biggest value we can bring to the market.”

Unplugged Instruments

The founders of Unplugged Instruments, Andrew Penrose and Ari Atkins, are both graduating from Stanford this week. They’re both longtime guitarists, and Atkins says looking at innovations like the iPhone highlighted just how little the electric guitar has changed in the last 50 years. “You need big amps and bulky effects pedals, so most of the time your instrument is stuck at home,” he says. “Our solution is the unlimited electric guitar. It feels and plays like a classic electric, but it has a built-in amplifier and iPhone app.”

Unplugged Instruments co-founder Ari Atkins

The speaker in the Unplugged Instruments’ prototype is where the sound hole would be in an acoustic guitar. Plug the instrument into our iPhone and download the Unplugged Instruments app, and suddenly you can play along to songs downloaded from iTunes, or turn on effects like delays, or take lessons, or record your own music (which you can then upload to Facebook and other social platforms). “It just expands your experience so much beyond what any other guitar can do,” Atkins says.

Unplugged Instruments, which is currently raising money on Kickstarter, hopes to bring its first guitar to market by March 2013 at a price of around $350. Atkins thinks it will appeal to a “huge number of people,” given that there are 20 million guitarists in the U.S. alone, who buy 2 million guitars every year. “The big manufacturers like Fender and Gibson have been making phenomenal guitars for 60 years, but they haven’t innovated since the 1950s, and nowadays these classic setups can’t keep up,” Atkins says. “People want a more affordable solution.”

Wade Roush is a contributing editor at Xconomy. Follow @wroush

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  • TK3

    All these ideas sound like they could work in the real marketplace, not counting government regulation/interference, and I wish them luck.


  • James Robert Deal

    Fast food companies will automate whether worker wages are raised or not, and corporate profits will rise. The demand for workers is multi factoral. Automation will lower the need for minimum wage workers, but workers with more money to spend will increase the need for minimum wage workers. Humans will always be needed in face-to-face jobs. Businesses can adapt by raising prices. Workers have no way to adapt. In 1968 the minimum wage was worth $10.69 in today’s dollars. The poor make less than they made 46 years ago. They should have have to bear the burden to maintain business profits. Wages at the bottom must be raised. The issue is how much and how quickly. Do you believe there should never be an increase in the minimum wage? Do you disbelieve in the whole minimum wage concept? You have been hanging out with right wing Republicans too much. Fortunately, there are some Republicans who believe in paying people enough so that they are not dependent on welfare. Wall Mart pays low wages by mooching off government. Mike, you do very well on health issues, but on the minimum wage issue, your approach lacks nuance. Why do you say nothing about the poor quality of fast food? You are a natural food and natural health advocate. Why would you be supporting low wage employers so unquestioningly?

  • CT Yankee

    James Robert Deal — No I do not believe in Minimum Wage! It is an artificial construct forced on the economy, and ultimately one doomed to failure. As you noted the comparison to 1968 dollars is one of the MW’s weaknesses. It always invites a comparison, but that comparison is *ALWAYS* incomplete. to wit: How much did a Smartphone cost in 1968 dollars? What about Cable TV?

    In 1968 most businesses were closed on Sundays… Why? Religion? Or just the slower pace of life? Just say’in…

    FWIW, I don’t pay my employees minimum wage, it would be an insult to their skillsets. However, I expect a lot more from them than any MW employee could ever be expected to provide. But, should I want to hire an extra pair of hands to perform some menial task, I must evaluate the burden of paying that person over $10/hr (including the cost of taxes & benefits) vs skipping that task altogether. Guess what; the job goes unfilled.

    That’s the ‘beauty’ of the Minimum Wage! It keeps me from ever having to interact with unskilled, low-skilled, and inexperienced workers. It provides a convenient barrier that lets my human resources people only deal with people that have somehow managed to ‘acquire experience’ at someone else’s expense. I let Walmart & McD’s train kids at government expense until they boil over with resentment, and then hire them at the low end of my scale because their minds are indoctrinated with the concepts of ‘entitlement’ until they either succeed or fail miserably, and move on to the next company, because this is the age of ‘Failing Upward’.