Category Archives: Ideas

“Your local friend” – business idea for travellers

Use case

Many people come to the foreign countries and feel lost/confused traveling around and/or getting services. If possible, they like to go places with a local friend who will point out the best features, explain how things work and/or translate the requests into the local language. This is a service for those who do not have such a friend.

Basic business flow

  1. A service kiosk in the airport (visitor’s center) would hire out he mobile phones with GPS/Camera built-in. A visitor picks up the phone and gives his language preferences.
  2. At any point, the visitor can call the local service number on speed-dial and they will be helped with services that voice+GPS+SMS+Camera can do. For example:
    1. The agent answers the call in visitor’s language and can translate the communication between the visitor and locals (via speaker phone). If it is a sign, poster or written material, it can be photographed and sent to agent for explanation.
    2. The agent knows where the user is located (via GPS) and has internet access to street directories, toilet maps, phone directories, public transport, traffic maps, Google Earth view, local rules, etc.
  3. Therefore the agent can advise the visitor on any issues that visitor needs resolved (in their language). Any notes can be sent via SMS to ensure understanding/recall.

Additional features and up-sell opportunities

  1. If the visitor brought their different-standard phone over, use the service interface to automatically copy the phone numbers onto the new handset with automatic cheap rates via (for example) Rebtel number substitution. Or phone/Skype integration.
  2. Provide alarm, booking, etc services
  3. Provide audio tours via integration with GPS and IVR system
  4. If the visitor provides their social network credentials, integrate with those systems to post sent geocoded pictures to user’s account and/or provide two-way integration between SMS and Skype
  5. Provide language lessons (speed dial 8 for the “target language” taught by “your language” tutor)
  6. The service can be pitched as for emergency use only, so that the fee for hiring the phone without actually using it would be similar to car insurance (couple of dollars per day).

Revenue

  1. The revenue would come from charging for the services (probably per minute) and for mediating 3rd party solutions such as Rebtel (surcharge per minute). Some services that are mostly IVR interface could probably be cheaper than human assisted ones.
  2. None of these services require phone agents to be present in the target country, only the sales agents and DID phone numbers. SIP trunks allow for that.
  3. Even sales agents could be minimised with booking the phone over the Internet, etc. Depending on the cost of the phones, they could be prepaid service or Credit Card deposit type.

This idea is released under Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported license.

Love calls over the IP network

I usually suck at Velentine’s day presents. This year, however, I may have just killed several birds with one stone and impressed my wife too.

It all started a couple of months ago, when I noticed ever more frequent mentions of internet telephony becoming a very big thing. I have dutifully subscribe to a couple of blogs, had a quick read of leading websites and left it to stew in the background. The whole VOIP/VoiceXML/CallXML/IVR field looked like a fairly complex field with a steep learning curve.

And so it was until, on the 12th of February I had seen a Telephony Mashup Contest announcement with reasonable prizes, but only 2 weeks deadline. As part of the description somewhere, it was mentioned that free developer accounts were sufficient to get a mashup working.

Suddenly, the whole telephony did not look scary. With timelines so short, it could not be so difficult to get into it and free developer accounts turned out to be rather better than anything I could have imagined. Specifically, Voxeo’s hosted solution provided free access to all I needed to put together an application, including a real-time debugger/tracer. They even gave phone numbers to test the application.

I did not care about building a mashup, but using my technical skills to surprise my wife was another matter entirely.

So, I set out to build a Let me count how many ways I love you application with the code name Valentine. The basic idea is that I leave my wife a phone number to call, but the message at the other end of the phone line is with my voice counting the ways I love her. The interactive twist was her being able to choose the number of ways with DTFM (press 5 for 5 top reasons).

Since Voxeo’s developer accounts are self-provisioned, I was able to get one immediately. They have a good amount of documentation to start, and it took barely 20 minutes to implement and – more importantly – understand their Hello World application. I was hooked.

Voxeo provides both text-to-speech(TTS) and voice recognition as part of free services. I did not need voice recognition, but TTS came very useful during development phase. I used TTS as stubs for the messages until I had the flows ironed out and then replaced all the prompts with my own voice. All in all, it took a couple of hours, with voice recording and uploading probably taking more than the programming itself.

For those who are interested, an early version is available for download. It is in CallXML 2.0, which is Voxeo’s proprietary solution. I used it because that’s what Hello World was in and I did not even notice that CallXML 3.0 and/or VoiceXML was an option. If I had to do it again, I would use VoiceXML/CCXML or at least CallXML 3.0.

Since the Valentine day, I had been looking for other solutions like Voxeo’s. There is free hosting from Tellme, but it requires your own hosting setup and applications need human approval, so the service takes just that much longer to get into.
Either way, I am getting quite excited about telephony, so will see what other interesting things are possible around it.

Where is D.A.V.E – uses for portable wireless storage devices

What could one do with a portable hard-drive that can be connected to wirelessly? And with software API to boot. More than one can think!

Robert Scoble has a video interview with a Seagate exec about D.A.V.E/DAVE, the new device they are releasing in the coming months. It is envisaged to be an external storage device for person’s other gadgets with limited memory, such as mobile phones, mp3 players, etc.

They do mention however that there is a device-to-device replication mode. This I think is where it will get interesting for other purposes.

Specifically, I am thinking of public demonstrations and democracy aspects. There had been a long tradition of taking pictures of police response when that response overstep the line and limits. Unfortunately, the same policemen who cross the line of legality like to confiscate and erase the tapes as well.

This is slowly becoming harder to do with proliferation of the camera-phones, but DAVE can change the situation much faster and with more impact for situations known to be dangerous in advance.
All one needs is a digital camera with a wireless transmitter. That is partnered with another – less noticeable – person’s DAVE and the pictures get offloaded in real-time. If the journalist is stopped, the person with the DAVE device may still be able to escape and deliver the photographs/video in time.
Alternatively, it might be possible to setup multiple DAVEs as retransmittion way-points with the content duplicated among many people, with some very far from the demonstration. That way even a live feed might be possible.
The society is becoming more and more transparent in many ways that cause concern. It is good to see that at least some of these technologies can also help keeping the real democracy alive.