May 19, 2020

Leading market products made obsolete by competitors

Sumit Modi
3 min
Leading market products made obsolete by competitors

A US International Trade Commission judge has ruled that Fitbit has not committed any infringement against Jawbone.


Jawbone has been attempting to sue Fitbit over trade secrets violations since last year, but judge Dee Lord said that there has been no violation of the Tariff Act. Both companies create fitness tracking apps, but Jawbone has been losing market share as Fitbit slowly but surely overtakes it. Fitbit’s CEO James Park said in a statement earlier this week that Jawbone simply wanted “to disrupt Fitbit’s momentum to compensate for their own lack of success in the market.”

Many companies over the years have created leading market products which have simply been outshone by others, rendering them obsolete. Here are a few famous examples.


Betamax versus VHS

Betamax was a brand of video cassette tape in the 1970s, and was closely followed by the release of the VHS tape. Both brands did well, leading to a vicious format war which stretched into the 80s. Eventually, it became clear due to Betamax’s higher price tag and shorter recording time that VHS was the preferable brand, especially in the US. Amazingly, despite not having been popular for 30 years, Betamax only finally ceased production this year.

AltaVista versus Google

AltaVista was an early search engine, established in 1995. It proved incredibly popular, but Google launched two years later and immediately began to gain ground. Yahoo bought AltaVista in 2003, and shut down the service entirely ten years later. Now, will redirect you to Yahoo, which itself is no big competition for Google.

BlackBerry versus other smartphone brands

BlackBerry gained a foothold in the cell phone world by concentrating on the business market and putting a lot of effort into e-services like email. The QWERTY keyboard was viewed as more sophisticated than the simplistic buttons of other phones, but as of 2011, shares and popularity of the devices have plunged thanks to Android and Apple smartphones. BlackBerry’s user base has almost halved in recent years, and while it retains a stronghold in some sectors, many industry experts have speculated that it may not survive as an independent going concern.

Kodak versus other digital cameras and mobile devices

Kodak was an early American innovator in the photography world, even creating a digital camera in 1975 – the first of its kind. The product was dropped due to concerns it would interfere with Kodak’s photographic film business, but the company returned to the concept much later, and by 2005 it ranked number one in digital camera sales. However, Kodak lost huge amounts of money due to underselling, and soon it was overtaken dramatically by both bigger camera companies and mobile devices, which have increasingly high-quality cameras within them.


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Jun 16, 2021

Dr Peng Wei: Designing the Future of Autonomous Aircraft

3 min
NASA has announced that it will fund a new project, headed by Dr Peng Wei, to develop safety management systems for autonomous electric aircraft

Air traffic is expected to double by 2037. According to the International Air Transport Association (IATA), the world will need 37,000+ new passenger and freight aircraft, and more than half a million new pilots—unless we come up with another solution. Right now, a George Washington University School of Engineering and Applied Science professor, Dr Peng Wei, is starting to research autonomous electric aircraft design. 


NASA will fund the research, which will study how to minimise risks for electric vertical take-off and landing (eVTOL). As Airbus states: ‘Autonomous technologies also have the potential to improve air traffic management, enhance sustainability performance and further improve aircraft safety’. 


Who is Dr Wei? 

An assistant professor of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, Dr Wei has researched aircraft control, optimisation, and AI and ML applications in aviation. Over the next three years, he’ll lead the US$2.5mn NASA grant project in collaboration with researchers from Vanderbilt, the University of Texas at Austin, and MIT’s Lincoln Lab


Why is His Research Important? 

Even though the wide adoption of self-piloting cars, much less aircraft, is still far down the road, technologies that Dr Wei and his colleagues are researching will form the commercial transport of the future. But aviation manufacturers, in order to produce autonomous aircraft, will have to meet extremely high safety standards. 


‘The key challenge for self-piloting capabilities is how the system reacts to unforeseen events’, said Arne Stoschek, Wayfinder Project Executive at Acubed. ‘That’s the big jump from automated to autonomous’. In the air, AI-piloted aircraft will have to manoeuvre around adverse weather conditions, such as wind and storms, and other high-altitude risks, such as GPS hacking, cyberattacks, and aircraft degradation. And the stakes are high.


‘If a machine learning algorithm makes a mistake in Facebook, TikTok, Netflix —that doesn't matter too much because I was just recommended a video or movie I don't like’, Dr Wei said. ‘But if a machine learning algorithm mistake happens in a safety-critical application, such as aviation or in autonomous driving, people may have accidents. There may be fatal results’. 


What Are His Other Projects? 

In addition to the new NASA research, Dr Wei has been awarded three other grants to pursue AI-piloted aircraft: 



Research like NASA and Dr Wei’s three-year programme will help improve how AI reacts and adapts to challenging air conditions. In coming years, autonomous aircraft will likely take off slowly, starting with small package delivery, then upgraded drones, and finally commercialised aircraft. But congestion issues will worsen until autonomous aircraft are the best alternative. 

According to BBC Future, by 2030, commuters will spend nearly 100 hours a year in Los Angeles and Moscow traffic jams, and 43 cities will be home to more than 10 million people. The final verdict? Bring on the AI-operated transit.

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