Robots, Angels, and the Google Bus

My last update was back on October 12. My life got pretty busy right after that, with trips to Boston and San Diego and a couple of half-marathons. Then, sadly, my old pal Rhody fell ill and died on Nov. 25. He was 16 1/2 years old, and had been with me since he was a 12-week-old pup. He is desperately missed; I posted his obituary on my Facebook page. 

Writing was a useful respite from all that, so the wheels kept turning at Xconomy San Francisco. Here's a rundown of the most interesting stuff I've been working on these last few months.

-- I visited Anki, the robotics company behind the smartphone-driven robotic racing cars that made such a splash at Apple's WWDC event last year. After my profile came out, my family bought me an Anki Drive kit for Christmas (thanks guys!), so I followed up with a first-hand review.

-- Speaking of robots, I got a tour of Unbounded Robotics, which is using advanced design techniques and ready-made software to build cheaper mobile manipulator robots for manufacturing and logistics. I also reviewed Romo, the smartphone-on-wheels platform developed by San Francisco-based Romotive. (If you're into robots, you can meet the CEOs of both companies at Xconomy's Robo Madness 2014 event, coming up April 10 in Menlo Park, CA.)

-- There's a little startup in Palo Alto that could be the next Google, if they play their cards right. I'm serious. It's called Diffbot, and it's using computer vision and other automated techniques to approximate Tim Berners-Lee's original vision of the Semantic Web.

-- Quite a few readers were riled up by my tongue-in-cheek, epistolary column Please, Keep Paying $80 a Month for Cable So I Can Have Cheap TV. I may have phrased it too provocatively, but my point was that there are plenty of ways to get great video content these days without paying outrageous fees to the cable monopolies.

-- In a slide show called Meet the Unsung Angels of Silicon Valley, I tried to draw attention to 18 Bay Area investors who, with their quiet integrity and acumen, probably do more collectively to push the startup scene forward than the celebrity investors whose names turn up every week in the tech blogs.

-- Why is it so hard to find out what things really cost in the healthcare economy? PokitDok CEO Lisa Maki, whom I interviewed last fall, has some ideas about that. Mostly, she thinks, it's because nobody asks.

-- Also on the digital health front, I covered the Top 50 in Digital Health awards organized by the Rock Health seed fund and accelerator, as well as the opening of Rock Health's new space in Mission Bay, where I helped out by moderating a conversation with San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee.

-- I took a look at two startup accelerators that are trying unconventional approaches to choosing and counseling their startups: the Tandem mobile-focused accelerator in Burlingame and the new Nine Plus accelerator in San Francisco.

-- I love the iPad Air but I have quite a few reservations about the company that makes it; while I was in Boston I wrote a column lamenting Apple's aloofness from its customers.

-- As an equal-opportunity critic, I also penned a controversial column arguing that Google is getting too big

-- I profiled an intriguing San Francisco product-testing startup called LabDoor that's trying to bring some science to the shady world of neutraceuticals.

-- Mobile developers continue to experiment with new ways to help readers find and consume news and other digital content. I profiled two of the most interesting recent examples, Reverb and Prismatic. 

-- On the mobile-app front, I also profiled Houzz, the online marketplace for home design professionals, which has a gorgeous iPad app.

-- Since the cleantech implosion of 2009-2010, I haven't written much about energy technology, but I did get a chance to take a look at Imergy, a company working on an old idea for grid-scale energy storage that's new again: flow batteries.

-- If you live in the Bay Area (or if you've been following the tech news at all), you know there's boiling resentment in some quarters of the Bay Area toward the private buses that shuttle workers from San Francisco, Oakland, and other places to the campuses of the giant Silicon Valley tech companies like Google. I sat down with Nathalie Criou, founder of the private bus company Ridepal, for a realistic conversation about transportation policy and why the solution might be more buses, not fewer.

-- I've been working to ramp up our coverage of edtech startups, starting with profiles of Gregor Freund's Versal, which is building an authoring platform for online courses, and Stoodle, an interactive whiteboard created by a trio of Bay Area teenagers. 

-- I also profiled If You Can, the latest video game company from EA founder Trip Hawkins; it's working on a video game called If... that's designed to teach kinds social and emotional learning skills.

-- Our Xperience consumer section wouldn't be complete without the occasional review of a movie or a museum show. Hence my pieces about David Hockney: A Bigger Exhibitionat the DeYoung Museum in San Francisco, and a thought piece about the popular Spike Jonze sci-fi-romance movie, Her.