How a Walmart Algorithm and Unreliable DoorDash Drivers Got Me Banned From Walmart.Com

This is a tale of an algorithm gone mad, a problem with a third-party delivery system, and the inability of customer care employees to fix a problem. As a result, a loyal customer has been lost, and this article is being written.

For your business, this story should get you thinking about your reliance on AI-based decision-making, the level with which you want to empower your employees to override those algorithm-based decisions, and your tolerance for customer loss as a result.


The pandemic brought about changes in the way we shop. For me, one of the big changes was the move to grocery delivery. For pantry items, some combination of Amazon, Target, and Walmart worked well. (I found Walmart to be the most dependably in-stock of the three in the early days of the pandemic.) But that didn’t help with produce or refrigerated/frozen food items, so I looked to the grocery delivery services. In the beginning, I tried the big grocery store with the established delivery program. It worked great. Every week or two, a big truck pulled up with our groceries. I discovered I enjoyed the weekly deliveries. I work long hours, and it was a pleasure to regain my Saturday mornings from grocery shopping duty. As a bonus, online grocery shopping required advance meal planning and reduced impulse purchases, almost completely eliminating our food waste and reducing our weekly grocery bill, even after factoring in the additional cost of the delivery service.

However, while the grocery delivery service we initially used was exceptionally reliable, it was a little costly, so I decided to look for other options. Instacart worked OK, but the store with the most reasonable prices at Instacart had (and still has) a limited selection. So we tried Walmart, first for curbside pickup, then for delivery. As I understand it, Walmart employees do the shopping, and then (for delivery), they hand off to DoorDash, at least locally. I assume that when employees are picking the order, they probably know the store layout (and available products) better than an Instacart shopper might. For whatever reason, our Walmart orders have contained fewer mistakes than our Instacart orders. So, after our Walmart test-drive, in December 2020, I signed up for a one-month trial membership at Walmart+, and I let it roll over to an annual membership in January.

Enjoying our Deliveries With Barely a Hitch for the First 11 Months

For almost a full year, we enjoyed our Walmart+ membership. Groceries arrived every Saturday morning, usually within our one-hour delivery window, delivered by third-party drivers through Walmart’s deal with DoorDash. Some of our shipping orders would be converted to deliver-from-store. (These, it turns out, were also delivered by DoorDash drivers.) DoorDash drivers were meticulous about taking photos of their deliveries to prove they were delivered properly. Once, when I didn’t recognize the porch in the photo, I walked two doors down to our neighbor’s door and found our delivery there. (This happens with FedEx, UPS, and Amazon from time-to-time, too. Our house numbers are similar, and occasionally delivery drivers get confused, so I occasionally have to carry their deliveries to them, and when one of my deliveries doesn’t show, their porch is the first place I look.)

Walmart’s replacement items were a little iffy once in a while – notably when they replaced our nonfat yogurt with whole milk yogurt. (Um, yeah, anyone ordering nonfat is not going to be happy with full-fat.) But that could be fixed by turning off substitutions for most of our items (when I remembered).

In any case, we loved the service. While I had rarely shopped at Walmart before, the store became my go-to. I even began checking for items for shipping from Walmart, often buying there instead of Amazon. With the increasing number of third-party sellers now available at Walmart’s site, it’s very rare that an item available at Amazon is not also available at

The Problems Only Started Around the Holidays

The first hint of a problem, though I didn’t realize it at the time, came in mid-November. When I received the text that our grocery delivery had arrived, I found on my front porch two boxes of Metamucil crackers with a sticker on them with the name “G. Wilson.” Apparently, I had gotten G. Wilson’s order. I wonder if G. Wilson received the several bags of groceries destined for G. Wilbur. In any case, I used the chat feature at, was refunded for the order, and reordered my groceries to be delivered the next day.

Well, the wheels really came off the process after Thanksgiving. Of the four orders Walmart converted from shipping to “deliver from store,” three never showed up. They were marked as delivered, but the DoorDash drivers didn’t take photos of their deliveries, except for one which was a photo of pitch black – a photo of darkness. If there was a porch in that photo, it certainly wasn’t ours because I had left my porch light on for the driver. In all of those cases, I walked around to check my neighbors’ houses before using the Walmart website’s chat feature to get refunds.

At the same time, our last two Saturday morning grocery deliveries – the second and third weekends of December – never arrived. We received messages that they were delivered, but there were no groceries on our porch. Interestingly, the DoorDash drivers didn’t include photos, either; they just marked our orders as “delivered.” So I hopped onto the chat with the representatives at, talked about how it was interesting that there were no photos of those supposed deliveries, and they refunded the orders.

The Triggering of Walmart’s Algorithm

The week before Christmas, I received an e-mail saying that Walmart had canceled that weekend’s delivery (which I had planned a day or two early because Christmas fell on a Saturday) due to “returns violations.” The e-mail said that, while I was no longer allowed to order anything from the website, I was welcome to shop at their stores. (Well, thanks. We didn’t shop at Walmart before the pandemic, so if I do return to in-person shopping, I’ll return to my previous grocery store.) I realize my problems must have triggered some loss-prevention algorithm. I would guess that their contract with DoorDash doesn’t cover the cost of the items DoorDash drivers lie about delivering (though some language in the contract about whose responsibility it is if there’s no photo of the delivery might help solve that), and they chose to lose me as a customer due to their delivery problems during the previous month.

Still, I thought perhaps a call to customer service would help. The representatives on the chat were their usual helpful selves, but my contact there said he was unable to do something, that I needed to call the 800 number where the representatives would have more authority. And, sure enough, the representative at the 800 number said he could see my problem and fix it for me. He said I could re-place my order, but I said it was too close to Christmas to schedule another delivery, that I’d just pick up a couple things in-store to tide us over and try ordering again the following week. I also noted that I don’t trust the delivery drivers anymore, so I would probably order for store pickup, at least until after the holidays. He and I had talked about how many more problems they were seeing during the holidays, so I thought perhaps in January their drivers would be more reliable again. He even sent me a code for $10 off my next order – a code I’ll apparently not be able to use – to apologize for my troubles.

So, on Monday evening this week, I placed my order – this time for curbside pickup. It was immediately canceled by Walmart’s algorithm, and I was sent a reminder note that all future orders would be automatically canceled because I had violated Walmart’s return policy. Apparently, CSR #1 had been unable to fix the problem, after all. So I called again. The new customer service rep could see the notes from the week before. He said that the problem must not have been escalated properly. He would take care of it, and it would be fixed in 24-48 hours. He also gave me Walmart’s “corporate phone number” in case I had a problem.

That brings me to this morning. I submitted my order for curbside pickup this weekend. I was skeptical that this problem would be fixed, and indeed it wasn’t. Immediately, the website canceled my order, and I was sent another boilerplate e-mail reminding me that I had naughtily violated their return policy (by reporting missing grocery deliveries as missing) and that all future orders at would be canceled. I called the corporate number, which turns out to be a number for Walmart’s media relations. Option #3 on the automated phone system is for customers, but when I pressed #3 this morning, I was simply transferred to a message of “listen to the following options” followed by dead air, with no options or capability to reach a person. I considered calling 1-800-WALMART again, but if the previous two phone representatives couldn’t fix my problem, how could a third?

So, I am now persona non grata at I assume it was caused by dishonest DoorDash drivers. I suppose there could be a problem with the Walmart-to-DoorDash handoff. I’ll probably never know. The next thing I need to do is cancel my Walmart+ membership – my annual membership rolls over in January. Even if Walmart somehow solves my problem, I don’t trust the DoorDash drivers anymore, anyway, as a couple of mistakes on their part (perhaps even honest mistakes on their part this time) could trigger the algorithm all over again.

It is a little baffling that I’m unable to order curbside pickup, however, since the problem at my address is the inability of Walmart’s third-party representative (DoorDash) to provide delivery-from-store. I suppose their website simply isn’t designed to allow for curbside-only access.

Customer Service and Algorithms

I realize Walmart is a huge company and probably doesn’t care about losing an individual customer – or however many individual customers encounter problems like I did. However, their loss prevention algorithm is persistent, and they haven’t empowered their customer service representatives to override it. There’s a story here that all companies should consider. How many customers are you willing to lose to AI-powered decisions that your employees can’t override?

Media Relations Footnote: I did try pressing “1” for media relations to see if they could at least verify a couple of my assumptions above. I wasn’t sure if this blog was big enough to qualify as “media” to them, but I thought I’d try. However, when pressing “1,” members of the media are redirected to a message telling them to submit their questions to, so I still couldn’t reach a human.

Personal Update: My Current Work at IDC

For those who aren’t aware of why I haven’t posted an article in a while, I joined IDC in October 2019, and all of my tech industry writing is now being done for IDC.

I am IDC’s Research Manger, Print Industry Forecasts at IDC. Here’s my profile on the corporate website, listing some of the reports I’ve written or contributed to in my six-plus months there. As part of the Imaging, Printing & Document Solutions team, I write about single-function and multi-function printers, print consumables, and related topics.

It has been a great learning experience for me. Beyond the usual learning curve, I have been creating and revising forecasts regularly during the unfolding of the COVID-19 pandemic and slowly getting to know contacts and key players in my industry. It’s fun to be in a position where I can focus more intently on one market segment over months and years after mostly making a career of being able to get up to speed quickly across loosely related market segments. Admittedly, even something as focused as my research area has enough sub-segments to keep things interesting, so there’s a lifetime of opportunity to build expertise in related areas, but it’s still much more focused than any of my previous industry analyst work.

I am, of course, tweeting regularly. Those who follow my Twitter account know it now has deep coverage of print news, some tweets about interesting tech and telecom articles in areas I’ve covered in “past lives,” and, of course, a bit of music. And when I attend events, I’ll still be live-tweeting from them.

Indeed, I’ll continue to be present in the Boston-area tech and startup communities, attending events once it’s safe to do so again. And getting to as many online events as possible, in the meantime.

Thanks for reading. I’m sure, at some point, I’ll begin publishing more here at the blog about events I attend in my spare time in areas not covered by IDC. Until then, please do check out old articles here. Especially from some of the startup events I have attending, where I write about (and link to) many of the cool tech (and other) startups in the Boston area.

And stay safe and healthy, if at all possible.

A Few Thoughts About the Current 5G Hype Machine

As some of you know, I wrote about microwave and millimeter wave carriers back in the mid-’00s. Carriers that used largely the same network that will be used for 5G. I’ve followed new technology rollouts, wrote early reports about the competitive local exchange carrier (CLEC) and fiber-to-the-home (FTTH) markets, and penned research about the expansion of cable television and its evolution into “triple-play” triple-threats. It is with the same level of interest that I’ve been following 5G, with a report about the industry being one of a few possible next-steps for me. So I thought I’d get some high-level thoughts out there. Those of you deeply involved in the industry will see this overview as incomplete, and I could add links to articles about some of the cool things 5G is already doing (and please feel free to share more detailed info and links in the comments, if you’d like – active participation in the comments section will only make this article more useful [with my advance apologies for any delay “approving” the comments, since that’s how I’ve set up this blog]), but I hope it will be a great introduction for those who haven’t yet thought about 5G from this angle before.

I simultaneously appreciate and roll my eyes at the 5G hype machine. It is the future. It is going to help us do great things. Mostly things we can’t do or haven’t thought of right now. Aside from robots and cars, most of the examples I hear are things that could already be done with 4G. Or are things we were already doing with microwave systems more than two decades ago just packaged as “5G” to make them seem new. Or are merely the same things we occasionally do but done faster. But nothing we do very often. Why do you think the most common example given for consumer 5G is that you can download a movie (or app) in 10 seconds rather than 2 minutes? Because that’s one of the few things we do for which 5G would provide a noticeable difference. And we don’t do it that often – certainly not often enough to warrant rolling out an entire global network.

Some of the industrial applications are more intriguing and more immediately useful. While the past wireless generations were driven largely by consumer needs, businesses demands may very well drive 5G. Perhaps spurred on by the consumer revenue generated by this buzz. So from that perspective, I’m tolerant of the consumer 5G hype. Early adopters will be excited. Others who buy 5G devices too early may be disappointed. Personally, I’ll likely be my usual late-tech-adopter self, following it closely but not spending my own paycheck on it unless and until it fills a need for me. I can imagine a 5G connection to my work device that would vastly improve my ability to work with large data files. Faster access to powerful processing will allow me to perform complex analysis not currently available from a PC. I can think of some great work-life uses for 5G. And I have faith that personal and business uses I haven’t even dreamed of yet will follow. But only when 5G coverage nears ubiquity, including the necessary indoor antennas enabling 5G inside buildings.

Here, by the way, is a good CNN article about 5G. Very hype-filled but a worthwhile read. The title says, “I tried 5G. It will change your life — if you can find it.” Yes, 5G is coming. And yes, it will change your life. Just probably not for a few years.

Boston New Technology Startup Showcase #103: Mobile Apps

Finalee presentation; photo by Geoff Wilbur

Boston New Technology Startup Showcase 103

July 15, 2019

This month, Boston New Technology’s startup showcase, BNT103, featured Mobile App startups. It was hosted at Hult International Business School in Cambridge.

Boston New Technology Startup Showcase 103Hult International Business School in Cambridge, MA

Boston New Technology’s July startup showcase featured six Mobile App startups.

Market 2day presentation; photo by Geoff Wilbur

As always at a Boston New Tech startup showcase, the evening began with an hour of food and networking before the beginning of the presentations. First, each of the sponsors in attendance is given a few minutes to introduce themselves; then the remaining sponsors are recognized while their slide is shown on the screen. Sponsors who attended BNT101 and introduced themselves were Hult, The Boston Headshot, Your Profile Video, Chuck Goldstone Strategies and Stories, IntroVoke, Stripes, and Tom Maloney Coach. After that, the showcasing startups present.

JumpR presentation; photo by Geoff Wilbur

Below I introduce the presenting companies briefly with a paragraph each. These write-ups are based on material distributed before and during the event, sometimes expanded upon with information contained in the presentations. Of course, my notes are merely high-level. To get the straight skinny on any of the companies, please click through on the links, and contact the companies directly for additional information.

Products & Presenters

Finalee is an app offering a faster and more accurate local search, helping users find what’s nearby more quickly than Google, Yelp, TripAdvisor, or other services.

Lets All Be Heard presentation; photo by Geoff Wilbur

Market 2day‘s slogan is “Local Food for Busy People.” Via the Market 2day e-commerce app, consumers can purchase food from local food vendors, for delivery from local farmers markets. Essentially Market 2day is a “taxi service” for food. During its presentation, the company touted early repeat customer usage, noting that, since launching five weeks ago, almost every person who placed an order has ordered more than once.

JumpR is a mobile ticketing app for bars and nightclubs that allows consumers to pay cover fees via the app and “skip the line.”

LetsAllBeHeard is an app geared toward political campaigns, PACs, unions, and similar orgaizations that enables them to communicate with their members and supporters on their smartphones.

hollarhype presentation; photo by Geoff Wilbur

hollarhype offers a way for supporters and friends to help motivate runners in real-time via voice messages. Whether checking statuses, supplying real-time motivational messages, or connecting for fundraising – during its presentation, hollarhype noted that up to 75% of marathon and half-marathon runners are raising money for charity! – this app takes support for runners to the next level.

TallyLab is a data capturing and analytical app that contains big data analytical tools while focusing on privacy first. As someone who works with big data, out of all of the evening’s presentations, this is the one app that had me most imagining the sorts of problems I might solve with it.

TallyLab presentation; photo by Geoff Wilbur

The collection of presenters this month was interesting, and the solutions were varied. If one of the above products sounds interesting, please do your own additional research; my brief paragraphs were meant merely as introductions.

Looking Ahead

Boston New Technology is a not-for-profit, community-supported network of 24,000 business professionals focused on Boston’s tech community. Through the events it hosts, BNT helps businesses in the tech and startup community launch and grow. BNT hosts a few events each month, including these monthly startup showcases.

Be sure to click over to BNT’s upcoming event calendar at its website periodically to remain abreast of new events as they’re added.

Boston New Technology Startup Showcase #102: HealthTech

Carescribr presentation; photo by Geoff Wilbur

Boston New Technology Startup Showcase 102

June 10, 2019

This month, Boston New Technology’s startup showcase, BNT102, featured HealthTech startups. It was hosted at Foley Hoag in Boston’s Seaport District.

Boston New Technology Startup Showcase 102: Foley Hoag LLP in Boston, MA

Boston New Technology’s June startup showcase featured six HealthTech startups.

Medley Genomics presentation; photo by Geoff Wilbur

After an hour of food and networking, the presentation portion of the program began, as usual. After a quick introduction, the sponsors who were in attendance that evening each introduced themselves. Then, as usual, sponsors not in attendance were recognized with a slide and a mention before the showcasing startups gave their presentations.

Below I’ll write a sentence or two about each of the presenting companies. These write-ups are based on material distributed before and during the event, sometimes expanded upon with information contained in the presentations. If you want to learn more about one of the companies, don’t rely on my notes; rather, follow the links I provide and contact the companies directly for more information.

Products & Presenters

Carescribr is a medical charting platform that helps medical teams efficiently document patient visits so they can focus more on the patients than on the documentation. The presentation noted that a key component of physician burnout is data entry. With Carescribr, the patient enters information into a kiosk to establish an agenda for the visit, and Carescribr helps develop a pre-visit plan that includes the patient’s agenda and relevant medical history, all designed to improve physician-client interaction during a visit.

Toast! presentation; photo by Geoff Wilbur

Medley Genomics applies data analytics to individualize cancer care. It is built around the problem of genomic heterogeneity. The presentation did a great job of making this concept make perfect sense, so rather than try, I’ll instead suggest checking out the Medley Genomics website and contacting the company.

Toast! Before You Drink Gummies are the first gummy on Toast!’s mission to produce fun, tasty, functional supplements. While the hangover-preventing gummy is the company’s first, they are eyeing other verticals such as a sleep aid.

Robilis presentation; photo by Geoff Wilbur

Robilis‘ StandX is a standing chair designed to be used with a standing desk. With StandX, standing desk users can change the way they sit periodically – standing, sitting, standing on one leg, etc. – to remain comfortable for an entire day while enjoying the benefits of a standing desk. I kind of dig the company’s tagline, “Sitting Reinvented.”

eMotionRx is a company whose self-powered exoskeletons/exosuits are designed to help with rehabilitation, affordably.

eMotionRx presentation; photo by Geoff Wilbur

The evening’s final presenter, Loro, is a smart social companion robot designed to help those with ALS, MS, spinal trauma, and other physical and/or neurological challenges. It currently mounts on existing wheelchairs and uses the wheelchair’s power.

As always, my summaries were quite brief. For more details, please follow the links I provided to the companies’ websites. Yet again, this Boston New Technology showcase featured an interesting set of presenters representing some cool companies in Boston’s tech startup community.

Looking Ahead

Loro presentation; photo by Geoff Wilbur

Boston New Technology is a not-for-profit, community-supported network of 24,000 business professionals focused on Boston’s tech community, with a mission of helping businesses in that community, especially startups, launch and grow. To that end, the group hosts monthly startup showcases in addition to other events.

To remain abreast of BNT’s events, including its monthly startup showcase, check BNT’s upcoming event calendar at its website periodically as events are added. And be sure to get on the BNT mailing list, which contains a calendar of other startup and tech events around the city, as well.

Embedded Systems Conference Boston 2019: The Remaining Talks

Embedded Systems Conference

Boston Convention & Exhibition Center, Boston, MA

May 15-16, 2019

I conclude my blog post trilogy about Boston’s 2019 Embedded Systems Conference with coverage of the remaining ESC talks. You can peruse my overview article and my coverage of the robotics talks by following the hotlinks. I made the rounds talking to ESC booth vendors, as well as several vendors showcasing at the collocated BIOMEDevice and Design & Manufacturing New England conferences.

In addition to the three robotics talks featured in yesterday’s article, I was treated to presentations about IoT security, 5G, and cloud-to-edge migration, plus the BIOMEDevice keynote talk.

“How to Secure Your IoT Project”

My first presentation was that of IAR Systems’ Shawn Prestridge, “How to Secure Your IoT Project.” He talked about attack vectors, authentication problems, and hardware options; Root of Trust and Chain of Trust; and did a deep-dive into how to secure devices via a secure workflow.

“Fireside Chat: Discussing Medtech 4.0 and the Future of Care”

Scott Huennekens delivered the BIOMEDevice keynote on Wednesday, “Fireside Chat: Discussing Medtech 4.0 and the Future of Care.” Dubbing himself a forward-looking futurist but also a pragmatics, Huennekens noted that in MedTech 3.0, it’s not just the products, but the products are connected, and it’s about the data. A key point of the presentation was the promotion of open architecture. Per Huennekens, open architecture creates opportunity, closed platforms in medtech are slowing development and growth, and open architectures will improve patient access and outcomes.

Digital surgery and robotic surgery were addressed, as was the importance of diversity of culture and people.

“Wrapping Your Head Around 5G: A Primer for the Enterprise Community”

My telecom background and mid-2000s coverage of the millimeter wave and microwave carrier market is the foundation of my strong interest in 5G, so I was looking forward to this presentation by Verizon’s Joshua Ness and Taru Jain, “Wrapping Your Head Around 5G: A Primer for the Enterprise Community.”

Ness touched upon the history of wireless standards (1G through 5G), the difference in 5G capabilities vs. 4G, and some of what 5G will usher into the future by enabling the growth of edge computing.

Jain noted that 5G will driving the fourth industrial revolution. She noted that the four pillars of 5G are fiber, spectrum, software-defined networks, and multi-access edge compute. And she discussed use cases in retail, manufacturing, and healthcare.

And, worth noting since it was at the Embedded Systems Conference, Ness pointed out that Verizon had just, the day of the presentation, rolled out a narrowband IoT network.

In all, a great introduction to 5G for those unfamiliar with it, and a solid recap for those of us already familiar with the technology.

“How to Migrate Intelligence from the Cloud to Embedded Devices at the Edge”

Arm’s Chris Shore went into great depth about “How to Migrate Intelligence from the Cloud to Embedded Devices at the Edge.”

On the topic of security, Shore noted that security cannot be optional, a recurring theme over the course of the last three Embedded Systems Conferences I attended. He touched upon four types of attacks: communication attacks, lifecycle attacks, physical attacks, and software attacks. He discussed software isolation. And he talked about Arm’s Platform Security Architecture.

On the topic of functional safety, Shore gave examples of the need across the industries of automotive (autonomous driving), industrial (factory automation), healthcare (robotic surgery), transportation (train control systems), avionics (flight systems), and consumer (domestic robots). He talks about the need for security as necessary (but not sufficient) for safety. He touched upon types of fault – random faults vs. systematic faults. And he dove into digital signal processing.

Shore closed his presentation with this remark: “Hope that inspires you to create highly-compute capable, safe, secure edge devices on the IoT.”


As always, the Embedded Systems Conference provided an educational, interesting glimpse into the current and future states of the IoT industry. It’s a shame the ESC is ending its run in Boston; it was an event I always circled on my calendar. As noted in my ESC overview article, the Embedded Systems Conference has partnered with the Drive World Conference & Expo for its next incarnation, in Santa Clara, CA in August – August 27-29, 2019.

Embedded Systems Conference Boston 2019: The Robotics Talks

Embedded Systems Conference

Boston Convention & Exhibition Center, Boston, MA

May 15-16, 2019

As I mentioned in my overview article, Boston’s 2019 Embedded Systems Conference included its usual blend of embedded systems/Internet of Things-focused vendors and presentations, but robotics were also at the forefront this year. Or, at least, they were the focus of more of the presentations that caught my attention this year.

“Exploring Real World Applications for Dynamic Robots”

Thursday’s keynote presentation by Boston Dynamics’ Kevin Blankespoor, “Exploring Real World Applications for Dynamic Robots,” discussed the unique capabilities and design-purpose of Boston Dynamics’ quadruped, humanoid, and wheeled robots Spot, Atlas, and Handle. And those in attendance were treated to a demo of Spot led by Boston Dynamics’ Bryan Hollingsworth. Without going into detail, a quadruped robot is great for inspection in industries such as construction, energy, and public safety. A wheeled robot like Handle excels at tasks like moving boxes in warehouses, pallet-building, and unloading trucks. And humanoid robots are great R&D platforms, looking many years into the future.

“Advanced Vision Systems for Safe Human-Robot Interaction”

Veo Robotics’ Patrick Sobalvarro delivered an interesting talk about robot-human interaction, “Advanced Vision Systems for Safe Human-Robot Interaction.” For those of us not familiar with industrial robotics, Sobalvarro provided an exceptionally useful primer regarding the fencing-off of industrial robots and the protocols required when humans enter the robots’ cages in industrial settings. I’ve seen very few presentations about robotics in my career, so I really appreciated the background portion of this presentation; it was informative and set the stage for those of us with limited robotics backgrounds to be able to follow the meatier portions of the talk.

Power and force-limited robots are designed to allow human-robot interactions because if the robots will not injure people if they do come into contact, but they are weak and slow. So Veo Robotics is designing robots that would use a 3D sensing and control system so robots would be able to avoid coming into contact with people entirely.

One of the interesting Q&A questions was about collision avoidance. Veo uses a full-stop safety approach because, as Sobalvarro explained, their customers prefer their robots to follow a planned trajectory, though he could see the possibility of that in the future.

“Introduction to the Robot Operating System”

The PTR Group’s Michael Anderson presented “Introduction to the Robot Operating System.” This presentation dove into the details of ROS, which is “an asynchronous publish/subscribe message-passing middleware.” Designed for writing robot software, of course. Anderson dug deep into the hows and whys of ROS. And noted the differences between ROS and ROS 2. ROS was designed for the single robot use case, while ROS 2 is designed for (among other things) robot swarms.

Coming Next

Those were the three robotics-focused talks I caught at ESC. Stay tuned for tomorrow’s with quick summaries of the other four talks I attended, in and around the time I spent chatting with attendees at their booths.

Embedded Systems Conference Boston 2019: Overview

Embedded Systems Conference

Boston Convention & Exhibition Center, Boston, MA

May 15-16, 2019

2019 was my third consecutive year attending the Embedded Systems Conference. An event that brings together key vendors and provides a full slate of interesting talks about the Embedded Systems market, this event co-locates with two others, BIOMEDevice and Design & Manufacturing New England. My usual path through the showcase floor involves meeting all of the ESC vendors and then cherrypicking those from the other conferences involved in tech markets I follow. And, of course, I attend as many of the interesting presentations as I can fit into two days.

This year, as always, the ESC exhibitors were a mix of software, hardware, and consulting services companies, with the usual significant contingent of test and measurement vendors.

The presentations were varied, as well.

A lot of the ESC talks in past years have been security-focused. There were plenty of security talks again this year, but I noticed the robotics portion of the program more this year. I haven’t researched past topics, so the mix may not have been any different, but because one of the two keynotes was robotics-focused it brought the robotics element more to the forefront.

The two keynotes – one each day – were split between the BIOMEDevice program and the ESC/D&M program, to the extent robotics spans both of the co-located non-med conferences.

Wednesday’s keynote featured Scott Huennekens in a “Fireside Chat: Discussing Medtech 4.0 and the Future of Care.” Thursday’s keynote starred Boston Dynamics’ Kevin Blankespoor with “Exploring Real World Applications for Dynamic Robots.”

I also attended a few more Embedded Systems Conferences talks. IAR Systems’ Shawn Prestridge presented “How to Secure Your IoT Project.” Verizon’s Joshua Ness delivered “Wrapping Your Head Around 5G: A Primer for the Enterprise Community.” The PTR Group’s Michael Anderson provided an “Introduction to the Robot Operating System.” ARM’s Chris Shore discussed “How to Migrate Intelligence from the Cloud to Embedded Devices at the Edge.” And Veo Robotics’ Patrick Sobalvarro talked about “Advanced Vision Systems for Safe Human-Robot Interaction.” In subsequent articles, I’ll write about these talks (in varying detail, depending on the quality of my notes).

Looking Ahead

The Embedded Systems Conference has partnered with the Drive World Conference & Expo for its next incarnation, in Santa Clara, CA in August – August 27-29, 2019.

BIOMEDevice returns to Boston next April, April 22-23, 2020, as does Design & Manufacturing New England.

In the meantime, the six-conferences-in-one Advanced Design and Manufacturing conference hits New York, NY June 11-13, 2019. It includes Design & Manufacturing Atlantic – from the D&M New England family – and the Medical Device & Manufacturing East conference, for the medical device contingent.

Boston New Technology Startup Showcase #101: EdTech and CareerTech

photo by Geoff Wilbur

Boston New Technology Startup Showcase 101

May 20, 2019

This month, Boston New Technology’s startup showcase, BNT101, featured EdTech and CareerTech startups. It was hosted at Hult International Business School in Cambridge.

Boston New Technology Startup Showcase 101: Hult International Business School in Cambridge, MA

UiPath introduction; photo by Geoff Wilbur

Boston New Technology’s May startup showcase featured seven EdTech and CareerTech startups.

After an hour of food and networking, the presentation portion of the program always begins the same, with a quick introduction. Then the sponsors who are in attendance that evening each to introduce themselves. And after that, sponsors not in attendance generally get recognized with a slide and a mention.

BlocksCAD presentation; photo by Geoff Wilbur

Sponsors who attended BNT101 and introduced themselves were Hult, UiPath, Ink’d Stores, Your Profile Video, The Boston Headshot, Chuck Goldstone Strategies and Stories,and Tom Maloney Coach.

After the quick sponsor introductions, each of the evening’s seven showcasing startups gets to deliver a five-minute presentation, which is followed by a five minute question-and-answer period.

The Family Learning Company presentation; photo by Geoff Wilbur

Below I’ll write a sentence or two about each of the presenting companies. These write-ups are based on material distributed before and during the event, sometimes tweaked based on the content of the presentations. If you’re interested in learning more about one of the companies, don’t rely on my notes; rather, follow the links I provide and contact the companies directly for more information.

Products & Presenters

BlocksCAD is 3D CAD software that helps schools teach coding, math, and design. It makes this sort of learning easier and more engaging, and the company presented statistics showing the split of engagement with it product for boys vs. girls is relatively close to 50/50.

Validated Learning Co. presentation; photo by Geoff Wilbur

The Family Learning Company showcased its Family Literacy software. The software is designed to help families learn together. The Family Learning Company’s presentation touched upon how it’s designed so parents with literacy shortcomings can help their children learn. Its goal is to improve literacy by connecting adult learners with their children, providing a better literacy outcome for both. During the Q&A period, a question about gamification was asked; that is not in the plans, as it would not improve learning. Also in response to a question, the Family Learning Company envisions this product as being a corporate benefit.

ForagerOne presentation; photo by Geoff Wilbur

Validated Learning Company showcased its Question Xchange peer-to-peer quiz question sharing marketplace. Using crowdsourcing and machine learning, it helps teachers find and share high-quality quiz questions.

ForagerOne is a tool that helps connect students, faculty, and administrators at colleges and universities to improve students’ access to research opportunities by leveraging universities’ internal faculty information and allowing students to get their research interests and backgrounds in front of the faculty members with whom they want to connect.

ArcLive presentation; photo by Geoff Wilbur

ArcLive gives researchers access to physically historical archives remotely. Important because less than 10% of archival documents are available online. By using a camera and viewing system (with built-in protections against copy-making), researchers can view information they would otherwise have to travel to see. ArcLive touts that the cost of accessing these historical archives through a local surrogate via ArcLive can be half the cost of accessing them via international travel. As an added bonus, it gives researchers the ability to access information at multiple, distant sites, particularly helpful if those additional sites contain smaller amounts of information that would have been otherwise unlikely to have warranted a visit at all.

Passion Analytics presentation; photo by Geoff Wilbur

Passion Analytics‘ PAT is an automated career coach with a natural language user interface. It is designed to guide users through career decisions and to help them find their career passions. To the extent possible, it’s a self-contained product, but if necessary, it will direct users to an actual human. Right now, Passion Analytics is targeting students 18-25.

Unfundable is an academic health research simulation card game that pits players against each other in pursuit of grants. It’s marketed toward high school and early college students and is meant as a way to introduce grant-based research to those potentially interested in careers in that field, with the goal of also appealing to a broader audience.

Unfundable presentation; photo by Geoff Wilbur

Looking Ahead

Boston New Technology is a not-for-profit, community-supported network of 24,000 business professionals focused on Boston’s tech community, with a mission of helping businesses in that community, especially startups, launch and grow. To that end, the group hosts monthly startup showcases in addition to other events.

June’s startup showcase, BNT102, is scheduled for June 10th at Foley Hoag, LLP in Boston’s Seaport District; it will be HealthTech-themed. July’s BNT103 will feature Mobile Apps and Tech, and it’s already scheduled – July 15th back at Hult International Business School in Cambridge. BNT hosts other events each month, as well, so check out BNT’s upcoming event calendar at its website periodically as details are added for those events, too.

Tech in Motion: Smart Cities & Urban Innovation

Smart Cities & Urban Innovation: Demos & Drinks
photo by Geoff Wilbur

Smart Cities & Urban Innovation: Demos & Drinks

A Tech in Motion Boston event held at PTC, Boston, MA

May 15, 2019

On Wednesday, May 15th, I attended an event at PTC’s Boston seaport headquarters. I trust Tech in Motion to put on good events, drawing a very techy crowd and featuring interesting topics. As usual, I wasn’t disappointed. Wednesday’s Smart Cities & Urban Innovation: Demos & Drinks covered the topic of urban tech.

The program featured a presentation by Jaclyn Youngblood and Yifan Lu of Boston’s Mayor’s Office of New Urban Mechanics, including a mention of Boston’s Safest Driver Competition.

Before and after the presentation, there was time for networking and for visiting several area companies in the urban innovation space.

BetrSpot is an app that allows people to trade spots. Spots in line. Spots at the bar. It’s a marketplace for physical first-come, first-served spaces.

Beta Blocks is attempting to create smarter, more connected Boston communities.

Cambridge Mobile Telematics is the company whose Drive Well platform is being utilized as part of Boston’s Safest Driver Competition, mentioned above.

Soofa was showing off its cool Soofa Sign community news feed display units – or, as they call, them, “the world’s first outdoor 42” electronic paper display for downtowns, neighborhoods, parks, and campuses.” (I’m enthralled and look forward to trying them out.)

Tolemi is a “governing intelligence” platform. What I recall most about my conversation with them was the detailed maps.

Getaround is a service/app that facilitates peer-to-peer car rental, sort of like an Airbnb for cars. I previously mentioned Getaround very briefly in this article about a Boston New Technology event in September 2018, and I first encountered Getaround at a BNT event earlier in 2018, though I didn’t mention the exhibitors in that write-up. Certainly seems like a product capable of gaining traction in its chosen market.

And I first encountered Zome just last month at Boston New Technology’s April 2019 startup showcase. Zome is a tool for creating and controlling micro power grids, allowing another way to control power grids during peak usage or other energy-constrained periods.

In all, it was a great sampling of city-focused technology. Hosted by PTC, of course, at its seaport district headquarters. The event was held on PTC’s demo floor, which contains showcases of several of PTC’s augmented reality products. And the group of attendees was Tech in Motion’s typically tech-focused audience.

What to Expect Next

Tech in Motion lists its upcoming events all over North America on the Tech in Motion events page. Its next Boston event occurs on July 11th, its “Appy Hour” networking mixer at Back Bay Social. Also note that October 9th date for the 5th annual Timmy Awards.

I attended the Embedded Systems Conference last week, as well, on Wednesday and Thursday. You can expect coverage of some of the presentations I attended at that conference here in the blog over the coming days.

And tonight (Monday, May 20th), I’ll be attending Boston New Technology‘s EdTech and CareerTech startup showcase, BNT101, at Hult International Business School in Cambridge.