VLAB

Markets Not Ready for Smart Home; Ready for Smart Building

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BlackRock San Francisco Office

Most people even in developed countries don’t know what a smart home is or what it can do.  Those involved in this game, especially in Silicon Valley where Internet of Things hype abounds, don’t realize just how many millions of people have no idea about the smart gadgetry entering the market today, even if they have heard of Google’s Nest.  People outside the hype don’t know how to use it.  They don’t know how it will benefit their lives.

And more importantly, most of the millions of people who don’t know, don’t actually care!  They have lights, thermostats and locks that work just the way they’ve worked for their lifetime.  Compelling reasons do not exist for them to change to security violation prone and buggy hardware and software, software that is currently delivering a less-than-ideal user experience because the leaders in the field haven’t had enough time to discover what the true UX ought to be.

On the other hand, the smart building market has been primed for smart building technology even though the people involved wouldn’t necessarily say they want a smart building. Building owners, operators and facility managers are looking for solutions to their problems, solutions that the IoT can deliver. But why has the pump been primed so that they are looking for these solutions?

Green building initiatives and legislation are pushing building investors, owners and managers to look seriously at energy consumption.  Talk to a building owner, operator or facilities manager about ‘smart’ or ‘IoT’ and their eyes will glaze over. Talk to them about technology delivering 83% improved occupant satisfaction while decreasing energy consumption in buildings 15-47%, as Building Robotics’ solution Comfy does, and they’re all ears.

The real estate crisis also made owners, operators and facility managers acutely aware of every cent on a budget, engendering a focus on lowering expenses and increasing operational efficiencies.  Their eyes will get excited again when you mention technology enabling operational efficiencies, the likes of which they haven’t seen before.   Anyone who has worked on a building budget (and my eyes saw hundreds at BlackRock over nearly 6 years) knows a % decrease in operating expenses trumps the same % reduction in building energy consumption every time.  When you cut tenant hot/cold complaints by over 90% that is a huge operational savings and that is just one area smart buildings reduce operating expenses.

Building occupants are also demanding smarter environments, open plans, flexible working space and building wide cell phone and Wi-Fi coverage.  Those same eyes will light up when you talk about these things and how they improve tenant satisfaction and comfort.

Because of the costs of managing large corporate campuses, companies are looking for ways to improve space utilization.  Companies such as connected lighting provider Enlighted can not only provide energy efficient lighting but also shine the light on space planning challenges and through data quantitatively answer the question, “Is our new open floor plan working?”

Smart buildings will be the center of the discussion on the most interesting panel discussion on commercial real estate technology the world has seen, and it will be held in Silicon Valley at SRI a place known for producing innovation.  Building Robotics CEO Andrew Krioukov and Enlighted investor Q Motiwala from Draper Nexus will participate in the event alongside other leaders in the smart building space.  More on the event can be found here: https://www.vlab.org/events/smart-buildings/

 

Building Automation Isn’t New; Home Automation Is

 

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With the invention of the elevator and the development of the world’s first sky scrapers, buildings and building systems became larger and more complex and building automation was born to automate and control individual building functions.  While some systems for the residents of luxury homes have been created to automate some experiences in recent decades, relatively speaking the entire idea of automating the home has been something of science fiction until quite recently when startups entered the market with connected objects that could be automated such as thermostats and lights.  Because of this head start, commercial real estate operators recognize and understand building automation while home automation is relatively foreign to home owners.

Home automation is just cutting its teeth with devices such as Nest and Philips hue, while Building Automation Systems or BAS have already developed offspring, BMS or Building Management Systems which network together multiple BASs and the BEMS or Building Energy Management Systems that use info from BMS and BAS along with information from utilities, information from the utility provider and even weather information through APIs to create a holistic energy management system that incorporates disparate variables into a cohesive energy management system.

One might be thinking that with all of this, a building is already ‘smart’ or a part of the Internet of Things or IoT.  Based on some definitions of IoT, this might actually be the case.  But stunning entrepreneurs and a select number of savvy investors believe that deploying hundreds of additional sensors in buildings will generate millions of data points that will actually create millions of dollars of value by harnessing the power of analytics to arrive at insights that will change the way owners, operators and facilities managers understand and operate their buildings.  Changes, savings and value generation will come in energy and operations as well as in other areas, like understanding and optimizing space utilization.

Smart buildings will be the center of the discussion on the most interesting panel discussion on commercial real estate technology the world has seen, and it will be held in Silicon Valley at SRI a place known for producing innovation.  More on the event can be found here: https://www.vlab.org/events/smart-buildings/

Deep Learning

“A machine learning approach inspired by the human brain, Deep Learning is taking many industries by storm.”  Visit this link to learn more about the VLAB Deep Learning event.  The event video will be uploaded within a few weeks.  In the mean time, please check out this article by Forbes contributor Robert Hof: AI For Everyone: Startups Democratize Deep Learning So Google And Facebook Don’t Own It All

It would be an understatement to describe the VLAB event team journey as rigorous and rewarding.  The team? VLAB volunteers.  The topic? Deep.  The result? Learning…by all attendees from a superb panel. #VLABdl

A special shout out goes to the event co-chairs Jeff Stevens and Shane Gu as well as my fellow team members Adwoa Boakye, Natalia Erokhina, Priyan Guneratne, Fred Stein, Alexander van Dijk and Wolfram Willuhn.  Countless hours were spent researching, screening panelists and coordinating what seemed like a never-ending list of tasks to ultimately construct the panel that so eloquently addressed the topic for the sell-out VLAB audience.  As lead for marketing and demo exhibits, I must remind everyone it takes a team to sell out an event.  Thank you to all who answered the clarion call to action to support event marketing.

 

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Smiles in a packed crowd.

Wearables Predictions: Who to Watch for Prediction #10

Skully Helmets captured my attention in January at the VLAB Young Entrepreneurs event.  That night Marcus Weller, Skully Helmet CEO, told an amazing story about his inspiration for the worlds smartest helmet.  Following an accident where he totaled his bike when the car in front of him slammed on its brakes while he was reading a street sign, Weller had a dream where he was reliving the accident.  “But I noticed something very different,” Weller said, “I had GPS navigation kind of floating in front of me like a hologram and I watched as the car hit the brakes and I went around it.”  When internet searches returned no results for the helmet, Weller built a team and product that, among other features, incorporates location based GPS navigation into a helmet.  Location is a form of context.  The point of sharing Weller’s story is to introduce context and the final industry watch for the 10th wearable prediction.

 Josh Bradshaw with Marcus WellerJosh Bradshaw of WorkTechWork.com with Marcus Weller, Skully Helmets CEO August 14, 2014

 Prediction # 10:  Contextual awareness will be enabled by wearable device adoption and become the next big thing in marketing and customer experience.

This is the tenth and final post in a Wearable Industry Watch Series for each of the 10 Wearables Predictions.  Visit the Wearable Industry Watch Series for details.

Weller’s contextually aware helmet is one example of a person’s location context being used to generate value for the wearer.  The wearer’s experience is enriched with information.  My first introduction to technology enabled contextual awareness came through Jeff Stevens, Founder & CEO of ContextM.  Stevens rightfully demoted content from its place as king in the world of mobile marketing and claims that in mobile marketing “Context is king, and content is queen.”

How so?  Enabled by computational power and data from data warehouses, social streams and wearable devices, marketers can go beyond targeting based on generalized segmentation:  relevant messages can be sent to a person by creating a complete understanding of several different forms of a person’s context.  These include but are not limited to a person’s location, who a person is with, where a person has come from, and, with the power of predictive analytics, where the person might be going next.  (For those interested in privacy, check out Who To Watch for Prediction #9 and Small Towns and Connected-World Privacy.)

Enrich Customer Experiences With Wearable Data

Context is about more than targeted marketing based on ambient intelligence; context is also about enriching customer experiences.  Customer experiences can be enriched in many ways which means there are applications of context out there yet to be discovered in the world of wearables.  Context can also be built in such a way that a device can understand its own context as well as the context of the user.

Sensor Platforms, which was recently acquired by Audience, developed FreeMotion™ Library, a software solution that enables sensor enabled device applications to better understand both the contexts and, where possible, the intent of a user engaging with a device.  For the purposes of this discussion we can consider smart phones as wearables because of their numerous sensors (and decorative cases people use to make a statement about who they are; see Who to Watch for Prediction #7).

FreeMotion™ enabled applications can understand various device contexts such as whether the phone is in a pocket, in a hand or sitting on a flat surface.  Similar to other fitness tracking wearables and the Moves App, user contexts can be derived from sensing current motion in the device.  Combined with location or other forms of context, the device can respond differently because sitting on the sofa at home is quite a different context from sitting in a train or sitting in a meeting at work.  As sensors consume energy, a focus on resource management is also made in order to improve energy consumption on the device (learn more about energy consumption in Who to Watch for Prediction #6).

Vehicles, Wearables & Context

No one is going to wear a car, but the car is becoming contextually aware.  Vehicles are now able to detect and communicate with phones and soon will be able to interact with other wearable devices.   We can look at contextual aware cars such as Google’s self-driving car, which has to be acutely aware of its own environment, for inspiration on context with wearables.

Lane assist technologies and automatic braking such as those  demonstrated in this stunt video by Hyundai are becoming available in a number of vehicles.

Mercedez Benz is developing amazing innovations for their smart cars.  Check out this Mercedes Benz contextual car demo with Robert Scoble, Startup Liaison Officer for Rackspace

And when it comes to amazing, a return to Weller and the contextually aware smart helmet is in order.  People are willing to support contextually aware innovation.  Only a few days into an Indiegogo campaign, Weller and his team have exceeded their $250k goal for the AR-1 by an astonishing 466% with over $1.1 million raised.  I tested it out at their offices yesterday and it is better than all the hype.Josh Bradshaw with AR-1

This is the last post in the Wearable Industry Watch.  For more details click here.

Back to the 1st Prediction: Who to Watch For Prediction #1

Previous Prediction: Who to Watch for Prediction #9

Back to Wearable Technology

Robotics: Technology Working for You

Robotics will create a disruption in our world similar to that of the personal computer.  This disruption is something I’m looking forward to hearing about at the upcoming VLAB event Collaborative Robots: Living Amongst Us on Thursday, May 29, 2014 (Event video now available here).

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While we are a long way from creating Rosie from The Jetsons, robots are doing more and more complex tasks and I’ll touch on some of those robots here.  First, though, I have to point out that when a robot is doing something for you, whether in industrial or personal contexts, it creates value and falls right in line with my mantra: Don’t work for technology; make technology work for you.  I’m not the only one who thinks like this; Venture capitalists are investing in robotics technologies in many areas including industrial, agricultural, medical, defense, security and personal robotics.

Grishin Robotics, a company dedicated entirely to investment in consumer robotics, invested in Double Robotics which provides an innovative solution for telepresence.  Double Robotics has several legitimate use cases, including use in schools in remote locations as implemented in Alaska’s Kodiak Island Borough School District.

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Click to Watch Video

Lux Capital is another venture capitalist with a mechanical eye for robotics.  Peter Hebert, one of the Lux Capital co-founders, will participate in the VLAB panel.  Lux Capital invested in robotics company CyPhy Works who claims “The very best way to empower people with robotic technologies is to make them accessible, reliable, and practical.” I couldn’t agree more!  CyPhy Works has created two robots, EASE, a hovering robot used for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance and PARC, a self-flying robot with secure communication and high definition reconnaissance video capabilities.

While myself, a few loyal VLAB fans, some venture capitalists and all entrepreneurs whose dreams were enriched by The Jetsons have an interest in robotics, there is ongoing debate about whether robotics is affecting the labor markets.  Most of this comes from incorrectly linking the lackluster jobs market with improvements in manufacturing.  You can read more about this issue here.

Politics and economics aside, robots are doing great things and some of them are actually getting cute about it.

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Aldebaran created a friendly little robot called NAO who recognizes and communicates with you while moving around your home.  If you knock NAO over, don’t worry NAO can stand back up but watch out as you might be chided for not being careful!  NAO also has a big brother, Romeo developed by Alderbaran.

While these robots may look like toys, they can actually perform meaningful services for people, especially the disabled.  Other robotics companies are also creating robots that serve a real purpose.  Knightscope, whose robot I’ve seen rolling around the Plug and Play Tech Center in Sunnyvale, CA, aims to combine autonomous robots, predictive analytics and community engagement to reduce crime.   

Much of the development in robotics is being further enabled by standards and development frameworks.  One example is ROS, the open source Robot Operating System originally developed by the Stanford Artificial Intelligence Laboratory and now under stewardship of the Open Source Robotics Foundation.

The number of robots using ROS is increasing and includes the UBR-1 created by Unbounded Robotics, a company with the mission to develop robots that are both advanced and affordable for robotics researchers.  UBR-1 is a one-armed robot cram packed with cameras, microphones, and sensors that are ROS integrated.  Melonee Wise, CEO and founder of Unbounded Robotics, will participate in the upcoming Robotics 2.o VLAB event.

The UBR-1 is one of many robots capable of doing amazing things.  Honda’s Asimo can run, jump and hop on one foot as well as open a thermos, pour a cup of juice and serve it.  Asimo even kicked a soccer ball around with US President Barak Obama.

The sporting skills of robots do not stop with soccer.  The Swiss Federal Institute Of Technology has developed a robot with an arm that can catch objects with different shapes and trajectories by reacting in less than five hundredths of a second.  I can’t even do that consistently!

I will leave to your imaginations whether or not robotic sports teams will exist in the future and simply say the future of robotics is closer than most people understand.  After kicking around the soccer ball, Asimo told President Obama, “I keep training every day so that some day in the future I can help people in their home.”  Robots lending a hand in the home sounds like technology working for you.

Improving the Online Fashion Retail Experience

Technology is changing the retail world improving the online fashion retail experience. This is due in large part to personalization, the main topic of tomorrow’s @VLABretail event at Stanford GSB. Here is a sneak peek at the companies that will showcase their technology-enabled products and services prior to tomorrow’s @VLAB event. For a peak at what the event is all about, have a read here or visit the VLAB event site.

Shoefitr.com

Think it’s a pain to order shoes online? Shoefitr is out to reduce the pain by offering 3-D modeling of shoes. This gives customers the option to see in detail exactly how a shoe is expected to fit based on other shoes in their wardrobe. Instead of ordering three pairs of the same shoe in different sizes with the intention of returning two, you can confidently order one pair and skip the returns.

Dapperapp.com

Men typically hate shopping. All of us, regardless of gender, are doing more browsing on phones. The problem, though, is that shopping on retailer’s sites is not easy on a mobile device and spending is not occurring from the mobile phone as much as it could. Dapperapp.com is designed to make the shopping experience for men easy from their mobile phones. Swipe left to dislike, right to like and down to purchase. From viewing products to checkout, Dapper provides simple shopping for the savvy man.

Vastrm.com

Ever have trouble finding the perfect polo shirt? Vastrm is an online retailer providing tailored made to measure polo shirts for men. Vastrm is less about whether you are a medium or large and more about what fit within medium or large is best for you. Taking a page out of the Warby Parker book, you can have three polo shirts shipped for free to help you discover your fit.

PersonalShopping.com

For women looking for easy online shopping that is also personal, check out PersonalShopping.com during the event. Their message: “The best in women’s fashion, picked by our style experts just for you.” A simple 3 minute quiz starts you on your way to shopping through items that are right for your style and fit so that you can purchase items from your favorite retailers.

3/7/2016 updated link to VLAB event website.  You can view a recording of the event too.  Also corrected the links to ShoeFitr.com and Vastrm.com.  The sites for Dapperapp.com and PersonalShopping.com are no longer functioning.  Former DapperApp.com CEO Amir Malayery is now at Industry Ventures, a Silicon Valley VC.  I’ve yet to confirm what is happening with PersonalShopping.com.

Fashion Tech Improves Personalized Style and Fit

For thousands of years custom made clothing filled all wardrobes. Mass production, enabled by the industrial revolution, created larger wardrobes with many more clothing options and a conundrum: there is no easy way to find affordable clothing that matches personal fit and style without the common pain points of retail shopping. But wait; this is the 21st century so can technology solve this problem and bring customization to the masses? A look at the upcoming VLAB event, Click to Fit: How Startups are Personalizing Fashion, and one might suppose the answer is yes.

Let’s hope so because I hate shopping for pants. You know the ritual, grab a few pairs of the same pant in different sizes, head to the dressing room and try them on. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. The perfect pair is never there; perfect fitting slacks come after tailoring, either in the length, the seat or the waist.  Where are the perfect fitting jeans? On the same aisle as unicorns and pots of gold. As an added bonus, jeans aren’t tailor-friendly to get the fit just right.

Levi’s introduced Levi’s Curve ID fit system because “All asses were not created equal.”  Levi’s Curve ID seems to work for women, making it easier for them to find great fitting jeans as this CBS story reports:  Levis Making Customized Jeans for Reasonable Price

While Levi’s Curve ID appears to work for women, men only have a fit guide that displays pictures of the fourteen different fits. Now, not only do you need to know your waist and length, but your desired fit as well. As homework for this post and with fit guide in hand, I tried four fits 511, 513, 514, and 569 during a visit to the mall last week. It took 10 attempts to find the right pair:

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Could this be easier? Levi’s introduced Lot No. 1, custom made jeans. After a visit to San Francisco and a price tag starting at $750 a pair, custom jeans can be yours.  This solves the problem of personalized fit, but can this level of personalization be done at scale and will customers pay for it?

Made-to-measure men’s shirt company Trumaker found a way to provide great fitting dress shirts that are #BuiltToFit by using outfitters who provide a local fitting and they do it without breaking the bank. Your personal measurements are used again and again to build a closet full of favorite shirts through online re-ordering; bid farewell to the hassle of apparel stores and their concomitant fitting rooms.

For women, Stitch Fix battles the fitting room saga by shipping hand-picked items to you based on your personal style profile. Keep what you like and send the rest back. Your decisions create further insight into your personal style and more unique and interesting pieces come in your next Fix™.

Technology is the enabler for both Trumaker and Stitch Fix who will participate at the VLAB panel April 15, 2014. Without the internet, shipping tracking, inventory management systems and the ability to harness the power of analytics to turn data into insight, these innovative companies and companies like Warby ParkerOutfittery, J. Hilburn, and Zafu would not be able to provide value to their customers by putting technology to work for you.

Ambient IQ : Intelligence Anywhere & Everywhere

Can things around us really be intelligent?  Can they learn our habits and make our lives easier by doing things automatically for us?  Can the information be turned into actionable insight that if followed will save people time and money?  The answer is a conditional yes.

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The VLAB Ambient IQ event March 18, 2014 brought together entrepreneurs and thought leaders in the field of ambient intelligence.  These people work to solve challenging problems associated with understanding our behavior within our environment.  They work to understand how to make decisions with regards to multiple facets of our lives based on intelligence created by aggregating information from multiple sensors.  This is no easy task.

Some of the solutions that were discussed are absolutely intriguing.  I’m going to touch on a few of them, which will lay a strong argument to answer a strong yes to the questions above.  But don’t worry, I’ll wrap it up with a good explanation for my conditional yes position.

First, let’s take a look at Automatic which produces a device that connects your car and smart phone.  Automatic allows you to understand how you are driving and make better driving decisions that improve fuel economy.  It helps you keep your vehicle well maintained.  It remembers where you parked.  It even notifies authorities if the vehicle is involved in a collision.  I want to try it out.

Electric Imp allows you to connect many devices to the internet via a cloud service and hardware platform.  Turning on or off power to devices via a mobile phone and knowing how many eggs are in the fridge are some of the things that become possible with Imp-enabled devices.  The applications of a platform such as this are essentially limitless, particularly because the platform serves as an enabler.  For example, the platform can enable a connection between Automatic and an Imp-connected power strip.  You drive home at night and your Automatic-connected car lets your Electric Imp connected lamp know to turn on the light in the dark living room.  Electric Imp is promising technology that can make life easier.

The conditional yes above, though, comes because the technology is not easy enough to use yet.  Sure there are many cool things that ambient IQ can become, but the solutions are not fully integrated and they are not easy for the average consumer to use.  Knowing ahead of time that Automatic would be at the event, I decided to test out the Bluetooth connection from my iPhone to the car I purchased last month.  I ran into trouble because while whoever I called with the car could hear me, I could not hear them.  I gave up troubleshooting after a few minutes because of other obligations plus I know that between now and the time I figure it out, my iPhone has other solutions that enable conversation while in motion.

It would take a person hours and a great deal of expertise and determination to connect a Wally home wireless sensor network, FitBit fitness monitor, Nest thermostat, WeMo switch, Lockitron locks, Automatic enabled car, Hiku shopping scanner and Iro sprinkler system.  Along the way they would run into bumps similar to my Bluetooth phone issue.  But, early adopters are persistent and will pave the way for people to benefit from these technologies in the future.  If you think this is a far-fetched idea, think back a decade to the process of setting up a home computer network.  It was a challenge and nearly impossible for the average Joe.  Now, however, even the computer illiterate can go to Fry’s, pick up a wireless router, and have the internet connected to their wireless devices in a matter of minutes.  The user interfaces are simpler.  The instructions are clearer (with nice pictures).  The process is easier for the consumer.

Over the next decade it is obvious that advances will be made with connected devices and that ambient IQ will increase.  These will help change my conditional yes to a yes.  Solutions that are easier for the consumer will make my conditional yes an absolute yes.  I would love to try to connect every internet enabled device on the market and work to make the process easy for the user, the consumer, the person, the friend or the family member who benefits when their life is just a little bit easier.

Eating Technology

Advancement in technology comes after tremendous effort.  At times technology appears to be too cost prohibitive and time consuming to continue expending the efforts required to develop a technology to the point where it can be used profitably.  It is also a challenge to get to the point where a new technology requires less, not more, time to use it.  Yet at the same time, entrepreneurs plod on creating newer and newer technologies.  We value the efforts of entrepreneurs for their substantial risk taking because ultimately, their successes benefit us.

Similar to entrepreneurs, in the field of research scientists expend tremendous effort at what seems at times a painstakingly slow pace in order to discover on the outer fringes of science.  What is similar between entrepreneurs and scientists also makes the relationship between entrepreneurs and scientists even more interesting, and that relationship could not be more exemplified than by those on the forefront of technology in the food industry.

Obviously there is technology in the food industry.  Farm equipment has become increasingly effective and efficient.  Farmers now drive GPS guided equipment while sitting on comfortable chairs with dust-filtered warm or cool air blowing on them depending on the season.  My grandfather, whose family was like most farming families at the turn of the twentieth century,  shared with me that when he was a young boy guiding the farm equipment across the fields the last thing he wanted the equivalent of the equipment’s engine, a horse, to do was blow air.  Certainly technology has come a long way in improving farm equipment and the associated pleasantries of working on a farm.

What brings me to this topic, however, has relatively little to do with these advances in technology and more to do with a deeper application of technology in the food industry, technology posed to change the way the world thinks about what it eats.  Technology posed to change how food is, and I’m going to use this word deliberately, created.  Yes, not harvested, not grown, not slaughtered: created.   Biotech meets the dinner plate and a whole new type of technologists emerge, food technologists.

With rising demand for food, in particular food that provides the necessary nutrients and proteins, food technologists are charting new ground in the production of new products designed to reduce the carbon footprint, the land and even the killing required in order to put protein on the plates, not just of Americans, but of everyone in the world.  At VLAB’s “Where’s the Beef?” event yesterday the question was asked, “Does the biotech industry have the potential to disrupt the food chain?”  The answer is yes.

Eating technology does not mean you’re going to find computer chips in your next steak; it does mean, however, that at some point in the future the steak you eat may have been created by using technology driven 3-D printers, cultured similar to how bacteria is cultivated for yogurt, or brewed similar to how yeast is used for beer.  That meat, at least according to Andras Forgacs, Founcer & CEO of Modern Meadow, will be better for you because it will contain less of what is bad for you.

While it may be hard for someone to stomach the idea of eating meat grown in a dish, technology is furthering advancement in developing non-animal sources of protein.  You can see those products at grocery stores which are beginning to sell more (and better tasting) vegetarian and vegan friendly products, products like those created by BeyondMeat.  Ingredients developed by Solazyme may also find their way to a plate in front of you.  Regardless of the company that delivers the product, rest assured that the reason the non-animal protein problem will be solved is because technology is at work disrupting the food chain.