RHA MA650 Review: Scottish Audio Company's Affordable Wireless Earbuds

I have to admit that prior to being sent a set of RHA MA650 wireless earbuds for a review, I hadn’t heard of the Scottish audio company. And I suspect that’s true of many people. It’s a shame, because as I soon discovered, RHA makes some very good headphones.

Unboxing and First Impression

The RHA MA650 wireless earbuds make an excellent first impression. 

The RHA MA650 earbuds are attractively packaged and include lots of ear tips to insure a good fit.Brad Moon

Attractively packaged, they arrive with a generous selection of ear tips in various sizes, form factors and materials –including Comply Foam tips– mounted on a stainless steel card for easy access. Also included are a USB-C charge cable and a cloth mesh carrying pouch. The earbuds themselves consist of brushed aluminum buds connected to a black silicone neckband with brushed metal accents and an inline remote.

The look is premium. The cables and neckband are soft, flexible and comfortable. The buds themselves connect magnetically to create a closed necklace when not in use. Rated IPX4 water resistant, the MA650s are sweatproof and should be fine if you wear them running and get caught in a rain shower.

RHA also stands behind its products. While most earbuds carry one year of coverage, RHA backs the MA650s for three years.

Fit and Battery Life

As always, getting a good seal is key to audio performance with earbuds. RHA includes a nice selection of silicone ear tips (including several flanged options) and a pair of Comply foam tips. Getting a decent fit shouldn’t be much of a problem.

The earbuds themselves are made of brushed aluminum. They’re light and small enough to not be a distraction, although I did find the small size and smooth shell made it a little more difficult than usual to get them properly positioned. I have large fingers and also usually have some difficulty getting any earbuds to fit properly, so you may not have the same issue.

The earbuds features have a premium look and feel with aluminum housings.Brad Moon

The neckband is made of a soft, flexible material (it feels like silicone) and this is where most of the weight is. It sits comfortably in place and I soon forgot it was there –at least so long as I remained upright. Lie down or lean back and the weight means it quickly slips down your back and can tug the buds out. 

The big surprise during testing was battery life. Audio manufacturers typically publish numbers on the high end, prefacing that with an “up to” disclaimer. RHA says the MA650s are good for up to 12 hours on a charge, which is pretty good for wireless earbuds (and blows away the single digit numbers you’ll get with true wireless buds). However, in testing I was regularly hitting 14 hours, despite having the buds at 50% volume or higher. The buds offer a vocal battery level estimate (with 20% increments) plus an LED indicator, and fully charge in about two hours.

MA650 earbuds feature a flexible neckband and buds that connect magnetically.Brad Moon

Audio Performance

The RHA MA650 earbuds look good, but I wasn’t expecting a whole lot in terms of audio performance from sub $100, single-driver wireless buds.

However, the MA650s proved able to punch above their weight class. The aluminum aerophonic housing is a unique design (RHA says it’s modelled on an inverted trumpet shape) that reduces reverberation and distortion. Employing a proprietary housing and combining it with the company’s own custom driver that takes advantage of the design clearly paid off.

I found the RHA MA650 earbuds delivered an energetic listen.

They could have used more low end and the high notes could get a bit bright. There is plenty of volume on tap, but when really cranked up I found that high end could transform from bright to harsh. Between tracks, some audio hiss was present, but it was not detectable during playback. These criticisms would be important in a set of $300 headphones  but on wireless earbuds that come in under $100, it’s a little nit-picky. Overall, the MA650s offered an enjoyable listening experience while playing all genres of music.

They also stayed reliably connected to my iPhone using Bluetooth, with no drop-outs. I did run into an problem  where Siri stopped responding to the MA650 microphone –it would trigger using the remote button, but ignore commands. The mic would also be ignored during voice calls. Rebooting the iPhone resolved the issue, so I think the problem was on Apple’s end, not RHA’s.

If you’re really serious about your music and want something with better audio performance, RHA’s MA750 wireless earbuds have a similar form factor, but step up to the company’s 560.1 driver and stainless steel housings for an additional $70.

The neck band design offers the advantage of extended battery life.Brad Moon

RHA MA650 Key Specs

  • Aerophonic earbuds in 6063 aluminum enclosures
  • Custom 380.1 dynamic driver with 16 – 22,000 Hz frequency response
  • NFC and Bluetooth support with AAC, aptX and SBC codec support
  • SecureFlex neckband
  • 3 button universal remote and integrated microphone for voice call/digital assistant control 
  • Battery life rated at 12 hours (charges via USB-C)
  • Weighs 33g
  • IPX 4 sweatproof
  • Carry pouch, charge cable and 8 assorted ear tip pairs included
  • 3 year manufacturer’s warranty
  • MSRP $99.95

Issues?

There are some compromises with neck band design of the MA650s. Unlike a pair of true wireless earbuds that lock firmly in-ear, this form factor in general isn’t ideal for all types of exercise. Running is fine, sit-ups not so much. 

I also found the inline remote a little difficult to use. Part of that was the large finger issue, but the position of the remote (less than six inches from one of the buds) was awkward, and there’s no way to tell which button is which by feel –you basically have to memorize the layout, or use the middle button to summon Siri (or Google Assistant) and use voice control instead.

Recommendation

RHA MA650 earbuds are a good value at under $100.Brad Moon

Over the years I’ve made no secret of the fact that I personally prefer the neckband form factor to true wireless earbuds (longer battery life, no worries of dropping or losing a bud, smaller buds and no wireless sync issues). The RHA MA650 wireless earbuds take full advantage of this design to offer impressive battery life. Unlike true wireless buds, these ones will last for an all-day hike on a single charge –no pauses without music while the buds recharge in their case.

The aluminum aerophonic design of the buds themselves gives a premium look, and helps them to sound better than expected for the price. If you’re looking for wireless earbuds but are on a budget, make a point of checking out the MA650 buds from Scotland’s RHA Technologies.

Disclosure: RHA provided MA650 earbuds for evaluation but had no input into this review.

Depending Precariously on Tesla

The transition to EVs is increasingly dependent on the success of Tesla—with Tesla likely to account for 60% of all EVs sold in the United States by the end of this year.

A Tesla vehicle is parked at a charging station inside a mall in Shanghai on October 23, 2017. – Tesla has reached an agreement with Shanghai authorities that would make it the first foreign automaker to build its own plant in China, putting it in the driver’s seat in the world’s biggest electric-vehicle market, the Wall Street Journal reported. (Photo by CHANDAN KHANNA / AFP) (Photo credit should read CHANDAN KHANNA/AFP/Getty Images)

When I visited Tesla’s tiny factory in Silicon Valley in March 2008—months after Elon Musk took over as CEO—I was floored by their ambition and skeptical they could survive, much less thrive. Tesla’s journey from upstart visionary to household name has been a wild ride, filled with remarkable highs and lows. 2010 saw Tesla become the first auto manufacturer to launch an IPO in more than 60 years. The company’s stock and profile soared, eventually reaching a market capitalization of more than $50 billion, similar to Ford and General Motors.

At the same time, Tesla has struggled to maintain adequate cash flow, meet targets, and overcome manufacturing issues. Recent challenges meeting expectations and demand for the Tesla’s Model 3 mass-market sedan— challenges compounded by co-founder and CEO Elon Musk’s erratic and distracted behavior—are fueling predictions that the company is on the verge of collapse.

Tesla’s volatile past makes it difficult to predict its future. I don’t have any personal, professional, or financial interests in the success of the company. But as someone who has dedicated a career to studying electric vehicle (EV) technology and policy, I am confident that we need a strong private-sector leader like Tesla pulling EV technologies and markets forward in the United States. Such leadership has profound implications for climate change, pollution, and U.S. competitiveness in the global economy.

The status of EVs is fragile, especially in the United States. EV market share has crept up to 1.4% nationwide. The Trump administration is threatening to freeze national fuel-efficiency and CO2 standards, which would undermine automaker investments in EVs. It is also threatening to block the zero-emission vehicle mandates in place in California and nine other states, further undermining investments.

While domestic progress on EVs stalls, other countries are pulling away. China sold almost half a million EVs the first half of 2018, comprising 3% of that country’s domestic auto market (double the equivalent U.S. figure). China now accounts for half of all EVs sold worldwide. China is also leading on electrifying larger vehicles. The Chinese city of Shenzhen, home to 13 million people, has converted every one of its 16,000 buses to electricity. The story is similar in Europe. Cities across the continent are agitating for cleaner air and threatening to ban diesel cars. EVs sales are emerging as an important substitute for diesel, with EV sales now approaching 2% of all light-duty vehicles sold in Europe.

If not for Tesla, the gap between the United States and other global powers would be even wider. Tesla is the only company other than BYD, the Chinese company Warren Buffet invested in, making a massive and unequivocal commitment to EVs. Though Tesla is admittedly falling short of its ambitious production goals, it is continuing to churn out and sell its Model X SUV and Model S sedan, and is ramping up its less-expensive Model 3. It is likely that by the end of this year, Tesla will account for over 60% of all EV sales in the United States (up from 43% in May–June).

Tesla also plays an essential role as a visionary. Tesla consistently pushes the envelope on EV technology, forcing a rethinking of what EVs are and can be. Tesla pioneered over-the-air software updates, long driving ranges, and a network of fast chargers that enable Tesla owners to drive anywhere in the United States without running out of juice. And by designing their vehicles to be sleek and sexy, Tesla has helped take EVs from objects of ridicule to objects of desire.

If Tesla falls, who can we count on to carry the torch on EVs? Unfortunately, potential successors lag far behind. GM’s Chevrolet Bolt can travel more than 200 miles on a single charge, making it range-competitive with Tesla. But GM’s resolve is suspect. EVs account for just 0.5% of GM’s total U.S. car sales. Nissan does slightly better, with EVs accounting for nearly 1% of total U.S. sales, though Nissan’s sole EV (the Leaf) has a range half that of a Bolt or Tesla. BMW’s EV sales rate in the United States is best (at 8%), but at a much smaller overall sales volume. These low figures are not surprising given that EV production is at present a money-losing proposition.

Certainly the fact that all major automakers are even producing EVs represents major progress. But active innovation and sustained commitment is needed for progress to continue to the point where EV manufacturing becomes profitable and hence self-sustaining. Indeed, a new industry study suggests that smart technology and manufacturing designs, as embedded in the Tesla Model 3, might generate 30% profits, more than triple the industry average.

The success of EVs is crucial in so many ways—to the success of the U.S. auto industry, cleaning up our cities, and slowing climate change. So far, Tesla is the only company leading that charge.

Dan Sperling is the Distinguished Blue Planet Prize Professor of Engineering and Environmental Science and Policy at the University of California, Davis, and lead author of Three Revolutions: Steering Automated, Shared, and Electric Vehicles to a Better Future. Opinions expressed in this piece are the personal viewpoint of the author. Follow on Twitter: @DanSperling_ITS, @ITS_UCDavis, @3Rev_ITSDavis 

Fiat Chrysler kicks off Magneti Marelli spin-off

MILAN (Reuters) – Fiat Chrysler (FCA) (FCHA.MI) has kicked off its planned spin-off of parts maker Magneti Marelli which will be registered in the Netherlands and listed on the Milan stock exchange, a document outlining initial plans and seen by Reuters showed.

Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA) U.S. headquarters is seen in Auburn Hills, Michigan, U.S. May 25, 2018. REUTERS/Rebecca Cook

The spin-off is part of a plan by FCA Chief Executive Sergio Marchionne to “purify” the Italian-American carmaker’s portfolio and to unlock value at Magneti Marelli.

Analysts say Magneti Marelli could be worth between 3.6 billion and 5 billion euros ($4.2 bln-5.8 bln). It sits within FCA’s components unit alongside robotics specialist Comau and castings firm Teksid.

FCA has created a separate entity called MM Srl, the document showed, into which it will fold Magneti Marelli’s electronics and electro-mechanical operations related to racing motorbikes and racing cars, as well as 14 other holdings in various companies around the world, including Germany, Slovakia, Mexico and South Africa.

MM will be incorporated into a Dutch holding company via a cross-border merger, it added.

FCA declined to comment.

The move follows a similar procedure adopted by FCA for the spin-off and listing of trucks and tractor maker CNH Industrial (CNHI.MI) and supercar brand Ferrari (RACE.MI), which are both registered in the Netherlands and listed in Milan.

The Dutch holding company would allow Marchionne, known for his success in extracting shareholder value through spin-offs, to introduce a loyalty share scheme to reward long-term investors through multiple voting rights, as was the case with CNH and Ferrari. That would tighten the grip of FCA’s controlling shareholder Exor, the Agnelli family’s investment holding company, on the parts maker.

Magneti Marelli, which employs around 43,000 people and operates in 19 countries, is a diversified components supplier specialized in lighting, powertrain and electronics.

The Magneti Marelli separation is expected to be completed by the end of this year or early 2019, FCA has said.

FCA’s advisers initially looked at a possible initial public offering for the business to raise cash to cut FCA’s debt, but the Agnelli family – FCA’s main shareholder – was put off by low industry valuations and did not want its stake in Magneti Marelli to be diluted, three sources close to the matter told Reuters in March.

Magneti Marelli has often been touted as a takeover target and FCA has fielded interest from various rivals and private equity firms over the years.

South Korea’s Samsung Electronics (005930.KS) made a bid approach in 2016 but negotiations fell through as it was only interested in parts of the business, other sources have said.

($1 = 0.8595 euros)

Reporting by Agnieszka Flak and Paola Arosio; Editing by Susan Fenton

Tesla Fires A Shot Across The Bow

ARS Technica reported Friday that Tesla (NASDAQ:TSLA) has removed the $35,000 version of Model 3 from its orders page. Though the company claims the lower-priced, short-range version of Model 3 will be available eventually, some Model 3 reservation holders are sure to be disappointed. On the other hand, focusing on more heavily optioned, higher-margin Model 3 cars should cheer the company’s shareholders. Tesla “shorts” would do well to look carefully to this development because it suggests an aggressive and potentially winning strategy.

Tesla Model 3

Background

Tesla has this month sold its 200,000th electric car in the US, beginning the 18-month wind-down of the federal income tax credit for US Tesla buyers. Elon Musk announced on July 1 that the 5,000 per week Model 3 production goal had been achieved (more or less). Both of these events conform to a Tesla strategy described last April for maximizing the gross amount of federal incentives for its customers.

For Tesla, a key factor in a credits maximizing strategy is that initial high-rate Model 3 production can be skewed toward higher-end configurations because early US customers will enjoy the full $7,500 tax credit (in addition to any state and/or local incentives), making these higher-priced cars affordable for a wider range of buyers. We see exactly this in Tesla’s producing long-range, AWD and performance configurations of Model 3, while delaying the lower-priced, short-range versions. Higher-end Model 3 configurations, particularly those carrying Autopilot and Full Self-Driving software options, will give Tesla higher margins. These fancier models are also likely to appeal to BMW’s (OTCPK:BMWYY) 3 Series and Mercedes’s (OTCPK:DDAIF) C Class higher-end customers.

Let us remember briefly what happened in the high-end luxury sedan segment when Tesla brought Model S to the party. The fun part happened in 2014 and 2015. In an essentially static market, Model S sales took off, while all the other players lost ground.

Luxury segment change in sales 2014-15

And Tesla’s Model S ended up king of the hill.

2015 US Luxury car sales

Images from Author’s February 18, 2016 article here.

Will it happen again?

Could Model 3 grab market share in the much larger entry-luxury car segment like Model S did in the high-end luxury car market? Because, if Tesla were to carve the heart out of the BMW 3 Series, Mercedes C Class, and similar models from Audi (OTCPK:AUDVF), Lexus (NYSE:TM), Cadillac (NYSE:GM), Acura (NYSE:HMC) and others, these carmakers will feel a lot of pain. And Tesla might just make a go of its Model 3.

The first thing to understand about the market for entry-luxury cars is that buyers don’t have to buy these cars. Anyone purchasing or leasing even a base model BMW 320i ($34,900 base price) can buy or lease a Toyota, Hyundai (OTCPK:HYMLF) or Chevy that will take them to where they need to go and bring them back for a lot less money. Entry-luxury cars offer something “special” beyond basic, efficient transportation that buyers are willing to pay extra to have. The “special” something may be quicker acceleration or cushier seats, or fancy wheels, or special headlights, or any of a bunch of other nice, cool or trick features, gizmos and tasteful brand badges that set one of these cars apart from those driven by the hoi polloi motoring public. And at least some buyers in the entry-luxury market are willing to pay a lot more to drive a “special” car. Many entry-luxury cars are offered with an array of optional configurations and optional features that allow a customer to spend much more than the base car price. A Mercedes C Class sedan (base price $40,250) in the AMG C63 S configuration can be optioned-up past six figures by just checking the boxes (and it’s still not as quick as the AWD Performance Model 3.)

Tesla Model 3 doesn’t have to be cheaper than the competition to win in the entry-luxury market. It just needs to be price competitive and have better “special stuff”. And Model 3 has special stuff – smooth, quick acceleration; clean, futuristic interior; Full Self-Driving; batteries; SuperCharging; a Tesla badge – that other cars in in this market do not have. (Let’s not get into an argument about Tesla’s Full Self-Driving being “real”. The company offers the feature. Its cars have the hardware. You can’t tick the box for this for any non-Tesla car.)

This leaves the question of Tesla’s pricing compared to the ICE competition. Let’s take a look at how three different Tesla Model 3s compare to three roughly similar BMW 3 Series cars. Using Tesla’s Model 3 website and BMW’s US website, I configured three Tesla Model 3 cars and three roughly comparable BMW 3 Series sedans: base models, AWD models and performance models. The following table gives an idea of how these cars compare on performance and pricing. For simplicity, the 0-60 time is used as the performance metric and only to show that chosen car configurations are of generally similar performance. Pricing shown is the manufacturers’ US list before any tax credit, incentives, discounts, etc.

Model 0-60 Base Optioned

Tesla Model 3 – Base Model

5.6 35,000 35,000

BMW 320i – Base Model

7.1 34,950 34,950

Tesla Model 3 – Long Range, AWD

Blue Paint; 19″ Wheels; Auto Pilot; Self-Driving;

Delivery

4.5 53,000 64,500

BMW 340ix – AWD

Premium Pkg; Executive Pkg; Blue Paint; 19″ Wheels

Drive Asst; Park Ctrl; Blind Spot; Active Cruise;

Heated Rear Seats; Heated Steering Wheel;

Charging + WiFi; Apple Play; Destination

4.6 50,950 63,535

Tesla Model 3 – Long Range, AWD, Performance

Blue Paint; 19″ Sport Wheels; Auto Pilot; Self-Driving;

Delivery

3.5 64,000 74,000

BMW M3 – RWD Performance

Blue Paint; 19″ Wheels; Drive Asst; Executive Pkg;

Automatic Trans; Stainless Pedals; Blind Spot;

Charging + WiFi; Apple Play; Destination

3.9 66,500 78,320

This comparison shows that in order to match the performance and features of a Tesla Model 3, one is looking at a BMW 3 Series that costs about the same. While many investors think of Tesla cars as being “expensive” compared to the touted $35,000 base price, quite the same thing can be said of BMW cars – and, presumably, those of its competitors as well. Tesla’s “effective” pricing is lower by the amount of federal tax credit, any state and local incentives, and any purported fuel cost savings over the ownership period. BMW’s prices are also lower by the amount of any dealer discounts, promotional incentives, trade-in allowances and the like.

The big price differential between Tesla and BMW (and most legacy players) comes in the guise of Tesla making higher-end configurations, while (for now) avoiding lower-cost versions of the Model 3. It isn’t that Tesla cars are more expensive, the company just makes more expensive [versions of its] cars…

Shot Across The Bow

This is where Tesla’s strategy and the outlook for the entry-luxury car market starts to look interesting. What the company has done in reaching 5,000 per week Model 3 production, delivering its 200,000th US car at the beginning of Q3 and delaying the Model 3 short-range configuration is to tell the car market this: Tesla will make a quarter million high-end BMW 3 Series comparable cars a year, sell these (primarily in the US for Q3 and Q4) and not bother with entry-level product (yet). Or, to put it more bluntly, the company just told BMW, Mercedes, Audi, Lexus, Cadillac and the other entry-luxury segment carmakers that it will eat their lunch. Because if Tesla sells a half million highly optioned entry-luxury cars into the market, the other companies will be left mostly with the entry-level end of the market. Ouch!

Tesla is aiming to repeat what it did with Model S, but this time on a much, much larger scale. And we are not talking about someday. The company’s plan is up, running and in play right now, today.

The competition has nothing ready to put in Tesla’s way. The GM Bolt electric car is not an entry-luxury product, and no versions are offered that effectively compete with higher-end Model 3 configurations. Jaguar’s (NYSE:TTM) iPace is coming to the market, but it is aimed at the costlier Tesla Model X, and no robust cross-country Supercharger-like network exists to support the iPace at this time.

How It Will Go

Entry-luxury carmakers offer cars from low-end entry models through AWD and performance cars. Unit sales are largely at the low end, but a disproportionate amount of carmakers’ profit is earned from higher-margin, highly optioned cars. In a market of competing, mature technology ICE cars, and with a need to sustain dealer networks and maintain market share, legacy carmakers must deliver a full range of product. Build only high-end cars and most of their customer base will defect and market share and dealer networks collapse. Build only entry-level cars and most of the profit goes away.

In 2016, BMW sold 545,116 3/4 Series (sedan/coupe) cars. To achieve this sales volume, the company offered entry-level as well as higher-end configurations of its 3/4 Series cars. Arguably, to steal half a million sales from BMW’s 3/4 Series for the Model 3, Tesla would need (at least) to deliver both high-end and entry-level Model 3 cars, because that covers the price range of cars that BMW 3/4 Series customers buy. But such does not appear to be the company’s plan.

Tesla aims to take market share from the high end of the entry-luxury car segment mix. It has put off making the short-range, $35,000 version of Model 3, so buyers with $35,000 to spend can’t buy a Model 3, at least for now. This means Tesla has no chance, for now, of stealing half a million BMW 3/4 Series customers for Model 3 and wiping the BMW 3/4 Series cars from the face of the earth. But Tesla doesn’t need every BMW 3/4 customer. There are plenty of Acura, Alfa Romeo (NYSE:FCAU), Audi, Cadillac, Infiniti (OTCPK:NSANY), Jaguar, Lancia, Lexus, Lincoln (NYSE:F), Mercedes and Volvo (OTCPK:VOLAF) entry-luxury customers to be had. Tesla may even bag some BMW 5 Series, Audi A6 and Mercedes E Class customers with its long-range, AWD and performance versions of the Model 3.

If Tesla pulls off this high-end, cream-skimming strategy – like it did with Model S – that will be good for the company and for shareholders. It will be disastrous for legacy competitors because profits come largely from selling high-end configuration, highly optioned vehicles, and Tesla is going after those high-margin sales. It is one thing for a company like BMW to see, say, 20% of its 3 Series customers across the board go over to Tesla and quite a different thing should the top (high end) 20% of its customers defect.

Conclusions

Tesla has embarked on a bold strategy, choosing to target Model 3 sales at the high end of the entry-luxury car market rather than offering Model 3 configurations covering the entire segment. Tesla is following a strategy that will “cream-skim” high-end, high-profit customers from the likes of BMW, Mercedes, Lexus and Cadillac. Tesla did this same thing with Model S. Its strategy is already in play. Within the next quarter or two, investors may expect to see a rout of legacy carmakers even greater than was seen in 2014-15 with Model S as Tesla takes on the entry-luxury segment in earnest with Model 3.

Disclosure: I/we have no positions in any stocks mentioned, and no plans to initiate any positions within the next 72 hours.

I wrote this article myself, and it expresses my own opinions. I am not receiving compensation for it (other than from Seeking Alpha). I have no business relationship with any company whose stock is mentioned in this article.

Additional disclosure: These writings about the technical aspects of Tesla, electric cars, components, supply chain and the like are intended to stimulate awareness and discussion of these issues. Investors should view my work in this light and seek other competent technical advice on the subject issues before making investment decisions.

No blank checks: The value of cloud cost governance

How much does you’re public cloud cost month to month? If you don’t know, you’re hardly alone. Most people in IT don’t have a good understand of what a public cloud service costs per month. Most wait to find out what the bill says rather than proactively monitor cloud consumption, much less have cloud cost governance in place.

Even if your financial budgeting model can handle uncertain costs, not knowing what you’re spending has a downside. When you moved to the public cloud, your company put a value driver in place when defining the business cases—and part of that was based on ongoing costs per month.

If those costs are higher than originally estimated, the value metrics won’t support your goals. Although you can make a case for the cloud’s value around agility and compressing time to market, that will fall on deaf ears among your business leaders if you’re 20 to 30 percent over budget for ongoing cloud costs.

There’s no reason to not know your ongoing cloud costs. In the planning phase, it’s just a matter of doing simple math to figure out the likely costs month to month. In the operational phase, it’s about putting in cost monitoring and cost controls. This is called cloud cost governance.

Cloud cost governance uses a tool to both monitor usage and produce cost reports to find out who, what, when, and how cloud resources were used. Having this information also means that you can do chargebacks to the departments that incurred the costs—including overruns.

But the most important aspect with cloud governance is not monitoring but the ability to estimate. Cloud cost governance tools can tell you not just about current use but also about likely costs in the future. You can use that information for budgeting.

Cloud cost governance also means placing limits on cloud computing usage based on allocation of costs. If the devops team is allocated $150,000 a month but spends $200,000, the tools should take automated corrective action—meaning turning off cloud services after multiple warnings. The idea is not to stop productivity but to make people aware of what costs they are incurring over that of what’s been budgeted.

Data protection for containers: Why, and how to do Docker backup

Containers are a great way to run applications, with much less overhead than traditional bare metal or virtualised environments. But what about data protection? Do containers need backup and data protection? The answer is yes – and no. In this article, we will look at the possible ways we can backup containers and their data,…

as well as products available that can help.

Containers have been around for many years, but the use of container technology has been popularised in the last five years by Docker.

The Docker platform provides a framework to create, configure and launch applications in a much simpler way than in the native features of the Linux and Windows operating systems on which they run.

An application is a set of binary files that run on top of an operating system. The application makes calls via the operating system to read and write data to persistent storage or to respond to requests from across the network. Over the past 15 years, the typical method of application deployment has been to run applications within a virtual machine (VM).

VMs take effort to build and manage. They need patching and have to be upgraded. Virtual machines can attract licensing charges, such as operating system licences and application licences per VM, so have to be managed efficiently.

Containers provide a much more lightweight way to run applications. Rather than dedicate an entire VM for each application, containers allow multiple applications to run on the same operating system instance, and these are isolated from each other by segregating the set of processes that make up each application.

Containers were designed to run microservices, be short-lived and not require persistent storage. Data resiliency was meant to be handled by the application, but in practice, this has proved impractical. As a result, containers can now be easily launched with persistent storage volumes or made to work with other forms of shared storage. 

Container data protection

A container is started from a container image that contains the binary files needed to run the application. At launch, time parameters can be passed to the container to configure components such as databases or network ports. This includes attaching persistent data volumes to the container or mapping file shares.

In the world of virtual machines, the VM and the data are backed up. Backup of a virtual machine is for convenience and other potential uses. So, for example, if the VM is corrupted or individual files are deleted they can be recovered.

Alternatively, the whole VM and its data can be brought back quickly. In practice though, with a well configured system, it may be quicker to rebuild the VM from a gold master and configure it using automation or scripts.

With containers, rebuilding the application from code is even quicker, making it unnecessary to backup the container itself. In fact, because of the way containers are started by platforms such as Docker, the effort to recover a container backup would probably be much greater than simply restarting a new container image. The platform simply isn’t designed to recover pre-existing containers.

So, while a running container instance doesn’t need to be backed up, the base image and configuration data does. Without this the application can’t be restarted.

Equally, this applies to implementing a disaster recovery strategy. Restarting an application elsewhere (eg, in the public cloud or another datacentre) also needs access to the container image and runtime configuration. These components need to be highly available and replicated or accessible across locations. 

Application data

Containers provide multiple ways to store application states or data.

At the simplest level – using Docker as an example – data can be written to the root file system (not a good idea) or stored in a Docker volume on the host running the container. It’s possible that this host could also be a virtual machine.

A Docker volume is a directory on the root file system of the host that runs the container. It’s possible to backup and restore this data into a running container, but this isn’t a practical solution or easy to manage when containers can run on many hosts.

It would be very hard to keep track of where a container was running at any one time to know which server to use for recovery. Backup software isn’t aware of the container itself, just a set of directories.

Other alternatives

One is to use another file system on the host that has been structured to match the application. Rather than having directories named using random GUIDs, directory names can match application components.

So, when a container is started a directory is mapped into the container with a name that is consistent across container restarts and can easily be identified in traditional backup software.

This still doesn’t provide full recovery and disaster recovery in the event of a server loss.

In this instance, Docker and Kubernetes provide the capability to connect external storage to a container. The storage is provided by a shared array or software-defined storage solution that exists independently of any single host.

External storage provides two benefits:

  • Data protection can leverage the capabilities of an external array, such as snapshots or remote replication. This pushes persistence down to the storage and allows the container host to be effectively stateless.
  • Data can exist on an external device and be shared with traditional infrastructure like virtual machines. This provides a potential data migration route from VMs to containers for certain parts of an application.

Storage presented from shared storage could be block or file-based. In general, solutions offered by suppliers have favoured connecting block devices to a single container. For shared arrays, the process has been to mount a LUN to the host, format it with a file system and then attach to the container. In Kubernetes, as an example, these volumes can be pre-existing or created on demand.

For software-defined storage solutions, many are natively integrated into the container orchestration platform to offer what look like file systems without the complexity and management configuration of external devices.

Solutions for container data protection

What are suppliers doing in this area? Docker provides a set of best practices for backup of the Docker infrastructure although this doesn’t cover application data. Meanwhile, Kubernetes uses etcd to manage state, so instructions are provided on the Kubernetes website on how to configure backups.

Existing backup suppliers are starting to offer container backup. Asigra was probably first to this in 2015. Commvault offers backup of data on container-based hosts.

Vendors including Pure Storage, HPE Nimble, HPE 3PAR, and NetApp all provide docker plugins to mount traditional LUNs to container infrastructure. This enables the capability to take snapshots at the array level for backup and to replicate the LUNs to other hardware if required.

Portworx, StorageOS, ScaleIO, Ceph and Gluster all offer native volumes for Kubernetes. These platforms also work with Docker and offer high availability from a clustering perspective and the ability to take backups via snapshots and replicas. Kubernetes is moving to support the Container Storage Interface, which should enable additional features like data protection to be added to the specification.

If containers are run within virtual machines then the VM itself could be backed up and individual files restored. However, if the backup solution isn’t container-aware, it may be very difficult to track down individual files unless they’ve been put into the structure already outlined above.

Cloud: A gap in container backup?

This discussion on container backup is focused on the deployment of containers in the datacentre. Public cloud represents a bigger challenge. As yet, solutions like AWS Fargate (container orchestration) don’t offer data persistence and are designed to be stateless.

This represents a potential operational gap when looking to move container workloads into the public cloud. As always, any solution needs to consider all deployment options, which could make the adoption of some public cloud features more difficult and push data management closer towards the developer.

Purchases Under $20 That Make a Significant Difference in Your Business

We were in a big group grabbing drinks when a man reached for his phone and realized he had 20% battery left. Having been in this situation many times myself, I felt for him. I walked over and offered him my extra charger. 

It was a small thing that made a huge difference, not just for this guy’s phone but also for my social capital. I was now the person who’d saved his phone. The charger cost me $20, but the relationship forged that night thanks to my charger led to many other priceless opportunities. 

It got me wondering what other items under $20 have unexpected business benefits I’d overlooked. Here’s what I found:

Aqua Notes for taking notes in the shower. 

Cognitive Psychologist Scott Barry Kaufman’s famous 2014 “shower study” showed that “people report more creative inspiration in their showers than they do at work.”

Turns out, when you’re relaxed and undistracted, your best ideas “pop up” out of nowhere. Most of us forget our brilliant idea by the time we get out of the shower or (worse) cut our wonderful showers short in order to rush to our desk and write down our idea. 

Aqua Notes fixes that problem by letting you capture your ideas, literally, in the shower. It’s a waterproof notepad and pencil for all your brilliant shower thoughts. 

Greetabl for making customers and your team feel special. 

Greetabl is the world’s easiest way to make people feel valued. And, frankly – these boxes are fun. For under $20 you can surprise your staff, clients, colleagues, or customers with a custom box and surprise gift. 

It takes no time to put together and is a thoughtful way to show someone you appreciate them. There’s a place to put a personal note and a lot of ways to customize the gift, including the box design, images, and physical good inside. It’s like a kinder egg for adults. 

Last Past for sharing passwords without sharing passwords.

I was a late adopter to LastPass until a friend made a compelling argument for why any password keeper is better than no password keeper to protect against hacks. But turns out, that wasn’t the actual benefit. 

Aside from making it faster and more efficient to access the 200+ sites I have logins for (for real, I counted), LastPass made it easier to work with my team. If I need to give someone access to Zapier to fix up an automation for my virtual coworking space, for example, I can give them the login through LastPass, without ever sharing the actual username and password.

I feel safer and more protected and so does my team. They don’t have to worry about misplacing the passwords. And I can revoke access at any time. Worth every penny.

Dry Shampoo for the days you just don’t have time.

This one is more relevant to the ladies, but if you’ve ever needed to look professional in a rush, there is nothing better than dry shampoo. I was a dry shampoo skeptic until my aunt forced a ton of it in my hair after a particularly dreadful day of meetings, rain, and sweatiness. 

The result? It looked like I was showered and blow dried in a matter of minutes. I swear by the stuff now. It is a lifesaver if you have little time to make yourself presentable after a long day of work. 

I’m particularly grateful for it when I want to hit the gym, but don’t want the hassle of blow drying and straightening my hair in order to look professional later.  

Dry shampoo = life saver. 

Charge Cords because you always need to charge your phone. 

Today our phones are our computer and office, so keeping them powered (should be) a priority, yet, somehow we are constantly running out of battery. I’ve personally managed to break every charger I have and forget to charge every backup battery I get, which is why I’m obsessed with Charge Cords.

Charge Cords don’t break because they’re covered in “tangle-proof” fabric and you don’t have to charge them. You just have to remember to put them in your purse…And as I mentioned in the beginning, having a colorful charger on hand is a great way to meet new people and make friends. Someone always needs a charger.

Silver Siphon for sifting out those pesky Stripe fees 

Founder of SkyBlueBooks and expert on all things accounting, Tam Nguyen, introduced me to this one. For as little as $9/month Silver Siphon will literally “siphon” out the fees from Stripe so they’re properly accounted for in your books. It takes away having to do this all manually since it’s automated and syncs up nicely with Xero. 

If you have items under $20 that make your business run smoother, save you from headaches, and keep you sane, I want to hear about them! Tweet to @inc and@margoaaron and tell us what (under $20) purchases you swear by.

Here's How That Person With the Perfect Life is Different From the Rest of us

“Biohacking is the use of self-experimentation to upgrade your mind, body, and life. I’m a big believer in biohacking, and self-experiment daily to ensure I have the energy I need to run not only my business but to also have the energy I need to be active with my family every night. I believe in taking care of myself through exercise, nutrition and proper supplements, and biohacking has allowed me to find the right formula for myself and my life.”

–Russell Brunson, cofounder and CEO of ClickFunnels, an online sales and marketing software which in three years has helped over 300 business owners cross over the $1 million mark, with 18 of them continuing to scale to $10 million and beyond

“When running a small business, you must be purposeful. You have to change your mindset and realize that while it’s easier to say yes, it’s not a bad thing to say no. Each time you say yes, you’re also saying no to something else.”

–Will Holsworth, CEO of SAFE + FAIR, an allergy-friendly food company which has quadrupled its website traffic in the four months since launching its new platform

3. Get 30 minutes of quiet every morning.

“I set two alarms every morning. The first one isn’t to create a window of time to snooze, but to allow me 30 minutes of quiet time every morning. It’s the calm before the action. During this time I tackle my confidence level and insecurities. I meditate, pray or give myself a pep talk. I take a moment to be mentally aware of the thoughts in my mind that could potentially hold me back from my accomplishments for the day, and I work on tucking them far away. By the time the next alarm goes off, I usually feel less fragmented and very centered. Thirty minutes later the second alarm goes off, usually playing a song–a positive, upbeat song which signals that it’s go time! Time to conquer the day!”

–Andréa Richardson, leader of multicultural and diversity engagement across Hilton’s portfolio of more than 5,000 properties

4. Work out, then focus on family and work.

“I wake up by 5 a.m. to work out with a trainer before my boys wake up. Working out reduces stress and makes me a better mom and boss. I have breakfast with my kids and drive them to school to start our days together, and nearly every evening I make them a home-cooked dinner. I also find it’s important to make time for a one-hour clarity break during my work day to focus on the business.”

–Shelly Sun, founder and CEO of BrightStar Care, a national private duty home care and medical staffing franchise with more than 300 locations in 38 states 

5. Set goals the night before.

“Every evening, I spend a few minutes planning my goals for the following day. More than just a to-do list, I think about what I accomplished that day and what I need to get accomplished in the next few days. I then write out, by hand, all the people, processes and programs in which I want to invest time improving in the following day. The list doesn’t always get accomplished the next day, as a good leader needs to be flexible, but by committing them to paper, I’m able to prioritize my time and my goals.”

–Paul Koulogeorge, CMO of Goddard Systems, Inc., franchisor of The Goddard School, which is on track to open its 500th school in 2018

6. Unplug and work out first thing.

“I like to start my mornings at the gym. It is helpful for me to get up, be active and disconnect first thing when I wake up. It’s a rare-moment that I am not on my iPhone, checking emails, calling franchise partners, or making notes about new ideas for our guests to play at our parks. I learned early that missing my morning workouts left me with a lack of focus for the day ahead, so I’ve made it a daily practice to start my day off at the gym.”

–Jeff Platt, CEO of Sky Zone, an indoor trampoline and aerial park with over 200 franchises across the United States, Canada, Mexico, Australia, the United Kingdom, India, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait

7. Take the time to be personal.

“I start my day early, which means I’ll usually catch one or two employees before the work day technically ever starts. They’ll usually come in my office and we will talk about work, but it quickly turns into conversations about what’s going on in their lives and things much bigger than work. I really enjoy those talks and I think having a pulse on people’s personal lives helps me be a better boss, too. One habit I’ve gotten into and really held myself to is making rounds to say hi to everyone every morning. It’s a small gesture, but I think everyone enjoys the engagement and I want to feel as accessible as possible.

–Bart Silvestro, CEO of Chef’s Cut Real Jerky Co., a jerky brand with profits which rose from more than $460,000 to $47.5 million in four years

8. Determine your workday rhythm.

“I get my best work done in the morning. After my husband Ted takes our boys to school or camp, I sit at my desk with a large mug of coffee and don’t stop working until 1 p.m. I keep meetings, calls, errands for afternoons, when my brain is less focused. And of course, evenings are family time, dinner with friends and oft-needed rest. Determining a workday rhythm that gives energy (vs. depletes energy) is a worthwhile exercise for everyone.”

–Molly Fienning, cofounder of Babiators, maker of sunglasses for babies and kids which has sold more than 2 million pairs worldwide

9. Utilize your calendar as a daily to-do list.

“I prefer to use my calendar as my to-do list. I not only have my conference calls and meetings on my calendar but I also put three to five of my top items on the calendar each day that I want and need to get done. I also schedule some sort of workout or yoga class because it’s a necessity for my mental wellbeing and keeps me performing at the top of my game.  Each evening I look back at my calendar for the day and feel very accomplished. This technique helps me keep moving forward throughout the day otherwise I’d get bogged down with mini fires and items that keep me in the weeds.”

–Danielle Dietz-LiVolsi, founder and CEO of NuttZo, a multi-nut and seed butter brand sold in more than 16 retailers nationwide, including Whole Foods, Costco and Sprouts

10. Build relationships with colleagues.

“One of the best habits I’ve gotten into is making sure that I walk around to connect with each member of our team as often as possible. I try to do it daily, and especially in the morning, because it’s a really nice way to start the day. It’s so important to me because our team is our greatest asset, and the best way I’ve found to show appreciation and gratitude is to take time to build relationships with my colleagues. Even though sometimes it might not feel productive to be talking about things outside of business, I think it’s some of the most valuable time I spend every day because it aligns us as a team and strengthens our culture.”

–Alex Bingham, president and CEO of The Little Gym International, a children’s enrichment and development franchise with 400 locations worldwide

11. Stop overthinking it.

“Once you make a decision, take action that moment. Write the letter, make the call, send the email. Show up in a bigger way than you ever have before, but don’t wait for the planets to align. Take action now and, by next week, your anxiety will start to dissipate because you are going for it. I am always so impressed by persistent people, whether they are getting the results they want or not. No matter what, if they keep pushing forward, the big break they are waiting for is just one step away. Why would you ever want to miss that opportunity?”

–Allison Maslan, serial entrepreneur who built 10 companies to seven-figure success and author of “Blast Off!: The Surefire Success Plan to Launch Your Dreams into Reality” and “Scale or Fail: How to Build Your Dream Team, Explode Your Growth, and Let Your Business Soar”

“It is so easy to immerse yourself in work that you forget to stand, stretch, and reset. Believe it or not this enables you to be more productive. I often get up check in with staff and take a lap around the office or the building if the weather permits. Also, I started wearing wrist and ankle weights. This helps keep me alert and ready for the day-to-day challenges, not to mention the additional calorie burning.”

–Julia Biancella Au, cofounder and CEO of removable wallpaper company Tempaper, which has seen average annual growth of about 34 percent each year since launching in 2008

13. Talk to people and get to know them.

“Unengaged employees are a company’s biggest liability. People will feel more positively about coming to work if they feel they can engage with the business and those around them. Therefore, take time out of your day to physically get up and start conversation with those around you. Each day, engage with employees and coworkers on a personal and professional level. This makes them feel valued, heard and understood, leading to that constructive engagement.”

–Mike Whalen, founder of Heart of American Group which employs more than 3,500 people across more than 40 restaurants, hotels and other retail; and CEO of Johnny’s Italian Steakhouse, an expanding restaurant franchise with 15 locations across nine states

14. Look for inspiration.

“I work very hard to do things every day that inspire me. This includes walks in cities, architecture, restaurants, bars, cars, stores, magazines, and mostly just working. I love the process–I am always excited to start new projects and investigate the next idea. People always ask how I come up with so many designs but in fact it is hard for me not to because everything I see and experience excites me. Because I am driven by what’s next, I am very fortunate to be so engaged by the challenge and its process.”

–Robert Sonneman, founder and chief creative officer of award-winning SONNEMAN-A Way of Light, with a product line which includes 1,800 SKUs, with over 100 new introductions annually, and has experienced over 40% revenue growth in 2016, and 20% growth month over month in 2017

15. Mark up your to-do list.

“Every morning I go through my entire to-do list (ranging from 10 to 30 items), and I highlight high versus low priorities so that at the end of the day the mission critical tasks are guaranteed to be completed.”

–Lex Corwin, founder of Stone Road Farms, a premium cannabis company which has done over $100,000 in sales since obtaining its license earlier this year and secured large scale manufacturing and multi-state distribution deals

16. Take time for silence each morning.

“For more than 25 years now I begin my day with an hour-long practice I refer to as the Sphere of Silence (SOS). It is not meditation, and it is not a religious practice of any kind. It’s derived from the art of silence I learnt from my grandfather at a very young age. My grandfather believed that abstaining from speaking brought him inner peace and made him a better listener. I have been practicing the Sphere of Silence for most of my life now and attribute my success to it. I find that practicing the SOS is the ultimate weapon against the assault on our senses and the insanity that prevails around us today. To many, it may seem that no quiet could exist amidst the din and racket of an ever-blaring world. Practice it for 21 days and it becomes a habit. The silence and introspection make you a better you, because it helps you channel your energies to maximum effect. And being a better you, makes you better at everything you do.”

–Vijay Eswaran , one of Forbes’ top 50 wealthiest Malaysians, one of Forbes Asia’s Heroes of Philanthropy, bestselling author, entrepreneur and philanthropist and founder and executive chairman of the QI Group of Companies, a multi-business conglomerate with headquarters in Hong Kong, offices in more than 25 countries and customers in over 100 countries

17. Write down all the good and bad every day.

“One the easiest ways that has proven to increase my effectiveness is the habit I have created to write in my journal every day. I put pen-to-paper and write down the things which are important to me, the things that were both good and bad during my day and ideas on how I can improve. I write lists, goals, gratitude and sometime write to simply vent my frustrations. Writing requires engagement from both sides of my brain, making the brainstorming or problem-solving process more complete and innovative. Further, writing is crucial when it comes to settling emotional reactivity. It unwinds emotions caused by stress or conflict by providing a much needed disconnect from the daily grind of consistent talking, emailing, taking calls, and other distractions which come alone with electronic devices. I deeply value the process of writing because it puts me in touch with the more existential aspects of life, reminding me of the bigger picture of I am striving for.”

–Dr. Sherrie Campbell, a nationally recognized expert in clinical psychology, speaker, former radio host of the Dr. Sherrie Show for the BBM Global Network and TuneIn Radio, with over two decades of clinical training experience providing counseling and psychotherapy services to residents of Orange County, California, and author of “Success Equations: A Path to Living an Emotionally Wealthy Life”

18. Use flora and fauna for energization.

“I always have fresh flowers and green life in my office and at home, in order to keep
the air in these spaces fresh and have an inspiring atmosphere. On the fauna front, I
bring my three fur-babies–my dogs–to the office every day. I find that the research
stands true–pets in the office reduce stress and increase collaboration!”

–Terry Eaton, founder, president and chief curator of Eaton Fine Art, a firm that last
year marked its 25th anniversary with recent projects including the Cosmopolitan in Las Vegas and Holston House in Nashville

19. Take care of yourself.

“I recently saw a survey that said 80 percent of Americans have tension headaches or feel overwhelmed or depressed at least one day during the month. Those are sad symptoms of living in our society. At its worst, stress is making us sick, but it’s also sapping our productivity and stealing our success. The irony is that what’s causing our stress–the pace of life and the never-ending demands–are the very things that keep us from doing something about it. We’re busy taking care of business and for many of us, self-care is one of the first things that come off our list. I think that’s a big mistake and comes with a heavy cost, which is why I dedicate time every day, to taking care of myself no matter what’s going on. That might be a massage, but it can also be a run outdoors or a walk in the beach, talking to my kids or just taking a few minutes to close my eyes and take some deep breaths. The point is to make it a daily habit.”

–Joe Magnacca, CEO of Massage Envy, a provider of therapeutic massage and skincare services with a franchise system that collectively employs over 35,000 wellness professionals across 1,180 locations nationwide servicing more than 1.65 million members

“[I read] at least 10 pages from each of the books I’m reading (prayer, professional and enjoyment.)  Always have three books open and I personally prefer physical books over e-readers.”

–Ellie Johnson, president of Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices New York Properties which has $375 million in sales inventory and has grown its agent population five-fold since launching in January 2017

“I’m a huge proponent of rest. I take the weekends off and I believe in regular, relaxing vacations. Once a year, I go back home to pick olives with my family. It’s amazing how this time away from the office re-energizes my body and spirit. My downtime is essential.”

–Aytekin Tank, CEO of JotForm, an online form builder used by more than 3.5 million people

22. Lead a life with grace (in and out of the office).

“When I was younger, my father worked during the day and took classes at night to earn his college degree to make a better life for himself and our family. He taught me from an early age that no matter what life throws your way, it’s important to earn the respect of others by working hard and being honest, fair and trustworthy. I apply this advice to both my career and my personal life. No matter how difficult a situation may be or how frustrated I may be with someone, it is so important that I always keep my composure, lead with grace and give others the respect that they deserve. If you don’t respect others, you cannot expect to earn their respect in return!”

–Lisa A Haude, founder and president of Paradigm Design Group, an award-winning luxury-lifestyle hospitality interior design firm with offices in Houston, San Francisco and Chicago and ranked as one of the top design firms in the United States since 2006

Electrolux Pure i9 Review: An Effective, But Expensive Robot Vacuum

Many people like to run their robovacs at night or while they’re at work. I choose to run ours while I’m awake, right after dinner and while we’re putting the kids to bed.

First off, I don’t see any reason to walk around all evening with crumbs sticking to the bottoms of my feet if I don’t have to. But I’ve also found that most robot vacuums will require rescue, which means you have to be awake or around. If you’re sufficiently pressed for time and energy that you need a robot vacuum, you’re probably not being as diligent as you could be about eliminating botvac booby traps, like tiny doll socks or stray shoelaces.

Even with navigational aids like virtual wall barriers, magnetic strips, or no-go lines, only a few robot vacuums have been reliable enough to leave completely unattended. I’m happy to report that the Electrolux Pure i9 is one of them.

Love Triangle

Right out of the box, the Electrolux Pure i9 looks markedly different from the other botvacs that I’ve tried. It’s a steel-gray, rounded triangle that measures 12.8 inches across and 3.3 inches high. It’s only 0.2 inches less in diameter than the Roomba 690, but it looks much smaller.

Electrolux

It comes with only its charging stand, a magnetic side brush, and instructions to download the Pure i9 app. Unlike other robot vacuums, it’s not compatible with Alexa, Google Home, or other voice assistants.

Out of the box, it took two hours to charge. Setting it up by connecting it to the app is an easy, familiar process, and the app itself is clean and simple to navigate. Just follow the app’s instructions to connect the Pure i9 to your Wi-Fi; you can also operate it with buttons on the botvac’s top panel. Once connected, you can select your robot’s name (I chose “Dung Beetle”) and tinker with its settings. For example, you can select a more energy-efficient eco mode, or a mute option that reduces the volume of the bot by about 5 decibels, from 65 to 60. You can schedule cleanings, or switch the app’s language. You can access online support or visit Electrolux’s online shop for replacement parts.

Power Hour

The botvac’s battery life is not overly long. In normal mode, it ran for 50 minutes—slightly longer than the advertised 40 minutes—before it had to return to the base for charging. It was able to clean 270 (very dirty) square feet in 40 minutes. But I strongly suspect that Electrolux might be able to increase that runtime if it could make the navigation software slightly more efficient.

The Pure i9 uses a 3-D vision camera set in the front to navigate. It’s exceptionally accurate. Even without navigational aids, the Pure i9 never got lost or stuck. It never dinged my furniture or bashed into any walls. It never mistook a cliff where there was none, or failed to clamber over the lip of a doorway or a carpet. When I stepped in front of it, it paused to assess the situation before moving around my feet.

After one cleaning session, I realized that my toddler had completely disassembled a flag banner and hidden it under the couch. Almost any other botvac would have found this to be a disaster—frayed string, little pieces of loose fabric—but the Pure i9 navigated smoothly around it.

However, the mechanism by which it steered clear of obstacles was maddening to watch. It’s easy to intuitively divine how the navigation mechanisms in a robot vacuum work. The cheaper ones ping-pong randomly back and forth, while powerful, methodical botvacs, like the Neato line, vacuum back and forth in orderly parallel lines.

The Pure i9 gave the impression of being an elderly butler, wandering around haphazardly with a dusting brush in a sheepish, absentminded manner. “Does that robot vacuum know where it’s going?” our babysitter asked, watching it work one morning.

Every time it went around a corner, came up against the base of a chair, or approached the edge of a rug, it stopped and re-started over and over, repeatedly reassessing the situation until it deemed it safe to go forward. “Oops, oh no, excuse me,” I imagined it saying in a British accent, every time that it started shuffling in the hallway for one, two, or five minutes. “How perfectly buffle-brained of me. Please, you go first.”

I could chart its progress in real-time on a map of my house in the app. Electrolux doesn’t display the amount of square feet cleaned or time spent cleaning graphically over time, as do iRobot and Neato. But the map is a fairly close approximation of what my house looks like, and made it easy to check if I’d had the bathroom or bedroom doors closed on any given day.

Let Me Clear My Throat

With mute on, I measured the Pure i9’s sound at a fairly quiet 60 decibels. In normal mode, the vacuum ran at about 65 dB, which kicked up to a turbo 70 dB whenever it encountered a particularly filthy patch of carpet.

After each cleaning, the high traffic areas by the door and under the kitchen table were clear. The triangular shape with the side brush may have helped with digging into the corners.

The Pure i9 didn’t provide nearly as deep a carpet clean as the Roomba 980, mainly because it wasn’t able to thoroughly agitate the fibers. But the anti-tangle brush wasn’t constantly snarling and stopping the vacuum, in the way that the Neato Botvac D7 Connected did. I also didn’t have to clean out the bin nearly as much. Even with its diminutive size, it has an impressive dustbin capacity of 0.7 liters. In comparison, the dustbin of the Samsung Powerbot holds only 0.3 liters.

The Pure i9 has AutoPower, which automatically detects the floor surface that the vacuum is on and calibrates the level of cleaning power. When battery runs down, it returns automatically to the base, recharges, and restarts, which occasionally scared me awake when I forgot that it hadn’t finished and it automatically restarted in the dead of the night.

My one real gripe is that the Pure i9 is only so-so at returning home to the charging station. If a cleaning cycle had finished, it went back no problem. But if I stopped it and pushed the home button halfway through, the app informed me that the the Pure i9 was returning home even when it clearly wasn’t. Some mornings, I would awake to find it sitting sadly, alone in a corner.

Not Afraid to Trade(off)

It’s hard for me to recommend products that I wouldn’t purchase myself. Spending $899 is a lot, especially for a robot vacuum that lacks many basic functions. I don’t use a voice assistant to control my robot vacuum, but many people do, and much cheaper robot vacuums work with Google Home and Alexa. It also has spot cleaning but no directional control and no remote, which has bothered me in the past.

Still, its very simplicity won me over. I have spent so much time fussing with navigational aids to help my robot vacuums, that it never occurred to me that I might not even need them. And while its navigational quirks can be maddening, I have spent more evenings than I would like, cowering in bedrooms, listening to Neato Connecteds trying to break the door down. I appreciated a shy, sheepish robot vacuum that gave my house a thorough clean without breaking anything, or itself, in the process.

In the end, this isn’t my top recommendation for a high-end robot vacuum. But if you’re looking for a slightly smaller, reliable, and good-looking robot vacuum, the Electrolux Pure i9 makes a very decent contender.

Home From the Honeymoon, the Self-Driving Car Industry Faces Reality

At the blockbuster plenary sessions, the chairs stretched so far back that even the most youthful Silicon Valley college dropouts-turned VC hoovers had to squint to see the action up in front. A handful of large projection screens hung between the ballroom’s chandeliers, displaying loop-de-looping flow charts on vehicle safety systems, sensor alignments, liability law.

But despite the best efforts of the downtown San Francisco Hilton’s air conditioners, the air shared by the attendees of this year’s Automated Vehicles Symposium was thick with secrets and doubt. Eight years after Google first showed its self-driving car to The New York Times, the autonomous vehicle industry is still trying to figure out how to talk about itself.

Over the three-day conference, engineers, business buffs, urban planners, government officials, and transportation researchers grappled with how to tell the public that its wonder drug of a transportation solution will have its limitations. For at least a few decades to come.

In a market that could be worth $7 trillion by 2050, the players have a powerful incentive to stay mum. And if anyone forgot that, Tuesday’s news that FBI agents had arrested an ex-Apple engineer en route to China, charging him with stealing blueprints of the company’s autonomous vehicle circuit board, reminded them. If any player talks too much, who knows what snatches of information might slip out? There are plenty of competitors waiting to profit.

And yet, the reasons for speaking more loudly and clearly about the goals and realities of self-driving have snapped into focus. In March, an autonomous Uber testing in Tempe, Arizona, struck and killed a woman crossing the street. A AAA survey taken after the incident found American unwillingness to ride in an autonomous vehicle jumped by 16 percent. The crash hung over the symposium as both a lesson in what’s at stake and in what can happen if the autonomous vehicle industry gets things wrong.

In years past, this conference has been all about big pronouncements. Last year, Lyft’s policy chief told the audience that most of the service’s rides would be automated in five years. This year, attendees heard less about commercial launches and more about the minutiae of safety procedures. Lyft’s 2018 presentation, by self-driving car president Nadeem Sheikh, dodged firm deadlines all together.

In an industry built on eliminating human error, insiders have started to admit that building a flawless vehicle will be almost impossible. In fact, they are starting to admit that they need to start admitting it publicly.

“Safety should be foundational to everything you do in this area,” said Mark Rosekind, a former National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and National Transportation Safety Board official who now heads up safety and innovation at the secretive autonomous vehicle startup Zoox. “But understand that on that path, crashes will continue to happen.” How do you go about telling the public this sort of truth, that zero road fatalities is, for the time being, a fantasy?

During her keynote address on Tuesday, Department of Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao suggested one avenue. “Let me challenge you to step up, and help educate the public about this new technology,” she said. “That is so important, because without public acceptance automated technology will never reach its full potential.”

Chao appears to be onto something there. The public is primed to expect autonomous vehicles to be perfect. When the tech isn’t, people are surprised—and scared. Earlier that morning, Kristin Kolodge of the market research firm JD Power presented her findings on what consumers expect from AVs. “The car is meant for accidents not to happen,” one respondent told the firm. “[Accidents] Should never happen,” said another. For self-driving vehicle developers, that’s an unfortunate expectation. A person who expects infallible technology will be disappointed.

And when Americans are disappointed, they sue. JD Power’s survey found that more than half of respondents would be willing to pursue litigation if they were involved in an incident with a driverless car. The firm also surveyed liability lawyers across the nation, who predicted lawsuits involving self-driving vehicles would be way pricier than the average, in part because of the sheer breadth of sensitive data through which lawyers would have to sift during discovery.

So there is worry, and some soul-searching. Yet the deals continue. Down in the Hilton’s lobby, business hummed along, startup founders shaking hands with tech lobbyists and transportation researchers. The state of the autonomous vehicle industry is strong, and no one’s putting away the checkbook just yet. Since the first symposium kicked off in 2014—just four years ago!—attendance has ballooned by 200 percent. It’s up 12 percent since just last year. But the real action happens outside the San Francisco Union Square Hilton. Learning how to speak to the people out there will be an existential skill.


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