First Drive in OZ

First Drive in OZ

I’ve always wondered about a vignette that I heard of first in elementary school. The story was that when Thomas Edison invented the light bulb we know today, he had previously tried hundreds of filaments in an effort to find one that would last more than minutes. He knew that if he succeeded, the world would change, as electric lighting would be born in that moment. As he worked his way through hundreds of possible materials, he came upon carbonized bamboo. After painstakingly preparing and putting it in a test light bulb, he pumped the air out of the globe and turned it on. The story described him sitting quietly watching the bulb, throughout the night, clock ticking off the minutes then hours that the bulb continued to glow. As the story told it, he stayed up through the night till morning simply staring at the glowing bulb.

What puzzled me when I first heard the story was that he was the one doing this third-shift work; staying up all night, watching a light bulb…for goodness sakes, he had already invented the phonograph at that point, didn’t he have people for that kind of thing?

Last week I finally understood.

Last Thursday at 9:30 in the morning in Australia, a pilot participant named Neil started a car in Sydney and began a drive. In the car was a Groove module connected via an Australia Telco to Katasi software in Colorado. It was 3:30 in the afternoon here in Colorado and we had five developers at their monitors as the first drive of a production Groove deployment in Australia began. On the monitors in Colorado, numbers filled the screens. A speaker phone in our room was connected by teleconference to the technical team in Australia, simultaneously monitoring their screens. Also on the call was Neil’s mobile phone on speaker, on the passenger seat of his car.

We have had a pilot active with Sprint for more than two years, and have been testing Groove here in the US since then, prepping for an upcoming US launch, but this was the first time that Groove had been deployed with all the bells and whistles; text and voice being blocked, blocked messages saved, distracting data blocked from reaching the phone with navigation and music apps allowed. In other words, the first drive of a fully deployed production version of Groove. It was our light bulb moment. The first drive of what we expect to be millions more.

I was honored to be a part of it. Nothing really for me to do but watch the teams do their work, as I sat in a seat in the corner, ignored by those actually doing the work, but oh, what an honor. We would hear Neil announce…”turned key on”, and then the team watching the screens would announce “I’ve got it! Drive start notice!” and then our developers would say “I’m seeing the flag, Neil is crossing 8 kilometers per hour”, and then almost simultaneously from the other side of the world we would hear Neil announce “just crossed 8 kph”. And then Neil would then pull the car over for a test, and then we would hear “turning off the car”, and within seconds the developers would chime in “end of trip signaled!”.

Neil having pulled his car over, would try his phone, and it would be blocked. And then he would turn off the car, and try the phone again…and it would work. We tried it over and over…our version of watching the lightbulb for hours…start driving….phone is blocked…stop driving…phone is enabled. We couldn’t get enough of it.

It was an amazing experience, listening in on the teams in Australia and the US, as Neil drove through Sydney, with a dozen engineers watching the drive unfold on the screens. Brad, husband of Aprille, our Director of Technology, and Marianne, wife of Eric, one of our developers, had joined us for the event. After the first 30 minutes, we opened the champagne that Marianne had brought and toasted our first drive in Oz. It was one of those strangely warm Colorado February afternoons, with a drop-dead gorgeous sunset over the mountains west of town. A celebratory photo was taken, champagne glasses in hand.

There were hiccups that we identified that will be sorted out in the coming weeks, but in the words of Neil, who weighed in at the end of his drives “Amazing! The performance was delightful!”.

When you know how Groove works…the car connected to the cloud, Groove software identifying the driver and notifying the Carrier, the Carrier turning off distractions, it can seem to lose some of the magic. But when it all comes together…it magically does Just Work. A drive starts, and within seconds of crossing 5 mph, without any “safe driving” app on the phone, the phone becomes safe, not allowing distractions. And within seconds of turning off the key, it returns to full function. It really did seem just a bit magical, particularly given the distances…it took only seconds for Groove to know when to turn the phone on and off.

After a couple hours the screens were turned off, and we all hung around as long as we could justify…basking in the rosy glow of something very special. Roger, Aprille and Eric summed it up best by saying in various ways “that was one of the most exciting things that has ever happened in my career”.

And in that moment I understood. Thomas Alva Edison did not stay up for 12 hours watching his light bulb because he didn’t have someone else available. He watched the bulb because he wouldn’t have traded those moments for anything. For those 12 hours he sat looking at something come to life that was to change the world and he didn’t want the moment to end.

That was also our experience last Thursday.


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