The NFL is rolling out the initial phase of a tracking system that will allow fans to view a wide range of statistics about their favorite players, including speed, routing, distance traveled, and separation. As reported by USA Today, each player will wear two small sensors under the shoulder pads, and the sensors will track the players’ movements throughout the game. (And ONLY the game, which should bring a sigh of relief to quite a few players.)
Zebra Technologies, which has implemented similar technologies in other industries, will roll out the system in 17 stadiums. Those include: Atlanta, Baltimore, Carolina, Chicago, Cincinnati, Denver, Detroit, Green Bay, Houston, Jacksonville, Miami, New England, New Orleans, Oakland, San Francisco, St. Louis and Washington. (The players signed off on the use of the technology in the 2011 Collective Bargaining Agreement.)
The data can be enhanced and used for television presentation. Down the line, it could be used as part of an app or second-screen experience (i.e. you’re gonna pay more for it).
“For those of us that are coaches from our couches, we’re like, ‘Oh, come on! That guy was open!’ Maybe he was and maybe he wasn’t,” Zebra’s Jill Stelfox told USA Today. “If we know closing distance of a defender and an offensive guy, you can really know whether that hit would be made or whether he really could’ve made that play.”
It doesn’t take a big leap to see how this technology could be used in-game for coaches to gain an edge. Cornerback losing a step in the fourth quarter? Flood that zone, stat! Accordingly, the NFL will not let teams use the data gathered for competitive purposes in 2014. But information wants to be free, and coaches want information, and therefore there’s a 12-year-old playing Madden right now who’s going to make millions as Statistics Coordinator for the Patriots.
Down the line, tech could be used to track players’ heart rate in-game, and also could be implemented in the ball to determine whether it crossed the goal line. But Sherman-style trash talking? We’re still 15 years from a computer being able to replicate that.
Dollar Tree (DLTR) is buying its larger rival Family Dollar (FDO) in a cash and stock deal valued at about $8.5 billion. “This acquisition will extend our reach to lower-income customers and strengthen and diversify our store footprint,” Dollar Tree CEO Bob Sasser said in a statement.
Discount chains have been struggling to boost sales as Walmart (WMT) and other retailers invaded their space by offering more items for a buck or less to lure more low-income consumers.
Family Dollar, in particular, has struggled to remain competitive among the deep discounters. Earlier this year, the company slashed prices and announced it would close 370 stores, in an effort compete with rivals like Dollar General (DG) and Walmart, which is diversifying its own retail strategy by building smaller stores that target a different audience that the giant mega-stores.
Family Dollar CEO Howard Levine abandoned the strategy the company had been using: discounting only certain items, while others remained at full price, and embraced the “everyday low price” strategy favored by Walmart and other rivals. But the strategy failed. Cost increases more than canceled out the revenue boost from the steep price cuts. Family Dollar recently reported a 6.1% sales decline during its second quarter.
With its focus on the lowest end consumers, Family Dollar has borne the brunt of what many still maintain is an economic recovery that has ignored lower income households.
Those weak results made Family Dollar the weakest of the Big Three dollar stores. Dollar Tree, with its focus on slightly higher-end customers than Family Dollar and stores in more suburban areas saw net sales grow 7.2% for the quarter ending May 4th. Same-store-sales and average transaction size also improved for Dollar Tree. Dollar General, which had been thought to be the most likely purchaser of Family Dollar, just posted its 25th straight quarter of improving traffic and overall sales growth of 7%.
The relatively weak results led Family Dollar’s stock to badly lag the other players in the industry. Prior to takeover chatter picking up last month, FDO shares were down more than 15% compared to slight gains for Dollar Tree and Dollar General.
The New Landscape for discounters
Post-merger Family Dollar and Dollar Tree will be better positioned to compete with Dollar General but the 800 pound gorilla is still Walmart.
The new combined company will have more than 13,000 stores in the U.S. and Canada and more than $18 billion in sales. That will give the chain some leverage with suppliers but nothing like what Walmart is able to command with its 11,000 stores that average roughly 10x the size of a Family Dollar.
The merger doesn’t impact Walmart quite as directly as you would think. Together, the new company and Dollar General add up to only 15% of Walmart’s U.S. revenue. It is hard to move the needle when you go up against a company like Walmart with more than $260 billion in annual sales and 1.3 million employees in the U.S. alone.
That said, Walmart has been having a tough time in the U.S. market. In May, it reported its fifth straight quarter of negative sales. Just last week, it announced that the CEO of its U.S. division Bill Simon will step down and be replaced by Walmart’s head of Asia, Greg Foran.
Walmart has recently announced plans to accelerate its roll-out of Walmart Neighborhood Market as well as its even smaller Walmart Express operations. Walmart doesn’t have a choice but to expand smaller footprint stores. Its Neighborhood Markets are growing sales at stores that have been open more than a year at a greater than 4% rate, a rare bright light with the larger-box Super Stores struggling to stay flat.
None of which addresses Target (TGT) which has CityTarget stores of 80,000 feet in urban areas and last week announced a TargetExpress prototype that will be the same 20,000 foot size as the dollar stores.
The Big Winner: Carl Icahn
However, the Dollar Tree/Family Dollar combo will turn up the heat on Dollar General which was activist investor Carl Icahn’s first choice for a merger partner. Icahn, who owns a 9.4% stake in Family Dollar, has been pressuring Family Dollar to put itself up for sale. Icahn’s stated choice to pair Dollar General and Family Dollar was stymied by the retirement of Dollar General’s long-time CEO but as this deal proves yet again, it’s a mistake to underestimate Icahn’s ability to get things done.
And Icahn still comes away a winner. Based on SEC filings, Icahn will likely make $180-million dollars from the deal assuming he retained the stake he announced in late May. Not a bad haul for less than 4 months of work.
IBM will invest $3 billion over five years to develop processors with much smaller, more tightly packed electronics than today’s models, and to sustain computing progress even after today’s manufacturing technology runs out of steam.
The first goal is to build chips whose electronic components, called transistors, have features measuring just 7 nanometers, the company announced Wednesday. For comparison, that distance is about a thousandth the width of a human hair, a tenth the width of a virus particle, or the width of 16 potassium atoms side by side.
The second goal is to choose among a range of more radical departures from today’s silicon chip technology — a monumental engineering challenge necessary to sustain progress in the computing industry. Among the options are carbon nanotubes and graphene; silicon photonics; quantum computing; brainlike architectures; and silicon substitutes that could run faster even if components aren’t smaller.
“In the next 10 years, we believe there will be fundamentally new systems that are much more efficient at solving problems or solving problems that are unsolvable today,” T.C. Chen, IBM Research’s vice president of science and technology, told CNET.
Scientists and engineers have postponed the transition to this “postsilicon” future many times, but atomic-level constraints eventually will block today’s basic manufacturing approach. Already quantum-physics problems like electrons “tunneling” from one place to another complicate chip design.
Moore’s Law, an observation by Intel co-founder Gordon Moore that the number of transistors on a chip doubles every two years, seems almost a given in the computing industry. But it takes sustained work in research and development, and it’s not easy. Even the industry leader, Intel, has troubles: last year, it delayed the debut of its 14nm “Broadwell” chip designs from 2013 until 2014 because of a defect issue.
That steady progress is tremendously important. Cramming more transistors into a given surface area means mobile phones can play video instead of just make phone calls, watches can notify you of appointments instead of just tell time, and authentication chips can be built into credit cards. If Moore’s Law fizzled, the arrival of everything from supercheap smartphones to Google’s world domination could be slowed.
The 7nm technology is three generations of manufacturing into the future from IBM’s current flagship processor, the Power8, built with a 22nm process. IBM’s research and development work will focus on finding the materials and processes necessary to make 7nm chips economically viable, the company said.
“The question is not if we will introduce 7-nanometer technology into manufacturing, but rather how, when, and at what cost,” said John Kelly, senior vice president of IBM Research, in a statement.
Big Blue’s money will fund teams at labs in New York, California, and Switzerland, and the company will hire new staff for the work.
On the road to 7nm chips will be stops at 14nm and 10nm. The map gets fuzzier after 7nm. Intel expects at least one more step, the 5nm manufacturing process, and chip manufacturing toolmaker Applied Materials has discussed 3nm after that (PDF). But IBM didn’t specify what exactly it thinks will come after 7nm.
IBM is a leader in materials science, chemistry, physics, and nanotechnology, and it boasts of having twice the patents on postsilicon processor approaches as any competitor. However, it hasn’t matched the manufacturing volume of today’s powerhouses: Intel, Samsung, and TSMC.
IBM justifies its chip business with a higher-level mandate, though. It doesn’t just make chips and sell them, it makes chips and uses them in computers that serve other priorities — big-data analysis machines for corporate customers and supercomputers to simulate the human brain for government-funded research, for example. And major changes in manufacturing technology could reorder the current power structure.
IBM’s new research will investigate several avenues beyond today’s manufacturing technology:
Neurosynaptic computing: IBM is working on technology that moves away from today’s decades-old one-step-after-another approach to a more brainlike design that relies on a computing equivalent of brain cells, called neurons, and their electrical communication pathways, called synapses. IBM ultimately hopes to make a system with 10 billion neurons operating in parallel using 100 trillion synapses, consuming less than a kilowatt of power, and occupying less than two liters of volume.
Quantum computing: This unusual technology relies on the shift from today’s digital, using bits that represent either a zero or a one. Instead, quantum computing uses qubits that can hold both those values at once, which means they could be used in principle to perform many calculations at the same time. Some experimental quantum computers have arrived on the market — Google and NASA have one $15 million model from D-Wave — but they’re still very much an unknown quantity.
III-V materials: Today’s chips usually use carbon, which is a member of group IV of the periodic table of the elements. Faster chips can be built using elements from groups III and V — gallium arsenide, for example. They run faster because electron mobility is higher, which determines how fast the transistors can switch on and off. However, today they’re not economical for mainstream electronics. IBM thinks they could be, and for lowering the power consumption of computing.
Carbon nanotubes: Carbon atoms can bind together into a tubular structure called a carbon nanotube (CNT). For IBM’s post-7nm chips, CNTs are a candidate for replacing silicon in the role of chip semiconductor — a material that either conducts electricity or not, depending on external circumstances. Semiconductors are the core part of chip transistors, which act like tiny on-off switches. Nanotubes might be usable for much smaller transistors, and their fast switching speeds could mean a fivefold or tenfold performance boost over silicon.
Graphene: A close relative of carbon nanotubes is graphene, a flat lattice of carbon atoms just one atom thick. Because electrons move fast in graphene, IBM hopes the material could be used for quick-response tasks like managing high-frequency radio signals.
Tunnel field effect transistors: Tunneling is a problem today, but an approach called tunnel field effect transistors (TFETs) uses the phenomenon to drive a transistor’s electrical current. A voltage difference across chip elements drives electrical current in today’s chips, but these “steep slope” devices could require a lower voltage difference and therefore reduce the waste heat that holds chips back. IBM thinks TFETs can cut power consumption by a factor of 100.
Silicon photonics: Photons — light particles — travel faster than electrons, and they don’t produce the debilitating waste heat of electricity flowing through wires. That’s the core advantage of silicon photonics, which uses chips to generate and receive signals. An added bonus: you can transmit multiple frequencies of light, packing more information into a signal. Fiber-optic networking is in widespread use today, but it’s economical only over long distances; IBM is among those working to shorten links to connect computers within data centers and later connect components within a single computer.
IBM wouldn’t comment on when or how it plans to commercialize the new technology, which is still in the hands of its labs, not its product design or manufacturing group.
But it’s clearly feeling the time pressure.
“We anticipate that in order to scale to 7nm and perhaps below for the industry, we will need to have the semiconductor architectures and new manufacturing tools and techniques in place by the end of the decade,” Chen said. “That’s why it is critical for us to make the significant investment now into the research and early-stage development to demonstrate what 7nm innovations will be useful, before it can even be commercialized.”