jeffsoesbe (jeffsoesbe) wrote,
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jeffsoesbe

WIRED NextFest 2007: my report

I attended the 2007 WIRED NextFest exposition in Los Angeles on Friday, September 14 and Saturday, September 15. Here is my report.



The exposition was big, but not as humungous as I thought it was going to be. While I devoted two days to the expo, I probably could have done it all in one (long) day. It was in one of the big rooms in the LA Convention Center.

The expo was focused around "The Future". There were several pavilions devoted to "The Future Of..." a certain subject. There were pavilions for the following subjects: Security, Exploration, Education, Play, Entertainment, Transportation, Green, Robotics, Design, Health, and Communication. Each pavilion had smaller booths where companies or university researchers would present exhibits about their products or research related to the pavilion subject.

All pavilions and presenters can be browsed at the WIRED NextFest website (www.wirednextfest.com). On an interesting note, probably 2/3 of the presenters and (I would guess) half of the crowd were from another country. The expo never got really crowded, even on Saturday afternoon.

Hitachi had a large pavilion called the "Hitachi Inspiration Pavilion", where they presented various Hitachi projects and research. It was primarily of a large collection of things designed to show that Hitachi was being very innovative in their work and thinking.

Xerox had a smaller booth touting the advantages of their solid ink technology. The biggest advantage (in fact, the only one they touted) was that using solid ink "blocks" generated less environmentally-unfriendly packaging: no toner cartridges, no big cardboard boxes containing cardboard holders for the toner cartridge in a big plastic bag. The ink "block" is about 1.5 inches square and comes in a box, in a bag. You put the "block" right into the printer. (So much for refillers.) You could get a printout of your thermal image on a fake magazine cover, but I passed on it.

There was a booth for the X Prize Foundation. At the exposition, Google announced that they are sponsoring a "Lunar X Prize" competition. The competition is to send a robot to the moon and have it roam around and send back pictures. The prize is twenty million bucks for the first group to do it, with a couple five million dollar bonus prizes for achieving certain extra tasks. The X Prize Foundation is also introducing some other X Prize competitions, see the website for more information.

Google also showed off other software applications: Plan Lunar X Prize journey with Google Moon, check out the stars in Google Sky and get a leg up on what could be the next competition at Google Mars.

So, what did I see that I thought was interesting or cool? There were a few trends I noted:

- Social Games. The concept is that people are playing games, together, in a social setting. For example, using cell phones to play games on a projected image (ie, in a movie theatre); sending text messages to advance a comic book story; moving as a group to control a flying horse; playing together while climbing a fake rock wall.

- Robots. Robots. Robots. As always with any tech expo, there were lots of robots. The robots tended to fall into two groups: functional robots designed to assist with certain tasks (exploration, assisting people with getting around, looking for bad guys) and robots designed to mimic people (with real plastic faces, hands, or even whole bodies).

- Exploration. Beyond the Google Lunar X Prize and the explorer bots, there was a whole pavilion on various exploration technologies that could be used to explore the moon, Mars, and beyond.

- Brain Wave Detection: There were many exhibits showing how brain waves could be used to perform basic control of a computer (yes/no answers, stress level detection, basic google maps control).

- Multi-Touch Interfaces: Interfaces where you could control with one or more fingers/hands, and where multiple people could interact with the interface at the same time, were in multiple pavilions. Think the iPhone/iTouch interface, but on the scale of a massive 52 inch display. Pretty impressive.

- Green. The entire "Future of Green" pavilion was about green-related technology. Many of these items were oriented towards making the consumer aware of how much energy they were using (LED power strips, "flower" lamps, projected wall clocks with energy level display, etc). There were also quite a few green energy items like wind turbines, solar panels, and bicycle power.

Items I thought were the coolest were (with the pavilion and a short description):
- News at Seven (Entertainment; virtual news anchor with text/video/pictures gathered from websites)
- Recon Scout (Security; remote control surveillance robot shaped like a dumbbell and just as sturdy - throw it through a window, drop it from a height, it rights itself and starts sending back images)
- Morpho Towers (out front; magnetic liquid that moved based on sound. Really cool.)
- E-TAF Automatic Door (Design; a door composed of horizontal slats that only opened as far as needed. Wonderfully futuristic.)
- Twin Robot (Robotics; a Chinese researcher made a robot that looks *just like him*. Really. It's kind of creepy.)
- Shadow Dextrous Hand (Robotics; robotic arm and hand powered by hydraulics)
- Chroino and FT (Robotics; cute little robots that were remarkably agile and had lots of personality)
- A green roof composed of sod (Green; I so want this on my house.)
- Pull-cord power generator (Green; low-tech solution to power problems.)
- Multi-Touch Collaboration Wall (Communication; ten feet wide and three feet high, it was crowded all day because it was an absolute blast to use.)
- Txtual Healing (Communication; the "text message to story image" display. Pretty fun. I did messages for my kids and mailed pictures to them.)
- Virtusphere (Play; stand inside a sphere, put on glasses and gloves, and play a 3-D "fight the monster" video game. Or, as happened to most people, stumble around while staring at the ground and get killed a lot.)
- Megaphone (Play; the "use cell phone to play a game" item. This one cries out for large-scale deployment.)
- DigiWall (Play; the LED-equipped climbing wall. The kids on it were having a blast.)
- LifeStraw (Health; low-cost water filtering. $3 for a straw that does 700 liters, enough for one person for a year. A year!. They also just came out with a "family" version that does 10K liters, enough for a family's water usage for 2 years. Probably the single coolest thing I saw at the expo.)
- C-Leg System and Dynamic Arm Elbow (Health; artificial limbs that are highly functional and controllable using whatever muscle is present in the remaining limb. The dude who had one, who had lost both legs at the knee and an arm at the elbow, really seemed to like it.)

What was there that could relate to Hewlett-Packard? Not much. Certainly Xerox's booth bears a response and could point the way to more environmentally friendly printing supplies (once all the bugs are worked out). There were only a couple books where people could print things (beyond the Xerox booth): a custom book of photos/text (blurb.com - the books looked good); the 3D printer from Desktop Factory (pretty dang slick). I still think that HP should get into robots, but that's just my opinion.

Overall, I had fun at the expo. I definitely got a sense of things that are cutting-edge but that might just be commonplace in the next 10 years or so. I certainly would attend again (and probably will attend the next one to come to the West Coast, which should be 2 years from now).

Tags: cool, technology, wired nextfest
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