This week I’m at Intel Developer Forum (IDF) and it’s an incredibly exciting event. It has an energy that I haven’t seen in a long time and each floor has amazing demonstrations: sensor-equipped BMX bikes doing stunts on ramps, amazing gaming PCs and race driving simulators, 3D printers, active smart glasses and goggles, 3D VR headsets, and some new rather impressive collaboration gear. However, the two best events are the opening and closing keynotes. The opening keynote showcases Intel’s present, which is great. Brian Krzanich, Intel’s CEO, has become a great story teller and the story this year was both positive and fun. But the closing keynote is what I most look forward to. It is given by Intel’s secret weapon, the industry’s only captured Ethnologist and Futurist, Genevieve Bell. And this keynote is about the near-term future.
In the past, we’ve seen technology that could display emotions, robots, broadcast power (something that would have made Tesla proud), and just a touch of technology magic. But Intel was created by makers, and IDF is focused on those who build things, so this year the theme is makers. The industry came from garages and, in a way, this is a tribute to them, because it focuses on folks who are making technically magical things in their garages today.
Bell opened with a trip back to the past and talked about how folks from Edison to Ford were makers. I kind of zoned out when they played the sound of a talking doll that Edison created that likely scared the heck out of any children who were unlucky enough to get it (apparently, it didn’t sell well).
One person Bell spoke about was Lillian Gilbreth, who is responsible for how kitchens are laid out, the bins in refrigerators, and that pedal on trashcans.
The Extraordinary Explosion of Making
This is the revolution where the hacking movement jumped from software to hardware: where folks discovered new tools and ways to create things in the real world. One of the first stories in Make Magazine was a story on kite photography. Not taking pictures of kites, but using specially built kites to take inexpensive aerial pictures. Apparently, they used Silly Putty for the timer and a ping pong ball to signify when the picture was taken.
The industry has evolved to create the Maker Faire, where folks get together, very much like at the old county fairs, and share their projects and ideas. It makes me wonder if this will eventually restore the World’s Fair, where previous generations saw and were motivated by the amazing things that were coming back then. Currently, 160 Maker Faires are planned all over the world.
America’s Greatest Makers
One of the really cool things coming out of this event is a new reality show/contest backed by Intel and Turner Broadcasting, called America’s Greatest Makers. With a $1M prize, this show will be focused on those who can come up with new, incredible and magical ideas and give them a chance to change the world. I’m expecting some incredible machines and, frankly, I’m excited because I might actually be able to compete in this one.
Bell walked us through a number of interesting inventions that have come from some of the inventors in the audience. These included a light painting tool, which allows you to paint with light in free space, a skittles sorter created by a guy who was colorblind (I can relate), and a robotic pet feeder.
She then showcased the Intel Scarab. Apparently, Intel is really focused on creating lots of little robots that will take part in the coming robot apocalypse. You remember scarabs, right? They are the bugs that ate the flesh off the slow-running folks in the Mummy movies. These were 3D printed and they were point source lighted because, you know, it is far better to be eaten alive by creatures that light up attractively at night. It should be noted that Intel started with spiders that looked a bit like the replicators in Stargate. No wonder Krzanich had to say, several times, that they weren’t going to end the world.
This was followed by 3D printed owls called Worry Birds. They’re a tad Harry Potter-ish and designed to respond to words they see in Twitter. They were monitoring the words Intel and shark attacks; given this presentation, I would have had them watching flesh-eating robotic scarabs and replicating robotic spiders.
Makers and Ebola
The session closed with a showcase of how a maker fixed a problem with the Ebola epidemic. The problem was that they couldn’t use traditional computers because they would spread the virus if taken in and out of contaminated wards. So they created a set of connected tablets that were sealed and could be immersed in chlorine, and these were used to handle the crisis. Even the servers are submersible, so they could be sterilized. And the chlorine mixture is way stronger than bleach.
Now that is making a difference.
Wrapping Up: Supporting the Maker Movement
Intel is behind this type of work because it believes a revolution is going on. Innovation has been driven back into garages and amazing ideas have again drifted away from companies and back to where they originally were — in the homes and garages of the people who again will create the future. Intel wants to be a big part of that future and that is why Intel’s CEO and its secret weapon futurist ethnologist are so focused and excited about the maker movement.
Making is about changing the world in both big and small ways and it represents much of the future of innovation and technology.
Rob Enderle is President and Principal Analyst of the Enderle Group, a forward-looking emerging technology advisory firm. With over 30 years’ experience in emerging technologies, he has provided regional and global companies with guidance in how to better target customer needs; create new business opportunities; anticipate technology changes; select vendors and products; and present their products in the best possible light. Rob covers the technology industry broadly. Before founding the Enderle Group, Rob was the Senior Research Fellow for Forrester Research and the Giga Information Group, and held senior positions at IBM and ROLM. Follow Rob on Twitter @enderle, on Facebook and on Google+