On May 14 and 15 I had the opportunity... well, ok, I bought
the opportunity to spend two packed days at the
"Hardware Innovation Workshop" in San Mateo, CA. preceding the California Maker Faire. The organizers at Make: who are arguably the true stewards of the "Maker Movement" did a great job organizing the event. If you don't know what the Maker Movement is yet, it is time to get to know it. A quick Google search will reveal some recent activities involving activities at the White House including a Google+ hangout: http://www.whitehouse.gov/blog/2013/03/27/white-house-hangout-maker-movement
, a demo for President Obama by 11 year old wiz kid Sylvia Todd from the Sylvia's Super Awesome Maker Show: http://sylviashow.com/
and story after story of maker meetups, "maker spaces", and online forums or communities of maker people helping each other make gizmos, gadgets, inventions, kinematic creations and generally anything themselves. Makers use anything from unused toys, computers and printers and leverage heaps of new (and old) electronic pieces and parts that may have been hard to find in the past without websites like Sparkfun.com, Adafruit.com to build their own creations.. It is even easier than ever to reach into Chinese Manufacturing resources from AliExpress.com and Taobao.com where electronics and components used to make virtually anything can be found in small quantities for cheaper than ever and shipped to your door. And now with do it yourself 3D printers becoming more accessible and affordable and have-someone-else do it services like www.Shapeways.com, regular joes are becoming product developers and manufacturers in their own right.
The workshop was an amazing mix of talented speakers, positive TED talk-like inspiring messages and deep and useful content for makers of all types. I appreciated the diverse mix of content presented. The organizers at Make did an incredible job of packing the two days full of topics ranging from Toys, to Electronics, manufacturing, 3D Printing, Autopilot drones, robotics, "soft" new materials capable of making elastic circuits or conductive plastics, crowd-funding and Venture Capitalist investing. The material was presented in a way that catered to the individual maker hoping to do more with their maker bug whether it was for personal satisfaction, sharing ideas with a few or to those that aspire to grow large companies from the ground up.
In this entry I'm sharing my personal notes from the visit.... Don't get too excited... the notes don't hold a candle to actually being there and I frankly haven't edited the notes for grammar, spelling or accuracy, so take it for what it is... some personal notes that some guy decided to post. It is roughly 33 pages of thoughts, some complete and others grossly underrepresented. That said, I've tried to include a header for each speaker and topic and in many cases typed out some of the key points and lists on the slides presented.
Maybe it is just me... but I don't think so. There is a nearly tangible buzz in the air... something that feels like the next bubble, maybe the next internet startup wave... but this time it is not the internet.
I was only partially on the initial personal computer wave... I wanted an IBM PS2 like my neighbor. He had everything cool including the best Star Wars figures, the best lego sets, the most Hotwheels and a the complete GI Joe/Cobra action figure setup... I however, ended up making due with an Atari 800 I got for Christmas using the "Basic" cartridge. I had a few books that had full program examples. I particularly liked typing in some of the graphics programs... one of them consisted of three or four 3d cylinders that shimmered in different shades of gold that gave them a nifty rotating effect. I would copy the programs line by line and eventually learned enough about the "plot" command to build my own representation of a little pixelated car that "drove" across the screen. Later, inspired by Dungeons and Dragons and "Choose Your Own Adventure" books, I created, but never finished a text based adventure game... all of this was when I was in 8th grade.
After the Atari 800, I didn't own another computer until I was out of college when I bought my Packard Bell desktop computer and signed up with a Prodigy account. The sound of the modem connecting felt like I was about to open a door to an incredible new landscape where connecting with random people and getting answers (right or wrong) was a "connect" button away. But by then, I was only another eager consumer and didn't have the inside track to the technical world as an International Business major with a minor in Japanese.
Well, after a couple decades exploring the world of International business I'm back. Obsessed again with how things work, how the physical world and the technical world combine to maybe make us more than we are, I'm exploring again. I've discovered electronics, micro-controllers, robotics, 3d graphic designing programs, CNC machines and inventing. But this time I'm not letting go.
Something has started that has yet to take full shape but I suspect we will see the next amazing developments in technology bubbling up to the surface in the next decade. The last several decades have been about software and networks and, with the exception of some very specialized uses, the consumer hardware created was really only there making that software run faster at home, work or on the go. Now, we are seeing everyday people crave solutions and they are beginning to make their own solutions in the garages, workshops, basements and living rooms again. The internet and the networks that support it are helping people connect to exchange information and dream up and implement new ways to research, fund and test their ideas without needing to create massive business structures or deplete their life savings.
Kickstarter (kickstarter.com) is one good example where crowd funding is helping people with great ideas get those ideas out to people that can benefit from them. Places like the Tech Shop (techshop.com) give makers access to learning, software and equipment that allows anyone to build a real working prototype and technical forums provide visibility to all the mistakes others have made before them and the answers that got them out of a jam... and when in a real pinch, there is an amazing community of people that help each other figure out the answers... most of the time for absolutely nothing in return other than the satisfaction knowing that they helped.
As people start taking control of their own technology again and allow themselves the freedom to improve or "upgrade" their lives, we will certainly see a development and refinement in components, and parts that enable in-home and work automation and productivity that escapes the boundaries of the computer screen and jumps into everyones physical world.
Here is a great example that I love (as you can tell by the videos of my own Roomba based telepresence bot on this site).http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1452620607/botiful-telepresence-robot-for-android?ref=search
Take a look and support her campaign. I have something similar at home but I want to see these or something like it at my work too. Imagine taking control of a bot at a remote office to attend a meeting without burdening someone to "dial in" to a conference call. Imagine having a remotely controlled bot that you can use from anywhere to feed your pets, water your plants or check to make sure you actually did turn off the stove or close the back door as though you were there in the house.
The US needs to overcome some pre-conceived ideas of robots... either they are for geeks the like Star Wars or paranoids that think they are going to enslave us... both I perceptions I think will continue to be there while automation gently sneaks into our lives in other forms. Cars already park themselves and map our streets without our instruction and telepresence bots like the one above will start out as a remote control utility but once we are used to something being in our house, we'll quickly look for ways for it to do some things for us without needing to control it. I'm not sure I subscribe to an eventual "singularity" but it is clear automation is both desired and will be achievable in many different ways that will continue to change our lives.
There are two awesome little kids in my life, my 7 year old son and 5 year old daughter, who, like most parents I assume, are forming my world as much as I'm helping to form theirs.
About a month before my son was born, I woke up at 4:33am in a panic (I remember that time in the clock specifically... which is just an indication of how powerful the moment was). I was worried about what I could possibly teach my son that could help him through life without needing to learn everything the hard way!
Well I know now that the moment I had, while profound at the time was mostly the naive fear and excitement of being a new parent. But at the time something crystallized for me. I thought, in spite of all the schooling, philosophies of life, religions and self help theories out there, life can be explained in simple terms that it is really about staying on a path, maybe on a path to "goodness"... and that there are many distractions that can detour us from that path but if we have a way to get back, we'll be ok. I would like to think in many ways my thought was similar to the ways the founders of our country were thinking as they were about to give birth to a nation (ok, I realize I'm stretching myself into a self-elevating territory that many patriots will scoff at, but bear with me for a moment)... "The pursuit of happiness"... with a very key word that may not get as emphasized as it should... "pursuit" may be more important than the actual end goal of "happiness".
That night I took those thoughts and organized them in the best way most corporate employees know how... I put them into a stuffy PowerPoint presentation. It felt so anti-climactic. I so much wanted to have the skill to make my profound thoughts as equally graphically profound with 3d imagery bringing the reader on a more visually pleasing journey of what I had in mind... But I had to settle with Microsofts PowerPoint templates and clip art. Maybe someday I can turn this into something more like what I had in mind, but for now I thought it would be interesting to share.
Take a look at my view of "The Path" in the attached picture:
I wanted to put this on because it is an important philosophy that works its way into the goals and approaches Life Upgrades will take as a company, helping people on their journey to stay on the path or get back to it after one of life's many wonderful distractions away from the path. Those detours we take define who we are and we shouldn't give them up... The idea is to recognize when the detours have taken us astray and are somehow leading us somewhere we don't or won't want to be. This is clearly a hard thing to recognize and there is little anyone can do to help people recognize when that detour leads to a dead end. But when that recognition happens, whether through the help from others or through a personal epiphany, Life Upgrades should be one of the tools that can help with the next steps. That is a huge leap for any company to claim they can contribute to, but an honest hope nonetheless.
Quantum innovators has the right mix of a practical understanding of what it will take to make robotics useful and a website with some imagery with a "cool factor".
I'm looking forward to working more closely with the team in charge of HomeToys. They have some great work in progress for home automation and have also started publishing a newsletter on "Robotcs Today". I think they are tapped into what is happening.
In looking for other thoughts on upgrading your life I came across this link. http://www.buildfreedom.com/lists/upgrade.html
There is some great information and additional links that represent a few ways to upgrade your life... but not quite the same way we are thinking about it. Take a look to get some ideas for upgrading your approach to life, the way you think about and approach health, finance and general self improvement.
Life Upgrades (our company) is not about self improvement... it is about leveraging tools, technology and information that is already available to help you be a better you.
I'll use this location to capture links and thoughts for those interested in exploring trends with Life Upgrades. Our consultants are continuing to look for new trends in personal and professional productivity. Productivity is a very loose word in our context. The word is mostly used these days to describe types of software or applications to use. However, we are bringing productivity back to it's broader sense. How can we be more productive? Being more productive is not just a goal, it is a necessity in most lives these days. Information is more available to us than ever before and there is no turning back. Historically, the information that was available was slow to appear and typically somewhat well edited and reviewed. Today and forever more, information is beyond our capacity to consume and beyond reason to blindly trust. We believe that access to this information provides incredible opportunities for each of us if it can be harvested for consumption. We want input! .... but let's work together to make sure it is meaningful and reliable input so we can make important decisions quickly, spend less time researching and more time doing the things we love. Upgrade your life... more to come.