The Next Big Thing
Posts about next generation technologies and their effect on business.

FIRST Robotics Competition game for 2014 announced

Saturday was the kickoff for the FIRST Robotics Competition (FRC) for 2014. I’ve participated for the last 6 years, locating judges for the North Texas competition. This year, the NTX FRC event will take place on March 13th-15th at the Irving convention center. If you’re in town – be there. It’s free and an exciting show.


FRC allows students to start from a standard kit of parts and some state of the art tools, received at the kickoff, and build a robot attempting to meet specified objectives. At the end of the build period, the robots are packed up and they do not see them again until their first competition.


This video is an overview of this year’s challenge – Arial Assist:



I’ve found FRC to be an eye opening experience for the students and the volunteers. Every year I am surprised at the ingenuity and commitment demonstrated by those participating.


The main competition is judged by numerous factors beyond how they perform on the field, like:

  • Coopertition (helping others that you are competing against)
  • Project planning
  • Quality/safety
  • Technical achievement
  • Business plan and marketing


The on field performance is not judged, since it has its own rules… Referees determine the winners of that portion of the competition.


The goal of FIRST is to encourage the understanding and passion around STEM. It has a proven track record of results that is hard to argue with.


You can see some video from previous year’s NTX FIRST competition, if you are interested.


Tags: future| Robotics| STEM
Labels: Future| Robotics | STEM

DARPA robotics challenge this week...

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) Robotics Challenge (DRC) Trials will take place Dec. 20 and 21 at the Homestead-Miami Speedway in Homestead, FL.


I’ll be traveling in FL that day but unfortunately not there. Spectators can watch as the robots test their capabilities to provide assistance in future natural and man-made disasters.


There are a number of videos on You Tube and this one is an overview of the event, from one robot teams perspective:


Once I get home, I hope to be able to dig into the results.

Full body Virtual Reality - in your future?

I recently saw a story about The Omni a new virtual reality gaming device that launched a funding campaign in Kickstarter. 

It is a platform with a low friction, grooved base that allows users to walk or run in place. That movement translates directly into any keyboard-compatible game, allowing for an even more natural interface. It can be used with head up displays like the Oculus Rift and motion controllers like the Xbox Kinect to provide a very high level of realism to virtual reality.


There are also health benefits, since you’re not just sitting playing – you actually need to move large muscles to play the game.


As I looked at the capabilities, I couldn’t help but wonder about its application in the business environment. Maybe not for the knowledge worker (although thinking about that may be innovative) but for training and orientation. Let’s say you are a telecom worker who goes in the field and makes adjustments at a communications center – it may help to know what it will look like when you get there.


Of course, why not put a robot in the corner of the building that can make adjustments… and you could interact with the environment without actually having to travel there. Moving bits not atoms




A view from within a game: 





Disruptive Technologies, Impact and interplay

futureplanning.pngRecently the Atlantic had an article where they took a McKinsey report on disruptive technologies and turned it upside down to say which ones were the most overhyped. The Atlantic reporter based their analysis on economic impact vs. number of relevant articles.


The technologies were (in order of least impact to most):

  1. Renewable energy
  2. Advanced oil and gas exploration and recovery
  3. Advanced materials
  4. 3D printing
  5. Energy storage
  6. Next-generation genomics
  7. Autonomous and near-autonomous vehicles
  8. Advanced robotics
  9. Cloud
  10. Internet of Things
  11. Automation of knowledge work
  12. Mobile Internet

This approach by the Atlantic may be a novel way to look at technologies but not all that accurate or effective from a strategic perspective, especially since I doubt that was the intent of the McKinsey article.


I was also a bit surprised by some of the technologies left out of the McKinsey report. Technologies like User Interface Advances were not really mentioned, and the interplay between technologies was just touched on.


The best example of interplay magnifying impact is the intersection of the mobile internet, the internet of things and automation of knowledge work. Where these intersect, the role of employees change – human augmented automation. An approach that takes advantage of the fact that people are not fungible, as opposed to how many business may look at employees.


A visioning document based on the interplay of technologies is likely worth its own report -- aiding IT leaders in thinking about enabling their business in whole new ways. In any case, the McKinsey report is worth the read.

Robots in space, more to come...

New Scientist has an article and video showing how astronauts can get helping hand from soccer ball robots.


Consumer electronics are the core of these robots as part of the NASA SPHERES project.


The goal here is to have robots take over repetitive or high risk tasks, freeing up the astronauts to work on higher value efforts. We’ll likely see much more down to earth examples of this in business and homes before the end of the decade.

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About the Author(s)
  • Steve Simske is an HP Fellow and Director in the Printing and Content Delivery Lab in Hewlett-Packard Labs, and is the Director and Chief Technologist for the HP Labs Security Printing and Imaging program.