The big circus came to to town today. Lots of smoke, bright lights, burn effects, people, dark cloth drapings, booths, people, ideas, innovation, more people, design, and killer apps.
Due to good luck, I won an internal lottery at Haaga-Helia and got to visit the most hyped, biggest startup slash venture capital event in the world. In a way, it’s like the London Book Fair for nerds. 17,000 people are estimated to visit this year’s show, and well they may, there is lots to see. Especially if you are a Venture Capitalist with money burning in the pockets – no shortage of startups to spend it on.
I went there looking for possible companies to co-operate with. In January I will have my first implementation of an innovation course, and clients for it are always in demand. Also, I wanted to see if there were things in robotics and 3D that could be lifted (never walk around with your hands in your own pockets, you see). First I walked around the entire venue to see what they had to offer, and it was a large venue indeed.
My first point of interest was a Russo-Finnish robot environment called Robbo. It looked very suitable for schools and clubs, but a little too sophisticated for our needs here at Haaga-Helia. I need to get the students to work out much of what was handed out directly in this very nicely made package. It is another Arduino based system, showing once more the power of open source; anyone can take an Arduino, build a complete package around it, and market it as their own. Robbo looked solid enough and offers much for schools.
Next, I wandered into another fine product from the Russian Skolkovo entrepereneurial village: Marvelmind. This system is a network of precise ultrasound sensors, which you can place in a room or any space you want to map. The sensors begin discussing with each other, and locate the others to produce an two-way array of distances between the sensors. Then you take one more beacon and start wandering in the space, and the networked sensors will track your location in space and time.
They called it the Indoor GPS, and with a precision of 2cm, it is actually a fine tool for almost any spatial mapping. I got to thinking how this system could be utilized in our curriculum and will most likely put in a purchase request for this. I mean, it’d be a cool thing to build an Arduino based vehicle that could travel along the edges of rooms and work out the floor plan, or deliver goods.
Then I ran into Suunto, one of the flagship companies of Finnish innovation and high tech products. They were out with Movesense, a new system for gaining activity data from movement. They used to have a version of this out already, attached to Reima kids’ clothes, and I think that is certainly one of the best areas for activity tracking anyway. They are starting a beta program for developers, so of course I went for this. Let’s see if we get in – they’d be a killer partner for the innovation course.
ABB was presenting a selfie stick equipped robot this time. The idea is that unlike old robots, which had to be caged for the protection of people, this new line of robots can actually co-exist on the production line, since it has some sensors relaying data of humans in its proximity. That’s a nice idea actually. I also enquired about the IdeaHub Innovation challenge, which may end a little too soon for us. But maybe I can get the Haaga-Helia 3D Club to get interested in this challenge.
Nokia brought the new OZO multidirectional camera with attached VR glasses to the fair. To be sure, my glasses prevented me from testing any of the multitude of VR goggles on display, but maybe in the future they will become a little more usable, and not so much as a milk carton slapped on the eyes. Nokia also featured heavily in the robot bus system, and if you look closely, you’ll get the pun on the website name there: sohjo is Slush in Finnish.
There was one stand where I spent a little more time. It was Texel Graphics, and they had a full body 3D scanner. Technically it wasn’t very special, but its scanning speed of 35 seconds and the output of .OBJ and .STL file formats along with a bunch of others were. I queued and got my chance to get a full body scan, which was then mailed to me. Now I can separate my head and 3D print it, wheeey.
For me the most interesting stand was that of 3DBear. This startup is aiming to take away the complexity of 3D printing by allowing users to create meshes on the go, using a Unity game engine based user interface. This system is aimed at schoolchildren, who can enjoy new ways of seeing 3D content on tablets and computers, play games which result in them getting a printable mesh as a reward, then continue to printing it.
I have to say this is genius. When you look at RepetierHost, the most widely used 3D printing software, the amount of settings is daunting, but for the most part, your well calibrated printer doesn’t require you to edit the settings every time. When the teacher has set the printer properly, the kids can just complete the assignment and be given something to print. Imagine seeing a heart in the health education class, playing a connect-the-dots game to show she has learned something, and getting a printed heart to take home to show the parents. The positive reinforcement cycle is in full swing.
Using a game engine for a starting point for 3D printing was another excellent idea. While 3D modeling isn’t hard once you understand the basics, doing just that may be tough, when you use a full blown program like Blender. Tinkercad, which used to be a standalone product, was acquired by Autodesk, and turned into a web-based 3D editor. It serves the entry level 3D role very well indeed, but the 3DBear approach works great the first line of three-dimensional thinking.
On the whole, 3D printing was not among the top issues, and that’s fine – it has passed the peak hype, and appeared as part of something else. This is exactly as it should be. I saw printers at robotic systems purveyors, printing accessories and parts and tools, but no one except 3DBear was in the core of 3D printing.
So, my main takeaways from Slush 2016?
- Smoke is nice as an effect, but once you have the entire venue in a blue haze, it loses something of the bite.
- The badge system is way out of sync with what you’d expect from Slush. I wandered around the fair, once passing a security guard who challenged me: “Where are you going?” I pointed at my badge and said, over there with the rest of the Slush people. He let me pass, as well as about eight people who just walked past him. It turned out I was entering a separate area for which my badge wasn’t authorized.
- You can’t expect a crowd of 17,000 to be a manageable bunch of people who can be guided by one guard per 4,000 people.
- Why don’t they have an electronic badge with barriers that open for those with the right badges? I’ve seen it happen in a museum, for goodness sake. It’s not a cost issue, given the ticket prices.
- Also, the badges could be used to follow your trail at the fair, and have the companies where you stop for more than 2 minutes access to your email address (if you opt in of course). Or I could actively touch a pole with the tag at the stand; that was also installed at the Ypres museum as I report in the link above. There’s nothing like a personalized visit.
- I did stop and listen to the speeches too, but I wasn’t blown away by them either. I expected more, but the hype has now surpassed the real added value. And I don’t want to see the same faces appearing as talkers in the morning news, in the newspapers, on websites, and on Slush, rehashing the same “how I got where I am” story.
- I hear Slush used to be a trade show with ADHD and fireworks everywhere. This wasn’t. Well the fireworks were there but for what effect?
Still, being at Slush was a treat. And hey – I got the ukulele, courtesy of Yousician.com!