2012 round up part 1 – Emerging tech

Starting off the 2012 roundups: an entry for geekiest in the series.


Controllers and prototyping tools continued to improve
We at MB like to explore new interfaces and prototyping tools in our innovation projects. By the end of 2012, a number of new products in this area were nearing completion.

Leap Motion’s incredibly sensitive controller promises fine-grained gestural control. FormLabs promises a much higher-resolution consumer 3D printer. And Nortd’s open-source lasersaur is working to make laser cutters more accessible to small organizations and dedicated hackers, similar to what the RepRap did for 3D printing (although currently the bill of materials weighs in at over 6500EUR, so there remain practical limitations to overcome).

On the whole, 2012 has brought consolidation and improvement in this area, with more promised just over the horizon.


The internet of things remained imminent
In the same vein, the end of 2012 brought a rash of pronouncements that 2013 will be the year that the internet of things really starts to happen. Really.

If that’s the case, what happened in 2012? I saw foundation-laying, strengthened technology, and improved usability.

The Open Internet of Things Assembly placed a stake in the ground for what an open source internet of things should look like, bringing together learnings from open source software, hardware, and data.

Pachube, a long-standing service for uploading and storing sensor data (it has described itself as the duct tape of the internet of things), rebranded as Cosm and launched a new website with much improved documentation. IFTTT, an incredibly easy way to connect online services, added connections to physical devices, including home automation and body logging hardware and little USB lights. The Raspberry Pi, a UK-based $25 computer (sans peripherals), launched with a lot of press – and a growing body of experimentation and documentation.

Among recently launched UK consumer products, MakieLab’s customized 3D-printed dolls (if not precisely IOT in the standard definition) and Berg’s Little Printer provide practical case studies of technological and design considerations for internet-connected products.


Meanwhile, many projects were funded
Kickstarter remains my favorite story of the year. Launched in 2009, it seemed to gather a critical momentum this year. I saw references to it nearly every day – from Pebble to Makey Makey to Hamlet as a Choose Your Own Adventure to aquaponics. In October the site opened to UK creators and saw more than £2m in backing in its first month.

It also raised questions about what crowd funding is, especially for investors. In July Pebble, which received over $10m in funding, slipped on its estimated delivery date, and backers’ responses ranged from understanding to anger. Some perceived their backing as an investment, with all the inherent risks, while others viewed it more as a product preorder. In September, Kickstarter revised its policies in an attempt to clarify that projects on the site are concepts, prototypes, and works in progress, not imminent product launches – and that Kickstarter is not a store.


Onward into 2013
Overall, 2012 felt like a year in which the current crop of emerging technology moved forward, but nothing earth-shatteringly new lurched onto the scene. Tools and infrastructure have gotten more robust and usable and there are increasing opportunities for creators to realize their ideas, but we’re still building a lot of toys and proofs of concept. If 2013 is going to be the Year of the Internet of Things, I’d like it to be one that takes advantage of these foundations and opportunities, in which we progress to work that is more compelling, useful, and ambitious.