The year is 2017. You have access to a new sensing technology, one that can see, hear, remember, and understand everything around you. It’s tiny, so it can be put something you wear or carry 24/7. What would you do with it? What would you call it? What would it replace?
This is the challenge Intel, working with Germany’s Hyve AG, set before the innovators of the world on 6 November 2012 as the “Intel Future Contest”. The contest is accepting entries online through 18 December in the form of videos, drawings, or just detailed text.
Asking people 'what would you do if you had this kind of a device' is a good way to uncover insights about desires, fears, challenges related to a particular technology," says Marina Gorbis, executive director of the Institute for the Future and one of the members of the contest's jury. "The Internet allows us to quickly access such insights from thousands of people around the world. In this sense, the Internet is a giant sensing engine of its own. I think the process is a valuable way for shaping technology development, including masses of people in thinking about possible futures and participating in the design process."
More than 200 ideas have been submitted so far. A fair number, not surprisingly, are for some kind of wearable virtual assistant, activity tracking, or memory capture gizmo. But that’s not all people are thinking about. A few examples:
—The Gardener. Instead of giving the sensing device to a person, this innovator puts it in the garden, where it takes control, monitoring temperature, humidity, and other conditions, and taking note of what plants are supposed to b there and what aren’t (weeds). The entrant thinks such a device will make gardening accessible to people who don’t have time every day or week to take care of their gardens.
—Skin Energy/Mini Wind Turbine. One innovator sees an opportunity for 100 gm wind turbines that sense and respond to minor wind movements as well as gusts for use in charging of mobile devices (say, while you’re riding your bike) as well as for stationary lighting.
—Smart Parking. This complex system for vehicles sharing a common secure parking area—a garage under an apartment building, say—tracks vehicles coming and going and directs them to available parking spaces, possibly by relocating a robotic pathway.
Entries will be evaluated by experts and voted on by the online community; a jury will make the final determination of winners, to be notified in January. Prizes of cash (for the first three finishers; $5000, $2500, and $1500 respectively) and products or vouchers (for the next seven finishers) are being provided by Hyve.
Tekla S. Perry is a senior editor at IEEE Spectrum. Based in Palo Alto, Calif., she's been covering the people, companies, and technology that make Silicon Valley a special place for more than 40 years. An IEEE member, she holds a bachelor's degree in journalism from Michigan State University.