UPDATE - Nextfest: Toyota shows off 36 mph chair

Posted by Wolfgang Gruener

Chicago (IL) – Wired’s 2008 Nextfest opened this weekend in Chicago’s Millennium Park. Its limited size may not be able to keep the event’s promise to “see the future”, but if you live in the Chicago area and are in Chicago downtown anyway you should stop by the Nextfest tent, which is open to the public. And if you can’t make it, you can simply click through pictures and see what we found to be most interesting. Update 9/29 10:54 pm EDT: SLIDESHOW added.

 



Xerox erasable paper

I admit that the Xerox erasable paper was the only reason why I actually decided to stop by the Nextfest and ironically I felt it was one of the most boring things to see. It is still a project that is stuck deep in the research phase. The paper itself is very thin, with a distinctive smooth yellow coating. Prints are done via UIV light, which cause a chemical reaction. The print will disappear over time and at least in theory allow you to reuse the paper.

At this time, the prints last a few hours, but PARC scientists, who develop the technology, believe they can take the time frame to about 7 days. If you need to delete contents earlier, you can send the paper simply through a heat source and get rid of prints right away. So much for the theory.

In real life it seems that the paper will look awfully wrinkled once it has gone through several hands and even worse when it has gone through printers multiple times. That is why PARC suggests using cardstock once the technology becomes available, but even then a reused paper may not be something you would want to use in a presentation. But for basic office applications, it is clearly an idea with future.

 

Xerox also had its solid ink a water purification device (which works with pollutants down to a size of 3 microns) and a piracy-proof printing technology on display.

The latter is already on sale and is supported with some of Xerox’ high end-printers. It allows users to embed watermarks in a document through a different distribution of ink within a certain space. These watermarks cannot be captured by a printer and can make, for example, tickets copy-proof.           

Toyota i-swing

Toyota has been working on single-person-vehicles for several years and the most recent idea is the i-swing. It is basically a futuristic arm chair powered by an electric motor that will accelerate the 3-wheel vehicle to a speed of 36 mph (the demonstration device was limited to 5 mph). Controlled by two joysticks, the i-swing is said to have a range of about 20 miles and either this unit or a revised model is planned to be put into production. We heard that the price might be in the $7000-$8000 range.

The brief demonstration looked fancy, definitely more fashionable than riding your average Segway. But at 36 mph? Without any protection in the front and without airbags? We are not so sure about this one.  

Read on the next page: Brainball, Saazs ultra-efficient lights


Brainball

You just can’t hold any technology tradeshow anymore and forget brain-controlled applications. Nextfest featured a particularly interesting software, called Brainball: A headstrap measures and collects brain activity and translates the data into information to move a physical ball on a table. Two players sit across a table and the creators of the game, Interactive Institute, claim that the ball always moves away from the stress to the calm.

It may have been pure coincidence, but as long as we watched the game being played, women always won.

Saazs Planilum Lights

French company Saazs showed its Planilum lights, which use the same power as standard light bulbs, but are vastly more efficient – they are also promised to last 20 years or 50,000 hours. Planilum lights are integrated in panels and are driven by plasma gas trapped inside the panel, which is just about 0.8 inches thick. The manufacturer claims that the lights can cover a 400 sqft area with just 100 watts of power consumption.

You can’t buy the lights as standalone products, as they are sold directly to (high-end) furniture manufacturers. And no, they are not cheap. Small 3-ft panels start in the $3300 range, while more elaborate designs will exceed $10,000.

Read on the next page: Modular snake robot, iPoint Presenter, Robokind


Modular snake robots

There were quite a few robots on display, such as a remote-controlled lunar explorer robot vehicle by NASA, robots that can break and reassemble themselves automatically, as well as Carnegie-Mellon’s modular snake robot. Designed for search and rescue missions, the camera-equipped robot can wiggle itself pretty much through any territory, even through thin pipes. They may not be able to rescue anyone, but they surely will help search missions.

iPoint Presenter

The iPoint Presenter is a familiar concept that can be described as a Microsoft Surface device without the need for actually touching a screen or table. The technology is based on cameras integrated in a case the size of a mini-tower desktop PC that try to recognized fingers and their movements. The technology is not limited on the number of fingers being detected so multiple people can interact with both hands at the same time.

The demonstrations included writing on the screen to demonstrate the accuracy of the technology and the common photo organizing app, in which photos can be tossed around on a floating surface and even turned.

It looks like this technology is actually becoming much more robust these days and while using the iPoint Presenter is still a bit awkward for newbies we wonder if the game consoles of the future will actually use a similar technology?  

Robokind     

I would have liked to see this one in action, but it wasn’t set up on press day. Robokind from Hanson Robotics (there are three in existence at this time) is developed as a companion for, well, lonely people. It is 17 inches tall and weighs about 6 pounds. The developers say it can walk, talk and see. He can engage in discussions and make independent decisions. Inventor David Hanson claims that his “animated persona is designed to someday surpass human levels of intelligence.” But as said, he was not working when we were there and we would hope that he will get a more likeable face down the road.