We design through lenses.
For a while the best lens we had was mechanical. Divinci invented some pretty incredible devices through this lens - things like helicopters that we only much later realized were helicopters.
We also have a tendancy to use the newest or most familiar lens.
We have advanced to the point that we now have many, many lenses availible. But despite their availibility lately I’ve noticed that most of the engineers I interact with see the world and its problems through only the lens of software. And so they try to solve everything through software, including many things that have much easier solutions if looked at through a mechanical, social, political, or electrical lens. As an engineer try to remember that you have a toolbox full of lenses, not just one or two.
The following is a list, in no specific order, of problems I think will get solved. Some are very close to being solved already, and others are much further away. But in comon, I think all of them are best solved through the lens of hardware engineering.
Hot Topics / The Next Big Thing
These are all devices that fall into hot or up and coming markets. They are the biggest and furthest out there.
1. Bio Tools / Home diagnosis equipment (MRI, X-ray, etc)
PG Talked a bit about this here. Find a way to diagnose me 10 times a day, everyday when I walk into my bathroom. Have my doctor call me for a checkup, instead of everyone just waiting until I’m really sick. See BioMEMs. Why don’t cellphones have carbon monoxide sensors in them?
2. The Next Apple
ie. The next great consumer electronics company. Apple will probably fail (#5), none of the existing players will fill the void and a startup will probably become the next great consumer electronics company. Start by building a consumer product for visionary users, and continue to scale it into the majority (like Apple did). Pre-sell on kickstarter. Maket socially.
3. Battery technology
We need a 10-100x in batteries. That company will be worth 100BN easy. Think Tesla Motors, Electric Cars, Electric Planes, the increase in portable consumer electronics and the growing gap between expensive peak power and cheap (almost free) non-peak power. Don’t tackle it head on… Think nuclear batteries. Think grid power usage stabilization. Think usage patterns instead of chemical engineering.
4. Non-lethal weapons
Build a way to win a war without killing anyone. Think about non-lethal police forces, non-lethal big game hunting, mid-western americans with non-lethal purse guns. Note: I’m not advocating the morallity in any of this - just that someone, somewhere will build a huge business on this tech.
Things That Need Replacing
These are all old tech solutions to daily problems that need an update. Think cheaper, better, faster, and more connected.
5. Replace Fixed Phones, IP Phones And “Home Phone” Style Routers
How many phones do people need? Or businesses? Why aren’t we able to run our cellphones off the highly distributed, underused copper network, instead of the massively oversubscribed cell network? Especially when everyone in the office already has a phone or two in their pockets.
6. Replace Paper Notebooks
I fucking love my Blueline notebook, but it is painfully offline. There is isn’t an online version of working with pen and paper that has the same user experience (ie you don’t even need to be better!). iPad got 20% of the way there, but its just not distributed or availible enough yet.
7. Replace Whiteboards
Kinda like #6. Find a way to take brainstorming and get it online without changing user behaviour (ie. its still going to happen with markers in front of a whiteboard). Think intellegent displays & interactive spaces. Think smart phones, markers and walls working in harmony. “Share this image on the west wall”, or “Save this wall as a png”.
8. Replace Art / Displays Everywhere
Art exists for 2 reasons - bad ass wall coverings, and the vanity of ownership. Im talking about solving the first problem. Why can’t I get a big color e-ink wall canvas that updates before I get bored of the picture? See this. Maybe this is an extension on #7? TV’s very quickly fall into this problem / solution.
9. Replace Power Cords & Audio Cables
Plugging stuff in was soooo the 20th century. This could mean wireless power, more nuclear power, or maybe its just #3. And don’t stop at power cords - I want all cables to die. See this, and this.
10. Replace HID
Think mind control. Think keyboards that don’t suck. Think useful iPads. This gets incredibly important if 3D continues to take off. See this.
Hardware That Enables An API For Something Previously Untouchable
This is probably my favourite category. There is a huge opportunity in taking the “offline” and getting it online and accessible. Im not talking about the programatic APIs themselves but instead adding the capabilities to the devices such that an API could exist. Sandvine did it to aggregate internet traffic (analytics & billing). Meraki did it to wireless (replacing IT). Square did it to credit card stripes (replacing credit cards). And Lockitron is doing it with door locks (replacing keys).
11. An API For The Lights In My House / Office
Think smarter buildings and greener spaces. It would enable managing light based on occupancy, based on power prices, based on time of day, etc.
12. An API For Garage Doors
Lockitron for my garage. Why do we still have RF transceivers to open and close it? Why can’t I loan my garage to my neighbour without giving her a clicker or a key?
13. An API For Appliances
This is admittedly very internet of thingsy (adding a better UI/ UX/ Input/ Output to dumb appliances). But like the TV API I think you open up a tremendous, and mostly unknown set of apps when you put the worlds appliances online and build an API to control them. Dont do this. Do do this.
14. An API For My Environment
Think Nest and EcoBee which are both trying to do this by building better thermostats and the apps to control them. This ties into #1, #11 and #12.
15. An API For My Car
Cars have all kinds of cool sensors and micro-controllers in them… Why the hell aren’t they more accessible?
16. An API For My Pets
I can drive a robot dog from my cellphone, but when my real one runs away I have to wonder the streets yelling its name?!?! Where is the $50 collar and a $7 a month maintenance plan? How many pets are there worldwide - like a billion? Start by building super cheap M2M tech.
17. An API For My Friends
Not so much for control… Im thinking some sensors, GPS, 4G, etc. Maybe its a square like device for my phone? Think wearables, Google glass, and Pebble.
18. An API For My Cabinets / Bathroom / Fridge
Sensors rock. Why aren’t they everywhere? Why do I run out of drugs, food, toilet paper, etc, etc. This is the sense side of #11 and #12.
19. An API For My Health / Blood / Weight / Fitness / Heart
Think real-time health diagnostics. This is probably version 1 of idea #1. Think about a Square-like sensor for blood for non-diabetics. Think about embedable sensors. Think about a tricorder. This is a mashup of #1 and #17 / wearables.
20. An API For Human Memory
This one is probably a little further out there. But, we are already doing cool things with mind controlled devices. I want to see it get pushed from write-only (active control based on brain waves) to read-write (query the brain, active & passive control). You need to look at this.
These are ideas that didn’t really fit anywhere else…
21. iRobot For _______
Why is the coolest and most advanced robot I can buy a really, really dumb vacuum cleaner? I want more robots! I want them to solve more of my problems! Maybe the first step is just building things & spaces that are more accessible to our mechanical overlords?
22. Totally Low Tech Heated / Cooled Jackets / Clothes
Its cold here! But the worst part is that in the same day it can be 5C (cold) and 25C (warm). How do you dress for that? Why do I have to carry extra clothes? Can’t we solve this problem with tech? This is a 5W resistor and a LiPolly battery.
23. Smarter Cars, Trains, & Planes
Why can I still drive into the back of the guy in front of me? Do we still really trust people to make the best decisions when driving 140Km/Hr? Similar to #15 but much more active. Planes can fly themselves. Cars can almost fly themselves. But there is much more that can be done here by just augmenting the people.
24. Elon’s 5th Mode Of Transportation
You need to see this. It sounds pretty awesome. Someone should build it.
25. Disposable Electronics
I mean both a solution for the fact that we all through out our phones every 18 months anyways, and that our landfills are seemingly uncontrollably filling up with an impossible amount of electronic waste (most of it containing trace amounts of both really bad stuff, and the worlds most valuable minerals). And the solution might not be to stop the throwing out…
When assembling this list I took a page our of PG’s book and tried to think of the things we’ll look silly for in the future. What will future races of humans think was ridiculous about our culture, practices, devices and lifestyles? This is my list:
- Anything signed
- Carrying a phone / Having multiple phones
- Filming / Taking pictures
- Not having a plug near by / Not having power
- Wall warts
- DC -> AC -> DC
- High voltage transmission lines
- Not having a signal
- Ink / Toner / Printers
- Car Horns
- Reverse cameras / backing up / driving
- Symptom based diagnosis
- Burglar alarms
- Waiting for anything (think drip coffee makers)
- Anything that doesn’t have an API / Interface
- Non learning appliances
- Light switches
- Running out of supply of food / drugs / milk
- Music in bars / elevators
- Mechanical steering / steering wheels
- Mechanical toilets
- Mechanical suspension
- Public transportation drivers
- Mechanical keyboards
- Going to the bathroom?
- Searching for info
- Going to the gym / staying healthy / loosing weight
- Video game controllers
- Alarm clocks
- Debit card machines at the table
- Parking (illuminated Curbs & roadways?)
- Electronic waste