As Sensors Expo 2015 quickly approaches, it seems appropriate to give attendees, exhibitors, subscribers, and those unable to attend a glimpse of what will be happening at the show. Yes, there will be many educational and enlightening sessions dealing with all aspects of sensors and related technologies. There will be a plethora of existing, new, and yet to be developed sensors and designs. And of course, there may be sport. Essentially, if it's anything that even remotely relates to sensors, you will find it at Sensors Expo 2015.
Like most trade shows, there will be keynote speakers to jumpstart the festivities. This year's featured speakers are celebrities in their own right, rock stars of the tech community if you will, and each an expert in his field.
Kicking off the pre-conference is Roger Grace, president of Roger Grace Associates and an expert analyst of the MEMS market. For keynote speakers, we are honored to present Dr. Mike North, President and Producer & Host, North Design Labs & Discovery Channel, and Gadi Amit, Founder and Principal Designer, NewDealDesign.
As a prelude to what these experts will discuss at the show, we decided to get their insights on some important issues in the tech community. Unlike a general survey, four direct questions were presented in a remote roundtable format, i.e., via text and email. Here are the results.
1. There are probably more hot and growing technology markets now, maybe more so than the first internet boom. Obviously, sensors and sensor-related devices are playing a starring role in all. Although it's common practice to pursue studies that would place one in one of these desirable and profitable markets, what areas of technology do you see engineering students and new grads expressing a sincere passion for? Dr. Mike North says, "Being in San Francisco, I'm seeing huge interest by recent grads in striking out on their own as entrepreneurs. With the emergence of tools like Kickstarter, IndieGoGo, 3D printing, Low Volume Manufacturing, and Rapid Prototyping; entrepreneurial engineers can take an idea from concept to design to reality to business in extremely short time frames. In reality, this is becoming the way to bring a product to market. My record for bringing a physical good to market is idea to delivery of first product in 3.5 days."
Gadi Amit agrees on directions, stating "Technology is everywhere; it's cool and hip. Our newest batch of students entering college have grown up with cloud services, social media, the iPhone and wearable/connected devices. These are the interesting spaces, as they're so pervasive and engaging, and they're matching right up as being the growth and high-paying sectors. For what's new, what they're looking to: robotics, new types of sensors for the home, the body, and connecting these into experiences they expect – that's the passion." Roger Grace concurs, "Nadine Aubry, Dean of the School of Engineering at Northeastern University, points out that Northeastern University engineering students/graduates want to be entrepreneurs, and not necessarily work for established companies such as HP and Raytheon. Lots of these grads are into apps development, and you do not have to be an engineer to do this. I believe that the new engineering graduate is more money oriented than in previous generations. I also believe that they are interested in consumer products, things that they can personally use and have a personal relationship with. I designed communications systems for satellites; I do not think that many kids today want to go to the moon." In summation of these views, which seem to be in agreement, the trend for up and coming engineers is toward a self-employed, entrepreneurial path. This indicates a direction that will focus on trendy designs for quick initial profits, perhaps, with larger developments in the future. Personally, I don't want to go to the moon either – there are no Sicilian restaurants up there.
2. As technology keeps leaping forward, enthusiastic feedback from consumers seems to be fair to cool. One observation is that designers seem to be creating products of their own vision as opposed to researching the genuine needs and wants of consumers. Briefly put, the market is telling consumers "you need this" as opposed to "you asked for it, so we made it". Do you agree or disagree, and could you give an example either way?
"I totally agree", states Roger, "see my previous answer, which I answered without being influenced by this question. He strongly continues, "This is nothing new, I've witnessed this throughout 30 plus years in the sensors business. I personally like the Nest thermostat because the company saw that a problem existed for a smart thermostat that could save the homeowner some money by reducing energy consumption and the carbon footprint. Bottom line, I believe these people did some smart and extensive market research to sense an unfulfilled need. I know that this is unusual for management of sensor companies to want to do research because I believe that they are too arrogant to face the fact that they do not know what the market needs, but would rather have fun in designing something. A well thought-out and resources market research activity is the key to successful products, but getting engineers to believe in this is not easy. They are of the opinion that 'if you create a better mousetrap, customers will beat a path to your door' and this is only true in rare occasions."
On the other hand, Gadi says, "I disagree honestly, it's a complicated problem you lay out, and honestly I'd lay that on the tech companies and technology constraints rather than designers. I see everyday someone coming in with the newest technology, just searching for a place for it. Many times their use-case is way off, or its not engaging to the normal consumer." He offers the solution, "That's our job then, as designers, to really push forwards what's going to work and fit these into our culture. Most of what we're working on is so new that asking someone if they want it just doesn't work. I mean, if you asked the average consumer if they wanted a 5" screen and app-store during the Moto Razr phone era of 2004 you'd get laughed at. But that phone is here because people want it. The same can be said about the smart-watch market, and that's a 'wait and see' – maybe it's a technology still looking for a use-case. That's why designers are more important than ever, to really find the nexus of the technology and the 'how' that really relates."
Dr. North also sees "The old paradigm of long drawn out market research and product development cycles are fading." But he reasons that's because "The rate at which it's possible to create a product and test a market has accelerated to the point where you can just try something and see if it works; hats off to the lean start up model. The goal is to test something as fast as possible, or in other words fail as quick as possible before expending to much development time and capital. While the hit rate may be lower, the test frequency is much higher. I would argue that this strategy, while producing a lot of stuff people don't want, is going to lead to more disruptive innovation. I'd even take it a step further and say incremental innovation is not even innovation; it's optimization."
When asked what is one of the most radical designs he has seen recently, "Hard to pick out the most radical thing I've seen. I'm always interested in where technology converges. Take for instance wearables and drones. Why not make a wearable drone? Nixie did it. I think that's pretty radical."
We could say that technology has gotten to the point where a designer can crank anything out of his or her imagination, run it up the proverbial flagpole, and see if the market salutes in record-breaking time. Apparently, market research costs can be avoided in favor of a less expensive prototype and faster testing. That could explain the number novel devices out there that may or may not actually work as well as we would like.
That's an initial taste, next time we'll see what the speakers hope to impart to Sensor Expo attendees, colleagues, and peers, as well as what they hope to go home with after the show. But here's a concept you really need to get a handle on: YOU MUST ATTEND. Until next time, be sensible and register to attend Sensors Expo 2015 in Long Beach, CA. You'll do more than just work on your tan. ~MD