On the final day of SaltConf18, Cyndi Tetro, the head of the nonprofit Utah Women’s Technology Council and the CEO for ForgeDX, led the audience through a detailed description of how the physical world is the catalyst behind change and innovation in the digital universe.
Tetro began by discussing the products that have made inroads into improved business and customer experiences. For example, we all like to talk about IoT, but now some of us have dozens of connected devices that we use regularly. What about connected lawnmowers and sprinklers that can, Roomba-style, maintain your yard without your intervention? Or a coffee mug that can keep itself at a constant temperature and detect when it is filled with liquids? Analysts predict that by 2020, there will be 50 billion connected devices, and that number will increase exponentially from there.
When you visit one of the theme parks in Orlando or Southern California, you don’t think about all the connected devices there, and that’s the point: technology should be invisible. Disney and other park operators are constantly thinking about how to improve the visitor experience through better invisible technology.
I got a chance many years ago to tour Disneyland with one of its network engineers: back then, they could barely scratch the surface in terms of synchronizing the music with the Main Street Parade and putting in enough fiber to carry all their digital traffic. Since then, Disney engineers created their “World of Color” light show that depends on a variety of digital technologies to coordinate more than 18,000 elements such as lighting, water fountains and music. The entire point is to introduce the audience into the storyline, so they’re participants and not bypstanders. An important part of that endeavor is the World of Color Mickey ears that sync with the music and with other Mickey ears. Consider the technological feat required to not only project an entire show onto water, but to also get thousands of lighted hats to join the performance.
World of Color was created more than a decade ago, and since then the entertainment company hasn’t stopped innovating. Disneyworld today offers its Magic Band, which is used to open your hotel room door, charge purchases at the park’s various gift shops, skip lines for the rides, and personalize your family’s experience at the park. These are all examples of what Tetro says are, “finding the compelling real-world experiences and then using digital technology to make them possible.”
And then there was the 2016 Super Bowl, when Carolina Panthers All-Pro linebacker Thomas Davis ended up wearing a 3D-printed brace that was custom-made in a few hours. Davis’ arm was scanned, sent to Tetro’s company, and a printed cast was made to the arm’s exact specifications. Again, the digital tech—the 3D printed object—saved Davis’ day. Tetro also mentioned fitness clubs and gyms that are using connected technology so that groups of people can do their spin classes in separate cities or even in their own homes, connecting online and being led by a superstar instructor.
And it gets even cooler: We’re entering an age where workers no longer need to show up to work in the factory anymore. AR allows talented engineers to work from the comfort of their own homes and show up to work through virtual headsets that allow them to interact with the physical products from thousands of miles away. Many other automakers are using technology in more mundane ways, especially for just-in-time assembly line methods. Wireless networks send specifications directly to the manufacturing machinery seconds before it is placed inside the vehicle. Tetro calls these “dynamic manufacturers.”
Finally, there is the smart or connected city. Tetro mentioned the NYC-based Hudson Yards development, which is being constructed over the railroad tracks just west of Penn Station. The goal of the connected city is to integrate every aspect of life into a central living space. Dry cleaning, meal delivery, car sharing, and the workplace all exist in the same building.
The future is invisible technology that touches every facet of our lives. Tetro says that, “our job in technology is to make it disappear, even though it is a big part of whatever we are doing. Everything that you can touch is heading towards being infused with technology in some fashion, but the interesting points are how the digital and physical worlds interact with each other. We are just on the cusp of many advancements.” It was a fascinating and very fast-paced look at what our world is evolving into.