Talking Objects Sandbox at Solid 2014.

Last week I had the pleasure of attending and speaking about Objects Sandbox at the inaugural O'Reilly Solid Conference in San Francisco. A two day co

Last week I had the pleasure of attending and speaking at the inaugural O'Reilly Solid Conference in San Francisco. A two day conference focussing on the intersection of software and hardware.

Chaired by Jon Bruner of O'Reilly and Joi Ito of MIT Media Lab, the speaker line up was fantastic.

Located at Fort Mason, right on the edge of the Bay, the Golden Gate bridge and Alcatraz viewable from just about everywhere. It certainly was a cracking location for a conference.

Across the speakers, startup stands, fellows and attendees, there was never a shortage of interesting conversation with very different people. There were the startups, all sharing an excitement for building something physical! Sharing how they recently launched products developed through the new wave of hardware incubators and funded through strategic crowdsourcing. The big players like GE, Autodesk, Microsoft and Google X were there offering us teasers of the great stuff they're doing. But also well known design and R&D studios such as IDEO, Frog, BBC, Disney, Smart Design were all represented, launching a few products, and giving us their perspective too.

Paolo Antonelli talked speculative design, perhaps missing an opportunity to really nail the value of design and its importance to innovation in new technology sectors. And within a conference like this, associated with Media Lab we couldn't not have inspiring talks from the likes of Hiroshi Ishii and Neil Gershenfeld. Finally there were the others too, like my talk, offering an alternative perspective to innovation within hardware / software.

My talk focussed on Objects Sandbox and the projects we funded. It was one that had grown out of many conversations I'd had with REACT's Simon Moreton and Tim Senior and the talk we had delivered in the Pervasive Media Studio a couple of weeks earlier. I touched upon our methodologies, philosophies and approach, and at the core of what I wanted to say were three things. The focus of our work is on understanding and establishing what the experiences and value propositions of a product in its larger ecosystem may be. Also, and slightly more philosophical but equally important, is that as technology – IoT – becomes ubiquitous and becomes a part of our everyday lives, we must consider the state of living – the broader picture. As this happens, it'll be increasingly important to collaborate with experts who best understand human behaviour, society and history. I suggested these experts are in the disciplines within the Arts and Humanities... I think it went down well enough!

Robots also made a big appearance at Solid. Baxter, Big Dog, Silicon Valley Robotics and Bot and Dolly were all present. Roombas were mentioned everywhere and were even included in a Robot Dance Party on the main stage. And as I discovered, anytime there's a robot demo, there's Daft Punk – clearly robots love Daft Punk!

What was clear from the two days were the many different perspectives on offer, especially from people from different parts of the world. Unfortunately there was no closing keynote from Jon, Joi or Tim to sum up the conference. But in a breakout session and the very last talk of the conference, Peter Bihr had been invited to compare the Mittelstand in Germany with Valley Startups and how one can learn from the other. He talked about how Startups find and create new markets, how they're agile, lean and have an accepted fail culture. Where as with Mittelstand they think long term, quality is everything, they build resilient partnerships, don't give up control of the company, and don't outsource key skills, keeping them in-house. There was no conclusion, but really made me think about our value, and what we bring to the conversations around emerging technologies (Hardware/Software) and if there is something unique about our approach, and whether that can be generalised as British or European...?

Tim O'Reilly mentioned “The skill of writing is to create a context in which other people can think". I think this analogy is applicable to the talks at Solid... The diversity in perspective and approaches has done exactly that, I'm still thinking and reflecting... I'm already looking forward to Solid 2015.


So much to report, but I recommend taking some time to look at the keynotes and slides on the Solid website:

Amongst all the good stuff, a few quotes stuck in my mind:

"Can’t have 5 year roadmaps anymore. Hardware needs agility of software” Jon Bruner/Joi Ito

“You need the hardware expertise, but more important is being able to think of hardware with software understanding” Jon Bruner/Joi Ito

"If you don't know what happens when the user presses the on button, you don't have a product." Dan Saffer

"Break assumptions and constraints, if you can, 'unsolvable' problems maybe solvable." Astro Teller

"What do you want to leave for those living in 2200?" Horishi Ishii

'We must "dwell" with computers, not just interact with them.' M.Weisser (Simone Rebaudengo)

"Be conservative in what you send, be liberal in what you accept from others" Robustness Principle (Tim O'Reilly)