Wired NextFest Chicago

nextfest.gifThis past weekend I traveled to NextFest in Chicago with a few friends. The event, held at Navy Pier, was a pretty cool. It showcased new and upcoming technology in several different areas. I’ll highlight a few of my favorite exhibits in the different categories.


  • Motorola had a pretty large display set up showcasing quite a few of their new phones. They also had a pretty fun display using mobile SMS text messaging and Bluetooth. All around the Motorola booth, there were screens displaying text messages from anyone that wanted to send to a number listed for that display. I of course sent "Mentos… the freshmaker!" Motorola also had a pretty neat use of Bluetooth. If you had a Bluetooth device, you could send photos to a couple Bluetooth printers or to a large flat panel display inside the booth. I got a nice print from my camera phone of Kieran and Kevin stuffing their face with sliders from White Castle that I’d taken the night before.
  • Another neat display (that I think would be categorized as communication) was sound spots. Throughout the entrance to the event, there were spots of light on the floor where you could hear audio playing only when standing in the spot.

  • The design area could probably have been associated with much of the content at show. Some specific design items that I found interesting were some of the robots – more in the toy area. There were a good deal of robots at NextFest, but some were specifically made as a toy or entertainment.
  • There was also an exhibit containing some "future furniture" which I didn’t think was all that impressive. There was a pillow that when you squeeze it, would light up another (I’m assuming network connected) pillow somewhere else (grandma’s house?) in a different location. There were also coffee tables that did similar things when you placed a glass of hot liquid on them. Spots would light up on another network connected table somewhere else. I guess the novelty of this is somewhat interesting, but I can’t really see any practical use of this technology.
  • Entertainment
    The entertainment category had a lot of fun exhibits.
  • There were a lot of video game exhibits. Probably one of the most fun was called "Kick @ss Kung Fu." It was an immersive video game that worked with a chroma-key and a blue-screen and a weight sensitive pad to tell when you jump. There were two screens located to the right and left showing you inside the video game fighting characters with your motions in front of the blue screen. The Kick @ss Kung Fu site linked above has some good videos of the game in action. Several of the people in our group, Kieran and his brother, had the high score for most of the morning once we figured out that yelling improved your killing ability in the game. Pictures of them playing here
  • Another fun game that we played was BrainBall. Brainball is a game where you compete in relaxation. The players’ brainwaves control a ball on a table, and the more relaxed scores a goal over the opponent. You basically strap on a headband and try to relax. The more relaxed you are, the faster the ball moved towards your opponent’s goal, and you win. Kieran beat me and Christoph beat Kevin (who was testing the game by only thinking violent thoughts) when he played.
  • There were quite a few similar immersive games available for playing as well.

  • The exploration area held a good collection of robots for searching the bottom of the sea. The robots were very bug-like and able to search in very harsh environments.
    There was also a nice collection of space exploration equipment, including a solar sail, a mars space suit, and a mars rover.
  • The Exploration category also hosted a one-man submarine for sea exploration.

  • The health area had quite a few interesting exhibits.
    They had two cloned cats available for viewing. Baba Ganoush, the cloned cat, and Tahini the DNA source cat. The presenter said that the cats have exactly the same look feel and they even have the exact same smell. They also said that they didn’t like each other and needed to be separated. One of the more popular exhibits in the health area was the dermal scanner/projector, which allowed you to view veins through the skin.
  • There was also a pretty cool robotic exoskeleton machine that allows the wearer to lift many times their own body weight. It also has applications for physical therapy for people too weak to move or walk. It kind of reminded me of the industrial lifting machines from the Alien movies.

  • In the security there were a good number of military vehicles and drone planes that can fly on their own, or by remote and included artificial intelligence for finding and identifying people.
  • GE had a demo of its airport security walk-through detector. As you walked through the device, it blew puffs of air on you and would detect any remnants of explosive material that fell off.

  • GM had a very large exhibit showcasing some of their new concept cars. They’re a car company that has directed a lot of their energy towards Hydrogen Cell/powered automobiles. They were somewhat sketchy on details as to how these cars would be delivered and when this type of thing would be available. The fueling infrastructure for this type of thing is the major issue since there are only a few "Hydrogen stations" in existence. GM was also displaying their H2H (Hydrogen), which seems kind of counterproductive to me. The biggest (ugliest?) most inefficient car out there has been converted to Hydrogen power.
  • There were also a few more exotic concept automobiles on display. The flying car, and the dolphin submersible, which was kind of a jet-ski built into a plastic dolphin body.
  • There were also a good collection of Segways on display, including the new off road Segway and the new four-wheel Segway.

This is just a small sample of all the cool stuff on display at NextFest. There are more pictures and descriptions available here.


gravatar Kieran

The links are off a bit, the Kick Ass Kung Fu link image is tied to the 8-bit chroma key game, and the other links below that seem to be off one each as well.

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