Notes on Shape Conference

I went to the Shape conference today. Conference hipsters would not admit to this. None of the friends I asked would come along. But I am not too proud. I am going through a time of observing patterns and learning about developments outside my bubble in music tech, and conferences are great for that.

The talks were almost all weak, except for the keynote by Kurzweil, and even though he has a lot of worthwhile stuff to say you can tell he’s running through a well worn script.

Some startups whose booths I looked at –

Caruma is a connected sensor array that you attached to the interior roof in your car. It has a camera for the exterior and another for the interior. There are 4-5 other sensors, like an accelerometer. There’s GPS and a net connection. I think it was $300 + $10/monthly.

One thing you could do with this is capture video of accidents, even when you’re away, so you can find the miscreant. Another use is recording encounters with police.

Also in the theme of interior video cameras, Jaguar and Honda were both showing cars with eye tracking, so they can warn when the driver is dozing off. They also both had adaptive cruise control and lane drift notification. The Honda also has Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. Honda is killing it for a mid-range car.

ActiveScaler is working on an Android rear view “mirror” that clips on in front of your actual rear view mirror. They leave about half for plain old mirroring and use the remainder of the screen real estate to display whatever whackiness you can come up with. It’s basically an easy way to add a device. $500.

There were a lot of VR booths. The line for the HTC Vive was psycho. Oculus and Samsung Gear had booths. I checked out a company with a head-mounted virtual monitor. You could use it to watch TV or do computer stuff. I was hoping for an IMAX-sized monitor, but no luck.

My favorite thing in this space was an augmented reality kit for play structures, from a company called Biba. They do virtual overlays on things like monkey bars.

I’m totally good on AR apps for kids, since the kids have to be out in the real world to use them. It’s not screen time. Pokemon Go is cool with me.

There were a bunch of Internet of Things vendors. These are dominated by mega companies like ATT, which makes me think IoT is a trojan horse for companies I hate.

Among the wearables, my favorite was a hybrid analog+digital watch from Withings. The face is a fully analog watch. The back is a fitness tracker. I loved the the idea of keeping sensors discreet.

I don’t feel like a fitness tracker is the end of the line for this kind of thing. It could have vibrate, take voice commands, play music, give turn by turn directions. An Echo on your wrist, with a deceptive analog face.

And the winner was the RoBoHon, a work of cute mad genius Japano-wtf-philia? It is a little robot, about the size of a Barbie doll, but much beefier. The robot can walk. It is controlled via voice (but only Japanese). It is a phone when you pick it up and hold it to your ear. It has a projector, which it can use to create a virtual screen on the table in front of it. Of course – why not? – it has a video camera. $2000.

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I saw this as potentially incredible telepresence tool. The remote caller’s video face would be visible via the projection. The video camera would pick up the local member of the call. The remote caller would manipulate the robot to turn and look at the speaker during a meeting. Maybe the robot would actually walk across the conference table to be near the speaker; this would fix the problem of a conference phone being stuck in one place.

I asked the rep if RoBoHon could detect touches on the projection, so apps could do something like a touch screen. He said not yet.