Impressions from O’Reilly’s Solid 2014 Conference

As part of the PayPal team I had an opportunity to attend the Solid 2014 conference, held in San Francisco’s Fort Mason Center on May 21/22. While shuttling between the PayPal booth, the sessions and the hardware startup showcase, I’ve collected a few of my impressions that I wanted to share with you here.

At the PayPal Booth

Our booth was pretty busy with guests coming up all the time and asking about the PayPal Beacon, what it does, how it works and how they can use it for their merchant needs. I believe we had a couple of hundreds of visitors during the two days. Folks were interested in the hardware and software bits related to Beacon as well as in the Raspberry Pie prototype (also at the booth) that Josh Bleecher Snyder, one of the lead developers on the project, put together.
Hasty Granbery, another Beacon developer, was interview at the O’Reilly booth, where he talked about Beacon hardware, software, architecture and more. The video can be seen below

Thanks in part to PayPal Beacon, the Bluetooth LE Bluetooth Low Energy protocol was quite a buzz word at the conference.

Personal Impressions

I was fascinated just by the fact that the conference was about hardware and software that runs it. So much around me is about the web that this different world was largely unknown to me.

As you can imagine, pretty much every session was talking about the “internet of things”, wearables, sensors and what the these new technologies mean for us humans. One of the questions that caught my attention was: will we become one of the hardware devices ourselves, processing a lot of input and throwing our output data at other devices like us? A talk by Kelsey Breseman of Technical Machine, “Beyond the Screen: Humans as Input-Output Devices:, resonated with this line of thinking in particular. The material she presented was quite fascinating. I will post links to the presentation and slides below.

Another phrase I heard repeated a lot was “there is no such thing as China button”. The premise was that it’s easy to put together a prototype, but many hardware startups fail when they need to scale from a single unit to thousands. The point was that you can’t just go to China, show them your prototype and expect the miracle happen from thereon. A lot of hard work and planning needs to take place when you are there at the factory, breathing in the same air with the rest of the workers on the assembly lines. Not surprising is the fact that, unlike in the software world, the “release early, release often” mantra doesn’t quite work the same way with the hardware. In fact, it seems that the opposite is true. Once you release the unit into the world, you can’t just take it back and iterate.

In terms of demos, I was hoping to see a bit more gadgetry on the showcase floor, but either I missed most of it or there just wasn’t much to touch and play with. Among others, there were dancing robots, a keyboard that could be played by walking on its keys, a roaming robot that was controlled remotely, etc. Here is the list of all demos.

Talks I really Liked

Thomas Brady (Reaction, Inc.)
Slides:   1-PDF
More people each year find themselves healthy enough to live at home, but isolated enough to not be comfortable doing so at their age. Many of them feel they’ve missed the boat with technology; and feel isolated from friends and family. In our labs, we explored how the Internet of Things could connect and protect and aging-at-home population, empowering them, rather than spying on them

 

Ivan Poupyrev (Google)
Video:   Keynote
In this talk I will argue that the success of the computing of the future where digital code, data and physical realities are seamlessly merged will depend on inventing intuitive, fluid interfaces for to the physical world on a very large scale. I will also present some of my research in this direction including sensing, actuation, energy harvesting and the fine art of growing digital plants.
Kelsey Breseman (Technical Machine)
Slides:   1-PDF
Kelsey Breseman, neural engineer and member of Technical Machine, surveys the currently-available and soon-to-be available technology that interfaces with humans’ natural signal inputs and outputs. It is time to start creating devices that allow humans to act intuitively and subconsciously to understand information and to control their world.
Kamal Farah (MIT Media Lab)
Slides:   1-PDF
Open Mobility transcends spatial boundaries in cities, enabling simultaneous movement in physical and virtual networks. Unlike traditional automobiles for urban spaces, Data Vehicles are designed for real time correlation of geographic locations with online content. This talk explores designing Data Vehicles for Open Mobility, and emergent points of interest at the intersection of data and cities.

 

Video:   Keynote
* Organs 101 – a very brief history in organ-time *Fisk organs – overview of what we do * Why on Earth would we do that in the 21st Century?

 

There’s definitely a lot more that I missed, but you can find the rest of the talks and slides and see some photos from the conference.

 

What do you think?