Future Assembly 15

I was lucky enough to get a ticket to Future Assembly (“Australia’s newest emergent technology festival”) on Saturday the 14th of November as part of WISE UniMelb through the Wade Institute. The expo ran over the Friday and Saturday, with workshops and talks on both days. I was slightly disappointed to have missed the genomics panel on Friday, but the experience was still fantastic – and the talks may be going online, so I can live in hope!

FA (#fa15) was held at the Melbourne Showgrounds in a large, open-space building, with easy flow between the stalls and talks. The entire space had an excited and hopeful buzz.

To spend any less than half a page on each of the (20 + stalls) present would be to do them an injustice, and so I apologize in advance. The Wade Institute were present, spreading the news of their brand new Masters of Entrepreneurship, and it was nice to check in with our pals at Robogals!

Various groups from the Microsoft “More Personal” Hackathon had stalls as well. The two I took particular note of were Dr. Band, an app  to connect clinicians and their patients more effectively using wearables, and Ani, a robot that one day will (hopefully) provide in-home help.

Picture of a computer screen with the bot (Ani) saying "Don't worry, our conversation is confidential"
Ani occasionally said things that were ah… slightly unnerving.

Plattar gave me a taste of home, as the Augmented Reality company were demonstrating an AR game they made for Hell’s pizza, set on a pizza box/in the Auckland CBD. They also filmed me for a reality augmentation for the WISE 2015 membership card – watch this space!

There were at least four different 3-D printing stalls, and almost all of them had a printer in action, which was capitvating to see. The two particular stalls that caught my eye were make-create, a maker space in Brunswick, and Avargadi.

Avargadi uses a corn-based polymer to print eco-friendly lampshades, drawing inspiration from flowers for their design. They fit eco-friendly bulbs, and the use of a corn base means  you can just throw your old lampshade in the compost. I was incredibly taken with their designs, and spent a long time watching a lamp being printed.

8 illuminated lampshades modelled on flower shapes including jasmine, rose, and lily.
Examples of Avargadi lampshades, illuminating the space. The grooves left by 3-D printing made the lampshades look incredibly organic, bringing to mind ceramics or pottery.

Further into the darkened part of the display hall, I couldn’t help but feel bad for Semantrix, right at the back in the cold. They seemed to get a similar flow of people to the rest of the hall. Their sensor to detect various forms and types of movement will hopefully make a major difference in aged care and independent living.

The final stall that requires mention is Cheeky Chameleon, a stall presenting Depthless. Depthless is a game designed for the Oculus Rift using the Unity engine that is a science-fiction horror, “along the lines of Alien”. You are the first manned mission to Europa, and you get trapped under the ice and have to find drones, survive, and conserve your power. The demo version (thankfully) was peaceful. I’m not sure if I’d be up for Virtual Reality with jump scares, but the ability to motor around some clams was fun and incredibly immersive. I’m a big fan of Virtual Reality, and that this group from AIE has built an Oculus game in 8 weeks suggests a large number of VR games may be just around the corner. I’ve got my fingers crossed!

I only attended one talk, as one of the (very few) drawbacks of Future Assembly was that the stalls were so fascinating I didn’t want to stop looking and talking. The talk I attended was Phil Goebel of Quanticare, discussing technology in the form of preventative healthcare. At that point my FA companion was Shaz Ruybal, a malaria researcher, so we absolutely could not miss the health talk.

Phil did not disappoint. The first half of the talk discussed the general use of technology, apps, and wearables in healthcare, and how greater patient access to data could empower them and decrease hospitalizations. The second half was more specifically about Quanticare:

We are building a walking frame with an integrated sensor that measures how well a user is walking, allowing clinicians to enable more proactive falls prevention management of our seniors. By collecting continuous, passive and contextual gait performance data, Footprints will deliver the right data set to the right people at the right time, keeping our seniors mobile and independent. – Quanticare Website

Senior care is a rapidly growing field, as 15% of the Australian population are currently over the age of 65 and that proportion is only going to increase. People at FA had definitely picked up on that; both Semantrix and Quanticare are geared towards geriatric care.

Two things surprised me about Future Assembly 15: firstly, how complimentary a lot of the stalls were. Very few of the stalls and groups appeared to be in direct competition with one another. I hope that FA15 inspires a few collaborations between particularly complimentary businesses.

Secondly, the diversity of the attendees, speakers, and exhibitors. Before any tech event I always clench slightly in preparation for the deluge of obnoxious boys. Future Assembly was so far removed from that as to be in the future, and I hope that this is what the future of tech looks like, because it’s somewhere I can belong.

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