What’s the next innovators’ playground?

After spending almost 30 years in the semiconductor’s industry and experienced the tool chain changes for innovators to bring their ideas to the market, one really wonders what’s the next playground for innovators to implement their ideas.

It all started with expensive evaluation boards accessible to the top corporation and, as embedded technology progressed, then moved to sub-$500 development boards, driving more technology at universities as teaching lab costs dropped. The passing below the $100 threshold created a big competition between the top semiconductor companies such as TI and Freescale (now NXP), trying to catch on the early Microchip phenomenon of cheap kits for everyones access and the generalisation of Arduino maker boards.
Most semiconductor companies struggled to detach themselves from the “key customer” approach and develop a mass-market strategy that would support cheaper, general market boards to migrate from close-to-prototype design to the proof of concept mode.

Finally, with the low-cost/high embedded content approach of 32-bit microcontrollers with wireless and embedded sensing features, platform agnostic low-cost (many times even free) development tools, the revolution happened: the Maker movement came into full swing carrying the potential for anyone to learn to code, create mini-robots and connect to all that can be connected, pushing the envelope into the IoT world.

The happening of the democratisation of technology access alongside the development of cheaper 3D-printers has unleashed a world of creativity that can be easily experienced when you attend a Maker Faire.

Fablabs have developed in parallel, providing more serious inventors and entrepreneurs with professional start-up production tools enabling fast testing of ideas, prompting the creation of large accelerators and crowd-funding platforms to support the amount of projects brought to the market.
fablabs.io, co-funded by the European Union, provides a comprehensive list of registered fablabs around the world, with a current count of 1,320 fablabs (at the time of writing this article) located in 108 countries or territories. 60% of of the count is spread into the top 10 countries below

Source; fablabs.io

The distributed decision making environment

With the assumption that the footprint and power requirements of embedded technology continue to shrink, the continuous raise of Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning and the decentralisation of nodes vs. Computing analysis, it is safe to say that most programming would move to a distributed environment using services such as AMS or Microsoft Azure to access larger reference databases of algorithms and digital assistant features.
With such migration, we can expect that the smart nodes will continue to be the data gathering devices and local security enabler to avoid sending any personal or sensitive data to a server.
Coordination between the nodes would also be in a distributed mode such as central service (i.e IFTTT for general IoT) and at the level of the user’s environment (smart-house, smart-vehicle, smart-building).
This bring me back in the days of central programming with Time Sharing Option (TSO) on old IBM mainframes, with the great advantage that computing power had a fraction of what it is today.
It also means that the innovators of today will continue to migrate towards centralised development tools, accessible via their internet interface (usually the browser today) or specialised app running on any mobile device.

I really believe that the world of the innovators continues to progress towards small modules that one can place in any location (i.e.
Sens’it from SigFox) and that fablabs will eventually start getting organised into networks to share resources and operate, themselves, into a distributed environment of innovators.
The technology industry is already aligning itself with large fablabs such as Station-F in France to take advantage of the boiling output of ideas from small groups of innovators. I foresee a consolidation of fablabs into collaboration groups, transforming the Maker Faire shows into the next generation of innovation trade show with large groups recruiting for innovators and ideas, the same way as Indiegogo and Kickstarter are on the search for the next great idea to push into the market.

Shifting the flow of innovation

The generalisation of development tools and all the efforts driven by STEM to bring coding to the youth has also driven a change in the way innovators some to “sell” their creations. For the time being, the concept of submitting an App to be loaded on an App Store such as the one from Apple, is the one that eventually could become for selling IP and applications to the world. Today, innovators apply to incubators to get support in learning about how to position their product in the market and secure funding. In the near future, I can picture platforms in which innovators load their application concept and companies seek databases of ideas to speed up their time to market and expand the reach of their products.

I can possibly envision a new market for freelance innovators, the same way as journalists and photographers work, creating ideas and putting them out for the highest bid to the industry to acquire the IP. Agencies for innovation could become the next great opportunity for keeping innovators focused on innovation while business specialists take care of “selling” the content into the industry.

Provide your feedback

It is fast-moving times and the flux of business development is like in a white-waters rafting expedition. Who will catch the right current and know how to master it will win some points till the next rapids come up. Are you one of those? Let’s talk and define the future.

About the writer: Flavio Stiffan is a business development specialist with focus on creating market expansion strategies supported by academia programs. He has implemented and managed alliance networks and is at the core of academia relationship management with a network of over 130 universities and 300 technology companies and distributors. For more articles, visit
www.stiffan.eu or check out his profile on LinkedIn.

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