Thursday, 24 April 2008

Technological Fortune Telling

While browsing recent technology news, I came across Michael Chen, this year's winner of the James Dyson award with his ‘Reactiv’ jacket for night cyclists. The James Dyson award is an annual worldwide technology contest, which aims to encourage young inventors to think more creatively.

Chen’s light-up jacket uses movement sensitive technology originally devised for the Nintendo Wii to make cyclists’ movements clearer to motorists. LEDs are sewn into the back of the jacket, and are controlled by ‘accelerometers’. The lights glow green when the bike is moving at speed, and red as it slows down. When a cyclist indicates, their raised arm flashes amber.

Chen’s design has certainly caught the attention of the journalists, and the Dyson Award is the perfect accolade for the launch of his product. But I can’t help thinking that in many ways, awards like these are little more than well educated guesswork.

This is hardly surprising when you consider how so many great technology businesses arose out of real obscurity.

Everyone knows Microsoft was the invention of a student drop out, HP was born in a shed and the Google guys started off making inkjet printers out of Lego bricks and building a solar powered car. Who can say where the next big idea will stem from?

Technology awards provide a great forum for airing the latest trends and developments. But
often the best ideas come from less predictable sources.

If the Reactiv jacket improves road safety for cyclists, we’ll have the Dyson award to thank. However, when it comes to technological fortune telling I suspect we’re still in the dark.

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