Web Summit 2016: IoT, Learning, Chatbots, Biohacking & MoreBy Chris Ward
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53,056 people from 166 countries descended on Lisbon for this year’s Web Summit. I’m not sure if this makes it the world’s largest startup event, but it’s damn big.
I have attended startup events around the world and have often found them obsessed with nothing but raising money. Whilst the topic was in abundance at Web Summit, it also had enough of something for everyone, with discussions on technology, design, ethics, futurism, and more. If you’re not interested in discussion, but would rather just network and party, you will also have a full schedule.
At times it can feel like we are reaching ‘peak startup,’ and with a number of the exhibitors I spoke to at Web Summit, it almost feels like we are close to or past that point. Half-baked ideas, startups that serve startups that serve startups, unclear explanations and a growing body of people who talk a lot but say absolutely nothing (booth training for startups — now there’s a startup idea).
Nestled amongst all the bluster are diamonds worthy of your attention and time, and in this article I intend to highlight as many as possible, alongside trends and topics to watch for or avoid.
New Navigation & Input
I have always had an interest in digital museum guides since attempting my own for my final university project. Modern portable devices and augmented reality have made new levels of interaction possible, and arm23 from Milan has an app platform that mixes location, audio, video and image recognition into one cool package.
I have been embracing a lot of new input mechanisms recently, loving my Lenovo Yogabook, and taking a good hard look at Windows tablets. Taking the concept further is Hypen from Mexico. They are creating a pen-shaped device that communicates the movements you make via Bluetooth. The company is still figuring out the use case, but the applications for creative pursuits are compelling.
Whilst motion tracking isn’t a new concept, Heptasense moves the processing to a cloud-based API, which enables developers to keep processing off a device, and updatable to meet new trends and opportunities.
And for fun, what about waving your hands in the air to make music? Well Kagura will help, or at least make you look cool trying.
Practical IoT Applications
The Internet of Things is rapidly growing, and with that growth it brings a lot of trite, pointless, or insecure use cases. One area embracing and using IoT to undertake actual, viable work is industry and commerce.
Watgrid uses sensors to monitor liquid properties for a variety of industries including fuel, wine and more.
One of the big issues with consumer IoT devices are all the competing device protocols, so I love discovering tools like Muzzley that aim to bridge the gaps between them all.
Alongside these companies creating their own specific IoT offerings were platforms for developers looking to create their own. Many offer similar features, and are in private betas, so assessing the differences and value can be hard. Suffice it to say that unless you are planning to offer something amazingly new to the IoT space, it’s already becoming crowded.
For something a little different, try the look app that lets you use other people’s cameras to watch events, locations, or whatever else you want to watch from your couch.
If you’re reading this post then you understand the benefits of learning. Teaching people to code has been big business the past couple of years, but running alongside these profit-making ventures has been a variety of more innovative projects. If you are interested in creating your own startup around education, then you need to start investigating how the educational component can be combined with other forms of technology. Simply delivering courses no longer cuts it.
“I am the Code” not only provides coding education to African girls, but is also creating its own Raspberry Pi-based computer that students learn to assemble in their first lesson.
Kubo is an example of a growing wave of ‘learning robots’ that help children learn how to code. The video below explains it better than I can, but I love these ideas and am working on a round up of options.
Whilst the majority of the startups at Web Summit were from the global north, there were a dozen or so from Latin America, and only a handful from Africa and India. I have often wondered why these large continents, full of interesting projects and people, are often so underrepresented. Is it purely cost, visa reasons, or something else?
In an interesting conversation I was told that in much of the developing World, a new global language is emerging in pictures, animated gifs and short videos. This explains some of the hunger for apps that support these formats, and I encourage you to investigate this trend in your projects and ideas.
Chat, Chat, Chat
Messaging clients, chatbots and services to create and supplement them were everywhere at Web Summit. Again, many were similar, but I found a few interesting ideas lurking in the chatter.
Unbabel are one of Lisbon’s success stories, and deservedly so, bringing translation to right where you need it: the chat window. Their platform plugs straight into Salesforce, Zendesk, and other tools via an API, providing machine and human translators to allow support staff and customers to speak in their own languages.
And if you want to get started creating your own bots? There are lots of options, but I especially liked recast.ai as they integrate well with existing developer platforms, and have a visual drag and drop creator for non-programmers.
App and Away
There were plenty of apps to be seen at Web Summit, but also a growing acknowledgement that viable apps are a dying breed. Entrepreneurs and developers are looking for new cross-platform and web-based alternatives that allow for speedier development, but also better tracking and analytics. I wont repeat a long list of cross-platform options here (including new options I discovered), but suggest that you research the growing trend of delivering app-like experiences through web apps, especially from Android and Google.
Globalism and Beyond
Wednesday started with a low feeling, as after the partying from the night before, the news from the US election woke attendees sober. I overheard discussions on how technology may have contributed to the growing feelings of alienation in the world and what can we do about it. My mood was saved after speaking to inspiring people from all around the world, causing me to wonder if the future of technology lies in other (underrepresented) locations such as Africa, India, or Latin America. And if you feel like you need to travel further, corporate sponsored space exploration is already upon us, and did you know that astronauts are 3D printing in space from mined asteroids?
Developers are Big Business
As developers become more influential in workplaces, services designed to help them achieve more continue to grow. As someone who assesses a lot of these services I would recommend undertaking extensive research to ascertain if your idea really is that new or original, as developers are a fickle bunch and are quick to turn away from half-baked ideas.
The Business of You
I’m going to use this category to mix together a collection of categories from data storage, security and privacy, on all sides of the discussion. I feel like many startups aren’t handling these topics in an innovative way, facing the issue with unoriginal solutions like private clouds, secure transmissions, influencer and analytics networks.
Yoti is a British company that has already gained adoption in several large governmental and business applications for its identity phone app, all in a country that has long been against identity cards.
After thinking the project had ended, I was also pleased to meet representatives of Liberland, a micro sovereign state between Croatia and Serbia that holds progressive, technological and decentralized values at its heart.
I expected to see more startups leveraging the Estonian ID card for authentication, but only found one, Smart ID, that helps you to embed the card as an authentication option in your web sites.
Local to SitePoint HQ in Melbourne was Cipherise from Forticode who provide a multi-factor security platform that can combine fingerprints, connected apps, QR codes, cipher puzzles and more to a security solution that you set to the levels you need.
And finally, if you want to prevent vulnerabilities in your carefully constructed project, Secr Secure have created a tool for scanning web apps for security vulnerabilities that you can plug into most continuous development processes.
Whilst governments figure out how to classify and regulate biohacking, implants, and other applications of tech for the human body, the movement continues, and there’s space in the market for aspiring entrepreneurs.
TSC by Earlogic is a simple idea that uses smart EQ algorithms to boost the frequencies that your hearing starts to lose as you age. This works in a similar way to traditional hearing aids, but TSC is a phone app, reducing the need for specialized hardware.
Helixworks blew my mind. They use generated DNA as a storage mechanism, already in use by a couple of major companies. It’s an efficient and long-lasting storage mechanism and simultaneously scary and exciting.
Flipping the concept on its head is orgamime, who built an emulated human intestinal system on a chip. Yes, really.
What an event. The sheer scale and number of events surrounding Web Summit at times made it hard to understand how it even functions. 2016 has been an eventful and divisive year, with 2017 looking to contain much of the same. Technology now envelopes and surrounds our lives and carries a lot of potential to cause harm and good. Now more than ever we need to think about the potential of our ideas, and how others may use them in ways we never imagined.