A Look at the Past, A Glimpse at the Future

I had the pleasure of I speaking to about 20 8th graders this month about careers in electronics.

It took me back to my first real introduction to the industry: the Summer Consumer Electronics Show in 1992. There I saw the prototypes for HDTV and widescreen TVs, and more interesting, the first foldable screens.

I was enthralled with some of the devices and innovations I saw there, some of which have yet to come to mass production. They were a far cry from what I was used to at that point: floor TV models as large as a desk and computer terminals the size of small ovens.

1970s Magnavox floor model. The Buetows didn’t have this exact model, but it was close. Color, too!
The PLATO mainframe system, circa late 1970s. These terminals were linked via phone dial-up to mainframes on university campuses around the world. It also where the forerunners to features like instant messaging, email, touchscreen displays, online learning, and massive role-playing games were first rolled out.

I like to remind folks that it takes a generation or more for most ideas to become mainstream. At this year’s CES, there were transparent TVs (thanks to LG and Samsung), foldable OLED PC monitors (Asus), and a portable rolling robot projector (Samsung again) that, well, you really to see to understand what it is capable of.

ASUS foldable PC
LG transparent TV
Samsung transparent TV

Of my cohort that January morning, two of them are already thinking in terms of engineering careers, but in my opinion what’s more important is that none of them rules out this path.

Mentoring peers is great and important, but I’m a big proponent of talking to youth and helping them connect the dots. After all, we are often reminded that if you want to see the future, take a look at your kids.

And if you agree that we need the next generation to consider careers in electronics design and manufacturing, are you doing what you can to encourage them?

Users Could Find New CES ‘Wearables’ Painfully Restrictive

The early reports from CES indicate wearable devices continue to be the hot item. Among the early headliners:

  • Samsung’s WELT wellness belt, which is really a backpack that charges phones via solar panels, among other things;
  • Samsung’s Smart Suit, which to my view does fairly mundane tasks like like unlocking your phone when you take it out of your pocket;
  • Samsung’s lab also made a golf shirt that can sense the weather and UV ratings;

    Samsung’s Smart Suit

  • Under Armour’s Healthbox, which features an activity tracker, chest strap and smart scale; and Samsung’s Body Compass 2.0, a sensor-laden workout suit that performs similar tasks;
  • MadRat’s Supersuit, which is designed to play laser tag and other such games in a closed space;
  • MadRat’s SuperSuit

    Also coming from UA, a smart running shoe that tracks movement and lets users know when the shoe should be replaced.

What these devices have in common is the ability for users to track their activity — and by extension, their wellness — in real-time and on multiple platforms including their smartphones. What they can also do is amass a terrific amount of data that may or may not be used for their original intended purposes. In short, if you can collect and review the data, so can someone else.

Consider: What if health insurers were to require policyholders to wear devices that tracked such details? And what if your insurance rates were to climb simply on the basis of a weekend ice-cream binge? What if auto insurers could tell that you had activated your cellphone while in a driving, and could cancel your policy on the basis of that information? What if it was learned that you habitually played 18 holes during high ozone days?

While the ability to monitor one’s health using actual real-time data is eye-opening, are we opening a door to such data being misused, or at least, applied in a fashion that could have very real and life-changing implications for the user?