This year’s TED conference starts Monday in Long Beach and Palm Springs, California, bringing together some of the world’s most fascinating and innovative minds under the umbrella of “Technology, Entertainment and Design.” With the meeting broken into sections with provocative titles like Majestic, Mind Blowing, Deep Mystery, Worlds Imagined, and Radical Collaboration, more than fifty experts will speak – from scientists to household names like singer Bobby McFerrin, director Julie Taymor, filmmaker Morgan Spurlock, and Bill Gates.
We’ll be paying special attention to the presentations in the technology and sustainability fields by speakers such as architect and urban design engineer Carlo Ratti, who will be zeroing in on the future of urban mobility. He’s the director of the MIT SENSEable City Lab, which uses technology and real-time feedback devices to improve the livability of built urban environments.
As one of the lab’s recent research papers explains, part of that work can be seen in the leaps being made in sensor technologies as they are currently undergoing “great performance enhancement combined with drastic price reduction” Quoting Neil Gross from 1999, the paper says that “in the next century, planet earth will don an electronic skin. It will use the Internet as a scaffold to support and transmit its sensations. This skin is already being stitched together. It consists of millions of embedded electronic measuring devices: thermostats, pressure gauges, pollution detectors, cameras, microphones, glucose sensors, EKGs, electroencephalographs. These will probe and monitor cities and endangered species, the atmosphere, our ships, highways and fleets of trucks, our conversations, our bodies — even our dreams.”
MIT’s team is studying how a decade later, those sensors can be seen in real life — from bicycle mounted sensors to monitor pollution or city-wide networks checking air quality in places such as Oklahoma City or Cambridge. (GE’s own researchers are developing sensors that draw on properties found in butterfly wings to change color or wearable ones that open new windows into your health status by analyzing your breath. In healthcare, home health monitoring technologies are already deployed in places such as assisted living centers and GE is also researching miniaturized, wireless body sensors.)
Among the other speakers topping the tech list at TED is Ford Motor Company executive chair, Bill Ford, who’s credited with establishing the first wildlife habitat at a Ford plant location, as well as the first automotive plant to use 25% post-consumer materials in all of its plastic parts. He will speak about the future of cars and vehicular transportation.
Boston Power’s founder and chairman, Christina Lampe-Onnerud, who is a pioneer in lithium ion battery development and has been awarded more than forty patents will be speaking, as will Ocean Research & Conservation Association (ORCA) founder Edie Widder, who’s designing new submersibles to enable unobtrusive deep-sea exploration.
And artist, designer and technologist Kate Hartman creates interfaces for humans, houseplants and glaciers to foster new modes of feedback and communication. Her projects include the Dream Hotline, Urban Sonar and the Talk to Yourself Hat. She teaches at the Ontario College of Art and Design.
If you’ll be attending TED in person, please drop by the GE booth and say hello!