Brophy Outlines 05 Tech Trends

    GRAND RAPIDS — Good technology is technology that makes a difference in people’s lives, and what makes the difference is the volume of information sources a technology can access and its integrative capabilities with other technologies.

    Oh, and size matters, too: The smaller, the better.

    It’s getting cheaper and cheaper to have technology in your hand, and the more prices drop on technological devices, the more that are mass produced and the more prices drop again, said local software pioneer Keith Brophy, who has a track record in predicting breakthrough technologies. He shared his vision of where technology is headed with members of GlimaWest at their January meeting.

    Brophy has been developing software based on Internet technologies since the mid-1980s. He is former CEO of Sagestone Consulting, a software business he sold to NuSoft Solutions in December. He now serves as NuSoft’s president for business development.

    Brophy has been predicting tech trends for a number of years, and over the past three years, 63 percent of them have been “home runs,” 22 percent have been “so-so” and 17 percent have been “clunkers,” he pointed out.

    “It’s hard to grade the success of a technology because sometimes it will take years or decades to verify that the technology makes sense,” he said.

    As he sees it, 2005 is the year that virtual reality becomes everyone’s reality. Virtual reality is here, it’s cheap and people can experience it in a lot of little ways, Brophy said, noting that the Department of Defense (DOD) and video gaming industry have really pushed its development.

    “The DOD has such sophisticated processes simulators today. They can simulate deserts and urban areas, they can put people in one room and have them interact. It’s amazing to me that it’s not more prevalent in all kinds of businesses.”

    Some colleges, for instance, use virtual tours of their campus to recruit candidates. He said manufacturers could use virtual reality to orient new employees and walk them through plant lines. How about taking the kids on a virtual tour of the San Diego Zoo?

    “I’d pay hundreds of dollars for that,” Brophy said. “I think entrepreneurs are going to drive that forward more and more to offer us experiences like that.”

    He foresees clusters of sensors being connected to cell phones and other personal devices to “reach out” to people, and intelligent devices that track and analyze data and “talk” to people.

    For example, when a car alarm goes off, sensors would allow the information to be instantly transmitted via the owner’s cell phone. Sensors could also be used to track and relay various kinds of information in and outside the home or office.

    Brophy also expects to see innovation that allows more information to “live” on cell phones and personal devices “so people can interact faster and more deeply with their devices and can leverage information, sound and media better.”

    This year, entertainment will be everywhere, as the ability for devices to pull in multimedia expands, he said. The IPod, for instance, can store 10,000 tunes and broadcast over any radio; the MP3 player combines a small digital camcorder and portable media player. As similar devices proliferate, entertainment is becoming a more diverse, grass roots experience, Brophy said. Blogging Web sites are adding to the trend.

    “What that does is change the age of entertainment. Anybody can become an entertainer to millions. You can launch your own song, art or video on the Web and share it with the world. Expect to see more and more changes there.”

    Brophy further expects to see the introduction of new software-building tools. In his estimation, software innovation hasn’t kept pace with rapid advances in, but he believes that’s going to change this year, and tools for software are going to get dramatically better for testing and verifying.

    He foresees much broader use of Global Positioning System (GPS) tracking chips for keeping tabs on people and their possessions. As the technology gets cheaper, Brophy said, ID chip implants will be used in watches, car keys, wallets and just about anything that could be lost. GPS chips are already found in cars and cell phones, and inside human beings, as well. It’s not all that uncommon for Alzheimer’s patients and children to be “chipped,” he said.

    “GPS is becoming like electricity, and it’s going to become much more mainstream.” He predicts that 10 percent of people will be “chipped” by 2008.

    Robots will become nearer and dearer to everyday life this year, too. More than 1 million vacuum robots already have been sold, he pointed out, and the roles and uses of remote controlled drones, rescue bots and rovers are destined to expand.

    Lastly, safer automation will become the main differentiator among cars, Brophy said. Look for cars with intelligent systems that improve safety, with features such as collision warnings, GPSs, blind spot cautions, traction adjustments and notification of air bag deployment.

    When it comes to the adaptability of a new technology, one truth has borne out over time: It has to be perceived as “cool” to become a hot commodity.

    “‘Coolness’ does make a difference. You’ve got to win the hearts and minds of people for a technology to take hold,” Brophy said.    

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