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Monday, October 06, 2008

Wired NextFest 2008

WIRED NextFestWe hopped in the car with some friends yesterday and went on a little day trip to Chicago to take in WIRED magazine’s 2008 NextFest , an annual exhibition of emerging technologies.

While not nearly as grand in scale as the 2005 event on Navy Pier, this year’s show in Millennium Park still packs a lot of wow factor in its exhibits — and admission is free. We were greeted outside the tent by a whimsical, grass-clipping electronic sheep (which later had to be corralled inside after a light rain began to fall). Once inside, there were exhibits relating to about every aspect of modern life, including clothing, art, design, health, transportation, communication, entertainment and the environment.

Toyota, which along with Xerox and Citi is one of this year’s major sponsors, brought along a range of transportation exercises ranging from personal vehicles (imagine a luxurious Segway) to its plug-in Prius, a pre-production model that is currently undergoing real-world shakedown tests. Toyota also is showing its 1X concept vehicle , a lightweight (980 lbs.), fuel-sipping (90 mpg) four-passenger vehicle suitable for urban environments.

Xerox focused on green technology, including its solid-ink printer technology that reduces waste by 90 percent and is much more cost-effective than conventional color printers and a paper that printing fades from over a 24-hour period so that it can be reused. Those who value the permanence of print might find this a strange product, but Xerox was motivated to develop it after determining that more than 40 percent of office printouts are discarded the same day they are printed. Obviously, the potential savings in money and resources made possible by such a technology are enormous, particularly for school systems, large corporations and governmental entities.

In the energy and environment section, a technology that rapidly makes diesel fuel from algae and ultra-efficient photovoltaics that convert 40 percent of the sun’s energy to electricity — up from 15 percent for conventional solar panels — were the standouts. For photographers, the Gigapan technology developed by NASA and Carnegie Mellon University is exciting, and apparently will be surprisingly affordable. And while it seems unlikely that you’ll ever see them at Bed, Bath and Beyond, the food-delivery systems created by designer Martin Kastner for chef Grant Achatz will give foodies something to drool over.

Nextfest’s run will continue October 7 through 12 (the show is closed on Mondays). If you get there early, you could have time to wander through the Art Institute across the street or head down to the Museum of Science and Industry to tour the modular, green smart home which will be on display through January 4 of next year. If your route to Chicago takes you up I-65, be advised that major highway construction will cause you to take a detour , whether your preferred route is the Tollway or I-80/94.
J. Silverheels Gray, 10:07 AM

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