TechFest NW 2018: More futuristic than a year ago
TechFest Northwest returns this month with a new home and a fresh set of themes.
The annual series of TED-ish talks and panels, curated by
Willamette Week, will inaugurate Viking Hall, Portland State University's sports and concert venue on April 5 and 6.
There are three tracks of activities going on simultaneously: talks, workshops and PitchFest, in which startups vie for attention, advice from investors and cash.
To slice it another way, there are also four themes: Health tech, food tech, smart cities/smart transit and inclusivity in tech culture.
Nat Parker, the CEO of moovel North America (formerly GlobeSherpa, maker of the TriMet ticketing app) is talking about "Creating the Smart Transit Bill of Rights."
According to Willamette Week editor and publisher Mark Zusman, who helps select the speakers, Parker is proposing some fundamental principles around transit and tech that government agencies ought to adopt.
"He's a sharp, thoughtful guy as well as a good businessman," Zusman said. "He's proposing more than just let's have Uber in one bucket and buses in another bucket, to get off our carbon fixation."
Futurist Nicole Rennalls (see sidebar) discusses high expectations in a talk called "Where Is My Flying Car? — The Realities of Smart Transit."
Also on a transportation tip, David Bragdon and David Block-Schachter ask, "Can Tech Make Public Transit More Entrepreneurial? How Data and Connectivity Can Improve the Transit Experience."
Melissa Gregg, principal engineer at Intel, will speak on "A Woman's Place Is Designing the Smart Home" and "Why Can't a Connected Home Do My Laundry?"
"This is part of the inclusivity in tech culture track," Zusman said. "She has a PhD in gender studies and is a futurist at Intel. She studies user experience (UX) across smart home platforms. She'll probably be discussing how women ought to be more involved in things like the design of the connected kitchen."
Rose Marcario is the CEO of apparel maker Patagonia. Zusman says she will talk about inclusivity, among other things. "Patagonia is one of the most respected companies around but it's also getting into the food business, and they're suing President Trump because of changes to the Federal monuments," Zusman said. "There's been extraordinary interest in her coming."
Nellie Bowles, who writes for the New York Times about Blockchain bros, unicorn memes and what's happening on Snap, will talk about her work. Zusman likes to bring in journalists because they can let loose more than people tied to tech companies.
"Nellie recently wrote about spending a week in Puerto Rico with some cryptocurrency guys who want to buy land there and start a sovereign nation," he said.
Zusman says the festival has moved five times in six years, but the PSU venue should hold them for a while. International interest has increased this year with sponsors coming from Germany, startups from Canada, and 40 Chinese entrepreneurs coming with Start Jones's networking group Professional Diversity Network.
The Technology Association of Oregon is already giving a tech award in the name of Sam Blackman, the young Portland executive who died suddenly last summer. TFNW is also giving a Blackman award, this one for a tech worker who has shown great civic engagement.
Nicole Rennalls works at Tektronix which makes oscilloscopes.
"We're defined by problem solvers, always exploring new areas, and that includes smart transit. But when you think about autonomous driving, technologists tend to focus on the technical challenge. But instead of zeroing in on the tech challenge, try to understand it from a human perspective. That helps us identify challenges we'd normally not see.
Autonomous vehicles have a whole range of sensors, which need to work in concert: cameras, radar, LIDAR and ultrasound. "At Tektronix we have a long history of helping in advances in tech. We create support tools for engineers working on the vehicle."
For example, the car of 50 years ago was mechanical with not much computer power. Now with infotainment systems and electronic bus, when you pump the brake a sensor detects how deep and tells an actuator how much to use the brake. Oscilloscopes are used to verify the sensor works.
As for the talk's title, "The flying car is the gold standard for futurists. And it has a number of technical challenges. But more important than the flying car are more safe, efficient and equitable modes of transportation."
Such as vehicle communications to help people get to work on time.
"There are large parts of the population that could benefit from that."
Rennalls and her Intel futurist team have visited several departments of transportation around the county looking for new ideas: Oregon (ODOT), Denver, Ohio…She was impressed with Columbus, Ohio, which won the smart city challenge. "They have vehicles that talk to intersections. In smart Ohio they are showing leadership with equity in making reliable bus routes, ways to get form home to your mass transit option."
She says they are trying "to engage citizens in developing what the future should look like. We are doing a lot of outreach, because I think change will come from very motivate DOTS and very motivated tech companies. The motivated DOTs want to get after this early, and the others want to see what they do."
Where: Viking Pavilion, Portland State University, 930 S.W. Hall St.
When: April 5 and 6
Cost: $99 one day, $180 both days.
Reporter, The Business Tribune
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