Web Summit — 3 days of the weird and wonderful
Two colleagues and myself travelled to Web Summit in Lisbon this year and we weren’t disappointed. Bigger and better than when it was in my home country of Ireland, there was lots to see and do. Here’s a taste of what we saw and experienced.
Startups galore, of every shape and size
One of the main draws to Web Summit for me has always been the startups on show — I love talking to entrepreneurs about their ideas and seeing what are the latest trends, based on who is building what. Web Summit features startups from various stages — pre-funding, funded and growing, some looking to expand and some looking just to get noticed. One that stood out:
An Irish startup that won the ESB Spark of Genius competition at Web Summit, Coroflo has a patented breastfeeding monitor that can measure how much breastmilk a baby is getting.
I talked to CEO Rosanne Longmore and she said they would be launching the product in 2018. One to watch.
Another to catch my eye was:
An early stage startup, Storybot were demo’ing a smart device for kids to interact with. It speaks commands such as “toss me from one hand to another”, then responds appropriately when you do.
I thought it interesting as I see in the future a lot more voice-enabled or “AI” toys in the market, bringing cutting edge technology out of the screen and into the real world.
There were many many more startups, too many to summarise, but fun to meet and talk to. Some had ideas that I don’t think will ever go anywhere, some were downright bizarre, and some were ones to watch for the future.
Microsoft HoloLens Lab
Usually at tech conferences and expos you get to try out some cool tech — Microsoft went one step further at Web Summit and ran labs to actually write code and run it on their HoloLens. I’d tried the “mixed reality” device several times before and have always been impressed, but this time I built a small scene in Unity and ran it on the device via Visual Studio.
The code itself was fairly standard, but creating holograms and seeing them in front of you, via the HoloLens, was a lot of fun.
The HoloLens doesn’t yet have a consumer version — but shows the early promise of what mixed reality devices could bring in the future.
Star Trek Bridge Crew VR
At the risk of my bosses thinking I was just over at Web Summit to play with fancy toys, I have to mention the virtual reality game being shown off by IBM — Ubisoft’s Star Trek Bridge Crew. The basic idea is that you can play one of the characters on the bridge of the USS Enterprise — immersed in virtual reality, courtesy of an Oculus.
I’ve recently began seeing much better VR games and experiences appear — like the remarkable Retne from Northern Ireland. This new addition continues this trend, with an incredible, fun game that offers immersion just not possible with a normal games console. Like the HoloLens, it’s a great sign of what’s to come.
The IBM angle came from their use of their Watson Conversation service for voice commands in the game; a service I’ve used before for financial chatbots but interesting to see it in a virtual reality game.
Web Summit is also all about the talks and panels, with speakers from all over the world, from a huge variety of industries and backgrounds. I find, like at a lot of conferences, some talks, even with big names, can be boring — with nothing new discussed and questions that don’t offer anything other than bland answers. Here’s some though that I liked:
John Krafcik, CEO of Waymo
I’m a massive advocate for driverless cars — I believe they’re going to replace human drivers more or less entirely and have many other consequences; just like the replacement of horses by cars also changed so much. John Krafcik’s great talk on the main stage only re-enforced these beliefs.
He said that Waymo isn’t trying to build a system to assist the driver, or one that allows the driver to take over if needed. Instead, they are trying to build a system that will “drive” the car 100% of the time, regardless of the situation; and that they are already doing so on public roads.
He spoke of a vision of people not owning cars, but instead available of fleets of cars-as-a-service, leading to safer and more convenient travel. It may take many years, or even decades for this vision to become a reality but I’m a believer.
Aimee van Wynsberghe, Responsible Robotics
Appearing on the Talk Robot / Autotech stage, Aimee Van Wynsberghe spoke about ethics relating to robots — from angles such as “should we be allowed to hurt robots” to whether using sex robots is ethical. Again, not immediate issues, but another example of a subject discussed at Web Summit that will be more important in the future.
Yvonne Wassenar, Tom Bucklar and Quentin Hardy
New tech that is been actually used now are drones and IoT— as discussed by Yvonne Wassener (Airware), Tom Bucklar (Caterpillar inc) and Quentin Hardy (Google Cloud). Yvonne spoke how her company’s drones are being used in mines to digitise the physical landscape from above, leading to reduced costs and quicker surveys. Tom spoke how integrating IoT with their machines gives a real-time view of machinery, leading to increased safety and efficiency.
He also mentioned that some of their big trucks could hold 282 cars in the back. Awesome!
Paul Levesque aka Triple H
Another one that at first may worry Head Office, I had to see Paul “Triple H” Levesque from the WWE appear on the main stage, in conversation with Arjun Kharpai.
Paul is a wrestling legend but also a senior executive in the WWE — one of the biggest entertainment companies in the world. He spoke about the success of WWE’s online player The WWE Network, along with their strategies to handle the global nature of their business which includes nurturing local talent across the world.
And yes, he came on stage to his entrance music, as I hoped he would! I think the world would be a better place with more entrance music.
Dan Gray, Head of Studio, ustwo games
On the Player One stage, Dan Gray, Head of Studio at ustwo games, the makers of the multi-award winning Monument Valley game. He spoke about their Monument Valley 2 game, which has the relationship between a mother and her daughter at its core, and their approach to building it.
Espousing a belief that if you believe in something, you should carry it through to all parts of your life, he discussed how family and children heavily influenced the game. Not the usual talk at a tech conference, but an intriguing one.
He also mentioned that one of the aims of the game was that any screenshot taken of the app could be hung on a wall as a piece of art. The games are truly beautiful and I think setting such a lofty goal is commendable and a great approach to most work.
I’ve just given the barest sprinkling of some of the highlights of Web Summit — there was much much more on show. Overall, I really enjoyed it, the content was quality and the conference itself was well managed, barring the sometimes massive queues to enter in the morning.
Lisbon itself was also a star — a beautiful city with friendly people, with great public services to help us get around.
I won’t mention anything about Pub Summit or Night Summit though, in case HQ does stop me from going next year!
If you’ve any thoughts or comments please let me know and if you think it worth recommending, please hit the little applause button below, or go all out and share! Thanks, Andy