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What did Dr Lucy Rogers ‘make’ of World of Watson?

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Dr Lucy Rogers is a maker and engineer, and judge of BBC TV’s series Robot Wars. She joined IBM at World of Watson, and here’s what she thought of the tech, the talks, the self-driving car, and the cognitive noun…

It was clear from everything I saw at World of Watson that IBM has some amazing tools. Their customers are using them in impressive and fun ways. Some of these tools are great right now, and some are going to become great in the not too distant future.

Silverhook Powerboats

Silverhook is a powerboat ‘engineered to be the fastest, most efficient, ultimate mono-hull of all time.’ It uses onboard real-time IBM Watson IoT analytics. This gives the team live data. The analysis required is designed on the cloud but due to the timings involved – and the difficulty of connecting to the internet when miles out to sea – real time analytics is done onboard. An interesting example and I can imagine some other use-cases for this. However, it is probably not yet in a maker’s budget.

Aerialtronics and drone inspections

Another exciting project was Aerialtronics cell tower inspection drones. Visual recognition APIs plus Watson analyse the images captured by the drone to detect problems like damaged cabling or equipment defects. I think if I had a drone I’d be seriously considering what I could do with this.

Olli, the 3D-printed mini-bus

I was lucky enough to have a very brief trip on Olli the self-driving, 3D printed, IoT enabled minibus. You tell “him” what you’re in the mood for, or where you want to go, and he’ll make recommendations and take you there. He uses data from The Weather Channel too, so he’ll even tell you if you need a brolly. In the desert of Las Vegas this was a ‘no, you don’t’.

Olli is currently being trialled in Washington D.C. and as soon as the legal road blocks (sorry couldn’t resist) around autonomous vehicles are sorted I can see some real potential here.

Cognitive, and the cognitive noun

There were a few projects that seem to be done ‘because we can’ – such as the Cognitive Chocolatier. Watson Chef designed the recipes for a range of NuNu chocolates. I tried a few (for science of course!) but I am not sure they’ll feature on my list of favourite flavours.

And then we have Igor Ramos’ Cognitive Candy Machine, quite a tool, but maybe a little excessive just to be able to ask politely for sweets and candies! But it is a really cool maker hack – especially the 3D printed parts.

IBM also had a cognitive dress on display. This was designed to change colour depending on the sentiment of the #IBMWoW tweets – another thing a maker could adapt for themselves. However, the skill level required for the fabric parts is well beyond me!

‘Cognitive’ was a word I kept hearing, and, at times, as a noun (shudder). Grady Booch even tweeted about my boots with the hashtag  #CognitiveShoes. I tried to find out what was really meant by ‘cognitive’. It appears to be as follows:

Using a variety of IBM’s tools to:

  • understand (analyse and interpret) your data
  • interact (text, speech etc.) with your ‘things’
  • improve your ‘thing’ through machine learning
  • get solutions based on the requirements you put in, your personality, tone, and emotion

Education and learning with Watson

One of my favourite things was finding Sesame Street’s Elmo and Grover at the conference. They were there to promote the IBM and Sesame Street partnership to provide personalized educational experiences that adapt to the way individual children learn best.

I also met Milo – a humanoid robot that ‘engages children with Autism and delivers research-based lessons that teach social behaviors’. I think this is a brilliant use of technology, and I hope to see more of this.

What’s in it for you as a maker?

The opportunities at the conference were amazing. I wish I could have taken advantage of more of them (but time was tight and there was so much to see and do). I did manage to go to a workshop on how to make an IoT app and used some of IBM’s tools first hand. Many of their tools are either open source (such as Node-RED) or free / inexpensive for low-volume users like makers. So it’s low risk to learn the tools and try them out.

Many other tools and ideas I heard about came from amazing speakers such as IBM Chairman and CEO Ginni Rometty, General Motors CEO and chairman Mary Barra, IBM Vice President and General Manager, Internet of Things, Commerce & Education Harriet Green.

Other talks I found fascinating, inspiring or made me want to do stuff, included those by Thomas L. Friedman, Prof Joichi Ito, David Brin and Peter Diamandis.

I discussed the Internet of Things from the view of a maker on a panel session. I also participated in a live twitter chat. This led to a big discussion about whether the Internet of Things (IoT) was a good thing. Chris Robbins (@Grallator) argued that everyone was jumping on the IoT bandwagon. Saying “It reminds me of discovery of radiation and the subsequent selling of radioactive products, e.g. water, last century!”

I think there are some valid points. But I do think the opportunities for improving our lives and environment through IoT are enormous. I never want to stop anyone trying anything. Sometimes the brilliant ideas are the crazy ones!

IBM have a host of hacks and recipes you can try for yourself. Why not let me know how you get on using the comments below, or via Twitter.

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