Las Vegas - Thomas Edison famously observed that invention was 10 percent inspiration and 90 percent perspiration. To shepherd today's disruptive new technologies to success, new technology entrepreneurs seem to supply only a little more than half of each.
At the How Today's Emerging Technologies Will Affect Tomorrow's Devices conference, leaders of companies representing four "tomorrow's device" companies – Eric Migicovsky of smartwatch maker Pebble Technology, Brendan Iribe of virtual reality developer Oculus VR, Michael Buckwald of gesture control pioneer Leap Motion and Avi Reichental of 3D printing company 3D Systems – explained how app developers, crowd/customer-sourced creativity and science fiction such as Star Trek, now provide a higher percentage of the inspiration and perspiration their companies launched and are running on.
In other words, the inspiration for today's emerging technologies is often fictional future tech, and the perspiration is provided via the new technologies of the cloud and app development.
Before a new technology reaches consumers, entrepreneurs tap into what 3D System's Reichental called "the collective wisdom of excited developers" to help seed the device with functionality.
"You absolutely need apps to launch," confirmed Leap's Buckwald. "You just can't take something and port it. Developers are attracted because want to create, they want to be innovative, they want to be able to create something for the first time, something new, and that's hard to do with existing forms or platforms. It's a great opportunity for them to be really be creative, to really innovate."
All the panelists agreed that customer contributions are especially critical into growing beyond the first flush of market introduction and beating potential competition.
"Launching something new is where we need cooperation and collaboration," explained Reichental. "In this day and age, we all question our ability to get it perfect, so we access the universe of the collective wisdom of consumers. It's all about democratizing, [tapping] the expert user complexity to create."
"First to market is usually the one that wins," said Pebble's Migicovsky. "If you get out early, you can get feedback from users, actual hands-on experience, from people who pay money and care."
Customers also can inspire new technology by imagining uses its inventors never imagined.
"More and more people are customizing their electronics," Migicovsky noted. "[We rely] on the long tail of usage cases. [Apps] help people jumpstart their imagination for what they can do with [the Pebble]."
"We want to enable community and ecosystem, we want to enable developers," added Oculus VR's Iribe. "You want to enable users to go out and create new experiences and new content."
But original inspiration for both the entrepreneurs and their potential customers often originates from science fiction.
All four panelists, along with moderator Brian Heater, senior associate editor of Engadget, cited Star Trek as an inspirational touchstone – all four company's represented on the conference stage produce a version of something that would be familiar to the crew of the U.S.S. Enterprise and the show's viewers.
"[Virtual reality] is not the holodeck yet," quipped Iribe. "It'll take some years to get there – and we'll get there."
"Science fiction shapes and inspires and informs a direction," Reichental mused, "and gives you on a gut level an emotional basis to transform.
"But the ultimate manifestations of those visions far exceed what was imparted in a sci-fi movie," Reichental continued. "You have to be open along the journey to make many discoveries not intended or imagined and that will far exceed what we actually thought and the glitches we'll encounter."
Edison's original 19th century observations about inspiration and perspiration, though, may not be completely out of date where the successful development of 21st century tech is concerned.
"It take great courage and great perseverance to dig out all the ditches on the journey to deliver something that's awesome," Reichental commented. "Perseverance is a large part of this high tech journey."