I experienced an interesting contradiction during my time last week at Semicon West, a huge trade show for semiconductor manufacturing and equipment vendors.
Figure: This might have been a cool picture of a electronic or electro-mechanical system at Semicon. Unfortunately, policy and competitive fearfulness prevented me from sharing such a picture with you.
At the start of the show, I attended a technology forum hosted by IMEC. One of the underline themes of that forum – and many related presentations at Semicon – was the growing connectedness of our world. Semiconductor-based technology has brough powerful advances to consumer electronics that have enabled a ever increasing connectiveness via the Internet and social media applications.
Future levels of connectivity will continute to grow until our devices will be highly context aware – from smart phones and tablets to wearable, embedded devices. (see IMEC article). Consumer devices, indeed even machine-to-machine systems, will rely on inobtrusive camera, microphones, sensors and other devices to bring about these new levels of connectivity.
The key word is cameras, which leads me to a contradiction as I walked the exhibitor hall at Semicon. My intention during the walk was to take pictures of interesting equipment to highlight in my blog. As an engineer, it was exciting to see the mixture of electronic, electical and mechanical systems that were on display.
My excitement changed quickly to curious amusement as a number of the larger equipment vendors showed grave concern when I tried to photograph their systems with my smart phone. Most of the booth attendants felt reassured once I convinced them that I was with the press and not one of their competitors.
Still, their behavior struck me as odd for many reason. From a technology standpoint, much of the hardware technology on display is not leading edge. For example, one vendor had a large rack full of thick metal buss bars, huge voltage storage capacitors and associated relays. This system might have represented leading edge technology from the early 1900s, but not today. Still, even a picture of this lagging edge system caused the booth attendant a great deal of concern.
This behavior seemed odd because it took place at a trade show where equipment is displayed for the sole purpose of being seen and presumably photographed. I wondered what the future will hold for such hardware equipment vendors at future trade shows, especially as connectivity moves toward ubiquitous cameras.
Almost every consumer electronic oriented presentation that I attended at Semicon touted the coming age of connectivity, a world engulfed with sensors, cameras, microphones, every type of sensor that you can imagine.
What will that environment mean for exhibitors at trade shows when taking pictures is commonplace? Will it be an end to such business-to-business (B2B), hardware specific, and exhibitions? Will vendors merely run videos clips at their booths, afraid to bring actual equipment?
If hardware vendors rely solely on videos to highlight their products, then why would anyone physically attend the exhibition when such clips could be easily viewed online? Indeed, why even travel to the show, aside from networking opportunities? It seems to me that the value of such shows will be greatly diminished.
As usual, technology had advanced beyond our ability to deal with the social, legal and financial issues that it creates. Will the future connected trade-show world be a place that is intentionally devoid of meaning, where only the surface of things is revealed on a video screen? I doubt that will be a very satisfying experience for any user.