Defrag Returns With Underwater “DIY” Robots, User-Friendly Skynet

Since its start in 2007, the Defrag conference has grown into one of the marquee events in Colorado, drawing technologists from global companies like Intel and Facebook as well as innovative startups.

Defrag’s organizers consider the event a “forum for exploring information overload and building implicit tools for the Web,” and their ambition is to bring some of the spirit that marked the PC Forum during its heyday to Colorado.

The conference returns next Monday, Nov. 4, with dozens of presentations on a wide range of topics, encompassing big data, the “Internet of things,” and human-computer interaction. Defrag’s goal is to get industry and thought leaders together to look at what’s coming in the next 18 to 24 months.

Defrag is a hot ticket, usually packing a large conference center in Broomfield, a city halfway between Denver and Boulder. At $1,695, it’s expensive as well.

I asked Eric Norlin, Defrag’s organizer, if he noticed a few big trends or topics that would be up for discussion when he was creating the agenda. He gave me three. While two of the topics are about the industry adapting to trends that already have made an impact, the third is slowly surfacing.

Here’s his list:

—Application programming interfaces, or APIs. “Not exactly ‘emerging’ so much as emerged and going mainstream very quickly,” Norlin wrote in an e-mail. “There will be some announcements that are press-worthy at the show.”

—Identity. “Identity management isn’t simply a ‘person’ thing anymore,” Norlin wrote, “as identity is becoming central to the emergent IoT [Internet of Things], BYOD [Bring Your Own Device], etc. trends.”

—“The rise of the citizen explorer… [which] combined with 3D robotics (drones) points to an insanely huge trend emerging,” Norlin wrote.

Norlin pointed to a group known as OpenROV that will have a speaker at the conference. The group is an open-source, do-it-yourself community of tech fans who build underwater robots for exploration and education.

Norlin wouldn’t pick favorites from the keynotes and presentations that are scheduled, but here are a few I’m keeping my eye on.

—“How to Make Skynet User Friendly,” by Bret Tobey, Carvoyant founder and CEO. Carvoyant is working to develop a way of sharing “connected car data,” which sounds interesting—but come on, a title like that sells itself.

—“Existence as a Platform: Quantified Self Meets the Internet of Things,” by Chris Dancy. Check out this profile of Dancy by Wired, in which he talks about his obsessive tracking of his activity and why it’s the shape of the future. The idea of constantly monitoring yourself for self-knowledge is intriguing, but making that part of your job sounds horrifying, so it will be interesting to hear what Dancy thinks.

—“The Camera Conundrum: Are Humans Ready for Augmented Reality?” by Adam Wilson, Orbotix co-founder and chief software architect, and “Smart Glasses: Past, Present, and the Not-So-Distant Future,” by Tyler Phillipi, OTG Platforms co-founder. Two perspectives on augmented reality, one from the creators of the Sphero robotic ball, the other from a company making software for smart glasses.

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