Gadgetoff 2007 -  Overview    Press    Videos    Photos  

Gadgetoff 2007 was our most remarkable event to date. The terrific venues spanned New York, New Jersey and the harbor: the IAC  building, Liberty State Park, and the fabulously renovated Liberty Science Center. There were great gadgets, astounding inventions, terrific presentations, and a fabulous gadget bag. But, without a doubt, the best part of the event was the joyous sense of community and fun… if our friends just conversed with each other the whole day, Gadgetoff would have still been a success.

Trying to list the highlights of the Gadgetoff is difficult when you have 300 active participants. So, we'll start at the beginning. Barry Diller and his team at the IAC were kind enough to let us tour the remarkable Frank Gehry designed building on the lower West Side of Manhattan. Since a large number of our creative Gadgetoff colleagues helped create  the world’s largest interactive display screen, the highlight of the IAC building was the delightful tour of the capabilities of the enormous video wall. Our friends Jakob Trollback, Jeff Han, Eli Kuslansky, Steve Zink and other long-time Gadgetoff friends contributed to this miracle.

We marched, 350 strong,  across the West Side Highway to an awaiting ferry where, for the second year, we risked touring the Hudson River. This year, however, the Lack-o’-Rain Gods smiled upon us, and as we noshed on coffee and Danish, our ferry passengers discovered that we were being stalked by a magnificent white 200 foot dirigible that escorted us into the dock at Liberty State Park.

There two enormous hot air balloons greeted us including one shaped like the Space Shuttle. They floated right in the shadow of the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island. As we entered the restored Central Terminal, Gadgetoff 2007 began in earnest!

Inside, rows of train tracks, overgrown with weeds, remained as a reminder of millions of immigrants who fanned out across the country from this “point of decision.” It was fitting that we would return with the latest technology at the starting gate for the scientists, engineers, laborers, and inventors that transformed America a century ago into the greatest technological superpower on Earth.

Inside the station, a host of fabulous vehicles: from a fully-functioning 1914 electric car to several BMW hydrogen-powered cars. Bottles of water with the words “Exhaust” were distributed to celebrate the engineering miracle of the BMW hydrogen cars. Plus, we popped the hood on the new high-performance Lexus Hybrid, parked next to the stunning solar-powered vehicle built by and driven by high school students across the country. Video Ray not only shared their amazing video-camera laden submersible again but finally  allowed us to board Scott Bentley’s high-tech customized bus tricked-out to perfection.

Many were blown-away by the collaborative workshop on wheels created by MIT and Sustainable South Bronx. This portable Fab-Lab, first announced in concept form at last year’s Gadgetoff, now was actually whirring, grinding, with laser-cutters cooking away. Gaily painted and magnetic to the many kids attending, the portable Fab-Lab was staffed by spirited Bronx students and volunteers who proved how inspired people become when they manufacture their own toys and devices.

There was similar high-energy on the other side of the train terminal, where an entire playing field of robots skirmished to demo the latest FIRST Robotics competition. Teen roboticists were thrilled when long-time Gadgetoff friends, inventor Dean Kamen, FIRST Founder, and John Abele, FIRST Chairman, made a surprise appearance.

But there were more robots of course: iRobot premiered two new consumer products and gave us an exclusive hands-on demonstration. The fast-tracked rain-gutter cleaning robot and a sophisticated home surveillance robot were revealed. But how can we forget iRobot’s latest Roomba? Smaller, faster, and quieter, this home vacuum cleaning robot has been completely redesigned and the results are revolutionary. Even though millions of earlier units are still cleaning rooms out there, the new Roomba works wonderfully.

Carnegie Mellon, which last year brought its amazing DARPA Challenge vehicle, this time showed off a robust life-saving robot that securely navigates and inspects dangerous underground mines. (Later, Red Whittaker of CMU, explained this robot’s capabilities.

Historians, standing at various stations near the tracks, described how Liberty State Park was reclaimed after once being a site inundated by toxic waste; others described how America’s rich technological culture was created by the immigrants who passed through this station.  One of the most bizarre and remarkable stories told about the site was on the “Black Tom” disaster. Saboteurs, in the First World War caused a tremendous explosion of a nearby munitions dump, causing millions of dollars of damage (including to the Statue of Liberty.) Author Chad Millman described the mysteries behind the “Black Tom” affair which still ranks among the worst terrorist incidents in American history.

Despite being surrounded by amazing technology and history, many participants were just happy to schmooze, eat lunch, and catch up on new projects. But, everyone soon moved outside as Neal Ormond cooked a spectacular BBQ using his custom-made flamethrower. Under the dubious eye of some rather unhappy officials, many lucky Gadgetoff connoisseurs tried Ormond’s astonishing banana flambé or flamethrower beef, both of which were delicious.

Some lucky friends got to ride around on an “ultimate terrain vehicle,” the Tom Car, which even a grandma could drive straight up and down the mountain. Of course there was high drama as the Madagascar Group almost had to abort the launch of their rocket-powered motorcycle until they were saved by a maintenance crew member of Liberty State Park who found another leaf blower needed to get the raucous motorcycle started. When the jet rocket bike finally roared to life and lurched precariously through the park, the Gadgetoff crowd went wild.

Next stop, right up the cobblestone road from the old CRRNJ rail station, was the newly renovated Liberty Science Center. Long before the public opening in July, while the two-year massive reconstruction was still underway, Wayne LaBar, LSC Director of Exhibits, took us to marvel at the $160 million rebuilding effort at the construction site. Wayne, a longtime Gadgetoff participant, knew the LSC would be a perfect venue for Gadgetoff 2007, and our gracious host proved to be absolutely right.

Though the paint was still wet on some of the walls and several exhibits remained under construction, participants took whirlwind gallery tours with designers of this massively reconfigured technology palace. Innovative exhibits, using state-of-the-art multimedia and tactile displays, focused on diverse themes as Skyscrapers, Communication History, Infection, and Islamic influences on science.

While most of our participants were touring the new museum, others were franticly putting finishing touches on their gadget presentations on tables in the central gallery. Here a massive area was curtained off to display literally hundreds of items of gadgetry, robotics, electronic art, science project demos, electronic music, optical illusions, astronomy tools, etc. There were hysterical scenes as the efficient museum security guards struggled to adapt to a bizarre parade of massive four-wheeled robots, customized Segways, and mad scientists running through the front doors with bags and boxes full of bizarre and somewhat threatening-looking electronic gadgetry.

While the gadget setup was happening upstairs, downstairs many of us gathered to gaze in awe at Liberty Science Center’s 10-foot high earth projection sphere. Numerous astonishing data sets and visualizations of the changing earth and natural phenomenon were illuminated in hyper-realistic fashion. Many of us shared Dean Kamen’s sentiment as he watched this massive globe display and said, “I need this in my house!” (The difference is that we know Dean will get one, even if he has to construct a better one himself.)

So many of the great designers involved in the remaking of Liberty Science Center have long histories participating in Gadgetoff’s past and present. It was wonderful to see new Chuck Hoberman designs while his iconic massive sphere--- extended and contracted in the museum’s entrance--- beckoned all who wished to share in the explosion of innovation.

The Liberty Science Center auditorium became the stage for Gadgetoff. Artist Leni Schwendinger choreographed the stage illumination; our friends from Color Kinetics brought innovative lighting including the staggering infinite color LED hanging drapes; Bruce Gitlin of Milgo-Bufkin and friends fabricated and delivered a massive steel honey-combed centerpiece designed specifically for this Gadgetoff. But they were not alone: dozens of other Gadgetoff participants volunteered their artistry and talent in all aspects of the production here in the auditorium and at the many other venues during the day. Even Jakob Trollback, brilliant director and animator, whipped up an terrific opening animation… made even more extraordinary once we got the sound to work!

It is impossible to summarize all the presentations during the two speaker sessions. We won’t even try. Instead, here’s where you can enjoy the full videos. Gadgetoff presentations come in two varieties: short and shorter. The ideal presentation never exceeds three minutes and most of the best speeches came during the one-minute “speed rounds” where our friends get up, share something wonderful, then sit down.

Dr. Tony Tether, director of DARPA, keynoted the first session and described many of their scientific breakthroughs (including the new effort for high-tech robotic limb replacements, examples of which were on display in the Gadget zone.) There were presentations on mind-controlled robots; latest studies on brain function; demos of a camera that could track a laser in flight and another that captures emissions and disruptions in the atmosphere. Peter Menzel took us on his gastronomical exploration of edible insects and other obsessions and Dr. Yossi Vardi delivered an extensive investigation into the lesser-known problem of “local-cooling” (and we’re talking about gonads, here, ladies and gentlemen.)

Red Whittaker updates us about the autonomous Urban Challenge competition and on the astonishing robot to save lives in underground mines. Juan Enriquez discussed breakthroughs in bio-engineering while Rick Smolan explored the nuances in how families relate. Aaron Edsinger’s robot demonstrated the difficulty of replicating human behaviors ; Team Sabuda displayed their remarkable methods of fabricating their astounding pop-up book design methods; more robots (now cleaning gutters and taking care of the house-bound); more interfaces allowing new two-handed control; new 3D home fabrication devices; and more and more. Under Secretary Cohen, head of Science and Technology for the Department of Homeland Security unveiled and triggered the “Dazzler,” a non-lethal weapon designed to nauseate assailants. (Worked for me J)

“My Brain Hurts!” Panelists, in rapid fire, relentless created new synapses in our brains. There was an hysterical (but potentially lucrative) description of a science project to train crows to recover lost coins and a mind-blowing taste experiment, in which Barb Stuckey proved taste is not a tongue-thing but a nose-thing. With that, we exploded out of the theater and to dinner and the gadget displays.

Sony showed off a 4K projector - it was the best image quality any of us had ever seen. You could stand next to a full-size cinema screen and strain to see the pixels.

Our friends at IMAX premiered their totally immersive, new Transformers movie at the Liberty Science Center's IMAX theater. The movie literaly blew the room away.


Into the Gadget Zone

I was told the food was delicious. Who had time? But Mattson Foods premiered two new color-changing specialty cocktails introduced at Gadgetoff. I enjoyed “Red to Blue” drink but wimped out on the other one. (You didn’t just need to show ID before getting these alcoholic drinks, you also had to sign a legal release!)

In addition to the robotic limbs, a half-million dollar robotic head, a life-size sculpture made of Lego, there were literally hundreds of other object d’brain-hurt on display. Everyone found their own highlights: mine included the life-size mesh orb that allowed full running movement for video simulation; the hemispheric planetarium with a database of celestial objects exceeding that held by the Hayden Planetarium; full demos of Will Wright’s kick-butt world creation engine game, “Spore”; and musical robots and guerrilla-tech art from Madagascar Institute.

Several huge multi-touch display technologies were on hand while puffy indoor blimps elegantly maneuvered around the gorgeous gallery. Educational Innovations had a captivating table crammed with the hundreds of samples of scientific toys and experiments. Wheeled robots, balancing robots, tracked robots, autonomous robots, and a large self-balancing 4-wheeled Centaur (from Segway) intermingled harmoniously.

John Abele keynoted the second session of talks with the moving and triumphant tale of his search for the WWII submarine that sunk with his father and crew. (You really must watch this astonishing account.) The range of speakers was astonishing: Cosmologist Dr. Paul Steinhardt, the Albert Einstein Professor of Physics at Princeton, presented not one but two plausible scenarios of what transpired in the first five minutes of the formation of the Universe (and did so, miraculously, with breathtaking clarity in under five minutes.) Will Wright, who has created his own virtual universe first with “The Sims” now introduced us to his latest work on his new game of creation, “Spore.”

Aubrey de Gray inspired us about the path to longevity. Dr. Joy Hirsch showed us her research on how thoughts can be mapped in the human brain and took us on a visual tour of Dan Dubno’s frenetic brain via a Functional MRI display. Martin Eberhard’s presentation revealing automobile crash testing was, um, a big hit. Sandy Pentland spoke poignantly about the search for technologies to enhance life on earth others (including the newly-minted “MacArthur Genius” grant winner Saul Griffith) lovingly described fun hacks and neat tech projects certain to inspire new generations of innovators. Michael Winter had us all giddy and wanting to sign-up for the pioneering playfulness of the “Stupid Fun Club.”

Graffiti Research Lab's James Powderly and Evan Roth concluded the presentation with their outdoor display of "L.A.S.E.R. Tag"… a portable computer vision and projector system that allows protestors to make non-destructive but powerful social comment via large electronic graffiti displays. Using a simple green laser, the graffiti artist writes his message on a wall and the machine copies and displays it vividly.

As folks from the Madagascar Institute lit up Flaming Simon, a huge series of flaming jets seared the sky in rhythmic play. And they once more propelled the rocket jet bike, now blasting and blazing in the evening darkness, a roaring conclusion to the Gadgetoff festivities at the Liberty Science Center.

Steve Jobs would say, “Oh, and Just One More thing” and that is exactly what we did - participants left with an insane GadgetBag (actually two bags and a Wowwee Toys Dragonfly.) Books, gadgets, pranks, experiments, t-shirts, and other insanity weighed down the crowd as we headed with joy to the Ferry waiting to take us back to Manhattan.

As we stood there, on the Ferry, in the clear night, gazing at the lights and small boats in the harbor, behind us, over the Statue of Liberty the dark sky erupted in a display of fireworks. A perfect ending to a perfect day.

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