At NextFest, sheer coolness trumps realism

Walk into New York City's Jacob Javits Convention Center for Wired magazine's third annual NextFest, and you'll understandably feel like you've plunged into an issue of Wired. NextFest, at the Javits Center from Sept. 28 to Oct. 1, is full of bright colors, oddball futuristic designs, and technologies that'll make you shake your head and say, "That'll never happen."

First thing's first: This isn't a gadget show. Most of the exhibits feature innovations, products, and ideas that aren't meant for the consumer market at all, but they're nevertheless mostly tangible enough so that they would still impact the average citizen in one way or another--if they ever "make it." And that's a big "if." Some of NextFest's highlights, like the E-TAF's automatic door, which opens in a shape that conforms to the size of the person about to walk through, were cool in a Jetsons kind of way but didn't seem to have much purpose beyond that. And others, like the Aphrodite Project platform shoes for high-tech prostitutes, were intended as works of art rather than future additions to the market.

There were a few consumer products on display, like the Nabaztag Wi-Fi robot bunnies--yes, you can really buy one at ThinkGeek-- but they tended to be presented in ways that were decidedly unusual. One hundred of the Nabaztag bunnies, for example, were arranged into a darkened "Rabbit Theater" where they performed an original opera that involved dreamlike "singing," light shows, and synchronized ear motions. (The whole thing was very Michel Gondry-meets-Pokemon.)

The several thousand field-tripping students who visited Nextfest on Friday the 29th were likely focused on how cool the exhibits were. After all, there were digital rock climbing walls, enormous body-controlled video games, and plenty of robots. But plenty of the grown-ups in attendance probably spent a good bit of time wondering which of these seemingly outlandish technologies we'll actually see outside of convention halls some day. I must say I'm rooting for the Nabaztag bunnies. One of those little guys sure would look cool on my desk.

 

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