Innovation and re-invention at the Stanford Cool Product Expo

At the Cool Product Expo, design studios show off their latest ideas, from skateboards to guitars to new ways of enjoying photography.

Impossible's Instant Lab dock transforms iPhone photos into instant photographs. James Martin/CNET

STANFORD, Calif. -- Finding a new product idea is never easy. You have to understand your target audience and test the market. But not every new product comes from a new idea -- sometimes the best products are simply new ways of viewing the world, or new approaches to old problems.

At the Cool Product Expo held at Stanford University this week, a few of the designs on hand are re-imagining some classic products -- in ways you might never have thought possible.

One company, Impossible, is hoping to revive instant photography, and dozens of other companies -- 11 of the 30 total participants are Kickstarter projects -- have new ways of looking at the world as well. It's design as re-invention, highlighting toys, music, and even cocktails. A few of the cooler things I saw were the Freebord, a skateboard re-envisioned to mimic a snowboard, and software called StealthHD, which stitches together video feeds to create single stream panoramas.

At least two products I saw, the Kubi and Motrr, are enabling remote motion controls for video devices, bringing a little more life to video chatting.

I've been to the Cool Product Expo at Stanford at least four times, and while I'm not often completely amazed at what I've seen, it always presents some incredible ideas. Probably the most impressive aspect of the event is the ability of people with a vision to bring an actual product to market.

Everyone has ideas, but it takes a great team and excellent management, along with an understanding of the fabrication and design process, to make an idea a reality.

It's getting at least a little easier, though. The tools available to entrepreneurs today -- like digital design, 3D printers, and funding sources such as Kickstarter -- are making concepts a reality for people every day. Maybe your idea is next.

About the author

James Martin is the staff photographer at CNET News, covering the geeks and gadgets of Silicon Valley. When he's not live-blogging the latest product launches from Apple, Google, or Facebook, James can be found exploring NASA, probing robotics labs, and getting behind-the-scenes with some of the Bay Area's most innovative thinkers.

 

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