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TED2008: Innovation in the morning

Entrepreneur Ben Kaufman and his company, Kluster, have been working almost as hard as Bruno and I. To showcase their online collaboration software, they’ve decided to brainstorm, design and launch a new product within 72 hours. 2700 people participated from around the world, and decided to create an educational game. Online, they brainstormed the rules and solicited names and logos. It launched on stage today – “Over There: The Game of Social Awareness”.

The story is not the game itself, but the collaborative platform that makes it possible – it’s a very pretty Ruby on Rails application that will be launching shortly. It’s pretty ballsy to agree to design something in three days with alpha software in front of one of the world’s toughest audiences. (Disclosure: my friend and former business partner, Bo Peabody, is one of the backers of Kluster.)

Research engineer Johnny Lee had a cool idea – he wanted to use the Wii remote, which contains a pretty high-quality infared camera, to build some innovative new products. His first demo is an interactive whiteboard, built for $50. It involves putting a Wii remote on a projector, an infared LED in a dry-erase marker, and projecting a desktop onto the screen. The Wii tracks the pen, and allows the impressions to be made on the whiteboard and on the computer screen. “It provides about 80% of the functionality of professional solutions for 1% of the cost.” He’s not kidding about the functionality – with two pens, it supports multitouch, like the Perceptive Pixel devices that are being shown off at the conference. The software to support this use has been downloaded half a million times, and has become quite popular in underresourced public schools.

His second demo is using the Wii remote for head tracking. Put it on your head, load his software, and you can produce a stunning 3D effect that moves as your field of vision moves. This is possible with about $10 of extra hardware added to a Wii – Electronic Arts is already talking about incorporating it into games.

Lee ends with a quick plug for YouTube in sharing these sorts of ideas. “I’m just a guy in a lab with some cool stuff. I put it out on YouTube and within days, I’m getting videos from other people with their own versions of the tool.” He gets a standing ovation from the TED crowd.