Here's my list of promising areas, which obviously isn't intended to be comprehensive. I made a few tweaks here (it's slightly different from the talk I gave on Tuesday), to highlight companies with Boston ties.
1. Wearable (and eventually implantable) computing. Google Glass has been getting all the hype lately, but there are lots of other companies thinking about new kinds of displays and devices that we might wear, rather than carry. One startup, Melon (formerly known as Axio), participated in Highland Capital Partner's Summer@Highland program, and briefly worked out of IDEO's Cambridge office, too. Now based in Los Angeles, the startup raised almost $300,000 on Kickstarter this year.
2. Synthetic biology. Boston-area companies like Sample6 and Joule are designing bespoke bacteria to do difficult jobs like detecting pathogens in food processing plants, or cranking out ethanol for cars. (This is a field I've been following since 2005, when I wrote about the collegiate Synthetic Biology Competition.) Here's a video about Joule's fuel production facility in New Mexico.
3. Indoor navigation and messaging. Ever have that experience of walking into a big box store and spending a half-hour looking for the item you need? What if your mobile device could lead you straight to it — and perhaps also ping you with special offers or detailed product info about other items of interest? A Boston University spin-out called ByteLight is working on a kind of GPS that can guide you around large indoor spaces, and they have a pilot test already installed at the Museum of Science.
4. Renewable energy and energy storage. We need renewable energy technologies that can be used in all sorts of environments and geographies, and a way to store that power for when it's most valuable to customers. Here's Donald Sadoway of MIT and Ambri, talking about grid-scale energy storage as "the missing link to renewable energy."
5. Next-gen transportation. Transportation innovation seems to be coming from everywhere other than Detroit these days, whether ride-sharing startups like Lyft, electric vehicle makers like Tesla, or Terrafugia, the Massachusetts startup that's working on a hybrid airplane-car called the Transition. This video focuses on a Terrafugia concept vehicle called the TF-X.
6. The Internet of things. Zillions of intelligent devices and sensors will be able to communicate with each other, and deliver essential data to humans (for instance, "the temperature in that refrigerated truck full of fresh fish is getting dangerously high.") One Boston company with an interesting strategy for the Internet of things is LogMeIn, with its Xively platform for handling all the back-end data processing for these new connected devices.
7. Robotic co-workers. Massachusetts companies like Kiva Systems, Rethink Robotics, and Harvest Automation are all developing new kinds of robot that can work alongside human colleagues; Rethink's Baxter robot, geared to light manufacturing and packaging tasks, can even be programmed by non-specialists. Here's Rethink founder Rodney Brooks giving a TED Talk about how 'bots like Baxter could aid American manufacturing.
8. 3D design, prototyping and small-run production. This video from Somerville-based Formlabs shows how its desktop printer ($3300) can produce a working planetary gear set.
9. Games, gamification, and playful education. I'm bullish on all sorts of radical new directions for videogames, especially those that teach and foster creativity. I think we'll also see more kind of enterprise software get "gamified," with a layer of competition and recognition integrated into otherwise dull workplace tasks. The video below is long, but it offers a glimpse of "Fantasia: Music Evolved," the forthcoming game from Harmonix Music Systems in Cambridge, developed in partnership with Disney. It's played with Microsoft Kinect, so the player's body serves as the controller.
10. Richer digital collaboration. Skype and GoToMeeting are just baby-steps toward a future when we won't have to travel as much to get things done. Here's a look at the Mezzanine videoconferencing and collaboration system from Oblong Industries, an MIT Media Lab spin-out based in Los Angeles.
About Scott Kirsner
Scott Kirsner was part of the team that launched Boston.com in 1995, and has been writing a column for the Globe since 2000. His work has also appeared in Wired, Fast Company, The New York Times, BusinessWeek, Newsweek, and Variety. Scott is also the author of the books "Fans, Friends & Followers" and "Inventing the Movies," was the editor of "The Convergence Guide: Life Sciences in New England," and was a contributor to "The Good City: Writers Explore 21st Century Boston." Scott also helps organize several local events on entrepreneurship, including the Nantucket Conference and Future Forward. Here's some background on how Scott decides what to cover, and how to pitch him a story idea.
Subscribe via e-mail
More from Scott
March 3: Web Innovators Group
Demos, drinks, and schmoozing at the Royal Sonesta in Cambridge.
March 7-8: MassDigi Game Challenge
Competition for aspiring game developers... plus panels and keynotes related to the business of play.
April 3-4: Mass Biotech Annual Meeting
Issues facing the region's life sciences community.