Invent Off: Qualcomm Uses Thunderdome Like Reality TV To Change The World

How do you change the world?  Often companies get so focused on the products they make they lose track of the amazing things that can be done with them.  The daily block and tacking gradually changes a young company that wants to change the world into an old company that just wants to keep an increasingly hostile group of “activist investors” who have become identical to corporate raiders over time happy.   Qualcomm is one of several companies trying to turn back the clock and focus once again on making the world a better place.  

Their vehicle is an internet based Reality Show called “Invent Off”.   Like the old Mad Max movie Thunderdome two teams enter, one team leaves as the winner (unlike Thunderdome no one has to die).   The prize is $25K but the real benefit is the support, visibility, and additional help Qualcomm puts into the effort.   And the fact they’ll help the team productize the result.  This won’t create the next Facebook, it isn’t that kind of effort, but Apple started in a very similar way so there is a slim chance we could see the birth of the next Apple like company.  

Dragonboard 410c Showcase

While the format is that of a reality TV show the product at the heart of this effort is the Dragonboard 410c.  This is a handy little card about the size of a credit card which has a Snapdragon 410 on it, Bluetooth, GPS sensor, and a much of ports.  Basically it is a tiny computer which runs Android, Debian Linux, and Windows IoT Core.   It costs about $75.  

It is designed to be a quick, inexpensive, and easy way to add computing power to any project and accelerate innovation along with Qualcomm technology into the market.  

Builder Tool Kit

The teams were equipped with a number of products provided by Full Spectrum and Qualcomm. These tools included 3D Printers and Laser Cutter to rapidly prototype the ideas and keep the competition moving around rapidly.   (There are only 5 episodes per Season and that means the teams have to work very quickly).   They also got a LG G5, a unique modular phone ideal for project, and a ton of other cool stuff

It strikes me that if you wanted to set up a technology class and teach kids how to innovate with current technology this list would make an excellent start.  It turns out Qualcomm has a web page up to put in a request to get much of this same list of stuff if that is your goal. 

While a tad tale this might also be an interesting start to a summer project with your kids.   These little boards and the related sensors are very inexpensive and the end result could form the basis for not only bonding with your kid but their report on what they did with their summer vacation.  (By the way there is great TV movie with a similar theme, “How I spent my summer vacation” that was just recently found and put on YouTube).    

Saving A Life

The goal the Season 2 teams were given was to create something that could save a life.   I’m actually kind of surprised we don’t see more projects like this.  Think about it, what is the value of a game?  Whatever you can sell it for times the number of people that will buy it.  What is the value of a life?  Since we can’t yet bring people back to life or create life from scratch the value of saving a life is virtually unlimited and, from the standpoint of both fame and doing good, it is also potentially off the charts.

What is interesting is the two teams came up with two very powerful but very different ideas.   The first team decided to try and create a real tricorder, mirroring the old X-Prize goal but with only 3 days to conceptualize and build a prototype.   The second team created a product I’ve predicted in the past, personal On-Star.   A device that would report automatically if you were injured so that help could get to you timely.   You can watch the first episode here

Wrapping Up:  Driving Innovation

The important thing about technology products isn’t the product itself it is what users do with it.   Creating a vehicle that captures not only the essence of the tool, but drives people to create amazing results is far from easy and doing this affordably up until recently all but impossible.  But with the power and cost efficiencies of the web for a fraction of the cost of a TV show firms can produce high quality video productions like Invent-Off which can accomplish that goal.  

This is pretty cool and, who knows, it could save your life.  Check it out.