Sci-Fi Movie Night: Screenless Projectors, Virtual Cameras and Air Gapped Robots

At Lemnos, we are obsessed with early stage hardware startups and how teams and ideas come together. To help future founders, Eric, Dave, and I have been focusing more on how to assist in the ideation phase of the startup journey. One of the ways we are encouraging ideation is through what we’re calling “Sci-Fi Movie Night.”

Last week I hosted our first one featuring WALL-E. The rules are simple:

  • Get eight people in a room, pick an awesome sci-fi movie, and watch the first 45 minutes.
  • During that time, write on a Post-it note everything in the movie that is a technology that doesn’t exist yet.
  • Standard brain storming rules apply.
  • At the end of the 45 minutes, put all the notes on a white board.

After some discussion, clustering, and duplicate removing, we were left with about 50 technologies on our board. WALL-E is a great movie for this exercise. Because the people at Pixar put so much thought into the small details, we were left with a large number of things to discuss. (The sheer number of robot types alone left us with quite a list.) We had some debates over core technology versus applied, and decided that both were valid technologies to put on the Post-it notes. Then we asked the simple question “Which of these technologies could happen in the next five years?

After ranking our notes, here are our top six technology possibilities:

  1. Screenless Projectors: When the humans are on the hover chairs, they interact with other humans via a pop-up display. Billboards also appear just above these projections. With the development of short throw projectors and augmented reality (AR), is there a way to do away with the screen entirely?
  2. Virtual Cameras:Tip of the hat to Chris Post on this one. When the humans on the Axiom sit in the hover chairs, their faces are projected to whomever they are speaking with, but where is the camera?! The camera angle appears to be directly in front of the speaker, which is where the screenless projector is. If you have ultra-high resolution cameras in the chair or nearby, could you dynamically crop to keep the image there?
  3. Air-Gapped Robots: We found it really interesting that most of the robots never “link-up” per se. They often use projections or audio to transmit their data. The upside of this is that the robots are by default secure for most of their interactions. As robots in the real world become more complex, is there a benefit in making the default interaction one that is bandwidth constrained?
  4. Regenerative Food Supply: The “food” in the movie certainly has echoes of Soylent Green, but the fully regenerative nature of the food supply is something that we thought could become an interest area.
  5. Track-Based Robots: Many of the robots on the Axiom are on strict tracks and if they get off the tracks or there is something blocking their way, they don’t know what to do. This is the kind of hack that would allow more robots to enter the real world today by constraining their universe.
  6. Robots with Curiosity/ AI Improvisation: When the space ship with EVE lands, WALL-E freaks out because it is about to crush him; so he digs a hole. In addition, WALL-E is curious about the world around him. Adding the features of curiosity and improvisation to robots as we deploy them around humans could improve peoples’ acceptance and interest in them. The caution here is that if robots can improvise they might do things you never wanted them to do.

We also had a discussion about some of the technologies in the movie that did not exist when the movie was made, but do exist now. Most notable was voice control/ interactions with computers/ robots. When WALL-E was released in 2008, the first version of Siri was still three years away, and Echo was six years from coming to our store shelves. Back then, a conversational interface with a computer seemed like a far future, but it is now an everyday reality.

The first session was so productive that I’m going to make Ideation Movie Night a regular thing. If you have ideas for a great movie to mine, I’d love to hear your suggestions!

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