Fast Forward 2005: 18-24

The future is something to get excited about again. Here’s our look at the surprising people, ideas, and trends that will change how we work and live in 2005.


18. Wall Street Gets a Serious Googling

Auction IPOs, such as the one Google recently conducted, will become more prevalent as companies realize the money they can bring. For one thing, the $1.6 billion auction let Google dramatically cut the fees it paid to investment bankers, whose role was greatly diminished. And Google could price its shares close to their true market value rather than at a fraction of what investors were actually willing to pay. In the long term, such auction IPOs will break the investment banks’ stranglehold on taking companies public, leading to a diminution of the influence of Wall Street. The drawback is that Silicon Valley is just beginning to recover from a long slump, so there aren’t a bunch of startups with Google’s enviable business success (or its independent thinking) ready to go public.


19. Ningbo Bird Gets the Wireless Worm

Wireless consumers in China are demanding. They want advanced technology now — and for a low price. And the frenzied market is dynamic. Meanwhile, American wireless users may best be described as long suffering. We’re grateful if four out of five calls don’t drop out. Ningbo Bird, the leader in China, may be ready to shake it up here. In the past two years, the company has made a coordinated international assault, cracking 28 countries, including Finland, Nokia’s home turf. In the year ahead, it aims to quadruple foreign revenue, from $50 million to $200 million, which means the Ningbo Bird may nest here. Based on its hard-won lessons about serving customers, it could also soar.

20. If Our Clothes Are Smart . . .

What if your drab navy New York- in-January slacks could transform into a crisp white the instant you stepped off a plane in the Caribbean? Or if your bra knew when your bust was beginning to sag and could give it an on-the-spot lift? Techies and fashionistas alike are running amok with ways clothing can interact with and better serve its inhabitants. Analysts believe the most successful “smart clothes” will be embedded with information, entertainment, and communication tools, rather than just with powers such as stain fighting. O’Neill Europe just debuted a snowboarding jacket that has “mobile telephony by Bluetooth” along with an MP3 player integrated into its fabric. Also ripe with smart possibilities is home health care, in which doctors could outfit patients with clothing that monitors vital signs remotely. In the meantime, fashion houses and nanotechnology labs will race to see who’s the smartest . . . and most stylish.

21. . . . Why Should Our Shoes Be Stupid?

In a major leap forward for mass customization, Christian DiBenedetto, the head of Adidas’s intelligent products team, will oversee the first mass-produced “smart shoe,” simply called “1.” It automatically adjusts to an individual’s weight, speed, style, and running surface using a magnetic sensor in the heel that measures the cushioning. A microprocessor in the arch compares current feel to a predetermined comfort range. A tiny motor in the shoe regulates heel comfort. For now, serious runners are probably the only consumers dedicated (or crazy) enough to fork over 250 simoleons for computerized, customized sneaks. But if the price of the technology dips so that the shoe could sell in the magic $99 to $150 range, DiBenedetto and Adidas could be off and running.

22. I See . . . a Rat Taking a Dirt Nap

There’s one kind of predictive power we’d all like to have in business: identifying failures more quickly. In the drug-development business, toxicogenomics, or more simply, predictive toxicology, is the science of speed-reading the human genome. The goal is to anticipate if a drug will have unintended negative consequences on living creatures before hundreds of millions of dollars are spent on clinical trials. It’s still a young field, but expect to hear more about companies such as Gene Logic and Rational Discovery peddling their services to pharma and biotech firms; Affymetrix — which is producing gene chips that contain the entire genome of a lab rat — speeding up toxicology analysis; and the big guys, such as Schering-Plough, GE Healthcare, and Vertex Pharmaceuticals, gathering at conferences to nudge predictive toxicology into the mainstream.

23. Heavyweight Hybrids

Hybrids have been the automotive equivalent of the veggie burger — all virtue, no sizzle. In 2005, forget it. By the end of next year, consumers will be able to choose from six gas-electric vehicles that look and perform like muscular gas guzzlers. Automakers are betting that the way to get mainstream Americans to buy enviro-friendly wheels is by not asking them to give up power and roominess. Hence, the sleight of hand: green technology disguised in a familiar package. Still, some of these “mild hybrid” trucks rely so little on the electric engine that they’re really hybrid wannabes. The 10% boost in fuel economy (compared with 50% in some full hybrids) won’t save the planet, but it’s a step in the right direction. Is the Hummer hybrid right around the corner?


24. Every Move You Make

Surveillance cameras are everywhere. Atlanta-based VistaScape Security Systems makes them useful, via software that combines multiple video feeds into one monitor and 3-D visualization that gives security guards a sense of exactly where intrusions are occurring. The idea is to take something reactive — the security camera — and make it an active tool for preventing crime. Human security guards can be deployed in the field and have relevant video streamed to them instead of boring themselves to death staring at hours of unchanging screens. VistaScape’s software is being deployed at airports and harbors around the country by the Navy, and was used at this year’s G-8 Summit on Sea Island, Georgia.

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