Jan 27, 2020 | Updated: 03:54 PM EST

O'Reilly’s Solid Conference May 21 & 22

Apr 23, 2014 11:35 AM EDT


O'Reilly’s Solid Conference happens on May 21 and May 22 where industry leaders, museum curators, tech giants, and innovative startups discuss the turning point of software and hardware in San Francisco. As software meets hardware, a new programmable world emerges. Software drives physical things, while data and network connections make them smarter. The rate of change accelerates.

The inaugural O’Reilly Solid Conference is where the new multi-disciplinary community forming around the convergence of software and hardware — engineers, researchers, roboticists, artists, founders of startups, and innovators — will gather to explore what lies ahead as software increasingly interacts with the physical world.

A few of the changes this new world will entail:

Manufacturing made frictionless. 3D printers, developer boards like Arduino and Raspberry Pi, advanced sensors, and crowdfunding sites like Kickstarter have lowered the barrier of entry to manufacturing. New manufacturing-as-a-service frameworks make factory work fast and capital-light. Development costs are plunging, and it’s becoming easier to serve niches with specialized hardware that’s designed for a single purpose.

APIs for the physical world. The characteristics that make the Web accessible and robust—abstraction, modularity, and loosely-coupled services—are coming to the physical world. Open source libraries for sensors and microcontrollers are bringing easy-to-use and easy-to-integrate software interfaces to everything from weather stations to cars.

Software intelligence above the level of a single machine. Machine learning and data-driven optimization have revolutionized the way companies work with the Web, but the kind of sophisticated knowledge that Amazon and Netflix have accumulated has been elusive in the offline world. We can now gather data through networked sensors and exert real-time control to optimize complicated systems. Many of the machines around us can become more efficient simply through intelligent control: a furnace saves oil when software, aware that the homeowners are away, turns down the thermostat; a car saves gas when Google Maps, polling its users’ smartphones, discovers a traffic jam and suggests an alternative route.

Every company is a software company. As physical assets take on software interfaces, operating them will increasingly become a software undertaking. A software startup with promising technology might just as easily be bought by a big industrial company as by a Silicon Valley software firm. This new world creates significant impacts on organizations, cultures, and competency requirements.

Data-driven things as a service. Anything from an Uber car to a railroad locomotive can be sold as a service, provided that it’s adequately instrumented and dispatched by intelligent software. Good data from the physical world brings about efficient markets, makes cheating difficult, and improves quality of service. And it will revolutionize business models in every industry as service contracts replace straightforward equipment sales. Instead of owning an air conditioner and buying electricity from a utility to run it, a homeowner might let the utility own the air conditioner and just buy a contract to keep her house at 72°, giving the utility an incentive to invest in more efficient equipment, while creating economies of scale.

Designing the post-screen world. Until a few years ago, we interacted with computers largely through keyboards and monitors. The software interface is now a dispersed collection of conventional computers, mobile phones, embedded sensors, and networked microcontrollers. Computing happens everywhere, with data flowing in through multiple inputs outside of human awareness and ambient software intuiting our preferences.

What’s it called? You’ve heard these ideas bubbling up among innovators and alpha geeks under a myriad of tags: the Internet of Things, the Programmable World, the Industrial Internet, Maker-Pro, generative things, or the integration of software and machines (to name just a few). These are not a mish-mash of ideas--they are different perspectives of the same exciting evolution: a perfect storm of opportunity for intelligent things. But none of these phrases fully captures the depth and breadth of this disruption. Attend Solid and help us explore—and maybe name—this place where software and the physical world collide.

*Solid Conference 2014

Companies such as Google and GE will be speaking at this year’s event. "An extraordinarily talented group of thinkers have agreed to present at Solid," says Jon Bruner of O'Reilly Media, who chairs Solid with MIT Media Lab's Joi Ito. "They bring their deep experience in everything from art and design to heavy industry and mining. Solid's diverse program illustrates the convergence of these disciplines and the crucial roles that each one plays in every other. Designers must now understand manufacturing, manufacturers must understand software, and people who work with software must understand hardware and physical interaction."

More About Solid

Physical things — machines, devices, components — are about to experience a profound transformation. The Internet fundamentally changed how software is developed and deployed, and now hardware is on the brink of a similar disruption. Consumers, already carrying smart phones and driving cars that park themselves, have come to demand more from their objects than ever before. They expect their belongings to “know” them, to interact with them, and to adapt to their needs. Industry is realizing that smart, networked machines can bring them the efficiencies and new capabilities to do more, faster and cheaper. Devices from thermostats to jet engines that were once strictly mechanical are now seamless blends of hardware and software — packages of microcontrollers, sensors, and, above all, networked software that can ingest lots of data, understand context, and make intelligent decisions. Hardware and software are fusing into a single fluid entity.

About O'Reilly

O'Reilly Media spreads the knowledge of innovators through its books, online services, magazines, and conferences. Since 1978, O'Reilly Media has been a chronicler and catalyst of cutting-edge development, homing in on the technology trends that really matter and spurring their adoption by amplifying "faint signals" from the alpha geeks who are creating the future. An active participant in the technology community, the company has a long history of advocacy, meme-making, and evangelism.

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