I had a nice cup of tea with a friend and colleague of mine this morning and we were talking about a new company he’s involved with, observing that while they have a very cool technology, it’s often difficult to be able to see all possible uses and applications of that technology into the marketplace.
If you’re an inventor you know exactly what I’m talking about. Imagine you just invented a sticky glue that doesn’t actually permanently stick things together and doesn’t leave any residue and you might think that it’s worthless: people want adhesives to adhere. Slap it on the back of a little scrap of paper, however, and suddenly we’re talking about the 3M marketing phenom “Post-It Notes”.
In that vein, here’s a bit of an experiment. I’m going to describe a technology or two and I’d like to invite you to share, in the comments, a few applications of each that you can imagine or envision. Extra points for it being a lucrative market segment, of course, but even if it’d just be “interesting” that’s fine.
The first of them is what I reference in the title: it’s a technology that pools a set of cheap microphone and audio pickup devices and through some very sophisticated mathematical modeling can immediately pinpoint the location, in 3D space, of that noise.
One obvious application is in police work. Law enforcement is often looking for a way to identify where a gunshot came from in a rough neighborhood, for example, but what about its use in a sports arena, a hospital, airport or school? What kind of noise or distinct audio is currently difficult to pinpoint, creating a health, legal or safety problem that needs to be solved?
The second is a well-known technology that goes by the name of Geographic Information Systems, or GIS. These systems allow big companies to view sales against a regional map or to overlay rainfall on a street map or similar. GIS allows you to view geographic data visually, rather than in tabular form.
There are existing solutions for the GIS space, but they tend to be rather expensive and difficult. What if there was a “Web 2.0” sort of company, however, that offered this level of capability for free? Something that might be viewed as a mashup of Google Maps and other data sources like the U.S. Census Bureau?
Now, what if it turned out to be far more sophisticated and capable than just a thrown-together mashup and was a reliable business tool that would let you map just about any data source against a geographic representation of that data?
I can think of lots of uses, but let me just list a few: a map of each state with the location and posting frequency of bloggers overlaid would make it pretty easy to identify optimal locations for meetups, for example. Or American Kennel Club by-breed dog owner data could be superimposed on a city map to figure out where a new grooming facility could be best located.
What information would you want to view graphically and how could you envision using it for your own business?
These two examples are just the tip of one of the greatest challenges that an entrepreneur faces, in my experience, the ability to “think outside the box” and come up with unique, innovative and valuable applications for their software, hardware, or other invention.