This past weekend, I took part in the Think Big Festival located in Coeur D’ Alene (CDA), Idaho – just a short drive away from Itron’s headquarters in Liberty Lake, Washington. When I first received the invite to the event, I wasn’t sure what to expect, since “think big” sort of seemed to fall into the category of using smart as an adjective—overused while underdelivering.

Upon arrival at the block party, hosted on the downtown streets of CDA, my excitement grew as I found signs of real big thinking. The first thing I saw was a large robot that could be used for surgery, and it was actually usable – not just a concept. Beside the surgery robot were both young kids and adults lined up to try the advanced technology by connecting tiny tentacles with rubber bands. As I continued down the street, the whir of small drones and robots filled my ears. The following day was full of different discussions, some in the form of a forum and others one-on-one. Itron Idea Labs’ own Roberto Aiello was on stage discussing the future of smart cities with attendees from a variety of fields, ranging from solar roadways to nuclear microreactors. An interesting startup was looking at the use of a fixed-wing drone as a responder to provide information to first responders.

The festival was inspiring in its ability to really think big with talks focusing on products that can help prevent concussions in football players, virtual environments for doctors to digitally see in real time the changes they are making in surgery, and neurotech looking to enhance physical performance with the use of electricity instead of medicine. Beyond products, I witnessed conversations about life impacting topics such as the improvement of teaching with current and future technology and the place of technology in the medical field.

One of the discussions that I found personally appealing was the discussion of possible culture shifts due to technology. In the same way the internet and smart phone changed our world, there is always more coming. In this panel, they discussed the future of AR and VR. A CDA local that has joined Niantic, the makers of Pokémon Go among other things, had a lot to say about where he saw the technology going in the future, while also connecting that to where we are now.

The festival was nothing short of inspirational and really opened my eyes to what thinking big really means. So often we get stuck in our own worlds and spheres of influence, and seldom take the opportunity to peer out. My eyes were opened to the fact that smart cities are not purely the physical technology we can install in them, but a new way of thinking in how we use our city.

Roberto said it best when he explained that one of the biggest smart city applications, Google Maps, had very little to do with the integration into the city and far more to do with smart integration of the people of that city. New things abound, and forever will – so remember to think big!

Tobias Cain
Associate Design Engineer - Itron
Tobias is a member of the Itron Idea Labs and works as part of a team that tests new technologies for their application in business innovation.

He has a Bachelors degree in Electrical Engineering, and a Masters in Computer Engineering. He joined the Itron Idea Labs team as a new college graduate.