Notes from the inaugural ThingsCon Shenzhen

A long-overdue write-up of my notes from ThingsCon Shenzhen. Apologies for the informality—Peter


On 27 April 2017, David Li and the Shenzhen Open Innovation Lab (SZOIL) hosted the inaugural ThingsCon Shenzhen event. It was our first ThingsCon ever in Shenzhen, and the second in China. (In Shanghai, Simone Rebaudengo of automato already hosts a ThingsCon Salon.)

Flyer for the inaugural ThingsCon Shenzhen, hosted by David Li and the Shenzhen Open Innovation Lab (SZOIL)

Shenzhen Open Innovation Lab (SZOIL) kindly hosted ThingsCon Shenzhen. Image: Peter Bihr (CC by-nc-sa)

There are around 50 people at the event, a great mix of locals and visitors. Entrepreneurs, designers, some folks from incubators. It's the solid mix that makes up ThingsCon crowds everywhere.

In Shenzhen, like everywhere, the movers and shakers seem to be the uber-connectors that hop from place to place: Hong Kong, Taipei, Kuala Lumpur, Singapore, London…

David Li opening the first ThingsCon Shenzhen Image: Peter Bihr (CC by-nc-sa)

ThingsCon co-founder Peter Bihr repeating the ThingsCon mantra: to foster the creation of a human-centric & responsible IoT. Image: Dietrich Ayala

Jakie Yin of Rone Design. Image: Peter Bihr (CC by-nc-sa)

Jakie Yin of Rone Design is first. He showcases a wide range of connected industrial designs his company has been involved in. He also explains three distinct development phases for hardware: 1) Zero to one 2) One to hundreds 3) Hundreds to X. Each phase requires different skill sets or partners.

Image: Peter Bihr (CC by-nc-sa)

Gabriel Ionut Zlamparet talks about designing for re-use, refurbishment, longevity. He gives an intro to remanufacturing of used medical devices. Remanufacturing, re-use, designing for re-use has huge potential for sustainability. Gabriel’s talk stresses the importance of design for re-use, refurbishment, longevity.

Image: Peter Bihr (CC by-nc-sa)

Executive Director of Digital Asia Hub Malavika Jayaram presented via Skype, larger-than-life, to explore societal and ethical implications of artificial intelligence and algorithmic decision making, and IoT.

Some of her key points:

  • Large-scale deployments of connected technology (like AI and #iot) frequently impact marginalized group disproportionately.
  • How do AI and machine learning apply to social issues? How can they be put to good use in this context?
  • “If you can’t be counted, you don’t count. If you’re not connected, you don’t count.”
  • The Chinese social credit system—and similar approaches everywhere—means that keeping (algorithmically) bad company would implicate you even though you might yourself be squeaky clean, like for example bad credit records.

Image: Peter Bihr (CC by-nc-sa)

Mozilla's developer evangelist Dietrich Ayala speaks about the opportunities at the intersection connected products, UX, and the open web, and especially about app fatigue and opportunities for better on-boarding of new users in novel IoT-enabled interfaces. He shows lots of cool demos of lightweight web-based AR demos he built.

Some quick notes I made from his talk:

  • “ZERO. The number of apps the average users installs in a month according to Google. People have app fatigue.”
  • “With IoT we have a new opportunity. The room is now the computer.”
  • One founder shared: 1.000 web views per app installation. 999 users left behind! It’s a choice!
  • In China, QR codes make connecting easy. Outside of China, QR codes are often still considered awkward. QR codes and NFC are powerful connectors. But they have challenges. QR codes have to be big enough. Who scans whom? NFC needs signage to indicate it’s an option.
  • Beacons are an options, very powerful, but still expensive. Onboarding is super easy, though, a pop-up notification is a well-known interaction.
  • Maybe you don’t need speech to activate a thing. Noise might be enough! You can make valuable assumptions from very little data.
  • Frictionless augmented reality. It’s pretty easy to do now within web pages.

Monique van Dusseldorp hosts a panel discussion with Iskander, Holly, Marcel and myself. We talk about responsible IoT, and how it can be applied in the day-to-day work we all do. Also, we try to explore if there’s a special angle that European indie IoT creators can bring in.

Marcel Schouwenaar gives his closing remarks. Image: Peter Bihr (CC by-nc-sa)

Note the second laptop in front of Marcel? It's an impromptu hack to let people scan the QR code to join our Wechat event channel. It makes connecting with other participants incredible smooth. We should, of course, have put this QR code up on the big screen all along.

Image: Peter Bihr (CC by-nc-sa)

David Li gives an impromptu session on how to find components and partners in Shenzhen. Hint: It's not necessarily on the market. Wechat, Taobao, and "technical solution houses" are good places to start.

Image: Peter Bihr (CC by-nc-sa)

So-called "technical solution houses" can help you source, make, or adapt components. This is a typical catalog.

A big thank you to David Li and Vicky Xie of SZOIL for hosting the event, and to all speakers and participants for their input and the lively discussions before, during, and after the conference.

We hope to be back soon for another ThingsCon Shenzhen event.

Time is up! Image: Peter Bihr (CC by-nc-sa)