The Art of Predicting Products

The future is not entirely unknowable. There are ways to predict what is coming using semi-scientific techniques such as scenario scripting and trend "trigger" analysis. Often, projections can be made by extrapolating from current trends. Indeed, trend trackers and futurists make a living describing what is coming. But there are also the psychics, village idiots, witches, trance channelers, sensitives and scryers who sometimes through effort or by accident tap into what the future holds. Science fiction writers, especially the best ones like Jules Verne or Arthur C. Clarke, have been able to see trends far enough ahead to describe what is coming. And there are inventors, tinkerers, designers and cartoonists who also try to tap into the same “web” of thought that mysteriously spans past, present and future and who in some instances come up with astounding images of future trends and products. (Image source: Blackberry Planet)

Chester Gould, whose Dick Tracy comics began publication in newspapers in 1931, foresaw many future gadgets. In 1946, Dick Tracy began to wear a 2-Way Wrist Radio, which was upgraded to a 2-Way Wrist TV in 1964. Just as Dick Tracy found his wrist radios indispensable for his detective work, we now can’t imagine how we got by years ago without an iPhone.

As a cartoonist-tinkerer, I have made an effort to imagine future gadgets. It seems that products first exist in a “theoretical” realm, waiting to be born once suitable electronic and materials technologies are available. Over the past 5 months, I have shared my past and recent product concepts in Neatorama’s Museum of Possibilities. Here are two examples of my past product predictions: Inflatable gear for motorcyclists and helmet cameras.

In 2009, it was reported that a motorcylist’s life was saved because he was wearing a newly-developed product, an air-bag jacket!

(Image source: Impact Jackets)

(Image source: hit-air)

In 1983 and 1990 I conceived of cameras fitted to helmets. I suggested that while such devices had likely been hidden in hats ever since small, portable cameras were invented and became popular, there would now be a demand for them inside hats and helmets. It seemed several trends were converging to make camera hats inevitable: the trend toward exercising outdoors to compensate for increased hours spent working indoors in offices, the decline in family ties that was pushing exhibitionism – the need to show strangers who you are and to demonstrate your capabilities – and the need to record and share one’s daily life with others.

(Image sources: clockwise from upper left, DogCam Helmet Cam, singletracks, Mr. SEC, RealAction Paintball, emotioncam, and GadgetMania)

Visit Steven M. Johnson at his website.

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Okay, I see that I joined together in my memory two different news events! Scarab, you are correct that there was an incident where a cop pushed a Critical Mass cyclist to the ground, and was not punished. I recall reading about it. But I read about another event with a rider wearing a helmet cam recording a cop brandishing a gun. I had turned the motorcyclist into a bicyclist:
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Gauldar: Speaking of which, I believe there is a recent case that went viral on YouTube wherein a bicyclist with a helmet-cam videotaped a plainclothes cop who stopped him and was threatening him with a gun -- and my last information was that the bicyclist, not the cop, was in trouble!
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