Last weekend, Michael and I, and some Christchurch web folk that we knew (and some that we didn’t) ventured to Warkworth for Kiwi Foo Camp 2008. Kiwi Foo Camp is an invitation-only gathering of web, art and science people modelled on O’Reilly Media’s Foo Camp. This means 150-odd people speaking fluent geek all weekend, in groups of all sizes, at all times of the day and night, and in states ranging from intrigue, through bafflement, hilarity, inebriation and exhaustion. The format is unstructured. Someone said “the best thing about conferences is the conversations in the corridors, and foo camp is all conversations in corridors”.
On the way up in the car, Julian, Seth, Michael and I were limbering up with geek talk of our own. I was wishfully speculating about mass-customisation. You know, people are sick of consuming the same goods as their peers, so they are start to make stuff themselves. Kids that have barely stopped scoffing at their parents are making and crafting and hardware-hacking. But that’s only because the Web taught them that they can, and it’s cooler to customise a beanie than a MySpace profile. But making things is time-consuming, especially say a fine-knit merino beanie. Before long we’ll be picking a design from a user-contributed online gallery, and ordering a custom-made, individually configured and fitted item, that is produced in a plant that spits out a thousand unique items in a minute. Hmm, we all nodded, how cool would that be.
In two days at Foo Camp, I’d met the people who are making this happen. First, you select your design, from the prototypes at felt.co.nz. The Bioengineering Institute at the University of Auckland have already modelled your body shape, size and posture. You combine your fitting information from there, with a 3D model of the object you’re purchasing, and view rendered simulations of you using or wearing it, while you vary colour, material and adornment parameters in your price range. When you’re happy, you place your order with Ponoko, who fabricate and ship it.
Of course, this too is wild speculation. Felt is actually an online marketplace for hand-made products. The Bioengineering Institute will be glad when they’ve modelled the human eye. And Ponoko cuts things out of plastic sheets. But they’re all doing this stuff with speed and sophistication. And they all had someone at Foo Camp. And they are only a small sample of the amazing and diverse people that I met there.