COFES is always an interesting conference filled with every kind of person that is involved in the CAD, AEC and engineering technology markets. We have CEOs, users, developers, professors and analysts all the way down to marketing flunkies like me. While the meetings are usually excellent, the event is always made a little more exciting with the Maieutic Parataxis presentations.

These are 9 5-minute long rapid-fire presentations on new technologies that aren't 'quite there' yet - related to engineering and technology software but sometimes not in obvious ways. This year's presentations included Believable Simulation, Multi-body dynamics to Many-Body dynamics, new approaches to the design process, musings from the ever-present Dick Morley, Microsoft giving predictions (and showing hints) of how engineering software will change soon. But two stand-outs from this crowd of 9 need a little more attention.

The first one is Pixolution - a visual way to search for and sort images based on semantic processes that include matching the visual similarities of images, image relationships and semantic processes. The first search delivers a mind-boggling array of images, but then sorts them into similar groups based on what you click on to view. In this way, a user can quickly sort and drill down into the images you think you are looking for so you can select the one you want. (Demos are on the web site...while it is in german, just use the visuals to learn more.) What application would this fit? It would seem that this kind of tool would assist when searching large databases of design images, perhaps when searching for similar parts. Or maybe it would help a graphic designer find the right stock image he or she needs. Either way, the simple power of this technology is apparent and probably will fit easily into many areas.

The one that really sticks in my mind, though, is Quirky. Created by 24 year-old founder, Ben Kaufman, it allows an idea for a consumer product to be developed, 'approved' by a committee (which sounds awful but apparently isn't), prototyped and then 'sold' on the site. Once the sales reach more than 140, the product is then manufactured for delivery and the inventor starts to earn money. The site, and the process, delivers a way for a community to select great products and for them to be produced. It quite simply breaks down the traditional barriers to getting an idea into a product by allowing a short-run of a product without the need for investment in manufacturing plant, marketing, packaging etc.

But with its 60,000+ members, all of whom can add thoughts and ideas to an innovation, suggest product names, suggest improvements, this is a significant step forward in how 'social' product design can be. The company has launched 115 products in 18 months, and has a 100% success rate for them. Product design is no longer exclusive to powerful companies and now becomes accessible to many with a great idea.

I do suggest you check it out!