Cutting edge technology in the North

Meat ice cream, the world’s most connected human being, exoskeletons, and transformer-like robots. Cutting Edge festival during Oslo Innovation Week gave a glimpse into the future. 

Outside the Oslo Science Park a massive, white dome covers the horizon. Inside it, some of the most innovative companies and human beings will spend the next many hours discussing the future of food, smart cities, energy and digital life. It’s the Cutting Edge Festival, a whole day in the name of science, technology, and innovation, during the Oslo Innovation Week.

Before the festival kicked off Tuesday during Oslo Innovation Week, some of us were treated to a VIP dinner at the Science Park. Here, Marius Øgaard and Kremena Tosheva from Oslotech promised me, that the coming day, I would eat meat that would blow my mind, meet transforming robots with wheels and legs, play with the newest drones, and that I would learn to hack time.

The mindful cyborg

Search for worlds most connected man on Google, and you’ll find Chris Dancy. He is a mindful cyborg optimizing his life with up to 700 real-time life-logging systems that track and analyze everything from caloric intake to spiritual wellbeing and in that way make him able to hack time. Yes, you read that correctly; hack time. The perception of time is a product of the mind and wearables and smartphones are our personal time machines. With the technology, we can nudge our minds to perceive time differently, to optimize our lives and improve our selves. Chris Dancy pops by the dinner, teasing for his talk in the Dome at the festival.

The next day, outside the dome between tents and food trucks, a red tuk-tuk catches my eye. I slowly walk towards it, and I am greeted with big smiles from Bistro Invitro, the world’s first lab-grown meat restaurant.

“Would you like to taste some meat ice cream?” they ask. And how could I say no? There are several flavors to choose from; Dragon, Polar Bear, and Bacon. I order a cup of bacon, the most familiar sounding option and one can never go wrong with bacon. I get two tiny, white scoops in a wafer-like cup. I take a small bite. It tastes like vanilla ice cream but with more body, more umami. I eat the rest in one bite and order another. For research purposes. I get a scoop of the Dragon; a yellow mango flavored ice cream where the meat notes are more prevalent than in the other.  It’s good. And so are the visions of Bistro Invitro. They believe that meat produced from animal cells cultured in a bioreactor can offer a sustainable alternative to meat production in the future.

Alternative food sources and humanoid robots

Inside the Science Park, numerous startups, companies, and entrepreneurs have set up booths, showcasing new products, inventions, and ideas. My stomach not quite full yet guides me towards a table full of yummy looking bowls of seafood. It’s The Northern Company handing out samples of dishes with seaweed harvested from the North Atlantic Ocean. On the table to the right of them, Acheta offers crispbread and smoothies with cricket flour. It tastes nothing like insects but packs great amounts of protein.

I’m right in time for a demo that I have especially looked forward to. One of the most advanced humanoid robots is standing right before me in all its metallic grandeur, wires connection joints like tendons. It is almost as tall as it’s creators from Kaist, the awarded Korean robotics company, that took home the 2 million dollar price at the 2015 Darpa challenge with this humanoid robot, the DRC-Hubo.

They turn on the robot, and it turns it’s camera face to the blocks of wood on the floor in front of us. Ever so slowly it raises one leg and steps onto the blocks that resemble debris from a nuclear accident. It scales the obstacles and reaches another challenge; a pole has to be lifted to free trapped persons – if this was a real crash site. It picks up the mast with its machine muscles, and mic drops it to the floor. The audience applauds, some lucky enough to shake the hand of the robot and feel the cold metal clasping gently around their fingers.

Powerful machines

Just behind my back, another miracle takes place. A person with quadriplegia stands up! An exoskeleton is wrapped around his waist and legs. With a black crutch in each hand, he starts to walk through the expo area leaving the audience gasping.

His name is Andre van Rüschen, and the Israeli company ReWalk has developed the exoskeleton. Not a new technology per se but a very advanced piece of medical device that allows wheelchair-bound individuals to stand and walk again. A car accident left Andre van Rüschen without any feeling in his legs. For ten years he was bound to his wheelchair. Now with the help of the metal frame, the sensor-laden motors, and a remote strapped around his wrist he can even climb stairs.

With more than 50 talks, 40 stands, and over 1400 attendees, Cutting Edge offered both something for the masses and the professionals. I almost bought a build-it-yourself drone (too expensive for my budget), I got my DNA tested for damage (none detected), and learned about some of the new tools for the future of work (video conversations will become easier to handle).

In the words of the people behind Cutting Edge, it is a jam session for the people creating Norway’s business plan after the oil runs out.

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