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ROW Spells Next Big Thing

The next big thing, that emerging market that will lead us to a higher plateau of prosperity, is not sexy or even new. Yet it is full of promise.

It has nothing to do with wearables or any other kind of gadget that the most prosperous 1% of people on the planet lust to add to their collections of stuff. It doesn't necessarily have anything to do with the Internet of Things, the Internet of Everything, or the Internet of Anything.

There is no specific name for this next big thing, but it has often been called somewhat condescendingly the “Rest of World.” Often it has appeared as the thinnest slice on marketing pie charts and labeled “Other.”

This market has been around for decades and is screaming at us for attention from the headlines of every newspaper and every TV and radio report. It's my opinion that much of the violence we hear about every day is rooted in a sad mixture of poverty, lack of education, and lack of opportunity, the breeding grounds of fear and hatred.

Electronics won't spawn trust and love, but it can light sparks of education that can open doors to opportunity and prosperity. Asian countries have known this lesson and have been applying it for decades. Japan rebuilt itself after World War II in large part on the rise of electronics. Korea, Taiwan, and Singapore watched and successfully applied what they learned, just as China is doing today.

Isn't it time that supply chain managers thought hard about new sources of production in Africa and the Middle East? It seems to me you could build a viable rationale with no more charitable thoughts than genuine return on investment for having sources of chip and system assembly in these regions.

You don't have to go to the far ends of the Earth to find unmet needs. Headlines of violence often carry datelines from the heartland of America and from our urban jungles. I recently discovered a place called “The Jungle” in my backyard, in the heart of Silicon Valley, an easy walk from downtown San Jose.

I am not the first to see the potential to marry an electronics industry hungry for growth and innovation with wounded places in a hurting world. In fact, I might be among the last to discover this connection.

Maybe it would be more accurate to say “rediscover” this connection. Nearly a decade ago, EE Times gave Lee Felsenstein an editor's award for his work pioneering microcomputers and, in an encore career, helping design bicycle-powered generators in Laos. In 2008 we reported on work by Eric Brewer of UC Berkeley delivering Internet access to rural Africa with novel WiFi systems.

Years ago we wrote on a regular basis about PCs and laptops designed for the pocketbooks of folks in developing countries. Whatever happened to those efforts?

A week ago, high-tech execs organized the Bridge 2014 conference in an effort to spread high-tech entrepreneurialism and investment in Iran. More than 500 people attended the event, where speakers included a vice president of engineering from Broadcom.

Just last week, Hermann Eul, general manager of Intel's mobile division, gave a fascinating presentation about innovative ways mobile technology is being used in underdeveloped communities in India and Africa. He just scratched the surface of what mobile can do in areas such as mobile healthcare systems.

While many projects focus on bringing the Internet to villages, they often find the first job is bringing electricity. Bicycles are a godsend in some places. How about a design for a low-cost electric bike and charger?

Wherever I go these days it's obvious there's a ton of work that needs to be done, including an unending amount of software that needs to get written and re-written. Just ask my neighbors Google, Facebook, Yahoo, and eBay, if you don't believe me. How about taking this passion for coding hackathons overseas?

The Maker movement is riding a big wave in the US and is starting to catch on in Europe, with a recent event hosted in Rome. How about a Maker Faire in Tanzania or Pakistan?

Smartwatches and intelligent glasses are very fun to write about, and I am sure I will give these efforts plenty of virtual ink in the next few years. I've already written dozens of stories about them. But they are the candy bars of electronics, filling space but not very nutritious.

For the rest of the story, see EBN sister site EETimes.

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