10 Tech Pioneers: Where Are They Now?

At one time he seemed destined for stardom. QRIO (pronounced "curio," short for "Quest for Curiosity") could do it all: run, jump, throw a ball, recognize voices and faces, and dance like a robotic, less scary Michael Jackson. True, at 23 inches he was a tad short, yet Sony thought enough of QRIO to name him its corporate ambassador, "an expression of the Sony Group's dreams, entertainment and technology."Time Magazine named him one of the Coolest Inventions of 2003.

Then QRIO's luster began to dull. Though he steadily added functionality--like fingers with "pinch detection" to keep from crushing the digits of his human fans-- He soon found himself surpassed by lesser but far more affordable robots like Wow Wee's Robosapian. Attempts at a comeback--including a starring role in a Beck music video--failed to ignite the public imagination. In January 2006, Sony pulled the plug, stopping all development.

Like many never-has-beens, QRIO left show business and went into education. Now at the University of California at San Diego, he works in the university's early childhood educational center, interacting with children age 10 to 24 months. Researchers at UCSD's Machine Perception Lab use QRIO to measure how toddlers deal with their cyborg peers. The verdict? They like him, provided he doesn't dance too much.

1993: Co-founder of 7th Level

Now: CEO of The Imagination Station

For a brief period in the early 1990s, it looked like CD-ROMs would herald a new era of interactive entertainment--and no stars shined brighter than those at 7th Level. The company offered an intriguing mix of technology and glitz. CEO George Grayson, cofounder of Micrografx, brought the tech expertise. Executive VP Scott Page, former sax player for Pink Floyd, brought the talent. EVP Bob Ezrin, a record producer for some of the biggest acts in music, had the Hollywood connections.

At first, the collaboration was hugely successful, producing two best-selling titles: Howie Mandel's Tuneland and Monty Python's Complete Waste of Time. The company threw lavish parties at trade shows, featuring entertainment by Tower of Power and the B-52s, with a guest list that included Quincy Jones, actress Nastassja Kinski, and former financier Michael Milken.

But 7th Level's next efforts didn't do quite so well. In March 1997, when the company decided to drop its line of educational titles and focus entirely on games, Grayson left to form his own software firm, The Imagination Station. By the end of that year 7th Level had merged with Pulse Entertainment and left the gaming business entirely. The CD-ROM market eventually collapsed, thanks to both the medium's notorious technical problems and the rise of the Net. Imagination Station, however, continues to provide Internet-based educational materials to elementary schools across the nation.

We don't miss CD-ROMs one bit. But we do miss the parties.

Falls from Grace

1985: Founder of Corel Corp.

Now: CEO of ZIM, a mobile entertainment firm

Though it began life as Cowpland Research Labs, this small Ottawa-based firm was known simply as Corel in 1989 when it released Draw, one of the first Windows-based graphics programs. Known as much for his flamboyant lifestyle and fondness for sports cars as for his management prowess, Cowpland proceeded to take Corel on one of the wildest rides in the PC business.

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