You and I would call it dreaming. But Singularity University's Robert Suarez calls it a way to achieve innovation. 

The managing director of innovation and design for the organization's SU Labs program also says science fiction is one of his favorite tools for helping corporations, startups and global development organizations envision the future and find practical ways to adapt.

Another term he likes to use for it: "retrocasting." You start from the year 2030 and imagine what the world will be like then, and walk back from that point in five year increments to track how it will change in order to get to that point. Using this approach, businesses can develop a plan for how to roll something out by that future date.

Or some other future date. "We know you may not get there by 2030," but at least you have a place to start, says Suarez. "It's kind of a product road map of sorts."

And look for inspiration are novels, comic books, movies and television--in all art, basically. Suarez cites is Lowe's "Holoroom" as a favorite example. Inspired by the holodeck virtual reality facility featured in Star Trek, the Holoroom started in 2014 as an iPad app available in select stores to help customers envision home improvement changes in a simulation room.

As Ad Age put it: "The 20-foot- by-20-foot room allows customers to simulate renovation projects. Customers can create realistic rooms on an iPad -- stocked with anything Lowe's sells, right down to Valspar paint colors -- and then enter the Holoroom to experience a 3D version of the room. An app, paired with a printout of the room, allows customers to view and adjust their 3D creation at home, as well as share it with friends."

New developments stemming from the idea are reportedly forthcoming. This summer, Ad Age reported that Lowe's plans to release an app called Lowe's Vision designed for Google's 3-D smartphone platform Tango.

Vision "will let customers visualize how new furniture and appliances will look in their homes. It will even take accurate measurements through augmented reality, which means that you can go from mapping out your room to browsing a filtered selection of Lowe's products without having to put down your phone to wrestle with a tape measure," according to Fast Company. A team of science fiction writers and illustrators are working with the company on these projects is a team of scifi writers and illustrators

. Lowe's Holoroom efforts have both an element of futurism to them and also clear utility. Who doesn't want to know what something is going to look like in their house before they buy it? (Lowe's did not immediately return a call seeking comment.)

Says Suarez, "Using science fiction for innovation isn't necessarily new." Virtual reality novel Ready Player One has is known to have served as an inspiration for development at Oculus VR, for example. And submarines and nuclear energy are inventions that also count sci-fi as inspiration.

In a tech world sometimes reputed to be frothy, Suarez thinks sci-fi plays a particularly helpful role. "There's a lot of people doing silly apps," he says. "Science fiction is a tool where we can get people outside of their heads."

Published on: Sep 2, 2016