The Idea Guy

Coming soon to an airport (or kitchen) near you: One of Kelly Dempski’s big inventions.

Coming soon to an airport (or kitchen) near you: One of Kelly Dempski’s big inventions.

Photography: Chris Guillen

Kelly Dempski in front of his Interactive Wall

Kelly Dempski folds his six-foot three-inch frame behind a small desk and explains what it’s like to generate ideas all day. “People say, ‘You have the coolest job in the world. You can do whatever you want.’ But wait a minute now!” the 33-year-old says, wagging his finger in the air. “If I can’t figure out something to do, I’m out of luck.”

Fortunately, the young technology researcher has had some very big thoughts come out of his 36th-floor office in Accenture’s Loop headquarters. Employed to create practical uses from cutting edge technology, Dempski is the brains behind a giant 10-by-14-foot interactive display recently installed at the O’Hare terminal that houses American Airlines. This fall, Accenture will export a similar version to John F. Kennedy airport in New York.

The Interactive Wall, as it’s called, is a 2,100-by-1,200-pixel, touch-sensitive screen that can be used by multiple people simultaneously to check the weather or read the latest news feed from CNN. “Big screens have been around for a long time,” says Dempski, who studied robotics and engineering at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, where he earned an undergraduate degree. “But only a few people are looking into how you should use [them].” He has built a model that displays an interactive movie listing. He has also crafted a version with more serious implications-this one a high-resolution real-time map for military planning that has already been shown to the Pentagon and U.S. intelligence agencies.

Dempski’s small space overflows with video game consoles and dusty circuit boards. Half-erased schematics from a previous brainstorming session cover a white board. A snipped newspaper photo shows a midget pointing at a Ferris wheel. The office mess, and the biweekly brainstorming seminars that often turn into heated yelling matches among the researchers, are evidence, as Dempski’s boss Anatole Gershman says, that ideas are not “born as a kind of Platonic, clean kind of thing.”

Dempski credits his own inspiration to tinker to his grandfather, an engineer without an engineering degree who spent his life working in a canning factory in the northern suburbs and regularly thought up ways to make things run better. Dempski keeps that sense about him at the labs, where he works with his colleagues coming up with new ideas, such as Work Windows, a more natural videoconferencing system that allows participants to look directly at one another. “It would literally be like having a face to face conversation,” he says. Another project is housed in a faux efficiency apartment built in a room of the lab, where researchers have installed a large transparent screen at a kitchen table. The idea is that two people in kitchens anywhere could sit down and have a meal together, even though they’re miles apart. It’s ideas like this-and the freedom to explore new ones-that Dempski says keep him coming to his job every day. “I always said I’d do this until it stopped being fun,” he says. “Since I’m sitting here, it must still be fun.”

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