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Local business and civic leaders were given a glimpse into the future of technology and housing Thursday night during the EconAlliance’s 2016 Future Forum at the Radisson Hotel.

At the gathering -- which brought experts in innovation in the fields of nanotechnology and housing and neighborhood planning to Santa Maria -- the northern Santa Barbara County nonprofit economic development group also gave out its inaugural Innovation Award.

“The purpose of the award is to recognize and encourage these organizations that are doing some tremendous things in northern Santa Barbara County. We don’t give ourselves enough credit for what we do here. That is what tonight is about,” said Ben Oakley, EconAlliance board member.

EconAlliance picked Space Information Labs as the recipient of its inaugural Innovation Award.

Space Information Laboratories is an aerospace engineering company that works to develop and manufacture space-qualified products for rockets, missiles, small satellites, balloons, unmanned aerial vehicles and aircraft.

One of the reasons Space Information Laboratories was selected for the award was its innovative vehicle-based independent tracking system it developed, according to Oakley.

“This technology has transformed the tracking of rockets using GPS tracking instead of radar, which has been used for the last 50 years,” Oakley said. “The innovation itself is lending itself to future innovation. This creates opportunity for startup rocket companies and is a catalyst future growth. It creates numerous high-tech and high-paying jobs right here in Santa Maria.”

Founder and CEO Edmund Burke accepted the award.

“I am surrounded by brilliant minds, and I am honored to lead a team like Space Information Labs and all of the engineers and scientist there,” Burke said.

He said he was grateful to be the first recipient of the group’s Innovation Award.

“It is a great honor to bring high-tech jobs to Santa Maria. We have good paying jobs and innovation right here. It can be done. We need to encourage that,” Burke said.

Following the forum’s focus on the future, the EconAlliance invited Christine Peterson, co-founder of The Foresight Institute, a nonprofit group that focuses its efforts on nanotechnology and its applications, to Santa Maria as the evening's first keynote speaker.

She began her talk titled, “Nano, Bio and Artificial Intelligence -- Technology that will Transform Your Tomorrows,” by asking the audience if they read science fiction when they were young.

“One thing that I have found as I’ve tracked technology over these few decades, science fiction is coming true,” Peterson said.

She said that the world in on the brink of another technology revolution.

One form the coming technological revolution will come in is nanotechnology -- atomic-level creations that can be utilized for everything from energy creation to medical procedures.

In the northern Santa Barbara County region, nanotechnology could be utilized for water filtration, oil and gas production and aerospace applications.

On the medical front, Peterson said, nanotechnology is already being used in the fight against cancer.

“I think, within our lifetime, cancer will be manageable,” she said adding that medical researchers don’t like to use the word "cure" so they say "manage."

Peterson’s talk also focused on advances in biotechnology and artificial intelligence.

She warned that any scientific advancement has to be done thoughtfully.

“If we don’t address it in a smart way, it will be addressed politically in a stupid way,” Peterson said.

The future of housing and city planning was the next focus of the future forum.

Daniel Parolek, of Opticos Design Inc. -- a Berkley-based architect and urban planning firm, talked about the concept he created called, “missing middle housing.”

For Parolek, the future of housing is thinking creatively and looking into the past.

“Let’s take a step back and talk about the wide variety of housing choices a lot of our pre-1940s neighborhoods provided,” Parlok said.

His concept of "missing middle housing" comes from the midcentury housing focus that seemed to mainly take the form of single-family, detached homes or large city centers. For him, the housing options in between, like duplexes, town homes and bungalows, make up his missing middle concept.

Parlok said, the future “is not about building housing, it’s about creating places.”

Planners should focus on creating dense, multiuse, walkable communities by employing the "missing middle housing" concept.

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Logan B. Anderson covers city government in Santa Maria for Lee Central Coast Newspapers. Follow him on Twitter: @LoganBAnderson.

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