The FuTure iS here
While we may not have the sci-fi gadgetry from Star Trek, the human spirit for innovation is still hard at work. Part optimism, part peering into the murky crystal ball, we shine the spotlight on some of the technology that could make its mark in the year
Author William Gibson famously said: “The future is already here – it’s just not very evenly distributed.”
Author William Gibson famously said: “The future is already here – it’s just not very evenly distributed.” Cars that drive themselves, sensors which can track your eyeballs and wireless charging are real technologies which exist today, but they’re not commonplace – yet. Check out the future tech we want to see happen for everyone in the new year.
Play inside Another Reality
The next generation of consoles, in the shape of Sony’s PlayStation 4 and Microsoft’s Xbox One, is upon us. But if we’re being frank, the upgrades are more evolutionary rather than revolutionary. Switching over to x86 architecture and arming your gaming platform with a now-obsolete GPU is not the next level.
Devices like Oculus Rift however, are looking to push the boundaries of gaming. Developed by Oculus VR, the head-mounted display was showcased at E3 2013 with 1080p resolution and improved head tracking. Oculus Rift doesn’t just want to introduce a new world, but immerse you completely in it.
Unfortunately the new wave of consoles has missed out on the opportunity to make virtual reality happen by not supporting Oculus Rift. But hopefully that isn’t going to stop virtual reality from moving forward.
Ever had your smartphone battery die on you because you forgot to plug your device in to charge? We know the feeling. But if wireless charging was the norm for mobile devices rather than a premium feature, this unhappy circumstance could be easily avoided.
The Qi induction wireless charging standard is built into a number of devices, but not enough in our opinion. Sure, Qi might be a little slow at present but the baton for development has been picked up by innovators like Ossia, who are working on developing their own competitor, Cota, to address performance issues.
Now all we need is for the big boys in the smart device market to come to an agreement, standardize the requirements for wireless charging and roll it out to the consumer. Keep your fingers crossed, and one day you might never have to plug in your smartphone to charge.
Use Your Eyes to Surf the Web
Touchscreens, voice activation and motion control technology are so 2012. If Danish tech firm The Eye Tribe has anything to say about it, the future of input technology will be eyeball tracking. The Eye Tribe has developed a small, USB-powered sensor bar that uses infra-red illumination to create a pattern of reflections on your eyeballs. The sensor then uses this data and a system of algorithms to precisely determine your point of gaze. The sensor is so precise it will even work while wearing contact lenses and spectacles.
Current applications include aiming in video games, eye activated login, and hands-free browsing and typing. There are huge benefits for those with physical disabilities, or just anyone frequently finding themselves with a tablet in one hand and a slice of pizza in the other.
Incredibly, the device is available for sale for a low US$99. A custom mount for Microsoft Surface tablets is already on the market, and Android and iOS versions are planned for launch in the first half of this year.
Cars that Drive You
According to reports, Britons spend over 10 hours a week in their cars and drive roughly 7,400 miles on average a year. Americans, on the other hand, are said to spend slightly more than 11 hours a week in their cars and drive around 12,300 miles on average per year. Clearly, humans spend a lot of time in automobiles. So it makes sense to work towards upgrading and updating the vehicles we drive.
One thing we can all look forward to in the future is the autonomous, self-driving car. Leave it to Google to blaze the trail; they already have a self driving car project underway and it has racked up over half a million miles to date with no serious accidents. Mercedes-Benz also recently conducted an experiment using a selfdriving S-Class outfitted with existing technologies such as cameras, radars and sensor, driving 125 km through Germany with no human intervention. Nissan CEO Carlos Ghosn has even gone as far as committing the company to selling a driverless car by 2020. Clearly the technology exists and works. Now it is only a matter of getting such technologies to be commercially viable and introduced to all makes and models.
But why just stop at cars that drive themselves? If you can have a conversation with your smartphone, why can’t you do the same with your automobile? Both Apple and Google are working hard at getting their respective mobile OSes into cars. Earlier last year at WWDC, Apple announced ‘iOS in the Car’ and said that car manufacturers like Ferrari, Honda, Mercedes-Benz and Jaguar will be introducing iOS integration in their cars in 2014. Google, on the other hand, is working on integrating its platform in cars with their exciting Google Glass endeavor.
Imagine a near future where you will be able to look up a location on Google Maps or Apple’s Maps app, have directions sent to your car and then be driven there by the car itself.
Meat - unless you’re a vegetarian, chances are you have it almost every day. But our meat habit is unsustainable; raising so many more animals to feed so many more humans is causing immense strain on resources, raising levels of greenhouse gases, and propagating diseases like bird flu thanks to overcrowded factory farms.
The solution? Eat less meat. But it’s unlikely that most will do so, and that’s why making the conversion easy or even invisible will be crucial. The way forward will either be with ‘real’ meat grown in a lab, without the need to raise and slaughter live animals, or with meat substitutes, made from vegetables, which taste exactly like the same thing. Companies like Cultured Beef is doing the former, and Beyond Meat is doing the latter.
While Cultured Beef is still in the development phase (a Cultured Beef burger made for a recent demo cost an estimated US$325,000), Beyond Meat rolled out its commercial products in the United States in late 2013. The chicken burger you’ll eat in the future may not even be made of chicken – and you won’t even notice the difference.
OLEDs are meant to be the next big thing. While TV manufacturers are busy making use of them to deliver outstanding colors and curved screens, they have another property that should be leveraged: OLEDs can be used to develop transparent displays. Companies like Samsung and Planar have already produced transparent OLED displays for retail packaging. Next thing we want to see; Smartphones with transparent displays.
Let’s face it: Lithium-ion battery technology is hitting a plateau. It’s high time for new battery technologies to emerge and meet the everincreasing energy needs of our gadgets.
Tin is increasingly viewed by scientists as the new electrode nanomaterial to increase the energy-storage capacity of lithium-ion batteries. Tin crystal works just like a sponge – it can expand up to three times its normal size to absorb lithium ions and shrinks again when releasing them. The Laboratory of Inorganic Chemistry at ETH Zurich claims that tin crystals can double the energy capacity of the battery.
Scientists also are looking at extending the life span of batteries. Batteries deteriorate over time as the polymer coating the electrodes become brittle and crack. This is caused by the expanding and shrinking of electrodes in between charging cycles.
Researchers at Stanford University have developed a new polymer coating with tiny nanoparticles of carbon which can repair itself “within just a few hours”. If successful, these projects may be the next breakthrough in battery technologies, and we could have smartphones that finally last more than a single day.
Thunderbolt promised much but delivered little. The performance levels it provided were overkill for most everyday users and it just couldn’t breakout from its niche. In April 2013, Intel announced Thunderbolt 2, which may fare better than its predecessor. With a doubled bandwidth of 20Gbps (10Gbps uplink, 10Gbps downlink) Thunderbolt 2 can allow for simultaneous 4K video file transfer and 4k video display. Even if it loses the 4K battle to HDMI 2.0, Thunderbolt 2 has the raw potential to succeed as long as manufacturers find a way to leverage its capabilities.