DRONES

Fly­ing un­manned ro­bots to take over our work and go where we can’t? Seems like a dream, but this is one area where we’ve def­i­nitely al­ready seen progress.

HWM (Malaysia) - - FEA­TURE - HWM

REAL TECH:

In the 2015 of the real world? Well, fu­el­sav­ing hy­brid cars that run on elec­tric­ity and petrol are al­ready com­mon, but you might be sur­prised to hear that tech­nol­ogy is be­ing de­vel­oped to cre­ate en­ergy from waste – just like in the movie. NASA has built an 80-pound trash-to-gas re­ac­tor that will hold more than three quarts (about 1.44kg) of waste and burn it at about 1,000 de­grees Fahren­heit – about twice the max­i­mum tem­per­a­ture of your reg­u­lar house­hold oven – es­sen­tially cre­at­ing a source of meth­ane fuel for as­tro­nauts to store that could po­ten­tially power their launch home.

E-Fuel Cor­po­ra­tion, on the other hand, is look­ing at con­vert­ing or­ganic waste to ethanol fuel us­ing their por­ta­ble ethanol mi­cro-re­fin­ery sys­tem, which re­places the typ­i­cal ethanol re­flux col­umn sys­tem with solid-state dis­til­la­tion tech­nol­ogy that pro­duces ethanol with­out the need for com­bus­tion. The unit sup­ports a va­ri­ety of or­ganic waste as fuel, and can be used in com­bi­na­tion with the E-Fuel Grid-Buster to pro­duce elec­tric­ity for home use.

Maybe to­day’s tech­nolo­gies don’t have a cool name like “Mr Fu­sion”, but our sci­en­tists are cer­tainly com­ing up with al­ter­na­tive meth­ods of tap­ping into sources of en­ergy that would oth­er­wise just be dis­posed of as trash, and that’s cer­tainly some­thing to look for­ward to.

NASA has built an 80-pound trash-to­gas re­ac­tor that will hold more than three quarts

of waste and burn it at about 1,000 de­grees Fahren­heit.

REEL TECH:

In the movie, Biff and his crew smash into City Hall when Biff loses con­trol of his hov­er­board while try­ing to hit Marty with a bat. Fast for­ward a few min­utes later, and we see that the gang’s been rounded up and are be­ing es­corted out by the Hill Val­ley Po­lice Depart­ment. But in­stead of re­porters, we see these big bulky hov­er­ing ma­chines with cam­eras and mi­cro­phones tak­ing pic­tures and re­port­ing about the in­ci­dent in real time. Whoa, far out man!

REAL TECH:

Drones are a real thing. In fact, the ma­jor­ity of us con­sider them pretty nor­mal by now. We’ve all seen pho­to­graphs taken by aerial re­con­nais­sance drones on the news, maybe even live video of un­manned drone strikes on ter­ror­ist or mil­i­tary tar­gets. Even com­mer­cial busi­nesses are try­ing to find uses for them. Ama­zon made the news a few months back about how they’re look­ing to ex­per­i­ment with us­ing drones to de­liver pack­ages for them.

But one area where drones haven’t seen much use is (iron­i­cally) re­port­ing. While we see drones cov­er­ing Biff’s ‘ac­ci­dent’ in the movie, in re­al­ity, there hasn’t been sig­nif­i­cant drone use for news cov­er­age. De­spite there be­ing an or­ga­ni­za­tion in the U.S. called the Pro­fes­sional So­ci­ety of Drone Jour­nal­ists, us­age of drones on a large scale in jour­nal­ism is non-ex­is­tent. Partly be­cause it’s cur­rently il­le­gal to use drones com­mer­cially and also due to the eth­i­cal and pri­vacy im­pli­ca­tions.

That doesn’t mean that drone jour­nal­ism won’t be com­ing. In fact, the Univer­sity of Mis­souri al­ready has a drone jour­nal­ism pro­gram, with two pub­lished news sto­ries (done via drones) that have aired on TV. If any­thing, this just proves that drone jour­nal­ism might be in­evitable, de­spite what laws or reg­u­la­tions there are in place.

The Univer­sity of Mis­souri al­ready has a drone jour­nal­ism pro­gram, with two pub­lished news sto­ries (done via drones) that have aired on TV.

REEL TECH:

Spot­ting a Wild Gun­man game ma­chine in the café, Marty McFly tries to im­press some kids by hav­ing a go at the game. But the kids from the fu­ture are unim­pressed, and claim that us­ing your hands to play a game means that it’s “like a baby’s toy”. There’s no men­tion of how games are played in the fu­ture, but we’re guess­ing you won’t need to hold on to a con­troller. So how far have we come in terms of hands-free gam­ing?

REAL TECH:

Gam­ing used to be a niche hobby, but Nin­tendo in­tro­duced ca­sual gam­ing to the masses with its Wii con­sole. Part of its ap­peal was that phys­i­cal ges­tures could be used to con­trol some of its games, with play­ers swing­ing the re­mote to play base­ball or ten­nis in Wii Sports.

With the suc­cess of the Wii, it came as no sur­prise when Mi­crosoft re­vealed the Kinect, which was a pe­riph­eral for the Xbox 360 that al­lowed users to con­trol and in­ter­act with the con­sole with­out hav­ing to use a con­troller. You can even switch on your Xbox One con­sole with your voice alone.

Com­pa­nies are also ex­plor­ing the use of brain-com­puter in­ter­face (BCI) for con­sumer prod­ucts. One such com­pany, Neu­rosky, has re­leased the MindWave, which is a head­set that mea­sures your brain’s elec­tri­cal ac­tiv­ity and uses your state of mind as in­for­ma­tion for cer­tain apps. There’s even a game (Man.Up), which uses the in­for­ma­tion gath­ered by the MindWave to change the game’s set­tings. In Man.Up, you con­trol a man that’s jump­ing up­wards on var­i­ous plat­forms, but play­ers still have to use the ar­row keys on the key­board to con­trol the di­rec­tion of the jump. Your brain­waves de­ter­mine the char­ac­ter’s jump height and plat­form length.

Hands-free gam­ing is still rudi­men­tary though, and it might still be a while be­fore hold­ing a game con­troller is con­sid­ered “play­ing with a baby’s toy”.

There’s even a game (Man. Up), which uses the in­for­ma­tion gath­ered by the MindWave to change the game’s set­tings.

REEL TECH:

Guess what, the Back to the Fu­ture movies weren’t all about hov­er­boards and fly­ing cars. There was quite a bit of reimag­in­ing what fu­ture homes would be like. In Back to the Fu­ture II, houses greeted their own­ers when they came back, and Marty had a widescreen TV, com­plete with what looked like multi-chan­nel and pic­ture-in-pic­ture func­tions. Heck, one could even an­swer phone calls right on the TV! All these seemed crazy at the time (who in the right mind needs a longish TV?), but 30 years on, many have grad­u­ated from pre­dic­tion to re­al­ity.

REAL TECH:

While homes to­day don’t lit­er­ally greet us when we come through the door, there’s no lack of in­ter­ac­tion be­tween both par­ties. For ex­am­ple, it’s com­mon these days for IT de­vices to get onto the lo­cal area net­work and ‘talk’ to one an­other. With home ap­pli­ances also get­ting into the act re­cently, we’re push­ing this con­nected home con­cept be­yond the usual shar­ing of me­dia files or print­ers across the room over Wi-Fi.

In the kitchen, LG has a smart oven that you can con­sult for recipe rec­om­men­da­tions; and Sam­sung has a Wi-Fi-en­abled wash­ing ma­chine that lets you con­trol and mon­i­tor it re­motely through an app on your mo­bile de­vice. And if you’ve an Au­gust Smart Lock that’s able to sense your ap­proach, you can walk through the door with­out hav­ing to reach for ei­ther your keys or phone. And re­ally, what’s stop­ping smart lock mak­ers from adding a speaker so that it can say “Wel­come home, mas­ter”?

In the liv­ing room, widescreen TVs are now com­mon­place. And TV mak­ers are ex­per­i­ment­ing with more form fac­tors, such as 21:9 ul­tra-widescreen TVs and curved/flex­i­ble dis­plays. Want hun­dreds of chan­nels to watch? Thanks to ca­ble TV providers, su­per-fast broad­band, and the In­ter­net, we’ve re­al­ized the couch potato’s dream years ago. Along with the Skype app on a smart TV or an Xbox-Kinect-Skype setup, do­ing video calls on a gi­ant screen is now as easy as pie. Say, did we just oneup the movie?

You can walk through the door with­out hav­ing to reach for ei­ther your keys or phone.

REEL TECH:

If we had to name one thing from the movie that cap­tured the imag­i­na­tion of ours when we watched it as kids it would have to be the hov­er­board. Back then, a skate­board was al­ready the epit­ome of cool and style, but one that hov­ers? That com­pletely takes the cake! And on the sub­ject of hov­er­ing ob­jects, there were also the fly­ing cars. Th­ese fly­ing cars of­fered so much more free­dom and con­ve­nience and also looked in­fin­itely more fun to drive than reg­u­lar road cars.

REAL TECH:

For­tu­nately for us, not ev­ery­thing from the movie is still fan­tasy. To­day, we al­ready have a work­ing pro­to­type of a hov­er­board from a com­pany called Hendo. The Hendo hov­er­board works us­ing the same elec­tro­mag­netic tech­nol­ogy cur­rently em­ployed in high-speed Ma­glev trains. How­ever, that also means that it can only hover above spe­cific met­als. Also, it is re­port­edly very tricky to ride. Still, it is a start, but the end game for Hendo is ac­tu­ally much larger and am­bi­tious. Specif­i­cally, they want to work out a way to use the tech­nol­ogy to lev­i­tate re­ally large ob­jects - such as en­tire build­ings - out of harm’s way, say an earth­quake.

On the other hand, we are still miles away from a fly­ing car. But it’s not so much the tech­nol­ogy, we have seen pro­to­types of fly­ing cars in the past and one of the newer ones from a com­pany called Aero­mo­bil looks es­pe­cially promis­ing. The prob­lem, how­ever, lies with safety and leg­is­la­tion. Al­ready, a plane needs to un­dergo a smor­gas­bord of pre-flight safety and se­cu­rity checks, and rightly so, be­fore it is given the green light to fly. Plus, a pi­lot needs to un­dergo ex­ten­sive train­ing be­fore he is al­lowed to take to the skies. Imag­ine do­ing the same for cars. We would rather take the train.

We are still miles away from a fly­ing car but it’s not so much the tech­nol­ogy.

REEL TECH:

In the 2015 of Back to the Fu­ture II, Marty McFly gets his hands on an auto-ad­just­ing and auto-dry­ing jacket. The gar­ment had a but­ton that made the jacket auto-ad­just to the wearer’s size and it also au­to­mat­i­cally dried it­self when wet. Stylishly paired with McFly’s jacket were his Nike Air Mag sneak­ers, which fea­tured self-lac­ing power laces – just slip your feet in and the shoes do the rest.

Later in the movie, the fu­ture McFly fam­ily sits down to en­joy din­ner – re­hy­drated pep­per­oni pizza nat­u­rally – and Marty’s two ob­nox­ious teenage kids show up wear­ing glasses that can take video calls and also dou­ble up as mini TVs.

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