When most people talk about the future, it’s usually filled with visions of matter transportation, interstellar spaceships, robot butlers, or a Skynet dominated dystopia. While most nerds would drool over any one of these scenarios, the reality is we don’t need to go to space to explore a bold, new frontier.
These days, spare change will buy you a ticket to the future.
The Structure Scanner – iPad 3D Scanner
Price: US$349 Technologically speaking, 3D scanning has been around since the Stone Age. At a commercial and industrial level, it’s used for everything from cartography to manufacturing aircraft engine turbines, and even space exploration. But for the average Joe/Jane, it’s relegated to building 3D models of household objects or pets. Well, no longer…
The power of portable computing, in this case a tablet, opens up a whole new world for devices like the Structure Scanner. A simple attachment for the iPad, this portable 3D scanner enables one to walk around any environment, scanning and mapping in glorious 3D as you go. It even captures colour and texture. This may not sound exciting on the face of it, but imagine taking immersive 3D panorama shots on your next holiday or trip to the museum.
Now, that is exciting.
Price: A Small Nation’s GDP No surprises here, but shortly after the release of the first instalment of Iron Man, a meeting (likely several) was had by some American military types, where they discussed the feasibility of creating an actual Iron Man suit. Engineering firms and fledgling start-ups then came out of the woodwork in an attempt to divert some of that defence budget gravy train their way. The results have been startling.
Like the Raytheon XOS 2; a wearable robotic suit developed for the US Army. The XOS 2 is essentially designed to increase every aspect of the user that wears out with fatigue, time and energy. That’s strength, agility and endurance. No, there are no shoulder-mounted rockets and plasma doesn’t shoot from its palms (yet), but you can bet this is the first step towards a future weaponised version. (Cue: ominous orchestral music.)
The exciting part is the XOS 2 and similar exoskeleton developments, like Ekso Bionics’ ‘legs,’ also have the potential to aid rehabilitation for people with severe injuries, such as paralysis. Recent movies like Elysium and next year’s Tom Cruise-helmed Edge of Tomorrow both feature protagonists aided exponentially by an exoskeleton. Think of all this as propaganda to prepare us for the near future.
That’s right; we’re talking five, maybe 10 years, tops. Better start growing that goatee.
Price: US$300 The year was 1985. Super Mario Bros hit the world like an atom bomb, VHS had won the format war with Beta, and two little buzz words triggered excitement in the next audio-visual trend: Virtual Reality.
Sadly, the majority of devices from that era of virtual reality, or VR, while fun, were cumbersome and unwieldy; either impractical or too heavy to use for extended periods of time. But smash-cut to the new millennium and VR is being given a shot in the arm once again, this time in the form of the Oculus Rift. A VR head-mounted display, the Rift is inexpensive (it’s currently aimed at gamers), displays in 1080p HD video, and is all backed by a company that wants developers to ‘hack’ their creation to find bigger and better uses for it.
The possibilities for the Rift currently outweigh the speed at which they can develop the actual technology, so expect some astounding capabilities in the future. Virtual trip to a Total Recall-esque Mars, anyone?
Price: $US5000 Did you say, ‘robot butler?’ Yes, of course you did. But even if you didn’t, many people in Japan have. The country is obsessed with robotics, due in no small part to its robot movie and animation history. Mechagodzilla, we salute you.
While the country is constantly developing robots for everything from industrial and rescue duties, to space exploration and beyond, the domestic, or ‘social,’ robots seem to the most exciting. Everyone has likely heard of ASIMO, Honda’s humanoid robot we see tripping on stairs every few years, but none is more loveable and cute than Paro.
A therapeutic robot deigned to stimulate patients with cognition disorders (Alzheimer’s, Dementia), Paro is capable of measuring any number of variables, like light, sound and temperature, and then interacting with its human partner.
The country has developed many other models of social robots (*cough-sexbot-cough*), but you can Google those when you’re not at work.
Printing Living Tissue
Price: An arm and a leg The title says it all. Consider this: In the near future we will be able to ‘print’ replacement limbs and tissue for any ‘original’ parts that become defective or damaged, just as easily as we print photos of cats from the internet today. This process, dubbed bioprinting, takes human stem cells and configures them to become any part of the human body we like. Scientists recently made an ear. A heart was also on the table, but it broke (ba-boom-tish!).
The reality of print-on-demand limbs and organs, though, is quite some way off. There may be a company in Austin, Texas, developing a process to bioprint breast tissue for use in the treatment of breast cancer patients, but many scientists and engineers are keenly looking at ways of printing real human tissue to be used in pharmaceutical testing.
The implications mean that medical industry will one day no longer need animal test subjects. With the possibility of developing drugs on a shorter timeline and printing replacement tissue for any body part you desire, you’ll one day be able to bioprint your way to good health.
Motorola Smartphone Tattoo
Price: $TBA The world changed in early November, 2013, when Motorola – a company which had been falling behind in its standing in the world of mobile technology (remember the Razr flip phone? Neither do we) – filed a patent for a device that could only be described as a tattooed neck microphone.
With a built-in transceiver and power supply, the neck mic will connect wirelessly to your phone and make all your dreams of becoming a cyborg come true. It can also be applied to pets, for the same reason we connect microphones to our pets today… no, wait.
Of course, the question is; are we ready for a permanent microphone on our body? That’s a 24/7 commitment to potentially broadcasting your life to every butt dial you make. Awkward…