5 cool technological announcements you should be aware of

It’s important to keep a thumb on the pulse of technology. Hopefully you and I and the people around us are for the most part, agents of change. But sometimes the world is changing so rapidly that it becomes a little hard to keep up.

I light of this, I’ve decided to blow some minds with five of the most Star-Trekky technology announcements from around the globe in recent times that I could find. Let’s begin.

Google Project Soli

Let’s talk Tom Cruise. Specifically Tom Cruise in Minority Report. In that (fairly awesome) sci-fi movie about some semblance of the thought police, they interact with a computer just by waving their hands in physical space. They swipe screens, zoom in, manipulate information, and so on. A few interesting products have come into the picture in recent years such as Leap Motion or even Xbox Kinekt and Playstation Move. But often these technologies are clunky or imprecise. A few days ago however, Google ATAP took precision to the next level with Project Soli. This radar based motion tracking system is tiny, and incredibly precise. It also works through surfaces and fabrics, and so can be integrated into watches, phones, or any other application requiring additional real estate when screen space or work space is minimal. Check out this awesome video on how it works!

Prosthetic limbs

Many many years ago, in a time almost forgotten (the mid 70s) there was a TV show that ran for three very successful years as a spinoff of The Six Million Dollar Man. Yes, that’s right, The Bionic Woman was unleashed into the world and captured the hearts and minds of the people. The concept of a human merging parts of the body with robotics has long fascinated our imaginations. We’ve advanced from the good old simple hook, to the prosthetic hand, to recently, 3d printed limbs. But this week, an Austrian team put a whole new level of robotic leg onto Wolfgang Rangger, making him the first human ever with a fake limb that can actually feel the world around it. “It feels like I have a foot again. I no longer slip on ice and I can tell whether I walk on gravel, concrete, grass or sand. I can even feel small stones,” he says. What’s possibly more impressive is that it drastically reduces phantom limb pain - the phenomenon of the brain sending pain signals from a limb that no longer exists.

So…just to clarify, we now have prosthetic limbs that are controlled by the brain, and give sensory feedback to the user. It’s a matter of time before we’re fighting off the cybernetic human invasion as per so many sci-fi plot lines!

Laser gun

It’s commonplace to hear of awesome research and inventions popping out of google, or Tesla, or various well funded universities etc. But from time to time comes a story so outrageous, it racks up 3.5 million Youtube views in 48 hours. Here how you do it:

1. Be somewhat juvenile looking

2. Build a futuristic laser gun in your garage that can burn wood in seconds, pop balloons almost instantly, or, well, pretty much set anything on fire

3. Post it on Reddit

With prosthetic limbs, tiny motion controllers, and Star Wars-esque laser guns, the future doesn’t seem so far away anymore does it? But wait…there’s more!

AeroGel

Ok so the name is somewhat misleading. It’s not really a gel - rather it is a term for a group of materials that are gels, but then the liquid is pulled out of the material, leaving only the solid remnants in tact. If you’re finding that hard to imagine, try to picture pulling all the water out of your body, but your skin and bones still remaining hard, unbroken shells. You’d suddenly weigh only a handful of kilograms, but still be fairly rigid and hollow. It’s sort of like freeze drying a gel…but not.

image

This amazing material, while not structurally strong on its own (though NASA have found ways to make it much more rigid), leaves behind only 98% of its original weight, and a porous shell that’s an incredible insulator. As you can see in the photo above, the flower remains unscathed while sitting atop a bunsen burner. This could make for amazing applications like new space suits, lightweight spacecraft, change energy efficiency in housing all over the world thereby reducing global CO2 emissions and greenhouse gasses, and so on.

Compact Fusion

Okay okay. No one has discovered fusion yet. But Lockheed Martin announced about six months ago that they’re on the verge of getting there. This isn’t such recent news, but it’s hugely important. While everything else we’ve covered is extraordinary, none would quite change the entire course of human history like this. Lockheed is a private contractor that’s deeply ingrained in the American military industrial complex. What does this mean? Well, they have seemingly unlimited amounts of money, and aren’t bound by the scrutiny of ethics boards or peer reviewed journals. They don’t really have to tell anyone what alchemy they’re up to.

Fusion, unlike our current nuclear power plants which run on fission (the splitting of uranium atoms), squeezes atoms together, producing huge amounts of heat which can be converted into energy. Their method could fit on the back of a truck and power 80 000 homes. Part of the problem is containing the super-hot soup of gaseous molecules however. If it touches the walls of its container, it will melt straight through. The fusion soup is likened to “containing the sun in a box.” Apparently through complex magnetic physics, Lockheed claim they have a way of stabilizing this heat.

What would this mean? Well, clean, unlimited power that’s safe, and not radioactive. We’d be able to build a spaceship that can carry 1000 people into space without needing to ever stop travelling in any particular direction. Wars fought over resources would almost stop. Water would no longer be an issue as the power costs associated with desalination would disappear. Transport costs would drop exponentially. Simply put, it would be equal in magnitude to discovering electricity in the first place. Humanity’s progress would jump in seemingly unimaginable ways.

Here’s hoping!

Gil is the Community and Communications Coordinator of The BizDojo Auckland