If we travel into the future (yeah, I know we can’t do that yet, but still), what would the world look like? Will we have flying cars and wars fought only by drones or will we just experience small increments in technological development? When looking back 10 years, it is easy to see what is different today. In 2004, we did not have smartphones, Facebook was just founded and Twitter did not exist yet. So how will things be in 2024? Let’s take a look at two technological areas: Internet of Things and Wearable technology.
Internet of Things
– In the next century, planet Earth will don an electronic skin. It will use the Internet as a scaffold to support and transmit its sensations. Neil Gross, 1999
The quote above is a famous quote often used by Internet of Things (IoT) proponents. IoT can be defined as a set of many devices with unique identifiers communicating with each other without the interaction of humans. Communication is done using low-power alternatives to normal wifi connections (like ZigBee). The basic idea is a sensor that is able to communicate with other sensors and computers. A basic example is a tire pressure sensor on a car. It measures the tire pressure, and sends the measurements to a monitoring system. This monitoring system triggers an alert when the tire pressure is too low, thus informing the car owner about the situation. Another example is a smart prescription bottle, which alerts a patient when it’s time to take their pills, alerts the pharmacy when the bottle is almost empty and schedules a refill, and informs the doctor about how many pills have been taken.
As of today, in 2014, the situation is that we have some elements of the Internet of Things, but there is lots of potential that can be unleashed. One example is the fire alarm. Today it just makes a lot of sound to alert you of a fire, but why can’t it also talk to your gas appliances to shut them down, notify the fire department and call your phone or send you an SMS alerting you about the fire? Very handy in case no one is home when the fire starts. The basic notion is to take available information, combine it, and take advantage of the possibilities this opens up.
– When data is removed from siloed warehouses and is able to be identified and shared between products and services like it is within the current Internet architecture a true Internet of Things can emerge. – www.postscapes.com
Home automation already exists today, but it is in its infancy. Few suppliers offer complete packages, and if you want something really useful and cool, you have to put the pieces together yourself. Much like in the late 70s with personal computers, the building blocks are available but no one has yet puzzled the pieces together and made compelling, mainstream products. But that will happen, there is an increasing focus on the Internet of Things, and several new companies that focus exclusively on this field (like Axeda and Qualcomm). Google is also a player in this field after their takeover of Nest last year. Nest sells smart thermostats and fire detectors, and Google envisions a world of heating, light and connected appliances based on Nest technology.
I would like to stress the similarity between the Internet of Things situation now and the early stages of personal computers in the late 70s and early 80s. All the pieces of the Internet of Things world are coming together; we need some visionaries to bring the whole thing forward to truly usable products that have appeal outside the world of tech geeks. In 10 years’ time this will have happened, and we will have a plethora of smart devices which will help us in our daily lives.
Wearable technology, also called fashion electronics, are clothes and accessories that include computer technology. One popular example of wearable technology is Google Glass, which is a computer with a camera mounted on a pair of glasses. Other examples are workout accessories like Nike+ watches, which uses GPS to track where you have been running, how far and for how long. The military are also using wearable technology, like head-up displays (HUD) for pilots in fighter jets, which presents data for pilots without requiring them to look on an instrument in the cockpit. The information is shown in front of them regardless of which way they are looking. The HUD technology is now also used in gaming and commercial aircraft.
The development of wearable technology will accelerate, and one indicator of new products is Oculus Rift. This is a pair of virtual reality goggles, and they have may uses. The Norwegian Army recently experimented with a pair and used them when driving a tank. The effect was like being in a see-through tank, using sensors on the outside of the tank that were feeding signals to a pair of Oculus Rift goggles. The soldiers inside the tank get a full 360-degrees view on the world right outside their tank. Turn your head to the right when wearing Oculus Rift, and you will see what’s happening outside the tank to your right. Pretty amazing!
More and more research is being done on wearable technology, and a lot is expected to happen in this field in the coming years. Smart clothes will become normal, and heart rate monitors will change from being a “band” you have to wear under your shirt to become embedded in the shirt itself, which is much more comfortable to wear. Another use for smart clothes is for truck drivers, who today have to take regular breaks to rest. Instead, smart clothes can monitor their bodies and alert drivers of their need to rest due to fatigue. So turning the system from a rigid rule (rest every 6 hours) to an event-driven approach driven by smart clothes. There are many other uses for smart clothes, especially in the health system and as technological gadgets. Maybe the smartphone in 2024 will be a t-shirt you can talk to, and push on “buttons” on your arm?