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Here comes the future

Self-driving cars, flexible screens, laptop computers that heal themselves and brains that back up memories. Sounds like magic? Well, they’re coming to you! Read on to stay tuned into what the near future has in hold for you.

india Updated: Feb 19, 2011 16:58 IST

One fine morning, we decided we had had enough. Enough speculation about what the next iPhone will be like, enough arguments about when the next version of the iPad will be released and enough discussions about how Fruit Ninja totally kicks Angry Birds’ feathered butt. What we really wanted to do was hop, skip and jump past the next few months and find out what the future, or at least the next few years, holds for us as far as technology goes. So we sat back in our chairs, got out the crystal ball and found ourselves in a world where cars drove themselves, computers folded over and brains automatically backed themselves up. Don’t believe us? See for yourself!

Just round the corner
It’s magic
Near Field Communication 2011

Imagine this: after a hearty meal at your favourite restaurant, you simply tap your phone over a scanner – voila, the bill amount is instantly debited from your bank account (you might still have to tip the waiters in cash though – unless they’ve gone robotic by this time)! You walk into a movie hall and go up to a movie poster with Katrina Kaif beaming down at you. Tap the poster and your phone immediately receives the movie trailer video and reviews. If you’ve made up your mind, tap the Katrina again and the poster will dispense e-tickets right into your phone. No standing in line at the counter, no bad movies to watch anymore. NFC can make all this and more real by means of a chip buried inside your phone. Goodbye wallet, goodbye credit card!

Shake It, Baby!

Motion Computing 2011

Flap those arms, swing them legs, jump, hop and skip, because the future is all about groovin’! Microsoft, the company that chained you to your desks by putting a computer on each one you own, now wants you to get up and get moving via ‘Kinect’, a small sensor-like device that plugs into your Xbox 360 videogame console. YOU are now the controller! Killing an in-game monster with your sword? Simply make a slashing motion with your arm in the air in front of you.

But the real move forward isn’t about gaming. It’s about your body, your voice, your gestures having true meaning to control all the technology and gadgets around you. Imagine walking into a room where the system recognises you, gesturing to your computer to fire up the browser, dictating an email and sending it with a flick of your wrist, setting up a video conference just by calling out names. Blade Runner, here we come!

My tv smartest!
Web TV 2011
When is an idiot box not an idiot? When it’s connected to the World Wide Web, of course! You see an interesting location on TV. Perfect place to plan your next vacation, you think. With Web TV, all you need to do is press a button on your remote control and view all the information you need right there alongside the show. You can look at pictures of the place, book your flight tickets, reserve hotel rooms and read or listen to what other people have to say about their experience!

App stores, Twitter and Facebook integration, YouTube streaming and games, all delivered via the Internet, promise to change the way you watch TV – forever. Google, Apple, Boxee, Roku… the biggies are already fighting for a slice of the pie. Will the domination of the large TV networks scuttle their plan? Only time will tell.

One size fits all

Modular gadgets 2011

Dual core processor, 24 GB memory, separate graphics processor – sounds like a state of the art laptop? Nope, it’s your next phone. The innards of your phone now sound more like a full-fledged computer, in fact far more powerful. If you’ve had your office computer for more than two years then you will notice that it’s a slow, clunky brick. Your phone, meanwhile, packs the punch of a small supercomputer. Only, if only, you could harness your phone to power your computer! Well, Motorola and many other companies now tell us that’s possible. And the Motorola Atrix 4G is a good showcase of that. A phone so powerful that it can actually run not only your laptop but also your multimedia system by means of various docks. Also on the market are hybrid Netbooks that fold over to become Tablets, dual-screen Netbooks and small computers with built-in E-Ink displays that double up as e-readers. This is convergence, baby!

Click here to view the video

In the next few years

Twist me hard

Flexible screens 2017

Techies dream, scientists drool and users crave – and with good reason. When your screen finally goes all bendy-twisty, the entire dimension changes – phones don’t need to be rectangular, laptop sizes don’t need to be dictated by the screens and a Tablet doesn’t have to be, well, a Tablet-like slate. What happens then? A single, God-like device emerges – one small enough to fit in your pocket when you need a phone, fan out to a 21-inch display when you want to catch that movie in-flight and open out to a 40 incher wide-screen when you want to make a professional presentation.

Giants like Sony, LG and Samsung all have various forms of rollable and bendable displays, all vying to become the hottest ticket to our converged, single-device future.

Goodbye, glasses

Glassless 3D 2011

After being shoved down our collective throats post Avatar, it looks like 3D is here to stay, like it or not. The good news? Those ill-fitting, battery-operated, impossible-to-find, headache-inducing glasses are finally going away! Pioneered by the Nintendo 3DS and now about a half a dozen phones at the Mobile World Congress 2011, the first portable glassless 3D displays are here. This is, however, still a nascent technology. It will be some time before you can watch the World Cup on that 50-incher in your living room. The problem with large screen sizes is that you need to stand at a certain place at a certain distance and it still looks artificial. But hey, it’s a start!

Zip zap zoom

Electric cars 2015

Electric cars seemed to be making as much progress as flying cars and jet packs. Until now, that is!

Efficient, great-looking, fast performance electric cars are starting to look good. Better battery technology, fuel cells and fast recharging could make sure that all our cars are silent, efficient and totally green. Even recharging could be dispensed with. Drive up to a battery pump station, unplug your battery, plug in a charged one and zoom away in less time than it would take you to tank up today.

No more scratches

Self-healing materials 2015

There’s nothing more likely to drive you into spasms of hysteria than the sight of a dent on your swanky new car. Don’t worry, there’s a billion dollar industry to help you cover up, protect, insure and repair all that you own. Could the laptop that fell off the table self heal at night and be perfect when you wake up in the morning? Can the scratches on your car and phone be self-aware and vanish overnight? Yes, they can and most of it is happening right now.

These smart materials have the ability to repair damage without human intervention. Just like the human body has the ability to heal after being wounded, various polymers, plastics, ceramics and paints now have self repair abilities. Lots of different approaches exist: microcapsules that burst when paint gets scratched and coat over the scratch. Or polymers with bond catalysts embedded that mix with it to renew a surface when dented or defaced. There is even Solid State and Biomimetic repair technology that is working. Time to toss that thick, padded cell phone cover in the trash!

Chauffeur beware!
Self-driven cars 2017
No more honking your way through the morning jam, no more lobbing the choicest expletives at the other car that comes dangerously close, no more red lights, no more driving-to-office blues! New technology that Google and some others are developing can transform your daily ride from hell into a soothing experience in which you can sit back with your favourite magazine, catch up on the news or simply watch the world whiz by as your car literally drives itself to your workplace.

These automated cars use video cameras, radar sensors and a laser range finder to ‘see’ other traffic and detailed maps that are available from Google’s vast data centres. No more accidents (let’s face it, chips are smarter than your good old flesh-and-blood driver), reduced fuel consumption and a hassle-free ride – what more could we possibly want?

But don’t give your driver the pink slip just yet. While the technology is promising, it will be a few years before you can hop into your nearest showroom and pick up one of these beauties.

Into the future
Backup initiated
Downloading memories
The greatest debate of them all. What really makes us who we are? Our awareness, our memories, our thoughts, our imagination and all the things we’ve learnt. All of this is filed away in our brain. When we die, the first thing to go off the radar is the brain. Everything we have learnt, a lifetime of memories, the awareness that we exist... all gone! What if all that resides in the brain could be downloaded onto a flash drive – a literal backup of our brain and everything that we do when we are alive? The possibilities are endless. While our body is dead and gone, could that brain process backup still tick inside a special computer? Would we be aware that we still exist? Could this backup then be used to recreate or repopulate in the future when we have moved towards perfect cloning or robohumanic beings?

Even if we move away from the pros and cons and heavy futuristic Terminator-like scenarios, the potential of tapping and backing up the great minds of this world are amazing.

Think of every scientist, visionary and innovator whose amazing thought process has been lost. If only we could have a way of retaining it and keeping all that ran thorough that exceptional mind! Technologies that read our thoughts and map memories are already in place and being used. Ian Pearson, head of British Telecom’s futurology unit, seems to think that this will happen in the middle of this century but will only be available to the super rich. So start saving if you want cyber-immortality!

Into thin air
Full dimension displays
We all loved it when Tom Cruise made display technology look like an art form in the movie Minority Report. Yet, of all movie scenarios, this is the one most likely to become real. In the future, our large home entertainment and office displays may not be screens at all. They will be full scale, all- dimension and holographic and won’t need any glasses or clunky accessories to function. Today’s 3D will look like a joke in front of it. Scientists are moving towards creating devices that project 3D images in the air by means of nanomaterials that bend light around objects. How it works is not important, what matters is that it does.

Beam me up, Scotty
Human teleportation
We all saw Captain Kirk on Star Trek, we were all fascinated by the very thought of it and we are all still waiting for it to happen. To travel from one place to another with no physical transportation object being used – no car, no aircraft, no ship – is truly the final frontier that technology must overcome.

And enough signs of it coming about one day are in place. Scientists have managed quantum teleportation with photons where an object is dematerialised at one point and the details of that object’s atomic configuration are then sent to another location where it is precisely reconstructed. (All hell breaks loose if it’s not, though. Imagine being beamed from home to office and arriving as a globular green mess because something went wrong!) Right now, a photon, a laser beam and a laser beam carrying information have been successfully transported.

However, a human being is a million times more complex. The catch is that for teleportation to happen, the original must be destroyed. So when you are beamed on a trip to Paris, your original will be zapped to nothing and you must hope and pray that the one that they recreate will have the exact same body, face, thoughts, memories and mind. Otherwise, the person enjoying the sights of the Eiffel Tower may just be a totally different person – and you may not exist, all because you were in a hurry and didn’t want to take the flight.

Spark plug
Personal power generators
If you could generate your own power, for everything in your home and office, that would be nice, right? And everything would mean everything. From the air-conditioners to the heaters, to the computers, lights and all equipment in use. How about the fact that whatever is extra and not used by you is fed into a grid and you are paid for it? How about the fact that all that power could come from a device the size of a shoebox? Yes, your very own personal electricity and power generator station kept under your bed. Multiple such devices are in play but the most promising one seems to be the one that is already in use.

And it seems to work and work well. This is the Bloom Box being used right now at Google, eBay, FedEx, Wal-Mart and Staples. A fuel cell device from US-based Dr KS Sridhar’s start-up company, that uses a stack of ceramic disks all put together inside a box the size of a bread box and can generate about 1 kilowatt of power. It’s costly right now, but in a few years we all maybe able to have our own power plant in a box and kiss power outages a final goodbye.

Virtual Everything ...even people!
It’s one of the most abused terms in technology and yet the time has come for it to make a serious mark. And with that, real life as we know it will be over. Virtual newscasters will take over and almost anyone with a camera can generate professional news bulletins by choosing age, gender, voice, expressions and level of authority required. Thus most TV show and news anchors will be out of their jobs. Virtual actors will be employed at multiple levels and it will be impossible to sort out the real from the virtual actors in the latest blockbusters.

Thus, a shoot in the tulip gardens in Amsterdam for Yashraj studios will cost practically nothing (bonus: no more star tantrums!). Doctors and lawyers will be available 24 hours as their virtual avatars will always be at hand to take as many calls as their HD conference call facilities can handle. Even an SMS from your phone will be delivered by a 3D holographic miniature version of you popping out of the recipient’s phone. Virtual will be virtually everywhere.

- From HT Brunch, February 20

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