In this edition of “diGIT” I thought of taking a different perspective in the area of gadgets. It is always nice to see what kind of new phones, laptops, mp3 players etc. are coming out in next month, next quarter or next year but it is much more interesting to speculate how our life will be in another half a decade or a decade to come. Thus, this time I would be focusing on novel technologies that may impact our lives very closely in maybe five to ten years. These technologies or findings are still on the blue print or just has a working prototype but that itself is very much encouraging. So let me have the pleasure of escorting you to give a glance of your future.
So the “Tin-man” is evolving….
It has always being the dream of the modern man to create a robot that mimics the human interaction with the environment. Although we see many researches being conducted all over the world, there have not being significant or “eureka” moments lately. But some of the outcomes of the recent research give a positive picture.
Although you may think that mimicking a human’s interaction is about moving through terrains or office premises or households the human to human interaction too is very important for humans. For example if you were walking on the street you may not talk with every man or woman who passes you by but yet you interact with each and every person indirectly. But can you expect a robot to respond to a non verbal human communication? Students at Brown University may have found an answer. They have being able to take few steps where the robots could take verbal and non verbal commands from a human and operate in almost any environment. This robot named “iRobot” is developed to act like a human partner who can be given a command to do a specific job. Currently it is able to carryout simple tasks given by its human partner through verbal and non verbal means. It can follow its partner when told to, stop when it is commanded or when signaled, move according to the instructions given by its human partner and also to keep a constant distance from the human if its partner moves towards it. These human-robot partnerships may become quite common in another few decades in offices or in many labor intensive jobs.
“Cajun crawler” is project by the students from the University of Louisiana. It is a platform that could carry a human with the help of dozen spider-like legs. The first sight of it makes you think of creatures from aliens movies but when you get to see how it operates you get to appreciate its beauty. With the help of its mechanical legs, it is possible to move forward, move backward and rotate while letting the user feel like he is riding a magic carpet. Why is this different from the other movers that use wheels instead of mechanical legs? When using wheels the slightest bump on the path can be felt by the user. But when using mechanical legs, legs can adjust its angle at its each degree of freedom thus not allowing the user to feel any discomfort. “Cajun crawler” seems to be very agile and it would be nice to see few of its future applications.
Let us now look into more fun kind of robotic applications, and “Coppa” is quite a good example. “Coppa” is very good example where with a little knowledge in .NET programming languages you can develop interesting robotic applications. So what does it do? It is a couch side popcorn deliver. If you are watching a nail biting cricket match or if you are too lazy to get up for a refill, “Coppa” will deliver your popcorn to your couch from the kitchen. You just need to order your popcorn from “Twitter” (an online application) and your most obedient robot “Coppa” would deliver it to you. But after taking a closer look at “Coppa”, it is nothing other than 12 volt rechargeable battery, autofocus webcam, and a netbook. So this shows that your personal robot helper is just an imagination away.
Ocean waves to light up your house
Another very important and significant different you will see in the future is with regard to energy. The generation of electricity would be from various sources and methods many of it would be from more environmentally friendly ways. “Oyster Wave Energy Convertor” is a collaborative effort between the Queens University in Belfast and Aquamarine Power Limited. A device called “Oscillating Wave Surge Converter” is placed offshore (i.e. in the sea) at a depth of 10-12 meters. When this device is moved by waves, where the pistons inside push seawater through high pressure flow lines where its energy is converted into power through hydroelectric generators. It is estimated that its peak power should be around 300-600kW which naturally depends on its location. Its first deployment would be in coast of Orkney during this summer. For an island like Sri Lanka this device’s application and success should be looked with much anticipation.
Think before you bunk a class
What if in the future, your teacher never marked your attendance in class but it was done through a device located inside the class? Ely Community College in UK is trying out a facial recognition system technology from Aurora to help in attendance and also to know who was in class if there was a case of an emergency. This would allow even the parents to know if their kids have attended classes and to keep track of them. So for all you guys trying to bunk classes, this might be your worst enemy. But still there is different aspect which concerns me. The teacher student relationship starts with the teacher remembering the student’s name. Teacher remembers the students name because he tends to read the name of each student before class. Therefore I’m not very convinced that we should remove this small but very important part that links the student and the teacher. But it is yours to decide.
Can I help you?
How comfortable are you with digital assistants? Many consider them to be a nuisance. They rarely tell you what you want and sometimes do stuff which you never wanted them to do in the first place. Microsoft’s “Laura” is quite a different type of a digital assistant who is capable of doing reservations, make appointments or maybe get you tickets for the opera you wanted to go during the weekend. The beauty of this system is it that it is able to judge you according to what you are wearing or if you are engaged in a conversation. “Laura” is capable of serving multiple people and at the same time keeping a human aspect to the service. For example, if the person it is currently serving was engaged in a conversation, “Laura” would be kind enough to interrupt by saying “excuse me”. “Laura” is smart enough to filter out other conversations among its customers (which are not relevant to Laura to perform the task) which is quite remarkable. I’m sure you will meet the next generations or Laura’s in airports, take away diners, or in major retail stores in few years to come.
Flying car or road-able plane?
Flying cars were always a thing of the future. There were always new prototypes coming out which could go on the road and also fly. “Terrafugia” is an organization which has come up with a state-of-the-art personal aircraft which also can be used as your personal car. Named Transition®, it is definitely a road-able plane which can fold and unfold its wings according the intended travelling method. It can cruise at 115mph but burning fuel at a rate of 5gph. On the road it is bit of a slowpoke with 30mph on highways. But at a price of $194,000 this is no where near affordable for the common man yet.
I hope I was able to bestow my intended notion behind this article on you. Even though many of the above are yet prototypes these are the new technologies that would be the inspiration for the life of the future man and woman. Many of these would have an impact on our lives whether it is for the best or for the worst but we all would have to embrace the change if we are to survive in this ever changing world.