Technology, Continued...

Ramblings about business, technology, development and my life

Six Technologies Poised to Change Our Lives

Virtual Reality Headsets

This could go badly.  VR Headsets from Oculus, Sony, and presumably others will provide a level of immersion in (games, work, etc.) like never before.  Sure, this has sort of been done before, but the products being built today are less prone to having users suffer from motion sickness, while the visual quality is much better and the motion sensing is top notch.  The problem is when this gets too good.  I know, movies have already been made about people preferring to live in their VR worlds rather than in the real world.  But look at how much time people spend in video games already, when the level of immersion consists of staring at a monitor.  Once you are so immersed you completely forget about the world outside your 3D, full-depth, motion-sensing, vibrating, visually incredible world, will people ever want to leave it?

3D Printers

3D printers… so much talk, so little practical use so far.  I have one, and it lets me do some pretty cool things to impress my friends and sate my electronics project enclosure needs, but outside of that, the average person has no reason to have one.  Yet.  But as everyone knows, it’s only a matter of time before the killer apps come.  What are they?  Well, if I knew, I’d make them and get rich.  But they will come.  And even without a single killer app, the ability to click Buy and print many objects we use every day will be incredibly valuable.  For that to happen, the printers will have to support multiple colors and dissolvable support materials at a consumer price. 

Meanwhile, there’s a bigger picture outside the consumer space.  Imagine whole buildings getting printed at once.  What will happen when an industrial 3D printer can be blimped onto a concrete foundation and, from there, print the whole house, conduits and all?  Or all other sorts of industries adopt them for consumer-directed pieces of their products?  Custom car… done.  Custom furniture… check.  On demand [insert product here]… check.

3D Vision

3D spatial mapping and vision by computers is going to be vital to manufacturing.  Why?  Because drones (see below) are going to be part of the building process for many products, and they need to know where to go.  Having 3d vision down to the millimeter will be crucial for directing these drones.  Mapping a plot of land will be done with 3D vision, not surveyors.  Oh, and then there’s video games.  Imagine being able to walk through your house, your friend’s houses, and your neighborhood with your tablet, then uploading the 3D map and textures to your favorite game.  Pair this with the VR headsets, and you’ll play whatever game of destruction you want where you live and work, without breaking anything.

3X Battery Improvement

We need better battery density, and we’ll get it.  Graphene, quantum physics, metamaterials.  Something, at some point, is going to increase battery life 3x in a cost effective manner.  When it does, say bye to gasoline cars.  That will be huge.  Cars will be simple to maintain (no engine) and cheaper to run.  Our dependence on foreign oil will be broken for good.  Phones will last a day with 3x the features (you don’t think phone makers would let you get three days when they can add more features, did you?).

Drones

Drones… where to begin.  First, privacy was already dead, and drones just make it even deader.  There will be no place a drone can’t sneak into with camera and microphone in tow.  Just check out the military’s development of super-small drones to see what I mean.  That’s the bad news.  The good news is that drones will be used for manufacturing in new ways.  If a house is going to be four-sided brick, easy.  Just have the drones lay it.  No more paying a huge premium for a quality, good looking house.

Quadrocopter cars

This is the one that’s not on most people’s radar, but should be.  Everyone thinks the future of transportation is autonomous cars, and maybe it is.  But why are cars so hard to make autonomous?  First, legacy.  We have legacy streets, cities, vehicles and laws that were never made for cars that drive themselves.  If we could redo everything and have wider streets, pedestrian crosswalks that were always elevated, and vehicles that were built from the start to communicate with each other, maybe, maybe we could make it work.  But cars run in a very narrow two dimensional space that can’t be enhanced.  If a tire blows or a pedestrian isn’t where they’re supposed to be, or there’s snow, or heavy rain, or an accident around the corner you can’t see, and a car makes a mistake, we won’t tolerate it. 

Now, with all that said, sure, given enough time, anything I say will be wrong.  But I think there’s time for a new mode of transportation to take the place of the car.  I think quadrocopters as human-moving vehicles could make a lot of sense.  First, the challenges.  First, there’s the power requirements.  This is the single biggest challenge, and without the battery improvements above, this idea will never work.  But let’s assume (big assumption, but doable) that we overcome the power needs.  The second challenge is safety.  You’re in the air and something goes wrong.  You can’t exactly coast to the curb.  That’s a problem.  However, people die on the roads on a consistent basis, so automobiles aren’t exactly a model of safety from an absolute perspective.  The great thing about quadrocopters (ok, so the actual vehicle might have three, five, six or however many rotors – but quadrocopter sounds good) is that an incredible amount of redundancy can be built into a quadrocopter.  First, the batteries can be separated into two packs that each feed two opposed rotors.  Second, each rotor can have individual motors and redundant electronics.  With software, it’s been shown that a quadrocopter could land itself with half of the rotors non-operable. 

So those are the big negatives.  The positives are much bigger than the negatives.  Where to begin?  First, as the crow flies distances.  No more right-angle commutes.  The shortest distance wins.  Second, capacity.  We would now be operating in a 3D space.  This means there’s no real limit to the number of “lanes” and no limit to how many of those lanes we can stack on top of each other.  Third, safety.  Wait, didn’t I list that as a negative.  Yes, for the people in the quadrocopter in the event of something catastrophic.  But for pedestrians, it’s a new world.  There are no pedestrians in the air.  Problem solved.  Fourth, autonomy.  Making a car be able to sense it’s environment is incredibly hard.  Making an object in the air sense its environment is much easier.  Landing would be the only challenge, and it’s not a huge challenge, since you’re working in a vertical environment instead of a horizontal environment.

Summary

Why’d I write this?  Because I had some extra time today, that’s why.  As you can tell, I’m a guy who reads too much about technology.  It was time to write down some of the future thoughts swirling in my brain.  It’ll be interesting to see what I got right and what I didn’t.  Personally, if I just get the quadrocopters right I’ll be a happy commuter!

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