Futurist Thomas Frey: After spending the past three days scouring the showroom floors at CES, watching people become overwhelmed by what they saw, I tended to be more underwhelmed by what I didn’t see.
Smartphones, tablets, 3D television, and supporting peripherals were everywhere. But as the industry was getting sucked towards the gravitational allure of these technologies, many others, with harder problems to solve, haven’t been getting enough attention.
It’s very easy for the digital world to spot an opportunity, write a few lines of code, and have a new product ready to launch. But going beyond the current capabilities of existing hardware, blazing entirely new trails of thinking, is where the real opportunities lie.
For this reason I thought it would be interesting to talk about “what’s missing.” For those of you are up to the challenge, here are 25 technologies I’d love to see at future CES events.
AIQ Smart Clothing with soft padding that stiffens upon impact,
monitors heart rate and blood pressure
The CES show has a few examples of smart clothing companies like AIQ, but for most exhibitors their so-called smart clothing has little more than pockets for smartphones or space for video nametags.
Here are a few ideas for future smart clothing that would be total game changers:
1.) Mood-Driven Chameleon Wear – Yes, most people will go out of their way to avoid having their clothing overtly display their emotional state. However, using technology to compensate, and make you look good, even though you’re fatigued, angry, or depressed would be a welcome addition to most clothing lines.
2.) Organ-View Clothing – As part of our on-going effort to monitor our own biological functions, it may be possible to design a fabric that serves as an optical lens into our inner selves. Think of this as a wearable CAT scan system with variable-adjust focal point settings, zoom powers down to a near-nano scale, and flexible data-capture sensors built-in. The fashion options here will be incredible.
3.) Self-Moving Fabrics – It will no longer be good enough for smart fabrics to merely collect and transmit information, the next generation will have the ability to take action. Dirty clothes will pick up after themselves, snuggly fitting shirts and pants will readjust themselves for maximum comfort, and torn clothing will send themselves out for repair. Beds will make themselves, sheets will change themselves according to a set rotation, and pillows will have the ability to sense pressure points and reform themselves accordingly.
4.) Nano-Netting – Using super strong fibers so small that they are invisible to the human eye, nano-netting will provide a fibrous support structure that is visually non-intrusive but capable of keeping out insects, birds, and other unwanted animals. The density of the netting can be adjusted to match specific requirements. Objects can be suspended in air with seemingly invisible support. Invisible fences, invisible screens, and invisible cars and windmills will all be possible.
Ford had its Evos concept car on display at CES 2012 turning heads
with style and design, but little true innovation
At CES, Ford Motor Company unveiled its first-ever zero emissions, electric passenger vehicle, following in the footsteps of Tesla and Nissan. And they jumped on the cloud computing bandwagon with the new Evos Concept Car.
But behind the flashy surfaces, chrome wheels, and tech trimming lies some far bigger opportunities.
5.) Driverless Cars – The next revolution in transportation will be self-driving cars, and the adoption of this technology will change virtually everything in the field of transportation and urban planning. The idea of jumping into a vehicle and having it shuttle you to your destination without anyone “driving” it may sound like pure fantasy to some, but it’s far closer than most of us think. Google’s self-driving car project has already racked up over 200,000 driverless miles on highways.
6.) Ground-Based Delivery Drones – Before we have driverless passenger cars sold in any sizable quantities, we will see ground-based delivery drones hauling point-to-point cargo. Better to practice without passengers onboard to perfect the technology. Railroads and trucking companies should be worried as this will displace much of their industry.
Parrot officially unveiled the follow-up to its popular quadrocopter at CES – AR Drone 2.0
I happen to be a big fan of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) and already own an AR Drone.
Unveiled at CES, the new Drone 2.0 features a 720p front-facing camera so that you can capture your flights in HD. There’s also a whole raft of new sensors, including an on-board magnetometer so that it can always tell where the pilot is in relation to its flight path, and a new air pressure sensor that allows it to be more stable when hovering.
That said, these drones have very short battery life (10 min max), and so far have little application outside of the hobbyist community.
The world of flying drones will become infinitely more useful when some of the following begin to appear:
7.) Flying-Hovering Monitor Drones – Whenever an accident or disaster happens, the initial first-step should be to “get eyes on the scene.” Dispatching a flying drone with video cameras that transmits a live feed back to a central command center will give first responders critical information to formulate an action plan before they arrive.
8.) Video Projector Drones – Once a video projector is added to a flying drone, you suddenly have a marketer’s dream tool with the ability to project images on the sides of buildings, on sidewalks, or even on the side of a moving vehicle.
9.) Lighting Drones – We’ve been trapped into thinking that lighting can only be managed from stationary positions, but that could soon change. Concerts and stage shows with flying spotlights or pyro-burst effects, TV sets, political speeches, and opening night galas can all be enhanced when our lights start flying.
10.) Audio Drones – Drones outfitted with speakers are already being experimented with. Long Range Acoustic Devices (LRAD) are being used as loud hailers to emit warning signals. Audio drones, however, have far more potential in the marketing and entertainment fields. Floating and flying sounds create a far different sensation than stationary speakers. Floating messages over nearby crowds may be the solution to draw attention to a mobile business, a time sensitive special such as hot bread just pulled from the over, or situational conditions such as announcing the sale of umbrellas during the start of a rainstorm.
11.) Delivery Drones – Can you imagine a flying drone with UPS or FedEx on its side? Thinking beyond traditional delivery systems, flying drones could be used to deliver food, packages, water, change out the batteries in your home, remove trash and sewage, and even vacuum the leaves from your front lawn.
As with many new technologies, not all of them fit into easily definable categories. Here are a few more thoughts on what was missing at CES:
12.) Password Eliminator Technology – Even with all our sophisticated security technology being built-in to computer platforms, our best defense against hackers and identity theft remains the lowly password and our ability to remember it… or remember 20 of them.
13.) Smart Dust – In its simplest form, smart dust consists of a sensor combined with a wireless transmitter and some kind of power source. Many are envisioning the power to come from wireless RF signals. Future designs for smart dust will have them detecting everything from moisture content, to soil temperature, to chemical composition.
14.) Smart Contacts – The idea of “smart” contact lenses, the kind that can superimpose information on the wearer’s field of view has been around for a while. But contact lenses are also being developed that use embedded sensors and electronics to monitor disease and dispense drugs. Such devices may eventually be able to measure the level of cholesterol or alcohol in your blood and flash up an appropriate warning. The first iteration of smart contact lenses are already on the market, but were not at CES.
15.) Automatic Pothole Detector/Reporter – The connected city of the future will see cars automatically reporting and mapping out potholes as soon as they happen. No need to wait until serious damage occurs to your vehicle.
16.) Body Scanner Complete with Instant Clothing Fabricator – Scanners that can create a virtual framework for custom tailored clothing is already in use. But so far no one has developed the equipment to cut and stitch new shirts, jeans, and dresses on the spot.
17.) 3D Food Printers – As we shop for apples in the grocery store, we find ourselves looking for the “perfect apple.” Only a small percentage of apples grown on the farm are worthy of making it into the major leagues of food – the fresh produce section of our grocery stores.
But what if we could take all of those bruised and damaged apples and turn them all into “perfect apples” – perfect size, perfect color, perfect crunch when we bite into them, and the perfect sweet juicy flavor and aroma that makes our mouth water every time we think about them.
This is the promise of food printer technology as we move from simply printing ink on paper, to 3D printing of parts and objects, to next generation food printers.
These aren’t the artificial food devices that science fiction movies have been promising. Instead, they are devices with the very real potential for turning real apples into perfect apples. More details here.
18.) Wireless Power – The transmission of electrical energy without unsightly power lines has long been the dream of Tesla fans and science fiction writers. However some recent developments at MIT are putting this within reach. Powering electric cars, boats, and farm equipment may not be that far off.
19.) Plant Monitors – Urban agriculture is catching on like wildfire, yet the tech world has glossed over most of the opportunities here. Future plant monitors will give us the ability to “communicate” with our plants and produce far more sophisticated forms of food.
20.) Auquaponics Tech – For those of you not familiar with the term, aquaponics is a sustainable food production system that combines traditional aquaculture (raising aquatic animals such as fish, crayfish, or prawns in tanks) with hydroponics (cultivating plants in water) in a symbiotic environment.
Panasonic at CES
21.) 3D Television Without the Glasses – One thing CES does not have a shortage of is exhibits with televisions in them. And 3D television was there in a big way. But if you’re like me and long for the day when holographic scenes jump from the page and appears real and touchable without the glasses, well, you’ll just have to wait longer.
Shown here is Life Science’s Benchtop Genome Center
21.) Gene Therapy – Gene therapy is the use of DNA as a pharmaceutical agent to treat disease, with the most common form involving DNA that has been encoded with a functional fix to replace a mutated one. Shown above is the Ion Proton™ Sequencer, the first benchtop sequencer to offer fast (under 8 hours), affordable (under $1,000) human genome and human exome sequencing.
On the first day of CES, the X-Prize Foundation announced the Qualcomm Tricorder challenge to build a tool capable of capturing “key health metrics and diagnosing a set of 15 different diseases. The $10 million prize will go to the first person that can create a Star Trek-like medical “tricorder”. Sequencing is the first step. Once we have this information, can the StarTrek tricorder be far off?
22.) Disposable Batteries for Smartphones – At CES there was no shortage of battery companies. Virtually any object that needs power has a battery vendor exhibiting several different options. But as of yet, there are no cheap disposable batteries for Smartphones. Yes, it is indeed a bad idea to fill landfills with more batteries, but when the only option is either a $50 rechargeable battery or nothing at all, there is a huge need not currently being filled.
23.) Accomplishment-Based Educational Apps – Much of what happens in today’s colleges and universities is based on “symbols of achievement,” not actual accomplishments. Students that enter a classroom will typically find themselves immersed in an academic competition, a competition that pits students against each other to produce results that best match the teacher’s expectations. Only rarely will the work product of a student in a classroom rise to any notable level of significance. Completing a class is nothing more than a symbol of achievement.
A new generation of apps will soon be developed that allow students to autonomously work their way through an actual accomplishment, and receive credit upon completion. More details here.
24.) Swarm-Bots – Swarm robotics involves the design and operation of multiple robots, or swarms, inspired by the behavior observed in social insects, called swarm intelligence. So far no swarmbots have made their way to CES.
25.) Electron-Based Information Storage – Yes, Moore’s Law is still in effect, but we are still a long ways from using electrons as the basis for our storage medium. This one will undoubtedly be an exhibitor’s nightmare because nano-sized technology is tough to display.
To be sure, there were many impressive technologies on display at CES and one that really caught my eye was a 3D modeling system developed by a Hungarian company – Leonar3Do.
Check out the following video for a glimpse of how this intuitive system is about revolutionize the future of product development.
Leonar3Do is the easiest way I’ve seen to create and visualize 3D objects in space while sitting at your desktop. Leonar3Do is an integrated software and hardware platform that offers a unique, truly immersive VR experience in the sense that you are able to see and interact with your virtual objects as you create them.
As I bid farewell to CES in 2012, I will ask organizers of the 2012 event to keep up the good work, but also the hope that they will continue to push the envelope and the request that product developers continue to work on disruptive technologies.
We are still in the awkward in-between stages of technology. I’ll feel much more comfortable when we get to the other side.
Author of “Communicating with the Future” – the book that changes everything