Cutting Edge Technologies

Don’t give up on flying cars or hoverboards just yet! As technology relentlessly marches on, everything goes into development sooner or later—as demonstrated by the existence of these things, which we’ll almost certainly see within our lifetimes.

Artificial Gills

artificial gills

Inventors have long sought an underwater breathing apparatus that doesn’t store oxygen, but extracts it from the water the way gills do. Israeli inventor Alon Bodner has come close.

The device, aptly named LikeAFish, works by using a centrifuge to lower the pressure of water within an airtight chamber. Since only a little oxygen is contained in water, the device must move about 190 liters (50 gallons) per minute in order for the average person to breathe comfortably. Despite this, the only real barrier to implementation is size and weight, but it’s close enough that the device has been under consideration for military use for several years now.

Such a system would obviously allow for longer “bottom time” without the need for refilling oxygen and would decrease the amount of nitrogen the diver is exposed to. According to Bodner’s website, the company spent 2012 “quietly designing a prototype to be installed on board a naval submarine,” so they may be very close to solving the size and weight issues of previous prototypes.

Agricultural Robots

agricultural robots

Agricultural robotics are, somewhat surprisingly, still in their infancy. While unemployment seems to be levelling off, there is still talk of a possible general labor shortage in the near future—particularly in agriculture. Many companies worldwide are attempting to bring various types of robot farmhands to market, but in robotics (where government and academic projects still lead the way) it tends to take longer than in some other, more commercial industries for such projects to obtain funding, produce a product, and prove its viability.

But the technology is coming along, and it’s easy to imagine it implemented on a wide-scale basis before too long. One Boston company that was able to raise nearly $8 billion in private funds in 2011 has developed a robot that it claims could perform 40 percent of the manual labor currently performed on farms. A Japanese research company has developed a robot that performs stereo imaging of strawberries to determine their ripeness before picking them, and MIT has a cherry tomato garden that is managed by a small crew of robots equipped with vision sensors. Of course, the main advantage to robot farm workers is the fact that they can work around the clock and never get tired.

Paper-Thin, Flexible Computers and Phones

paper thin phones

In early 2013, consumer electronics shows debuted a prototype by European firm Plastic Logic of a product called the Papertab. That would be a portmanteau of “paper” and “tablet” and it is pretty much what it sounds like: a fully functional, touch screen tablet computer that is not only as thin as a sheet of paper, but as flexible as one too, and possesses the same reflective qualities. The company envisions such machines being ubiquitous within five to 10 years, as they could be inexpensive and interactive. A consumer could have several lying around, multi-tasking with different media all in service of one project.

A joint project between two American and Canadian universities has been creatively dubbed the Paperphone. Queens University director Dr. Roel Vertegaal has largely the same vision of the project. “This is the future,” he says. “Everything is going to look and feel like this within five years.” The machine is the size of a regular smartphone, with a 9.4-centimeter (3.7 in) display, but again, paper-thin and flexible. Users can give the phone commands by using “bend gestures.” It consumes no power when not in use and is considerably harder to damage than an ordinary phone.