Technology progresses at such an astounding rate that sometimes, I really can’t believe what we’re capable of. Supercomputers in the palm of our hands; near-instantaneous access to an infinite pool of knowledge on the internet; one click away from a video conversation with my in-laws in China.
I love technology, and I’m not afraid to admit it. It’s a curse really, because I’m constantly looking forward to something even cooler on the horizon. Ladies, gentlemen, and everything in between, I present to you my pick of 5 incredible technologies to look forward to in 2013.
Virtual reality has been promised for so long, yet completely under delivered. A staple of sci-fi movies, there just isn’t a consumer level VR headset available. The Oculus Rift, a Kickstarter project that I personally backed last year, is due to ship this March (though Dave already got to play with them at CES). What makes the Oculus different?
- Affordable. Expected to arrive sub-$500 mark, it may still be in the luxury realm but no more so than a projector or 50″ TV.
- The impressive screen, where technology has finally progressed to give us a good quality small screen at a high enough resolution. One of the biggest problems with existing headsets is the fact that it’s like watching a small TV from the sofa; and that’s far from immersive. With the Oculus, there’s just a small border around your visual periphery, an experience that means you truly feel immersed, like looking out of a mask into a virtual world.
- Compatibility. Built from the ground up to work with existing engines, the Oculus should be plug and play for most 3D games.
- It has the full backing of John Carmack, the creator of Quake (the first ever FPS). If he’s behind it, you know it’s a winner.
- Latency. VR headsets are set apart from simple 3D headsets in that they read the movements of your head in order to give you a full 360 degree, realistically immersive view of the world. One of the biggest challenges in designing the Oculus was the creation of a custom tracking chip that would dramatically reduce the latency – or the time it takes – between actually moving your head, and seeing the change reflected in the world.
I have a set coming in March, so I’ll guess I’ll know more then if they’re truly revolutionary. Personally, I think this really could be the next big thing in gaming.
Fancier graphics and better AI, mayhaps – but if the leaked specs are anything to go by, Microsoft will also be launching a virtual headset (similar to the Oculus Rift) to use in conjunction with a more advanced Kinect; this could give us some fascinating alternate and augmented reality games – like kickboxing hordes of zombies as they invade your actual living room. The Kinect itself is an incredible piece of technology, and the level of detail with which it accurately reads the player movements and environment simply cannot be compared to the simplistic wrist flicking of the Wii. Nintendo may have kicked off the movement controllers, but Microsoft took it to a whole new level. I’m thinking the Xbox 720 (or Infinity, or Xbox 8…) will do exactly the same, and we should be seeing it at least announced formally later this year.
Then again, it may be that the rumors last year were actually referring to the recently demoed IllumiRoom, where a projector is used to illuminate areas around the TV and provide visuals for your periphery. I must admit, the video looks pretty awesome; but as a Microsoft Research Project, will it actually ever make the light of day? Seems like you’d need a pretty large room and a pretty large projector.
Apple introduced Siri with the iPhone 4S, but as a British user still feels like all the awesome functionality is only available to Americans. And even for those who do get the full set of functionality, the general consensus seems to be that there’s so much Siri could do, but the dream just isn’t quite there yet.
I’m not quite ready to give up on the idea of a personal artificial intelligence though. Welcome, Project Wintermute (a Neuromancer AI reference), a cross-platform digital assistant from Nuance, the guys leading the way in voice recognition. The system learns about the user – similar to Google Now – but also remembers a conversational context, so asking it to “play that song I was listening to” is possible across devices.
Lego Mindstorms EV3
You’ve got to hand it to Lego; even with the fast pace of technology, they’re still passionate about stimulating the creativity of young minds and more than happy to adjust to the times. I still have a box full of Lego in the loft which I keep promising to get down one day; no one ever throws Lego away, do they? The next iteration of Lego Mindstorms – the advanced Lego series featuring programmable robotics and mechanical engineering – allows programming the devices without needing a computer, or remote control via a mobile phone. $350 is a bit pricey, but let’s face it – if your kid is more interested in building robots than kicking a ball around, they probably have a bright future ahead of them, so you can justify the investment, right? Failing that, we all know it’s for you anyway.
Gesture controls are going to be around for a while, yet I can’t help thinking Microsoft is betting on the wrong technology with all their fancy new touchscreen displays; put simply, I don’t want to touch my gorgeous 27″ display – my heads are greasy! That’s where Leap Motion comes in, which reads your gesture movements midair. Remarkable? I’d say so. You can pre-order one now for just $69, and it should be shipping soon.
Well, that marks the end of my list. I bet you were expecting to find some Apple hardware on there, eh? Well, let the rumor mill start up a little, then I might get excited about the iPhone 6. For now, it’s safe to say there isn’t much innovation coming out of Cupertino. I did consider adding 3D printers to the list, but they’ve already joined the mainstream, and many at a sub-$1000 consumer level.
How about you though? What piece of tech or device are you most looking forward to this year? Do you dream of a virtual world and more immersive 3D gaming, or is Artificial Intelligence more your thing? Let us know in the comments!