Cool Research Projects That Could Change the Future
It’s 2210 A.D.
There is no scarcity of food because energy is plentiful. There is no disease because humanity is pushing the right genetic buttons. There is no global warming because geo-engineering is the hot career of the day.
That just might never come true if Hollywood is the oracle. Script doctors paint a dystopian picture of man battling apes, or man-made viruses turning everyone into walking zombies. For a change, let’s paint a more utopian picture, with some of the futuristic projects outlined below.
Question — Will mega-corporations like Google, Microsoft, IBM, and Intel go on to give future generations the world we can only imagine?
An ad company is working for our future. A scary thought, but just chant the words – Google is not evil …and the fear flickers away. Only to rekindle once they announce the buyout of companies like Boston Dynamics (just one of the eight robotic companies Google has bought). To their credit, no company pushes the envelope quite like they do.
Robotic warriors ? Maybe. Then again, there are a few other Google projects that are just as interesting.
Create 3D virtual models of the world around you with your smartphone or a tablet.
Project Tango is a near-reality project that comes from Google’s Advanced Technology and Projects group (ATAP). It could revolutionize robotics by changing the way we interact with three-dimensional space. Future smartphones could come with advanced vision capabilities, and it will enable everyone to map the 3D space around them. That could be the next high for citizen-photographers.
“We are physical beings that live in a 3D world, yet mobile devices today assume that the physical world ends at the boundaries of the screen. Our goal is to give mobile devices a human-scale understanding of space and motion.”
– Johnny Chung Lee, Project Lead at ATAP
Computer vision isn’t a new field. Project Tango makes it seem more accessible because it promises to miniaturize depth-and object-tracking with real-time 3D mapping in a simple smartphone. It will do that with a combination of smart sensors and software powered by Mantis Vision’s MV4D technology.
A Project Tango Tablet Development Kit has been released and LG could bring the first prototypes as early as next year.
How Could It Change Our Lives?
Detailed satellite imagery and Google Maps have already changed the way we navigate with GPS. Scale that up with Project Tango and the benefits are many. It could make shopping easier as you go around Paris or New York. Closer to home, search and locate a product on the exact shelf in a supermarket. Project Tango would enable drones to be better at search and rescue in disaster relief. Self-driving cars would take a big leap – some of the spatial tech is already being used. Implications for the visually impaired are easy to see.
But fantasize about this, as Google says…
Imagine playing hide-and-seek in your house with your favorite game character, or transforming the hallways into a tree-lined path. Imagine playing a strategy war game in your home with your own miniature army, or hiding secret virtual treasures in physical places around the world?
Mimicking human intelligence.
$650 Million for a company called DeepMind is chump change for Google. It could be a huge change for the world as Google makes the company’s Deep Learning research a part of its Google Brain initiative . Deep learning seeks to move machine learning closer to artificial intelligence. Unlike machine learning, deep learning is unsupervised. We are still far from that.
DeepMind is working on a Neural Turing Machine that will have the ability to store and recall information all on its own. NTM seeks to copy the way neural networks in the human brain learn and adapt to information.
Developments in deep learning could turn robots into more sentient beings (HAL, anyone?)…it could be a disruptive tool for unsupervised education…and it could help you talk to your computer while you play chess.
DeepMind was co-founded by neuroscientist and teenage chess prodigy Demis Hassabis.
How Could It Change Our Lives?
We already see a form of deep learning in Google Now and Siri. Natural language processing is where most of the research is being done. But in the future, Deep Learning will be a huge part of the smarter algorithms that will power our lives, from better search to a smarter Internet of Things .
Here’s a bit about deep learning and its basic application in speech recognition. Some parts of it are already a reality, as DeepMind has come close to imitating the short-term memory of the human brain.
From the 1920s, The International Business Machines Corporation (IBM) has had a hand in inventing the future. IBM has been granted the most patents in the U.S. over 20 consecutive years. They are still at the forefront.
Vanishing Programmable Resources
Electronics that self-destruct
Earlier this year, IBM won the contract for developing a class of technologies that could self-destruct. DARPA put the call out for resources that could be made to “disappear” or be rendered useless in a controlled manner – either remotely, or autonomously. The implications are many for military use in sensitive environments.
IBM is working on a self-destructing CMOS microchip that can be triggered with a radio signal, thus preventing it from falling into enemy hands. The U.S military could make such a microchip a part of many embedded systems.
IBM plans to utilize the shattering property of strained glass substrates as the driving force to reduce attached CMOS chips into Si and SiO2 powder. A trigger, such as a fuse or a reactive metal layer will be used to initiate shattering, in at least one location, on the glass substrate. An external RF signal will be required for this process to be initiated.
If you have seen the Mission Impossible series of films (if you are reading this – then you probably have), this technology has lots of spy gear potential. This can give rise to a whole range of transient electronics with wide-ranging civilian applications as well.
How Could It Change Your Life?
Imagine bioresorbable sensors floating in your arteries and sending health data to your doctor. Imagine a class of ecoresorbable micro-bots helping to clean up oil spills or surveying environmental hotspots.
Materials scientist John Rogers says that the future of electronics is not just “smaller, faster and cheaper” but also bent, stretched and melted away.
A smart phone is “a great device if you want to put it into your pocket…but what if you wanted to melt it into your skin, or laminate it onto your brain, or wrap it around your heart?”
Microsoft thought that it had the future sewn up. Then the Web arrived. And Google. But even then, the sun hasn’t set on this company from Redmond. Their vision for the future continues to dazzle. Check the video below, and then let’s take a look at one of the cutting edge technologies they are working on.
Star Trek’s Holodeck. That’s the Holy Grail of virtual reality.
RoomAlive is an offshoot of Microsoft’s IllumiRoom which was demoed in 2013 as a proof of concept. The virtual reality project aims to extend your Xbox gaming environment to the entire room. The technology uses a combination of a Kinect sensor, a wide field of view projector, and a computer. Six such projector-camera units cover an entire room. The Kinect maps the room and tracks what’s in it, while the projector projects it around the room.
How Could It Change Our Lives?
With enough computing power, depth cameras, and projectors, it’s possible to create these immersive environments within an ordinary living space.
– Hrvoje Benko
RoomAlive and the augmented-reality tech behind it isn’t only about having fun in your basement den. The technology can have a far reaching effect on interactivity by creating realistic virtual environments. Unlike other interactive tools, it could help everyone get off from the couch as it finds applications in education, health, and even military training.
The company’s The Tomorrow Project site is a creative place for all future visionaries to be. I wouldn’t be surprised if many future project ideas spring from some of the dialogs that happen there. You can be sure “Intel inside everything” is a big part of their vision.
The cars of the future.
Expanded, it stands for Mobile Interior Imaging. Intel and Ford have partnered in research looking into a more personalized and seamless interaction between driver and vehicle. Ford sees it as a teamwork between Intel ethnographers, anthropologists and engineers alongside Ford research engineers.
Project Mobii uses interior facing cameras and sensors for driver assist features that will help the car owner interact more intuitively with the car. The research is still looking at how the different technologies interface with humans inside the car. Many future car projects are using exterior cameras. Project Mobii wants to bridge the car with the idea of Internet of Things. Connected smartphones and wearable devices are also a part of the project.
How Could It Change Our Lives?
This could be the car of the near-future. The joint project wants to create a more intelligent car and a better driving experience. Facial recognition software will lead to stronger privacy controls. It could also enable the car to identify different drivers in the family and adjust features based on an individual’s preferences. It could lead to another step forward for driverless vehicles.
In the very near future, it will definitely improve the more mundane driving tasks like lane assists and in-car display controls with the help of voice and gesture recognition.
What Does Your Crystal Ball Say?
If you are a wannabe futurologist, you can sift through the tea-leaves with a patent search. Future phones will be smart enough to recognize their owners. And so will many other devices around the house. Cryonics and cognitive computing are already everyday jargon. The five research projects above are not pies-in-the-sky. They could be a part of our lives within the next two decades. Would they help to beat back the dark Hollywood prophecies about our future?
What other research projects are you aware of that are coming out from the skunk works of these mega-corporations? Judge them by their cool factor and tell us in the comments.