With new technology so fundamental in shaping the lives we live, we decided to take a look at some of the next game-changing innovations that are set to alter our worlds even further. Below is our top ten list of emerging technologies that are poised to change everything about the way we live.
1. Hot Solar Cells
Now you might think that using solar panels and the like to produce energy has been around for years. Well, you’d be right, but historic technology has always had limitations, preventing conventional photovoltaics from absorbing more than a fraction of the energy in sunlight.
Today, researchers at MIT are working on hot solar cells; which convert not only the light from the sun, but the heat as well. By converting heat to focused beams of light, the new solar devices look set herald the creation of a new, cheap and continuous power. The MIT device is currently a crude prototype, but when fully in production, is thought to be roughly twice as efficient as conventional photovoltaics.
2. Virtual Reality
While virtual reality (VR) is starting to pop up in our everyday already, it is still relatively new to the market and there are big expectations around its different uses, both personal and business use. For engineers and designers alike, VR can make it possible for them to experience their creations before they’ve even been built. Not only this, but the technology can also have a major impact on the way training is delivered and how R&D and quality assurance processes are carried out.
3. High-Speed Transportation
The concepts for high-speed transportation are still some way off from realisation but are nonetheless a technological innovation to get excited about. The Hyperloop and Evacuated Tube Transport (ETT) are at the forefront of current designs.
The Evacuated Tube Transport (ETT) is an airless, frictionless system that operates in a vacuum. It can hit speeds of 4,000 mph and get you from New York to LA in 45 minutes (normally six-hour flight), whilst using significantly less fuel and resources than airline travel.
The Hyperloop is a similar concept but works on air suspension rather than within a vacuum. As a vacuum is near impossible to maintain across such a large surface area – the expense is what separates the two concepts.
4. Autonomous Cars
Autonomous vehicles have been a major theme in new technology conversations for few years now. Tesla are at the vanguard of the consumer driverless car revolution and all of their cars currently in production are equipped with autonomous driving capabilities. Autonomous vehicles are widely expected to transform the way we live for the better – promising to make the roads safer, improve productivity and reduce pollution.
However, there are still concerns around ethics. Questions about how a computer would assess the risk factors we as humans take into account on a daily basis remain unanswered. Likewise, would a vehicle prioritise the safety of its occupants over other vehicles and pedestrians? Nevertheless, manufacturers worldwide are still racing to get the first fully automated vehicles on the market, with the first examples expected to be ready for 2021.
5. Internet for Everyone
An internet that can serve everyone on the planet had been a long-term dream, until now. Elon Musk and Richard Branson share the same vision to send thousands of small satellites into low-Earth orbit that would beam back a high-speed wireless signal to everyone on the planet.
The project is expected to be completed by 2020 by both sides; meaning soon rural areas and third world countries can expect the same internet signal as more developed, urban regions.
6. 2D Materials
Graphene is the first, and most developed, of the few 2D materials identified so far, which includes single layers of Boron-Nitride and Molybdenum-disulphide, but there are already great hopes for its mass use in the future.
It’s believed that using graphene to replace silicon in transistors will be “substantially” faster and far more environmentally friendly. Graphene could also create vastly more complex microcomputers, impacting on a wide range of sectors, ranging from embedded medical equipment; such as heart monitors, to defense, where you could have intelligent bullets.
Graphene’s strength, transparency and conductivity could even let us create near-impenetrable windshields. The possibilities are endless and profound.
7. Quantum Computing
Quantum Computing is now firmly on the horizon. Major investment and research is going on to move it from the lab into commercial markets, but there is still some way to go. Something we do know; however, is that even the infant quantum computers that are in existence can outwit the most intelligent conventional computers.
Conventional computing information is stored in a string of 0s and 1s. Together, the 0s and 1s form bits, and these bits, when aligned in certain sequences, dictate the functions that a machine is to perform, be it sending a text message or opening up Microsoft Word.
Machines that use quantum technology; however, have a different type of bit. Unlike a conventional bit, a quantum bit, or “qubit,” has the physical properties of an atom. And because atoms have the ability to be in dual states, a qubit can simultaneously be 0 and 1. With each individual qubit being so dynamic compared to conventional computing methods, it will bring about seismic shifts in computing power.
8. Powered Exoskeletons
Powered exoskeletons have been in production for the last few years; initially designed for the military and taking the form of ‘Iron Man’ style suits that makes the user far stronger and faster than usual. However, they are now extending into other fields, such as physiotherapy for the disabled and areas of construction and emergency response.
Most powered exoskeletons consist of hydraulic pistons and servo motors that act in conjunction with our own bodies’ muscle movements to ‘enhance’ our abilities. As you move your arm, the ‘suit’ detects this and moves with you, giving you extra strength. A significant limitation with many designs at present is that they need charging to work, which could pose problems when mid heavy lift or chase and your battery runs out!
9. Brain-Controlled Computers
Brain-controlled computers are being developed rapidly, and although they have yet to come to the mass market yet, it seems obvious that people with paralysis will be top of the list to receive one when they do. The technology promises to revolutionise the lives of paralysed patients, empowering them to stream their thought commands as quickly as a home internet connection.
Brain-controlled computers will work by having a separate device attached to the users’ skull that transmits radio thought commands to a receiving device. It promises to give users far greater control of a prosthetic, exoskeleton, or other device, unlocking a freedom previously unimaginable.
10. Cloud Robotics
Cloud Robotics is one of the most dramatic emerging innovations, with systems being programmed to teach themselves beyond their initial programming, effectively self-evolving AI.
The Cloud Robotics concept utilises the Internet as a huge data source for “Remote Brained” robots. To make this possible, the controlling functionality (or the brains) of the robot has to be moved to the cloud in order to fully exploit its massive computing power.
Interfacing robotics in the cloud will enable faster deployment of the technology and allow them to upload new intelligence fast. These ‘smarter’ robots would be able to interact with their environment in a human-like manner, identifying obstacles and challenges and learning how to overcome them in real-time.