Movies like Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol are certainly entertaining. But for those of us stoked on living in “The Future”, they also provide a great public service. If companies don’t think they can sell it, they won’t front the money for R&D, and we won’t get awesome stuff to play with. So when we see Tom Cruise and friends using cool gadgets to save the world, it serves to whet our appetites (and loosen our wallets) for the Future of Stuff.
Item 1: The Contact Lenses.
Seems that since he left the island, Josh Holloway has ditched his makeshift glasses for a sweet set of contacts. Those Heads Up Display (HUD) Lenses were the coolest, and, aside from the sweet car (see my next post), they win the prize for most obviously marketable gizmo. Transparent displays are nothing new. But how realistic is sticking that sucker on your eye? The quick of it is: Not very. But we’re on our way.
Researchers at the University of Washington recently completed a successful test of a contact lens LED display. Granted, the thing could only manage a single pixel and the pictures of it sitting on anesthetized rabbit eyes are a super bummer, but hey: Science! The point of this test was to prove that the technology is possible. It is. Now these guys will start figuring out how to implement multiple pixels and, hopefully, fix the whole “extended use could lead to lactate build-up and corneal swelling” issue.
For now, if you’re okay with not having a computer screen snug up against your peepers, here are a couple of gadgets that might do the trick:
According to a press release from the Recon Instruments team, astronauts out on spacewalks use paper checklists on their arms. Seriously? Paper? What a let down, astronauts. Thankfully, Recon invented this fancy, non-paper Micro Optics Display and NASA says they’re gonna give it a whirl. For us planet-bound humans, Recon sells these things in special goggles for skiers. The display shows the wearer graphical ski related data like speed, altitude, air time, and location (just in case you get a little too high up the slope). Also, with smartphone connectivity you can get calls/texts, hook up to GPS, and control your music playlist telepathically [not factual].
In a much more sinister, Big Brotherly, instance: Brazilian police are testing glasses that will allow them to capture the biometrics of 400 faces per second. The data is cross-referenced against a central computer storing some 13 million faces. If there’s a match the glasses will highlight the perp in Robocop Red for further crime-stopping. That’s just the most interesting feature. The glasses enable their wearer to identify a suspect up to 12 miles away! What? They hope to use these for quick response crowd control during the 2014 Olympics.
Item 2: The Gloves:
One of the most exciting scenes in the movie was when Tom Cruise Spidermanned (read: scaling walls) his way all over the Burj Khalifa. Apparently he was actually doing that. Tom Cruise was actually jumping around the 123rd story of the tallest building on Planet Earth. Of course, while in the movie he was using these neat gloves, the actor was in fact hooked into all sorts of wires, harnesses, and safety machines. But if you were, say, an actual person without the aid of special effects, would those gloves work?
Lo! There are real immediate technologies that would make these gloves totally possible…soonish. For now the focus has been on building wall-climbing robots that use something called electroadhesion, a technology made possible by SRI International. Other notable SRI projects include the computer mouse, HDTV, the Internet, and, most recently, Siri.
Now look. I’m not going to pretend that I understand how this thing works. If video presentations are to be believed, the science behind this may work only when mumbled in a slow, heavily accented, monotone. The basic principle is the same as when you rub a balloon on your head and stick it to a wall. But here the balloon is a robot, and your hair-static is “a plurality of electroadhesive gripping surfaces, each having electrode(s) and each configured to be placed against respective surface regions of a foreign object.”
In August 2011, SRI received a patent for their electroadhesive system. It’s very dull and jargony and stuffed to the brim with exceptionally boring ways that this innovation could be used in the real world. Typically that’s what’s up with patents. Where it gets interesting—after eight pages of “the electroadhesive gripping system of claim [1-]28 wherein said first and second…gripping system…end effector…” yadda yadda—is claim 32 (of 33), “wherein said electroadhesive end effector resembles a human hand.” Bam!
According to the text, this “end effector” (i.e. Glove) would be used to help people with arthritis lift heavy bags. Actually! But, come on, if old people are lifting bags with battery operated gloves, then you know that Special Ops dudes are scaling the walls of evil somewhere.
To be continued….
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