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Fantastic, or terrifying? Advanced technology at our fingertips

By Katie Todd

Once upon a time, we entered a world full of ghastly physical limitations. Our daily grind was wrought with paper cuts, the blinding glare of sunlight on printed pages and forced checkout interactions with physical supermarket cashiers. The back of our television screens occupied a solid square metre while we lacked any power to track the physical location of our Domino’s Pizza delivery driver. The physical exertion was monumental. Life was bleak.

But as the years slipped by, our realities were quietly – yet drastically – reinvented. Along came computers and the internet, and children in developed countries began to wonder how the flippin’ flapjacks their parents lived before the ability to hang out at the Club Penguin boiler room, or to share their sick 3D rainbow Wordart creations. Dial-up transmogrified into broadband, while bar phones proliferated into slidey and snap-shut options. With bluetooth dawned a whole new myriad of possibilities, and we finally had a way to send the beep beep be-beep Kim Possible ringtone from one Motorola Razr to another. Phew!

Technology proceeded to evolve even further, and we observed the genesis of sweet, sweet memes, bus cards that don’t have to go into the little slot or even leave your wallet, car auxiliary cables and web pages like whatthefuckshouldImakefordinner.com and ‘Is it raining in Auckland?’, permitting us to morph further into states of antisocialism, carpal tunnel ailment and outdoor-phobia.

But the fun is far from over. Oh no. Scientists have been working their wee backsides off to ensure our adult lives are as zesty and non-physically exertive as possible. With the help of the wonderful web, I’ve compiled a list of six fantastic inventions that might just work their way in to your future.

 Shoes that tie themselves

“Man, imagine what I could do if I didn’t have to spend a full seven seconds tying up my shoelaces each morning,” asked probably nobody ever.

“Don’t worry fam, I got you,” replied Nike, and invented the HyperAdapt 1.0 self-tying shoe.

The HyperAdapt 1.0 uses batteries, sensors, motors, a cable system and an algorithmic pressure equation to tighten automatically when it senses a foot inside it. A pair of buttons near the tongue allow the wearer to perfect the level of tightness, in what Nike reckon is ‘a revolution in adaptive footwear’.

But the cool factor for these kicks comes not from the iconic swoosh, nor the Cristiano Ronaldo celebrity endorsement – not even the fact that the shoes directly reminisce those worn by Marty McFly in Back to the Future. The HyperAdapt 1.0 fulfills a much more serious purpose – providing assistance to those with Parkinson’s or motor neuron disease, paralysis sufferers and pregnant mothers across the globe.  And though each pair bears a hefty price tag of $1340 NZD, proceeds are helping to fund Parkinson’s research via the J. Fox Foundation.

Invisibility cloaks

Good news if you nurse a penchant for Potter. The clever folks at the University of Rochester, New York, have finally nailed the illusion of invisibility, and produced a very feasible ‘cloaking’ technique to hide objects from the eye. Their invention uses the same old ordinary lenses found in DSLR cameras, but can completely hide an item without distorting the appearance of its background.

But bad news if you’re larger than the average pencil – this invisibility cloak is yet to be upsized to human scale. The current prototype can only handle a certain level of complexity in the wavelengths it hides – so, thin, simple, or really small objects.

Nevertheless, it outshines the invisibility cloak invented at the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology, Germany, in 2014, which was found only to work only in certain environmental conditions ‘such as fog, cloud or milk,’ (oh so useful if you live inside an udder). Advances in invisibility also offer some pretty dope possibilities – for surgeons to see through their hands as they work, for truck drivers to see through the front and rear pillars of their vehicles and for regular citizens to have heaps of fun scaring the staff at the Maccas drive-thru. This is something we can sure get behind, or rather, underneath.

Electroluminescent paint

Sorry Thomas Eddy mate, your light bulb just got one-upped. Electroluminescent Paint can be slapped on any surface and when exposed to a tiny electric current, will radiate with light. Green, blue, aqua, white, orange and yellow options are currently available on the market in spray-on form or as pre-coated panels, tape and wires, to be applied in 2D or 3D form. The paint is made from 100 per cent recyclable materials and an environmentally friendly water-based structure, and each coat promises six years or a 50,000 usable hours. Some companies are even offering a smartphone app with their paint to remotely switch it on or off.

Needless to say, the possibilities come in legions. Part with your clumsy old school light bulbs and paint your roof, your desk, your car, your bike, your boat, your furniture, your shower curtain…. heck, let loose! Go bonkers! Paint your shoes and go raving. Paint your dog’s collar and watch him go. Tape the world’s most elaborate Christmas light display onto the outside of your house. Spray it on your face for world’s brightest highlighter. Weave a strobe light dress. The future is eco-friendly and oh so lit pals.

Robot bees

Apparently, a bunch of researchers in Tokyo watched the Black Mirror Season 3 finale – where future Britain’s robot bee population is hijacked to to commit 387,036 grotesque murders by incising their way directly into victims brains and attacking the pain receptors – and thought, “great idea! Let’s invent our own robot bees!”

Robot bees (or as they’re clinically known, artificial pollinator drones) are tiny, remote controlled flying objects.

Though they look nothing like bees, they are intended to mimic apian behaviour and manually pollinate plants. And if successful, they could counter stress on declining bee populations and protect plant diversity.

Initial lab tests have seen them successfully pollinate pink-leaved Japanese lilies. The next step is to increase their mobility, so they can shimmy their way into all shapes and sizes of flower.

But about those hijacking fears? Lead researcher Eijiro Miyako, has so far denied anything other than the most peaceful intentions for his robot bee population. It may also be some time before they become autonomous rather than remote controlled, so our brains are safe for the mo.

Mind-reading headsets

Perhaps the most terrifying thing about mind-reading technology is how discreetly it became available on Amazon for consumer purchase. Once used to study epilepsy and sleep disorders, mind-reading electroencephalogram (EEG) headsets can now be found purporting to a big hodgepodge of purposes and uses, from the practical to the zany to the downright glutinous.

For a humble twenny bucks New Zealand, you can pop an EEG headset on your noggin and control your laptop, phone or drone with mere brain signals. Using an EEG headset you could also advance your meditation practice by channelling thoughts into the movement of magnetic objects, steer your EPOC motorised skateboard or soon, your “Braindriver” car. Slip a “No More Woof” EEG headset onto your canine and have its thoughts translated into human speech, or, if you’re feeling super ~~Kawaii~~ there’s even mind-controlled cat ears for humans that droop, perk or wiggle based on your mood or attention levels.

For the severely disabled EEG tech is progressively being utilised as a powerful aid, including mind-controlled wheelchairs and dynamic prosthetic arms with fully functional hands and fingers. EEG is also carving new avenues in mental illness research, currently used in a UK study which measures the therapeutic effects of music and different activities on the brain.

For the rest of us, EEG technology could be the dawn of an utterly inactive future – one in which we need not even stretch for the remote, sit down and type out our essays, manually press buttons on the microwave or reach out of bed to hit snooze on our alarm clocks. If evolution has its way, perhaps future humans will be left with spaghetti string limbs, or lacking limbs altogether like little nuggets – nuggets who don’t even need their self tying shoes.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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