The world of science fiction has seen some of the most bold, bizarre and breathtaking ideas when it comes to technology. From autonomous robots to flying cars, these futuristic worlds have plenty to envy. With technological advances growing at an exponential rate, many of the exciting tech devices seen in popular sci-fi universes may be hitting the shelves sooner than you think.
Multi-billion dollar companies are racing to deliver the most cutting-edge technology before their competitors. Military agencies are researching ways to augment human abilities to gain an advantage on the battlefield. With such high-stakes, technological advancement has been shifted into overdrive.
Fifteen years ago you may not have believed it if someone explained the smart-phone you now have in your pocket. What equally mind-blowing technology will be developed in the next fifteen years? Will this technological arms race lead to a completely revised society based on sci-fi gadgetry?
We may not be able to predict what the world will look like that far from now, but with this list of 10 sci-fi inventions already in the works, you will gain insight into the extraordinary technology currently under development.
10. In-Ear Translator
If you’re familiar with The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, then I’m sure you have at one point wished you had a Babel fish. The Babel fish is a small, leech-like fish that when implanted in the ear, translates languages via nerve signals, allowing the user to understand different languages. Thanks to Waverly Labs you may be able to gain the benefits of a Babel fish, without a slimy leech in your ear!
The Pilot is an in-ear device that translates languages between two different users. This tiny device translates your conversation and speaks in a Siri-esque voice in order to bridge language gaps. The Pilot has garnered attention due to the love story of a couple who, without the device, could not understand each other. Waverly Labs even took it a step further by allowing the device to stream music.
9. Food Scanner
Food scanning is an app-based technology that is gaining notoriety among a number of tech companies. The most common design consists of a small hand-held scanner that is paired with an app on your phone. The scanner works as an optical spectrometer, which shoots a beam of light at whatever food item you want to know about. As light is absorbed and reflected differently depending on the molecule it is interacting with, the molecules that make up your food item are identifiable by the scanner. All information is sent to the cloud to be analyzed with the results syncing to the app on your phone. With this scanner you can easily identify the amount of sugar, carbohydrates, fat and other ingredients in that slice of cake you want to splurge on, and stare at the heartbreaking results right on your phone screen!
8. Teleportation Via 3D Printing
3D printing has garnered public attention in recent years due in part to its attainable price tag (you can buy your own for $349.99 at Barnes and Noble). However, the real attention comes from what they are capable of doing.
3D printers are designed for additive manufacturing, or the ability to create three-dimensional objects from a data file. These machines make a virtual design of the object you desire, and then use added materials to create the physical object layer-by-layer. These printers have been used to create everything from house hold decorations to a functional office building. Now, they are even able to “teleport” objects from one printer to another.
The Hasso-Plattner-Institut has developed a pair of 3D printers with added cameras and a milling machine. An object can be printed in one printer, digitized as a file, and then sent to the other printer. The catch is that the original object is destroyed by the milling machine, and then recreated by the other printer. Thus, the object is “teleported.” Although it isn’t quite Star Trek-grade teleportation, the device is aptly named Scotty, from the iconic quote, “Beam me up, Scotty!”
7. Battery-Powered Exoskeleton Suit
TALOS, or Tactical Assault Light Operator Suit, is the stuff of comic books. This battery-operated exoskeleton suit is under development by the US military Defense Advanced Research Department (DARPA) with the goal of augmenting soldiers’ abilities in the field.
Much like an Iron Man suit, TALOS would increase a soldier’s strength, stamina and protection by motorizing their legs and creating a soft exoskeleton frame to hold extra weight. TALOS is currently in the prototype stage, but researchers at MIT and Harvard are working to make the exoskeletons an everyday tool.
Currently the exoskeleton commonly malfunctions during hikes, and is incapable of handling the rigorous obstacles faced on battlefield terrain. However, the design is promising considering the advantages it would provide the military.
6. Sonic Tractor Beam
Tractor beams have long been a sci-fi staple, commonly making an appearance in alien abduction scenes and in the Star Trek series. The sci-fi version of a tractor beam is based on light, but thanks to researchers at the Universities of Bristol and Sussex, a sonic tractor beam has been developed.
This tractor beam works by using sound to lift and move objects. High-amplitude sound waves generated by 64 miniature loudspeakers create an acoustic hologram which can manipulate objects in space. The researchers were able to utilize sound to lift, twist, pull, push, and levitate small objects.
5. Virtual Reality Backpack
HP has announced a portable VR backpack that “packs” the power of a high-end PC without the cords. The PC is a part of the Omen X line, and is currently under demo testing. Although the specs aren’t entirely known, it will have up to 32GB of memory, either an Intel core i5 or i7 processor, built in dual venting fans and an hour of battery on one charge.
While an hour of battery life doesn’t sound like much, HP is confident that it will allow enough time for a solid virtual reality experience, with the added bonus of being able to swap out batteries mid-game without losing your place. This battery swapping concept is one of the key attributes to maintaining its truly portable nature. The batteries will be attached to a belt on the user, similar to an ammunition belt used by soldiers.
Ironically, the entire set up is reminiscent of a soldier, with the user donning the portable PC as a backpack, batteries on a belt, and the users choice of VR goggles. Simply add a VR gun controller and you’ll be ready to bust some virtual ghosts or battle your friends in a VR laser tag field!
4. Genetically Engineered Humans
Although genetic engineering isn’t new by most people’s standards, it has gained momentum from the relatively recent discovery of CRISPR-Cas9. CRISPR-Cas9 is a tool used to target and cut specific sequences of DNA enabling systematic genome editing in organisms.
The tool consists of 3 parts. CRISPR, or clustered regularly inter-spaced short palindromic repeats, were discovered in 1993 and consist of segments of DNA that contain short repetitions of DNA sequences followed by “spacer DNA.” Spacer DNA is a portion of DNA from previous exposure to a virus or bacteriophage. The spacer DNA allows CRISPR to act as an immune system which will identify genetic material. Cas9 and PAM were discovered in 2005 and work with CRISPR to cut identified genes. Cas9 is an RNA-guided DNA endonuclease (an enzyme), that produces site-directed double-stranded DNA breaks. PAM is a sequence of DNA that is identified by the CRISPR-Cas9 sequence which allows for cutting to occur. Together, the CRISPR-Cas9 system is used to cut specific sequences of DNA that adhere to certain requirements. Researchers have been using the tool to research methods for fighting diseases including HIV and muscular dystrophy.
3. Bionic Eyes
Bionic eye implants have been making news headlines recently due to promising clinical trails, and development plans of bio-tech companies such as BionicVision. These implants commonly consist of a camera and a microchip which convert signals to electrical impulses that stimulate retinal cells and the optic nerve. Traveling along the optic nerve, these impulses eventually reach the brain where they are interpreted as an image.
Impressive as this design is, research hasn’t stopped there. Similar to The Terminator, some implants have been designed with enhanced features such as a reflective telescope that allows the user to zoom in on an image with the wink of an eye. Furthermore, individual entrepreneurs have been experimenting with bionic eyes that can actually record the images they process.
Rob Spence, a Canadian filmmaker, has developed an implant that contains a battery-powered, wireless video camera. While these enhanced biotic implants may garner attention from the visually-abled public, arguably the most exciting part of this technology is the possibility for blind users to see for the first time.
2. Self-Driving Cars
Autonomous cars have been featured in popular sci-fi flicks including Total Recall and Minority Report, but now thanks to million dollar research projects by companies such as Google, they may become reality.
Google’s self-driving car project aims to create safe, self-driving cars that would reduce traffic accidents, and allow easy commuting regardless of a person’s ability to drive. Thanks to sensors and Google Software, the cars are able to sense where it is in the world, what is around the car, predict what will happen next, and determine what to do. Maps and sensors are used to determine the car’s location while software predicts the most likely outcome based on objects around the car. Finally, the software chooses what to do in terms of a safe speed and direction for the car to move. Currently Google’s cars have self-driven over 1.5 million miles!
1. Voice-Controlled Home
Sci-fi worlds have a number of popular tech devices, but some of the most common are voice-controlled devices. Imagine being able to walk into your apartment and turn on the lights, air-conditioning, television and music all with a simple phrase. Or, perhaps you want to hear the latest news while you cook dinner using a recipe that an AI assistant provided for you.
Although there has yet to be a single self-containing device that can do all the aforementioned, there are a wide variety of voice-activated products that can achieve a similar effect when used together. Amazon’s Echo is a small, hand-free speaker that works in a manner similar to Apple’s Siri. However, the Echo offers more than Siri’s general information and music streaming. The Echo can be paired with a variety of devices which create a voice-activated environment. Specially electrical outlets can be used to pair almost any device in your home to the Echo, therefore allowing you to activate them with a simple phrase. In addition, the Echo can be paired to your Amazon account for easy shopping all via your voice.
Amazon may have been the first to market such a device, but other companies are now working on artificial assistants which may bear resemblance to some of the most beloved robot side-kicks in science fiction.