Future Tech


Written by Kieron Monks
26 Tuesday 26th January 2010

We must be a terrible disappointment to the sci-fi generation of the 50s and 60s. By this decade we were supposed to breeze about in hover-cars and be waited upon hand and foot by servile robots. But it's reassuring to know that we still have the odd scientist conducting strange, forbidden experiments in a secret lab somewhere, coming up with transparent toasters and the like. Here is some of the best technology coming soon to a future near you.

Pay as you go streetlights

One for the greens. The small German town of Lemgo is trialling a system that gives its citizens personal responsibility for public lighting. The streetlights go out at 10.30pm each day, but anyone still out and about can turn them on via text. It costs 20 euro cents for an entire street, which remains illuminated for 15 minutes, enough time to get home. Critics have suggested the darkened streets may lead to a rise in crime and traffic accidents, but after a year the figures have remained steady. Lemgo citizens have been largely in favour of the scheme, which is believed to have saved $70,000 in electricity costs. There have been dissenting voices from older people unable to do fiddly text messaging, but still the system grows apace. Dieter Grote, the inventor has successfully courted other cities in Germany, as well as in Spain and the States. Dial 4 Light is going global and coming to a streetlight near you.

Dial 4 Light

Mind controlled prosthetic limbs

Developed by researchers at the University of South Florida, this brainwave controlled arm effectively gifts 'the force' to its user. Capable of returning freedom of movement to the paralysed, the machine functions by decoding brain signals in a head cap full of electrodes. The cap then feeds these signals to a robotic arm, which can respond to hundreds of different commands. Wheelchairs with arms are nothing new, but at present they need to be operated by someone else via laptop. The Wheelchair Mounted Robotic Arm promises to give independence and quality of life to paralysis victims, albeit only to extremely rich ones at the moment. Having eaten up over $100 million in development, it remains to be seen whether such a lucrative device would ever be available outside the private sector. Here's hoping though.

Mind controlled robot arm

Nanomesh - clean water for all

One billion people are living without clean water today, a figure that is expected to double over the next 20 years. The Nanomesh may be a solution, capable of filtering out bacteria, viruses, spores and any other unwanted ingredients. The process is simple, using hand pumps to drive water through carbon tubes. Inside it goes through an ultra-sensitive mesh, detecting impurities at a molecular level and filtering them out. Developed by Seldon Tech, independent tests have shown the device removes 99.999 percent of impurities and has gained the EPA's seal of approval. Human power is used to pump water through the tubes, rather than chemicals or electricity, making it practical and inexpensive for remote parts of the world. The Nanomesh is sold as part of a waterbox, capable of processing 30 gallons of water an hour, with each filter good for over 1,000 gallons. Also used by NASA, the Nanomesh eliminates the need for heavy supplies by recycling the astronauts' water. Yuck, but bravo.
Waterbox in action


The credit card phone, on trial across the world for the last five years - Motorola and Nokia have both developed models complete with a chip for making payments. People in Poland and India can already make cash transfers over the phone, while Near Field Communication (NFC) has made it possible to 'swipe' them over wireless readers like an oyster card. As there are over a billion mobile phones in the world today, it is in the interests of retailers, banks, networks and consumers to create a workable system, with various options being currently worked through. These range from the simple e-coin, which would involve buying virtual tokens, to the 'wireless wallet' that keeps you permanently connected to your bank. This technology is expected to replace travel cards, house keys and perhaps even husbands.

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