Top-secret projects you (probably) never knew existed
Self-driving cars, smart contact lenses and mobile batteries that last for years may seem like a futuristic dream just now, but they could be closer to reality than you think.
At a time when we've been marking Back to the Future Day, it seemed appropriate to take stock of some of some genuine technological breakthroughs. The pace of technological change is increasing all the time and before we step into the future it's perhaps worth savouring one thought.
Who, for example, would have imagined 10 years ago that we would now have smartphones that allow us to watch high definition video over a wireless connection on our commute to work in the morning, while multitasking on another mobile device (wi-fi permitting, of course)?
Now, on to the future and here is our list of projects we feel will make an impact in the next few years.
1. Everlasting batteries
One of Amazon's latest projects is the development of a Kindle battery that lasts for two years. Imagine if you only needed to charge your device on a biennial basis?
However, this project is not just about making sure our mobile phones last a little longer, that's just a nice side-effect. What's really going on is that Amazon is looking for a solution to the new wave of wearable devices (more about this later), flying drones, electric cars, and other devices we may be using in the future.
These devices are going to have more specific power needs than current batteries. It's the same reason Tesla and Google are also focusing on their battery research efforts.
It's worth noting Google once scrapped a project that would improve mobile battery life by five times, which suggests that achieving better battery life isn't as easy as it may seem.
With our computers getting faster and more powerful year by the year, the batteries that power them will need to keep up.
2. Wearable technology
In the future, computers aren't just going to be a part of our lives, they'll probably be a part of us. This goes from the clothes we wear, to contact lenses and other devices that can be implanted under our skin.
Examples include smart fabrics, which are able to interact with the wearer by changing temperatures, responding to voice commands, or touch to control other devices such as TVs, smartphones and computers.
There are also smart contact lenses that will help users with diabetes to accurately monitor and control their sugar levels, achieved by measuring the level of glucose in their tears.
However, these devices leave concern for health, especially the implantable ones, as nobody wants to have a device with a leaky battery under their skin. This is one thing that designers will need to perfect for the future before this technology can become viable.
3. Self-driving cars
The idea of these types of cars has been around in the movies for a longtime - since the early 80s in fact. But it's only just now that the technology has become accessible and cheap enough to consider them a real prospect for the motor industry.
It is believed the autonomous car market is expected to deliver a £50bn boost to the UK economy by 2030. With this in mind, it is not hard to understand why technology companies such as Google, Apple and Sony have demonstrated serious intent in entering what looks like a lucrative market with their own brand of cars.
However, the problem or challenge with self-driving cars is that they are not yet 'human' enough. It may seem simple at first to teach a car to drive on its own, but getting it to recognise and drive like a human is another challenge all together. This is why so many tests usually end with a crash (Google reported 16 minor accidents since 2009 during their testing).
The issue is that the cars just can't predict the unpredictable nature of humans. They just can't drive like a person, by cutting corners, edging into intersections and crossing double-yellow lines without warnings saying it is doing something wrong.
Chris Urmson, Google's lead on the driverless car project, said." Unless they dumb the cars down, autonomous cars would probably never get round a roundabout".
4. Augmented/virtual reality
An escape from reality is something that is moving closer and closer to becoming a reality. The current top two technology pieces are Google Glass and Oculus Rift, both offering their own individual aspects of augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR), respectively.
Using Google Glass, you are theoretically able to view social media feeds (nice and easy for you to keep up with ICAS news), emails, Google Maps, as well as navigate with GPS and take photos, all with the blink of an eye.
Google is also developing a new way to watch movies called Spotlight Stories. The already-available invention lets the user become more engaged with movies by watching them in full 360-degrees.
This technology is truly what we call visionary, pardon the pun.
5. Internet for the masses
Google has recently launched an ambitious plan using a ring of balloons to provide internet to the two-thirds of the world which does not have access.
The experiment, code-named Project Loon (due to the idea being deemed as slightly crazy), works by allowing ground stations to beam internet signals to the balloons, which once in the stratosphere will be twice as high as commercial airliners and barely visible to the naked eye. The balloons are then able to communicate with each other, forming a mesh network in the sky.
Users can then be connected to the balloons using an antennae, which allows them to send and receive data signals to the balloons passing overhead.
Google has not said how much it is investing in the project, but the ultimate goal is to have a ring of balloons circling the Earth, ensuring there is no part of the globe without access to the internet.
It's unclear if or when or at all we'll see any of these projects come to fruition, but it is definitely worth watching with anticipation.