How often have you thought to yourself, “Why doesn’t someone invent something to fix that?”
Well, I just read about several innovations that would certainly make my life easier. I can’t believe the orthodontist even takes my calls after a Spring of cancellations, reschedules and okay, I admit it, outright missed appointments. But today, I read about a tooth sensor with a built in chip that recognizes when it’s time to call the dentist. I mean it. Even better, it sends the signal directly to the dentist. And then it’s the dentist’s job to call you. Love it!
There’s also the t-shirt that recognizes subtle changes in your body temperature and uses the power that generates to boost the charge on your phone or MP3 player. The boost is anywhere from 10-15% over eight hours. Cool. Especially for those times that you left your phone charger in your hotel room after a business trip. Just don’t forget the t-shirt.
But my number one favorite innovation is underwear that motivates you to work out. That’s right. As if Spanx wasn’t motivation enough. The Myontec underwear are really more like workout shorts but they are pretty cool. They will give you instant feedback on the impact your workout is having on your quadriceps and glutes and will tell you if you need to speed things up.
I’m not sure the next innovation coming down the pipeline is progress. Coffee growers want to figure out a way to standardize the basic taste of coffee so that distributors or retailers can then customize it to taste like oranges or cherries or whatever. In the future, all coffee is going to start out as basic dark roast. It will be shipped in synthetic bags instead of burlap. Starbucks is already doing this with their blonde roast. If the folks at Peet’s in Berkeley, who love their grainy, earthy, REAL coffee didn’t like Starbucks already, this is going to be the final salvo from David in the David v. Goliath war that is the Peet’s versus Starbucks story.
The most marketable innovation I read about is probably the Speech Jammer or the “shut up” gun. The inventors admit it will help limit the over talker who takes over every meeting and conversation and it may help to tone things down in a heated argument but neither is their ultimate goal. The ultimate goal is world peace. We can only hope it would make the world more peaceful. For sure, it would make it a lot quieter.
Tim WuAuthor of “The Master Switch: The Rise and Fall of Information Empires”
What are your two best million-dollar ideas?
The first is permanent sunblock. No one likes putting the stuff on, so there should be a one-time treatment that embeds the skin with a permanent level of S.P.F. 30, akin to having Lasik eye surgery once and then forgetting about it. Sunburn vanquished like smallpox. The other is the “brain map” — a technology that maps out every neural connection in your mind and then, effectively, stores your brain on your hard drive. That information — more than your DNA even — is you.
- When a quarter of the vehicles on a simulated highway had A.C.C., cumulative travel time dropped by 37.5 percent.
- In another simulation, giving at least a quarter of the cars A.C.C. cut traffic delays by up to 20 percent.
- By 2017, an estimated 6.9 million cars each year will come with A.C.C.
Here’s an old idea whose time has come again. The bearing system that allows the bike to turn can be locked so that a thief can’t steer his stolen bike. The lock is internal, meaning that he’d have to destroy the bike to ride it away.
No more greasy chains
An updated shaft drive — which replaces the chain with a rod and internal gear system — would be perfect for urban riders. They’re popular in China right now, but new versions will be lighter and have more sophisticated gearing.
One-piece plastic and carbon-fiber frames
Plastic frames were tried back in the ’90s, but they were too heavy. The materials and technology have improved. Thermoplastics are cheap and practically impervious to the elements.
The typical plane cabin is drier than the Arizona desert, and the air is so thin it feels as if you were visiting Machu Picchu. This brutal environment contributes to the parched, exhausted feeling you get after you fly. But there are already planes in the air — made mostly of carbon fiber — that solve this problem. Carbon fiber is markedly stronger by weight than the aluminum used for most existing planes, which means that the interior air pressure can be adjusted to more comfortable levels without the risk of damaging the fuselage. Airlines also keep humidity levels low now to prevent the plane’s metal skin from corroding, but carbon fiber doesn’t rust. That will allow a new system to maintain humidity at a more comfortable 15 percent (up from around 5 to 10 percent). Japan Airlines and Nippon Airlines bought the first crop of these new planes. They’re currently in service between Tokyo and Boston. Jad Mouawad
Peter SchwartzFuturist and film consultant
What technology that you wanted to put into a film were you not able to because it seemed too far-fetched?
In “Minority Report,” Tom Cruise gets into a car that drives itself. We considered giving him neural control of that car, but we deliberately held back on how far biology could go. It would have overwhelmed the story. And here we are today with real neurological control of machines. It’s transformative technology. In 50 years, you’ll be able to drive cars with your mind.
Jonathan ZittrainHarvard professor of law and computer science
What innovation scares you the most these days?
The Internet is not merely connecting computers together for the benefit of humans; it’s connecting humans together to reinvent labor. This opens terrific opportunities along with real worries. Soon we’ll have to question whether an earnest-looking group of protesters with hand-lettered signs is genuine or simply rapidly convened as a paid flash mob: a crowdsourced crowd. We’ll be able to one-click shop for cheering throngs or protests at a particular location on a moment’s notice, indistinguishable from genuine collective sentiment. A house can be surveilled and a spouse tailed because an online bounty has been put out for anyone nearby to take a photo of the building at a particular address, or to “follow that car.”
David PogueNew York Times tech columnist
What tech problem needs to be addressed most urgently?
That we’re heading for a bandwidth crunch. We’re saddling the Internet with amazing new features — movies on demand, streaming TV, Siri voice recognition, whole-house backup — but they’re starting to overwhelm the existing Internet’s capacity, especially on cellular networks. The Internet and phone companies respond by imposing monthly limits, and the F.C.C. is trying to make more wireless frequencies available. But unless something gives, “high-speed Internet” will soon become an oxymoron. You’ll just have to get used to pauses in your streaming video.
A Short History of Frame Rates
Jacqueline Barton2010 National Medal of Science winner
What innovation are you clamoring for?
What I’d really love to see is full genomic sequencing at moderate costs that individuals can do at home. When taking a given drug or even deciding what to eat or how much to exercise, wouldn’t it be good to know what you really need to be concerned about and what you don’t? If you had high cholesterol, you could know if you should really be taking a statin, which, based on your particular genomics, could have limited benefit and some associated risk.
This year, Eva Redei, a professor at Northwestern’s Feinberg School of Medicine, published a paper that identified molecules in the blood that correlated to major depression in a small group of teenagers. Ridge Diagnostics has also started to roll out a test analyzing 10 biomarkers linked to depression in adults. “Part of the reason there’s a stigma for mental illness, including depression, is that people think it’s only in their heads,” Redei says. “As long as there’s no measurable, objective sign, we’re going to stay in that mind-set of ‘Just snap out of it.’ ” Blood tests will take mental illness out of the squishy realm of feelings. And as Lonna Williams, C.E.O. of Ridge Diagnostics, says, they’ll help people understand “it’s not their fault.” Elizabeth Weil
You need a lot of water to put out a sizable blaze, and the chemicals used in fire extinguishers can be toxic (halons, the most effective chemical fire suppressant, create holes in the ozone layer). So the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency at the Pentagon has developed a hand-held wand that snuffs out fires, without chemicals. According to the program’s manager, Dr. Matt Goodman, an electric field destabilizes the flame’s underlying structure rather than blanketing the fire to smother it. Eventually, the technology could be used to create escape routes or extinguish fires without damaging sensitive equipment nearby. Nathaniel Penn
It’s depressing to think how much food packaging there is in your kitchen right now — all those juice cartons, water bottles and ice-cream containers. But what if you could eat them? “We’ve got to package in the same way nature does,” says a Harvard bioengineer named David Edwards. And so he has devised a way to convert foods into shell-like containers and films that he calls Wikicells. Yogurt will be encased in a strawberry pouch, for instance. You could wash and eat the packaging, like the skin of an apple, or you could toss it, like the peel of an orange, since it’s biodegradable. The newly wrapped ice cream and yogurt will be available later this month at the lab store in Paris, with juice and tea coming within the next year or two.Nathaniel Penn
Rather than spray water, fertilizer and pesticides across their fields, many industrial farms are taking a more targeted approach, using wireless soil sensors and G.P.S.-enabled equipment to determine which spots need the most attention. Soon, you’ll be able to use similar technology in your front yard. The home landscaping company Toro already has a line of consumer-grade moisture sensors that turn on the sprinkler system when your lawn is dry. It’s a good start, but Sanjay Sarma, of the Field Intelligence Lab at M.I.T., is working to produce tiny, inexpensive sensors that you scatter across your lawn by the dozens and that will track everything from bug infestations to mineral deficiencies. Then they’ll tell you what to do about it: three spritzes of pesticide to the tomato plants, stat. Howie Kahn
Is there any invention you find particulary sinister?
A smaller, even stealthier drone — something called the Cyberbug Drone, currently under development. In this model, a microsystem is embedded in an insect larva, and when the adult emerges — whether bee, butterfly or ant — a “bug” really will be a bug, and the proverbial fly on the wall will be actual. Tiny winged avengers can hunt down invasive beetles, cabbage whites can snoop on destructive raccoons and six-legged nanospies can insert themselves into the air-conditioning systems of even the most impenetrable buildings. As for bedbugs, they’ll wedge themselves under mattresses to snoop on errant spouses. The hive mind really will be the hive mind! Coming soon to a crevice near you.