Eight radical tech innovations you can buy now, and expert opinions on what each one will lead to down the road.
Author Alyssa Giacobbe Photography Olivia Garrity
OUT NOW // HOME AUTOMATION
Rendering obsolete the age-old marital spat over who forgot to turn off the coffeemaker, Wi-Fi- powered home automation technology enables us to control nearly everything in a house remotely (from the bedroom, the turnpike, a distant campground). Most systems call on a combination of hardwired and wireless technologies to coordinate with household devices. Start slowly with Insteon’s RemoteLinc, which can open the garage, unlock the door, disable the alarm and power up the DVR from a few blocks away. Or use the company’s more advanced automation software to, say, reprogram the central air or water the lawn from Bangkok—just because you can.
EXPERT // Daniel H. Wilson, Ph.D., roboticist and author of the forthcoming Robopocalypse
“With so many baby boomers approaching their elderly years, the U.S. is facing a shortage of nursing homes. But we’re rapidly approaching a time when our houses can take care of us. We’re seeing glimpses of this through experiments like Georgia Tech’s Aware Home, which records energy consumption, and the Drexel University Smart House, where a solar chimney and indoor daylight simulation provide a more sustainable living space. In twenty years, our homes will be able to control their environments by tracking everything from our habits and preferences to weather conditions. Our buildings will know what we’re capable of and what we need, whether it’s more light, less heat or a visit from a friend or doctor. Right now, innovations like Roomba and auto-mowers help people manage their houses. Researchers at Carnegie Mellon’s Quality of Life Technology Center are improving on this with prototypes of robots that can put dishes away and recycle. Homes will be equipped with video screens that offer a view inside a relative’s house. This will help provide older people with continuous human interaction, which is key to living longer. Oh, and we’ll be talking to our appliances; I have a five-month-old daughter, and I’m convinced she’ll never know what a remote control is.”
OUT NOW // FACETIME FOR MAC
Apple’s FaceTime videoconferencing for Mac one-ups AIM video chat and Skype by taking free Wi-Fi-enabled desktop videocalling on the road (but not when driving). Downloadable to your iPhone, iPod Touch 4G or Apple computer (a Windows-compatible version is rumored to be in the works), the free app enables users to “call” anyone using an email address. A person’s device will ring even if the app is closed. Depending on how you look at it, this innovation can free you from the shackles of the traditional home office, or it can present a frightening leap for the late-night phone call you’ll regret the next day.
EXPERT // John Biggs, editor in chief of Crunchgear.com
“Up next for the office is holographic communication, or telepresencing. A computer scans your body and transmits that information to another system in the location you want to be. On your screen, you see yourself in that room, looking through the ‘eyes’ of something on the other end—a robot or a holographic image—which communicates back to you what it’s like to be in the room. In that room, the robot would have your mannerisms; he sounds like you, moves like you. The question, of course, is whether, psychologically, we’re ready to have humans walking around with nonhumans. All of a sudden, you’ll have another person with you who doesn’t actually exist. That’s kind of weird.”
OUT NOW // LIVING PROOF. FULL HAIR PRODUCT
Designed by renowned MIT biotech engineer Robert Langer (who improved cancer drug delivery and invented artificial vocal cords), Living Proof makes revolutionary hair products—ones that actually work. Since the debut of its first product, No Frizz—which use a Langer-developed molecule called PolyfluoroEster in place of industry-standard silicone—Living Proof. has been one of Sephora’s best sellers. For the brand’s latest line, Full (whose volumizing mousse hits shelves this month), Living Proof.’s research and development team spent two years creating Poly Beta Amino Ester-1 (PBAE-1), a hydrophobic molecule that works by placing a “space pattern” between hair fibers. Flat hair looks, feels, and behaves like naturally thick hair. Now back to the cancer research.
EXPERT // Ranella Hirsch, MD, past president of the American Society of Cosmetic Dermatology and Aesthetic Surgery
“Right now, beauty is largely a one-size-fits-all business. But we’re moving toward a fundamentally different approach based on customization based on genetics, which will play a huge role in skincare in the future, specifically the very hot arena of anti-agers. Skin ages differently based on a person’s genetic makeup. If you’re blond and pale, what works for your brown-haired, olive- complected friend likely won’t work for you. Researchers are just starting to experiment with cosmetic fillers made from your own cells. The reason filler goes away and patients have to come back at regular intervals is that the body has an immune response to it and works to break it down. So what we do is take a sample from a patch of skin behind the ear and send it off to a lab. The lab then creates a very specific and highly customized filler material made from your own cells. Your body’s not going to break down your own tissue. In 20 years, that same idea will be applied to every product you’ll use for skin, hair—everything.”
OUT NOW // D-LINK BOXEE BOX
The age of the cable monopolies is coming to an end, and, frankly, it’s about time. Who among us hasn’t spent 45 minutes on hold only to be told it’s an “easy” fix—only to miss True Blood or Mike & Molly anyway? Unlike AppleTV, which streams curated video content from the web to your living room, the long-awaited Boxee Box doesn’t play favorites, accessing pretty much any live or prerecorded video content that’s available online. (If you can watch it on your laptop, you can watch it through your Boxee.) Subscription services like Netflix and Hulu Plus will enhance the Boxee, which is available as a standalone device or, better yet, a free download.
EXPERT // Joshua Topolsky, editor in chief of Engadget.com
“In twenty years, the cable monopoly will be broken, and entertainment will be a more efficient à la carte experience: what you want, when you want it. In fact, TV shows may no longer be presented in season formats—networks might just film the entire season and say, ‘Here you go.’ And we’ll have fewer devices. The DVD, DVR—gone. Why save your shows on some potentially faulty piece of hardware when you can stream content? Movie theaters aren’t in danger; every time there’s new technology, people predict the end of the theater, but the appeal of the shared experience isn’t over yet. After all, live theater might not be as popular as it was fifty years ago, but people still go. We may see movies dual-released for theater and home. In place of various entertainment middlemen like Netflix, Hulu and iTunes, what might emerge is a single middleman with a much broader footprint. I call it the super-Netflix.”
OUT NOW // iCLUB
First introduced in 2005, iClub’s motion-sensing technology was designed to help golfers, a most obsessive bunch, improve their game. A device attached to the club reads and records data on such factors as grip, swing and stance; at home, players connect the device to their computers for feedback and advice. This spring, the next-generation iClub’s has software embedded directly in your clubs, with the capability to email or text real-time feedback to your iPhone or iPad.
EXPERT // Kim B. Blair, Ph.D., Vice President of Massachusetts-based product-design consulting firm Cooper Perkins Inc., and founding director of MIT’s Center for Sports Innovation
“The two key words for the future of sports innovation are social and smart. Social is about being able to share your successes with friends. If you’re skiing in New England, you’ll be able to share your progress and prowess with your friend in Colorado in real time. You’ll do this via sensors built into your goggles or skis, which link to social media applications. Smart means we’re looking at a continuation of personalization used to help players improve their performances, or to help spectators improve their experience. In large part, that will mean a real advance in adaptable equipment. Right now, a serious skier might have a few sets of skis that he changes depending on the weather conditions. A golfer can have three of the same club. But in twenty years, as we continue to improve smart and variable-strength materials, that same guy can have one pair of skis that’ll be able to change shape or surface texture depending on the trail conditions or where he is on the run. A mountain bike will automatically adjust tire pressure from mud to swamp to dry land.”
OUT NOW // ELSAFE RFID-ENABLED HOTEL SAFES
New radiofrequency identification (RFID)–equipped safes from Elsafe, the hospitality industry’s most popular maker of hotel room security, work in tandem with RFID-enabled contactless electronic door locks—which include keycards, wristbands and smartphones encrypted with barcodes that open guest room doors, now in use at select InterContinental hotels. You’ll need a room “key” and a safe “key” to retrieve your cash, jewelry or whatever else you decided should be kept under lock and (keyless) key.
EXPERT // Troy Whitsett, VP of Design and Innovation at Travelocity
“In the next ten years, travel will get so much easier. And that’s because it’ll get more personal. All those mobile innovations that are coming out now promising to make your experience better are about to get turbocharged, as smartphones and travel companies— airlines, airports, car rental agencies, hotels, restaurants— integrate software systems that can almost read your mind. They will solve complex tasks without ever involving you. Say you’ll be arriving somewhere late at night. Your digital assistant will alert your hotel to confirm a late check-in. Or negotiate with airport car rental agencies at for the best price and car based on where you’re going next and whether you’re there for business or pleasure. At the airport, your assistant will let you know when your bag’s on the carousel. Then it’ll make dinner reservations at a place it knows you’ll love, because your best friend—who has similar tastes—loved it too. We’re looking at a future of fully automated and hands-off travel.”
OUT NOW // IMMERSIVE 3-D
Like a scene out of Avatar, Siemens Healthcare and graphics manufacturer Nvidia have teamed up to create a virtual reality–based ultrasound for use in prenatal care. Using stereoscopic glasses, parents and doctors can peer into the uterus to view the fetus in all its 3-D glory. Siemens’ fourSight Workplace image management software creates clear digital images—or a 3-D model—of the baby. Though the technology was inspired by 3-D movies, fourSight’s immersive 3-D has legitimate applications in cases where babies might need prenatal care.
EXPERT // Barbara del Prince, worldwide segment manager for obstetrics and gynecology at Siemens Healthcare
“OB-GYN, cardiac and other ultrasound imaging will look vastly different. Transducers— the wands doctors use against the skin—will look more like belts or blankets. They’ll lie against a patient to provide a full volume of the entire uterus or chest cavity. This data will then be displayed in 4-D, or real time motion, on a touch panel screen or as a floating holographic image— imagine being able to feel as if you’re touching your baby. In addition to the bonding moment it will create for parents-to-be, 4-D imaging will provide doctors a level of information they’ve never before been able to access: They will be able to see not just the possibility of abnormality but the extent of abnormality with no additional patient risk. It brings a little bit of sci-fi to the medical experience.”
OUT NOW // NISSAN LEAF
No matter what side of the electric vehicle movement you’re on, Nissan’s cute new five-seat plug-in hatchback, the first fully electric car for sale in the U.S., makes sense. A 90-kilowatt battery pack can take it 100 miles on a single charge (compared to 30 to 40 for the Chevy Volt) and a 107-horsepower electric drive motor eliminates any golf cart feel. Interior features include readouts that tell you whether you’ve got enough juice to make it home and how many miles that blast of AC will cost you. Just don’t call it a hybrid. Unlike the Volt, the Leaf is fully electric.
EXPERT // Wayne Cunningham, senior car tech editor of CNET
“In terms of electrics and hybrids—which will definitely take center stage in the future of autos—we’ll see some battery breakthroughs We’ll have to. Current electric cars can’t go especially far on a single charge, and there aren’t enough charging stations yet. Companies are playing around with refillable batteries. It’ll work like a gas tank, where a battery’s electrolytic fluid can be drained and refilled. Aesthetically speaking, I think we’ll lose the idea of the status car by 2030—or at least as we know it. Premium manufacturers are already starting to introduce hatchback designs that have eye- pleasing curved rooflines. There’s also some bad news for vandals: Manufacturers are experimenting with self-repairing paint, a viscous fluid that’ll flow back together if chipped or keyed. And Google’s been developing self-driving cars, but for that to take off we’ll need some consistent roadway infrastructure.”