Back to the Future II: Tech of the Coming Decades

We’ve shown you the tech of past, now, like the 2nd movie of the cinematic trilogy that is this article’s namesake, we’re showcasing the tech treats of the future. Though our list doesn’t contain a pair of Nike Air 2015 sneakers with power laces, there is a solar-powered cell phone, a tablet-style touchscreen PC that is the size of a table napkin, and jewelry that gathers information with gesture recognition. In addition to hover boards and scooters, tell us what else you’d like to see in the near or far off future. A Phone to Fit You Based on the principles of nanotechnology, Nokia’s Morph concept illustrates a phone that will bend and stretch to fit its user’s lifestyle. Harnessing nanostructured surfaces, such as “nanograss” and “nanoflowers,” the Morph will be dirt- and water-repellent and solar powered, as well as flexible and foldable. The Morph device could easily be folded into the shape of an everyday cell phone, but also into a watch, headset, or larger display that could hold a keyboard or touchpad. Nokia’s goal is to create a platform and interface that can transform to fit different needs and scenarios. While this seems like a far-fetched concept, Nokia believes it could manufacture such a device in as few as 11 years. You Are What You Wear Imagine wearing a piece of jewelry that carries your personality inside it. That’s just what HP has done with the wearable data manager. This ring remembers your likes and dislikes based on gesture controls made during day-to-day activities. It holds contacts, passwords, and ID information, interacting with HP workstations and tailoring the look of interface—including the desktop, file access, and favorites—to your preferences. Information on the data manager is shared via HP’s Memory Spot, a tiny, experimental chip that allows information to be attached to, and transferred from, virtually any surface. A wireless charging pad juices up the ring whether you’re wearing it or not. While the full realization of the data-manager technology is still 10 to 15 years away, basic gesture and profile updating could be on the market in as few as five years. Brainstorming 2.0 Designer Avery Holleman’s Napkin PC concept looks and acts like a household notepad. Consisting of a base station, pen stylus, and multiple tablet-style “napkin” interfaces, this prototype allows users to share their ideas on individual pages. Each napkin acts as a multi-touch input display that interacts with the user’s fingers and the pen via short-range radio frequency (RF). Each napkin communicates with the base via long-range RF. The computer’s processing power is hidden within the base station, which collects and saves the information on each napkin so you can leave paper and pens behind. The napkins can then be pinned up and spread out, or linked together. Bonus: the Napkin PC uses so little power it needs no battery. It features a single-layer flexible circuit board that uses inductive wireless power transfer. But since inductive power is still in the very early stages of development, there’s no current time frame for when this device may come to market. Solar-Powered Cell These days, a touchscreen phone isn’t revolutionary. But this sleek-looking concept breaks the mold by housing a thin, chemically based, solar-powered skin that charges the battery when exposed to any kind of light source. Building on the power of solar energy and promising less energy consumption, the Eclipse Intuit could revolutionize the way phones power up. The Intuit also boasts a 5-megapixel camera, software for uploading and editing photo albums, and a secondary, slide-out touch keyboard with tactile feedback. With such companies as Apple patenting this type of technology, a solar-powered phone could be out sooner than you think. Bending the Rules Combining LG Display’s amorphous-Silicon (a-Si) backplane technology and Universal Display’s OLED frontplane technology, this 4-inch, 320 × 240-pixel resolution prototype could be incorporated into a range of devices, such as wrist-mounted smart phones, roll-out digital newspapers, and walls that double as Minority Report–style displays. The panel makes pixels out of oil and water, connected to plastic electrodes. The opaque oil would float on the water and obscure a colored surface beneath. An electric charge, when applied to the field, changes the color of the pixels. LG and Universal Display have been making great strides with this technology over the past year and could have working displays in just a few more years.

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