A long time ago (back in 1997), in a galaxy far, far away (Redmond, Washington to be precise), a group of Microsoft executives were developing a handheld electronic reader with touch screen technology that would allow users to download digital books, magazines, and newspapers. The idea for such a device was inspired by Douglas Adams’ humorous science fiction novel The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, which describes a single book containing all of the knowledge in the known universe. The last decade has seen a proliferation of similarly sci-fi inspired consumer gadgets. Here are six that would be out of place on an episode of The Jetsons or Futurama. (Robot maid image courtesy of Slashdot.)
- Leap Motion:The mouse, stylus, and touch screen technology are all soon to be obsolete. Leap Motion is a gesture control system and interface that allows you to use physical gestures to interact with the software on your computer. With Leap Motion, you can draw a three dimensional sculpture, play a computer game like Fruit Ninja, or check your email without ever touching a mouse or your computer screen. Leap Motion combines a small, USB peripheral with VGA camera sensors to create your gestural workspace, and it only costs (Are you ready for this?) $70. Leap Motion rolls out no later than January 2012.
- MakerBot 3-D Printer:3-D printing is one of those decidedly nerdish activities whose novelty, after your 19th or 20th home printed rubber ducky, will ultimately wear a bit thin. Still, if you like gadgets, and have a modicum of imagination, you may want to run out and buy yourself a MakerBot. The MakerBot Replicator 3D printer can produce any item one can imagine being birthed out of molten plastic. We’ll have to wait and see if the 3D printers currently on the market are destined become more user-friendly, not to mention less expensive.
- Domestic robots:Back in the early 1960s, most Americans imagined the future as world of convenience, and no television show imagined such convenience as humorously as The Jetsons. George Jetson’s job seemed to entail sitting on his ass 9 hours a week at Spacely’s Sprockets while “Jane his wife” spent her days blowing money at various shopping centers. The Jetsons’ household chores were delegated to Rosey, their outdated, yet lovably matriarchal domestic robot. These days, there are all manner of robotic gizmos that can assist with house cleaning, including a robot butler that prepares your meal in the microwave, but none with the personality of a 45-year-old apron and lipstick-wearing robot.
- Flying cars:Ridley Scott’s 1982 film Bladerunner depicted a world where police cars fly throughout a congested, cross cultural metropolis. This year, Volkswagen unveiled its Bladerunner-esque project hover car, whose concept and design came out of a crowd sourced campaign to market their brand. But there are at least two actual flying cars in existence, although each has yet to be mass produced. PAL-V Europe NV has successfully tested a half-plane, half-gyrocopter that is both street and air legal. The American company Terrafugia Transition has its own flying car that’s basically a plane with wheels albeit with wings that fold up so you won’t take out a telephone pole making a turn at an intersection.
- Google:The original Star Trek television series featured voice activated computer possessing search and cross referencing capabilities second only to today’s Google. When the Star Trek computer was asked a question for which it had no answer, its impersonal yet distinctly feminine voice would intone, “Insufficient data!” Ask Google a question it can’t answer, and nine times out of ten it will guide you to links to several Eastern European porn sites. Google can’t find everything, and with one of its former executives now in place as president and chief officer of Yahoo, is it possible that eventually there will be attractive alternatives to “googling”?
- Mobile medical apps:More and more patients are using mobile medical apps to monitor their health, including blood pressure and asthma symptoms, and communicate important medical data to their physician. Doctors are using apps for record keeping and data access and for visually describing medical procedures to their patients. When it comes to bettering people’s health and health care, there doesn’t seem to be any limit to what mobile apps can provide.