TechnologyEmerging technology that could change your life

Jamie QuadrosSeptember 12, 201918 min

The future is now-ish, if you’re brave enough for it. With Alexa, Google, and Siri becoming household names, we’re right on the cusp of living in futuristic spaces that are equal parts habitation and technological wonder. However, it remains to be seen whether all this emergent technology will elevate us to a shining utopia, or leave us trapped in a Black Mirror episode.

Here are a few incredible technological developments popping up on the horizon, as well as a glimpse of what they promise (or how they’ll ruin us):

1| Neuralink

Neuralink Corporation | Extremely early stages of development

What is it?

A “brain-machine interface” that will allow humans to control objects with their minds. Currently intended to help people with paralysis control electronic devices like phones or tablets.

How does it work?

Flexible “threads”  (each thinner than a human hair) containing thousands of electrodes are implanted into the brain, forming an interface that communicates with a small wireless external receiver (similar to a hearing aid). Together, they’d allow you to control any devices connected to the receiver.

The bright side

Imagine being able to control things with a thought. You’d have pseudo-telepathic powers, allowing you to will things to happen with just the power of your mind. Well, probably just things you can already do by yelling at Alexa or Google, but still. From mundane (but neat) applications like changing the channel, turning lights on/off, or writing emails at the speed of thought, to starting your car remotely just by thinking about it. The possibilities are endless!

The fright side

Well, there’s the somewhat disconcerting prospect of multiple “hairs” being inserted into your brain. Also, an interface reliant on a network connection may reasonably be just as vulnerable to hacking as the internet of things. I don’t know what a hacked brain would feel like, and I don’t think I want to find out. 

2| Project Soli

Google | Prototypes exist; not yet adapted for consumer use

What is it?

A “new sensing technology that uses miniature radar to detect touchless gesture interactions”. You’ll literally be able to make things happen with a snap of your fingers. 

How does it work?

Without getting too technical, the Soli sensor uses radar technology (specifically, “emitting electromagnetic waves in a broad beam”) to create a field which motion-captures hand gestures. Much like swiping on a touchscreen, gestures will be pre-programmed to do certain things on the device their interacting with. Making the gesture of turning a dial might increase or decrease volume, while pressing fingers together would mimic pressing a button.

The bright side

We’ve come a long way from needing physical buttons or analog controls for our devices. I mean, take a look at your average smartphone – remember when those things had buttons? Soli is designed to work with natural, intuitive movements, so its widespread implementation and growth should be relatively painless. Imagine a room or house embedded with these sensors, creating a detection field that spans the entirety of your home. Assuming the tech scales-up, you’d be able to control anything with a switch, button, dial, or interface from a distance. If Soli is even partially successful, the increase in convenience and quality of life would be considerable!

The fright side

Giving companies unrestricted access to our data has already landed us in hot water of late. Again, assuming these motion-capture sensors can be integrated to create a large field, you’d hypothetically be able to map the activity (and location) of anyone within it. I’m not sure what nefarious purposes that kind of data could be used for, but I am sure someone will find one. On a different note, the old, grumpy part of me mourns the loss of more tactile interfaces. If we follow this tech trend to its logical conclusion, we’ll end up living in sleek, responsive, but entirely characterless iPad houses. 

3| EVA

Automata | Production model exists; not yet mass-market

What is it?

It’s the “first robot designed with small batch production in mind”. Essentially, it’s a robotic arm that you can learn to program in 15 minutes (even with no programming knowledge).

How does it work?

Application-specific robots already exist, but they’re usually very expensive and intended to perform very specific tasks exceptionally well. Eva, on the other hand, is meant to be a versatile, configurable low-cost alternative. It’s designed to be programmed for a variety of tasks, with minimal time and training. Moreover, its compact form factor makes it portable and easy to incorporate into workspaces or desks. Eva costs a bit over $8000, which is still quite a competitive price when compared to industrial robots.

The bright side

It’s going to be a long while before we get android assistants. In the meantime, being able to program robotic appendages with the same effort as it takes to install a wifi router is pretty awesome. There’s plenty of room for the range of applications to grow – really, any manual repetitive task you can imagine. We haven’t yet tapped the potential of adding light automation to our daily lives, but it’s easy to imagine something like Eva becoming as popular as drones or 3D printers. I should point out: the exciting development isn’t the arm itself, but what it symbolizes – robotics beginning to enter the realm of everyday applications that we all might have access to!

The fright side

Yeah, see, this is how the apocalypse begins. First we teach “ARMando”, our handy robot arm assistant, to chop vegetables for dinner. Next, we’re being chased around the house by a horde of Roombas armed with knives at the dawn of the robot revolution. Count me out! Okay, in all seriousness, the biggest potential drawback is that tech like this ends up being an expensive paperweight once the novelty wears off. Tech enthusiasts notwithstanding, we’re inherently lazy as consumers when it comes to setting up our toys. Bear in mind, it’s not meant for the mass-market right now anyway—but should it ever make it into the home, there’s no guarantee people will embrace the programming aspect.

4| Tesla Powerwall & Solar Roof

Tesla | In production and available for purchase; limited availability

What is it?

An alternative-energy solution for the home, focused on sustainable use of solar energy.

How does it work?

In 2015, Tesla unveiled the “Powerwall”: a rechargeable home battery system that can store solar power or energy from the grid, making it available for use on demand later. In 2016, they followed up with the “Solar Roof”—tempered glass tiles which replace traditional roof tiles while serving as solar panels. Together, both products create a “self-powered” energy solution for your home. They aren’t intended to replace your dependence on a conventional electric grid; rather, the aim is to reduce your usage of grid power by supplementing/replacing the bulk of your energy needs with solar power collected and stored by the system.

The bright side

While the idea of a solar-powered home isn’t new, Tesla’s approach to packaging it in one solution is. Consider what the first iPhone did for cellular technology: it wasn’t the first smartphone ever invented, but it did reinvent what the word meant. Apple took an existing concept and refined it into a polished high-end product, which is precisely what Tesla is doing with the Powerwall and Solar Roof. To be fair, this particular iteration of a self-powering energy system does fall on the pricey side of your options, but it’s still a sign of good things to come. As renewable energy becomes more accessible for the average homeowner, other companies are likely to develop their own versions of these systems (which in turn drives competition and innovation).

The fright side

When I say pricey, I do mean pricey. With the Solar Roof, you’re looking at paying almost twice what you’d pay for conventional solar panels, and that’s before factoring in the cost of the Powerwalls to work with the roofs. All of this will run you tens of thousands of dollars in installation, shipping, and permit costs. The most feasible scenario for switching to this self-powered system is when you’re building a new home, or if your roof needs to be replaced anyway. And even then, the premium for the Tesla brand and tech is quite substantial. There isn’t much in the way of rebates from provinces or the federal government for this sort of tech, so you’re looking at shouldering the cost of switching to a greener solution on your own.

So what does the future look like?

If even one of these innovations becomes widely implemented, we have a fun future ahead of us. But what’s really exciting is what the world might look like if all of them become a reality. It’s interesting to think that technology that once only lived in science-fiction is now closer than ever to becoming reality. While it’s always possible that some of these products will flounder, the fact that people are thinking this big is fantastic in and of itself. That we can even talk about controlling things with our minds or amassing an army of programmable robots with any kind of seriousness is pretty incredible. Call me an optimist, but the future looks pretty bright to me!

Jamie Quadros

Freelance writer and communications professional at the University of Toronto. He’s an avid cinephile, voracious reader, and a terror at karaoke bars.

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