Future Culture

Futurist Writer Lei Kalina writes her tongue-in-cheek musings and ramblings on the growing worldwide phenomenon of the growth of the Future Culture in the 21st Century

Future Culture In The 21st Century

Future Culture In the 21st Century

Futures Studies, Foresight, or Futurology , according to Wikipedia, is the science, art and practice of postulating possible, probable, and preferable futures and the worldviews and myths that underlie them. Futures studies (colloquially called "Futures" by many of the field's practitioners) seeks to understand what is likely to continue, what is likely to change, and what is novel. Part of the discipline thus seeks a systematic and pattern-based understanding of past and present, and to determine the likelihood of future events and trends. Futures is an interdisciplinary field, studying yesterday's and today's changes, and aggregating and analyzing both lay and professional strategies, and opinions with respect to tomorrow.

Friday, October 31, 2008

2008's 50 Best Inventions , says Time Magazine

The year 2008 is inching its way to a close ... And there are lots of reminders galore: what with all the media hype screaming and wheezing in my ears, both print and broadcast media's hallelujah cheers hyperventilating with its pronouncements of Christmas countdowns .

So how in the world can you miss the fact that 2008 is about to end?

Good thing Time Magazine took note of the good things of 2008, specifically the year's so-called "50 Best Inventions" ----- including the world's fastest supercomputer to date, Dubai's dynamic and moving skyscrapers ( coming soon in Moscow) , a camera for the blind (!?) , an electric car zooming from zero to 60 kph in less than ten seconds, high-tech running shoes, man's first unmanned moon-bound spaceship in 11 years, an airconditioned motorcycle ( Hark!) , biomechanical energy harvester ( stores energy with each big stride ) , bionic contacts, dexterous and smiling new robots, bionic hands, internet for outer space and Internet-savvy Martians ( !) , bullets that shoot bullets before they shoot you, and ...

Tah -daahhh! Invention of the Year: the retail DNA test which is so affordable for everyone to have their own DIY DNA tests.

1. The Retail DNA Test

Time Magazine reports:

"Learning and sharing your genetic secrets are at the heart of 23andMe's controversial new service — a $399 saliva test that estimates your predisposition for more than 90 traits and conditions ranging from baldness to blindness. Although 23andMe isn't the only company selling DNA tests to the public, it does the best job of making them accessible and affordable. The 600,000 genetic markers that 23andMe identifies and interprets for each customer are "the digital manifestation of you," says Wojcicki (pronounced Wo-jis-key), 35, who majored in biology and was previously a health-care investor. "It's all this information beyond what you can see in the mirror."

"We are at the beginning of a personal-genomics revolution that will transform not only how we take care of ourselves but also what we mean by personal information. In the past, only élite researchers had access to their genetic fingerprints, but now personal genotyping is available to anyone who orders the service online and mails in a spit sample. Not everything about how this information will be used is clear yet — 23andMe has stirred up debate about issues ranging from how meaningful the results are to how to prevent genetic discrimination — but the curtain has been pulled back, and it can never be closed again. And so for pioneering retail genomics, 23andMe's DNA-testing service is Time's 2008 Invention of the Year."

Whoopee .

So this means this "digital manifestation" of me , via that do-it-yourself $399 saliva test would be a "show-all-and-tell-all" peek show for each individual, revealing your what-nots: whether it be your schizophrenic leanings, your fetish for calloused toes and carbon dioxide smoke , and explaining to yourself why your OC ( obsessive-compulsive) syndrome seems to have just gone a bit overboard .

But isn't that too much: a quick link in your resume about your genetic information for your would-be boss, or no-holds-barred honesty for your significant other --- who may think twice before getting serious?

Wojcicki and Brin, the couple behind the US firm 23AndMe and its "controversial service", seems unperturbed with genetic privacy issues, as US President George W. Bush recently inked a bill that makes it "illegal for employers and insurers to discriminate on the basis of genetic information", and others silently up in arms against genetic data about their family's health history being made public.

The detractors: Dr. Muin Khoury, director of the National Office of Public Health Genomics at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, contends that people are "wrongly charged" with "preliminary and incomplete data", as diseases stem from different genes and are triggered by environmental factors. National Institutes of Health's Dr. Alan Guttmacher sighs that "a little knowledge is a dangerous thing. "

23AndMe's plan , they say is "to amass everyone's genetic footprint in a giant database that can be mined for clues to which mutations make us susceptible to specific diseases and which drugs people are more likely to respond to... We could make great discoveries if we just had more information. We all carry this information, and if we bring it together and democratize it, we could really change health care."

I'd say it's a yes. Great ideas have always been plagued by flak during its intro period, but give these guys wider leeway ( check out Google's chipping in of almost half of the company's US$8.9 million funding ) , and room to improve their discoveries, and it's all thumbs up for a revolutionary health and medicine future.

2. The Tesla Roadster


Hot, hot hot !

She's a beauty: the Tesla Roadster is no mean cheap trick, with a pricey kitsch of a whopping $100,000 . No wonder George Clooney lined up when Tesla
announced that it's up for grabs, with Wired Magazine going bonkers with its rave reviews.

Check out Tesla's sales pitch :

"The battery-powered Tesla is based on a modified Lotus Elise chassis. Its maker, Tesla Motors, of San Carlos, California, claims it'll zap 60 mph in four seconds, juice it to 130 mph, and spin the meter for up to 250 miles between charges (the GM EV1 did up to 150 miles). And, unlike the Lotus, the Tesla Signature One Hundred Collector's Edition (the first 100 cars, in other words) will have a cup holder. "

While the company, named after inventor Nikola Tesla, who patented the first induction electric motor in 1888, won't admit it, the financial crunch may have cost the company to say bye-bye to some of its employees via its lay-offs this year, even with a variety of customer bigwigs buying the Roadster early this year.

Through it all, Silicon Valley millionaire and Tesla CEO Martin Eberhard remains positive.

"We've got to change the way people think about electric cars ... This car won't be a punishment with bad styling and a terrible range."


3. The Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter

According to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) : "The Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) is the first mission in NASA's Vision for Space Exploration, a plan to return to the moon and then to travel to Mars and beyond. The LRO objectives are to finding safe landing sites, locate potential resources, characterize the radiation environment, and demonstrate new technology."

Feb 2009 is LRO's target date for NASA's first unmanned spaceship trip to the moon in 11 years, and the itinerary includes scouting for future moon landing bases, water prospects, possible access to solar illumination, and continuous study based from previous planetary science missions by the past 6 Apollo lunar expeditions.

One more thing: a side trip to Mars will also be in the agenda.

NASA explains that while the space mission is "exploratory" in nature, the LRO mission by February next year " will allow us to test technologies, systems, flight operations and exploration techniques to reduce the risk and increase the productivity of future missions to Mars and beyond. It will also expand Earth's economic sphere to conduct lunar activities with benefits to life on the home planet."

Gabor Ekecs for TIME

7. The Chevy Volt

Hark! A gas-less and zero-emission dream future for motorists from the brand new electric Chevy Volt's battery-powered engine? Something to look forward to: this early, motorists and analysts are awaiting the Chevy Volt's "electrifying" grand entrance by year 2010.

And it's more than just an electric car.

"Chevy Volt is designed to move more than 75 percent of America's daily commuters without a single drop of gas.. That means for someone who drives less than 40 miles a day, Chevy Volt will use zero gasoline and produce zero emissions."

Unlike traditional electric cars, Chevy Volt has a revolutionary propulsion system that takes you beyond the power of the battery. It will use a lithium-ion battery with a variety of range-extending onboard power sources, including gas and, in some vehicles, E85 ethanol(3) to recharge the battery while you drive beyond the 40-mile battery range. And when it comes to being plugged in, Chevy Volt will be designed to use a common household plug."

While valleywags may be tossing and turning for its possible pricey catch, the rewards may be amazing. A gas-less and environment-friendly future on the road?

Chevy Volt's manufacturers assure us that the sedan has an electric motor with a battery that can provide up to 40 miles (about 65 km) of range on a single charge, so if you drive less than 40 miles, you get a gas-free everyday dream altogether.

Fasten your seatbelts calmly, you have more than a year of waiting for this beauty. See her in 2010.

8. Bullets That Shoot Bullets

Raytheon, working in partnership with the Army, the Future Combat Systems Lead Systems Integration team of Boeing and Science Applications International, and BAE Systems, has passed a major milestone: via the Active Protection System ( APS).

APS works in split-second speed , intercepting and "defeating multiple incoming projectiles" : monitoring incoming ammunition , rocket-propelled grenade attacks and other short-range combat attacks in the battlefield and intercepting said attacks.

With an intelligent computer system powered with multiple sensors enabling ground combat forces to conduct their missions safely and more effectively, this provides a big help for the Army in more efficient and effective warfare , even saving the ranks' own lives.

9. The Orbital Internet

There's no stopping them.

Orbital Internet is here, a new internet protocol based on the idea of providing Internet to remote locations by satellite, and the ambitious communications technology is including inter-planetary internet-surfing in its agenda.

Proponents reveal: "Orbital Internet is using satellites to distribute Internet service and deliver a highly reliable communication ... wherever located and despite of existing communications infrastructure. The system is using the latest features and standards in the IP world to enable a highly efficient use of the capacity."

So don't be surprised if you receive an email from somebody from outer space. Coming soon.

10. The World's Fastest Computer

IBM's Roadrunner , dubbed as "the world's first hybrid supercomputer" breaking global records through the "petaflop barrier" and swaggering with its 1,000 trillion operations --- that's one quadrillion calculations --- per second, is in the limelight.

Named after New Mexico's state bird and manufactured by IBM for the Department of Energy and the Los Alamos National Laboratory , the super machine is said to be " twice as fast as the world-leading Blue Gene, which is itself three times more powerful than the remaining contenders on the industry's Top500 list of supercomputers."

With a computing power of 100,000 of today's most powerful laptops—or a stack of such laptops one and a half miles high --- it is the latest claimant to the title of world's fastest computer.

IBM maintains that supercomputers' improving features each decade by a factor of 1000 "propels the global economy as more business sectors begin to ride the industry's advantageous price/performance curve."


11. Green Crude

Arizona State University Laboratory for Algae Research & Biotechnology's professor-scientists Qiang Hu and Milton Sommerfeld have stumbled upon new discoveries that will make the global oil economic crunch feel a lot better.

The duo's eureka announcement for all: they discovered " algal strains capable of converting portions of their cellular mass into oil that contains high concentration of medium chain fatty acids. When the oil is deoxygenated, the resulting hydrocarbon chains are similar to those found in kerosene. When mixed with small amounts of fuel additives, called JP8 or Jet A, the fuel is suitable for jet planes."

The project, focusing on the commercial production of kerosene from algae using technology patented by the two scientists , won't collide with agricultural scientists' interests contending that food supplies will be cut --- such as in the case of arguments in producing ethanol biofuels using sugar cane and corn.

The lowly algae cannot be eaten , but is now put to good use with kerosene production.

13. The Memristor

Wait a minute.

Now let me tell you all that the "memristor" , or "memory store" , is one of the latest and greatest Filipino inventions --- courtesy of Mapua Institute of Technology graduate Dr. Leon Chua , with his doctorate degree from that other MIT in Massachusetts.

Newsweek Magazine may have overlooked that fact.

How it works: “The memristor’s memory has consequences: the reason computers have to be rebooted every time they are turned on is that their logic circuits are incapable of holding their bits after the power is shut off. But because a memristor can remember voltages, a memristor-driven computer would arguably never need a reboot. ‘You could leave all your Word files and spreadsheets open, turn off your computer, and go get a cup of coffee or go on vacation for two weeks,’ says Williams. ‘When you come back, you turn on your computer and everything is instantly on the screen exactly the way you left it.’

It all started way back in 1971 when , as a California-based professor, Chua
wrote a paper in which he argued that in addition to the resistor, the capacitor and the inductor, there had to be a 4th element which would be a memory resistor or memristor.

More than three decades after , HP senior fellow Stanley Williams, after reading and rereading Chua's paper for several years, finally got a glimpse of his eureka moment.
‘Hey guys, I don’t know what we’ve got, but this is what we want,’ ‘ Williams remembers. ‘It was several years of scratching my head and thinking about it.’ Then Williams realized their molecular devices were really memristors. ‘It just hit me between the eyes.’

“The reason that the memristor is radically different from the other fundamental circuit elements is that, unlike them, it carries a memory of its past. When you turn off the voltage to the circuit, the memristor still remembers how much was applied before and for how long. That’s an effect that can’t be duplicated by any circuit combination of resistors, capacitors, and inductors, which is why the memristor qualifies as a fundamental circuit element."

Williams says : ‘People have been reporting funny current voltage characteristics in the literature for 50 years. I went to these old papers and looked at the figures and said, ‘Yup, they’ve got memristance, and they didn’t know how to interpret it. Without Chua's circuit equations, you can't make use of this device. It's such a funky thing. People were using all the wrong circuit equations. It’s like taking a washing machine motor and putting it into a gasoline-powered car and wondering why it won’t run.’

Touch Bionics

14. The Bionic Hand

Touch Bionics introduces the i-LIMB Hand , dubbed as "the world's first fully articulating and commercially available bionic hand".

Research began in the 1960s, but now hundreds are enjoying the prosthetic device, developed using "
leading-edge mechanical engineering techniques and manufactured using high-strength plastics."

The result: "a next-generation prosthetic device that is lightweight, robust and highly appealing to both patients and healthcare professionals representing a generational advance in bionics and patient care."

Gone are the Captain Hook "hand impostors" which functions more like claws -- these new prosthetics have individually-functioning motors for each finger. And when a finger needs fixing? Only problematic finger goes to servicing for a short clinic visit, so no need to go "hand-less" for weeks.

Let's ask Touch Bionics if the fingers go as far as signaling naughty come-hither-dither tricks, or going businesslike with a quick hand-flip extending a business card for "business as usual."

Chances are, the fingers can do both ... And more .

Dynamic Architecture

16. The Dynamic Tower

This early, Dubai gets the crown in being tagged as the "City of the Future". Thanks to Italian maverick and revolutionary architect Dr. David Fisher , together with the developer group Rotating Tower Dubai Development Limited of Dynamic Group, as Dubai becomes the seat of the first building in motion, "heralding a new era of architecture."

Dubai's Dynamic Tower has the rotating floors at varying speeds in 360 degrees full circle --- all 80 of them -- with a height of 1,380 feet , complete with residential apartments and condominiums, luxury villas , parking spaces inside the apartments, with elegant offices, to boot.

Estimates for the pre-fab wind-powered tower reaches a whopping $700 million, residences up for grabs from S3.
7 million to $36 million. The whole project ready for a look-see by 2010 .

Dubai ruler and UAE Vice President
Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum may have an "influential" hand in Fisher's project, nudging him with his words of wisdom . “Do not wait for the future to come to you…face the future.”

17. The Mobile, Dexterous, Social Robot

Michael Siegel / MIT Media Lab

Add "social" to the specs of new robotic inventions: we've already heard of mobile humanoids and dexterous androids. Does this mean these new robots raise their hand for an "Up Here" hand clap with a genuine human being and laugh out loud --- as in LOL --- with its customized humor-recognition software?

Meet Nexi of the MIT Media Lab, the first of the android prototypes that promises to be " a different kind of robot " . The group's platform purportedly focuses on developing small mobile humanoid robots that possess a novel combination of mobility, moderate dexterity, and human-centric communication and interaction abilities.

While Japan has its own ASIMO robots, maid and nurse robots, and even baby bots ( "Did you hug your robot today ?") , MIT Media Lab , a group which is at it for years and getting attention from Wired Magazine , international robotics competitions, among others, may have also been lucky in getting Newsweek's attention.

18. The New Mars Rover

Mike Lorrig

Don't look now , Martians, but seems like you'll be getting company come 2009.

The Mars Exploration Rover mission , part of NASA's Mars Exploration Program and a long-term effort of robotic exploration of the red planet, launches next year, and looms like a gargantuan spider with menacing heft.

Check its specs :
with a diameter of 9 feet . , the airbag-protected landing craft runs on plutonium chunk and carries 176 lb. (80 kg) of scientific instruments, including a panoramic camera, magnets for collecting Mars' dust particles, Mössbauer Spectrometer for close-up investigations of the mineralogy of the planet, and a microscopic imager for catching close-up , high-resolution images of its rocks and soil.

19. Montreal's Public Bike System

Montreal's public bike system is something else, not exactly one to be overlooked: this one's got web-enabled and solar-powered bikes, easily tractable and registered in a computer system --- ready to resist bike-nappers and abusive cyclists from the days of yore when cheap public bikes get robbed in a jiffy.

Bixi, that's how the mod public bicycle system is called, with the tech designers "
packing in all the technology they could find, in a desperate attempt to out-engineer human iniquity"

Meantime, Time Magazine did not specify if the bikes have built-in spy cameras for a look-see on who the bikers are, or functioning as naughty "Peeping Toms" figuring out the lady bikers ' underwear color


22. The Shadowless Skyscraper

Paris , not to be outdone, have
Swiss architects Jacques Herzog and Pierre de Meuron putting their act together for their 50-feet tower right in the heart of the city . The first edifice built after the lifting of a 31-year-old ban on high-rise buildings in Paris, the Swiss duo --- the same couple behind Beijing's "birds' nest" Olympic stadium --- this time leaving their mark in the European city with the building named Le Projet Triangle.

Still, the skyscraper didn't fail to spur raised eyebrows with its sharksfin design and Egyptian architecture look --- like a huge triangular chunk pointing upwards and leaving no shadows for its neighboring buildings. Paris' skyline will never be the same again with the new steel-and-glass menacing edifice, sitting in the heart of Paris' Port de Versailles area.

Herzog and de Meuron's innovative design, is said to also allow “optimum solar and wind power generation.” Coming soon in year 2014.

University of Washington

24. Bionic Contacts

Picture yourself wearing one of these , University of Washington Professor Babak Parviz's creation of a bionic contact lens prototype , creating a display over the wearer's visual field, with images, maps and data appearing to float in mid-air.

The lens works using tiny LEDs, which are powered by solar cells, and a radio-frequency receiver.

Never mind if you get train and bus passengers' ridiculous and lengthy stares , as if seeing a Star Trek citizen "eye to eye" : the prototype is said to equip the wearer with a virtual touch screen, enabling him to surf the Internet or type as if having a keyboard in mid-air.

There's more: the lens has light-emitting diodes, basic wiring for electronic circuits and even a mounted tiny antenna.

"Future versions, the scientists believe, could serve as a flexible plastic platform for applications such as surfing the Internet on a virtual screen, immersing gamers in virtual worlds and monitoring patients’ medical conditions."

The future looks bright, and you gotta wear shades ... and your bionic contacts. Soon.

26. The Speedo LZR Racer


Olympian cream-of-the-crop performer Michael Phelps couldn't have gotten better help from his friends ... from Speedo, via the Speedo LZR Racer, said to be the "secret" behind the astounding winning streak ( eight gold medals , including his 0.01-second victory in the 100-meter butterfly category).

Dubbed as the world's fastest swimsuit , check out Speedo's co-designers:
NASA, Ansys, Inc. (which supplied fluid flow analysis software and support), and the Australian Institute of Sport . It's a second skin suit " with a built-in corset to improve buoyancy and is constructed with compression fabric that keeps muscles from vibrating in the water", the first to be made with ultrasonically bonded seams .

More like a birthday suit used for skinny dipping : and patented technology comes from Portugal's Petratex, a textile factory in Paços de Ferreira.

62 broken world records by Speedo LZR Racer-donning swimmers , and 33 of the first 36 Olympic medals have been won wearing it. Now that's technology working for you, even helping break records, to boot.

28. The Invisibility Cloak

TechFresh.Net explains how the invisibility cloak works:

"This feat is accomplished by using Metamaterials able to reroute light, forcing light around objects like water flowing around boulders in a stream. The waves of light come in and are swept around the cloak and reconstructed on the other side while avoiding the interior region, so it looks as if they just passed through free space."

Hmmm, refreshing your memory on Harry Potter scenarios? UC Berkeley scientists explain that the principle at work in said invisibility cloaks is refraction
which is what makes a straw appear bent in a glass of water.

30. The Internet Of Things

Now, this is taking the Internet to the next level: as "smart objects", enabled with sensors and actuators, take their turn in communicating with each other, just like communications technology enabling people to communicate with one another.

The IP for Smart Objects (IPSO ) Alliance are behind it all, tech vendors and users from an exclusive roster: Arch Rock, Atmel, Cimetrics, Cisco, Duke Energy, Dust Networks, eka systems, EDF (Électricité de France) R&D, Emerson Climate Technologies, Ericsson, Freescale Semiconductor, Gainspan, IP Infusion, Jennic, Kinney Consulting, Nivis, PicosNet, Proto6, ROAM, SAP, Sensinode, SICS, Silver Spring Networks, Sun Microsystems, Tampere University, Watteco and Zensy

"Smart Objects are objects in the physical world that – typically with the help of embedded devices – transmit information about their condition or environment (e.g., temperature, light, motion, health status) to locations where the information can be analyzed, correlated with other data and acted upon. Existing applications already cover a broad range of domains from building automation yielding energy-efficient homes and office buildings, industrial automation and asset management & tracking to hospital patient monitoring and safety and compliance assurance – with many more emerging applications in the near future."

Simply put: your lost rubber shoes may send signals where you last placed them, or your leather jacket giving you "alerts" that you may need it come December with the colder weather coming up.

IPSO Alliance Technical Advisory Board chair and Cisco distinguished engineer Jean-Philippe Vasseur explains : "IP allows users virtually limitless flexibility, thanks to a layered architecture. It works on any physical layer from wired to Wi-Fi to low-power radio and more ... As a result, the IPSO Alliance isn't defined by a narrow focus on a single medium, but embraces a broad spectrum of options that address various user requirements.""


31. Einstein's Fridge

Under Einstein's freaky hairdo is a brilliant mind indeed: as Oxford University scientists are currently working on a fridge prototype based on Einstein's original concept, but with a twist.

As fridge manufacturers commercialized their products using freon to cool the fridge interiors --- which is seriously hastening and worsening the scourge of global warming, Oxford's scientists rummaged through Einstein's fridge concept and gave it a second look . They realized that Einstein's original fridge concept -- which
uses ammonia, butane and water --- is eco-friendly and uses very little energy.

Oxford engineer Malcolm McCulloch says that the prototype is nowhere in being commercialized, but promises : 'Give us another month and we'll have it working.'

33. Biomechanical Energy Harvester

Greg Ehlers / SFU

No kidding: the recycling concept may have gone a bit too far with this one. Energy recycled, and even "harvested" and "stored" ... Whaaaaat ???

Inventor Max Donelan, who's also
director of the Locomotion Laboratory at Simon Fraser University in Canada. says: "Since muscles are the powerhouses of the body, my colleagues and I designed our device to generate electricity from the motion of the knee joint ... It resembles a knee brace and weighs about 1.5 kilograms [3.3 pounds] including the gearing and generator."

Newsweek tagged Donelan's invention as "perhaps the most promising in a class of products that harvest energy — all the more important at a time when portable tech, from Blackberries to iPods, is becoming ubiquitous."

39. Enhanced Fingerprints

Remember that Charlie's Angels series where that sexy triumvirate --- Sabrina, Jill and Kelly -- eternally flipped their hair locks and flaunted their hip-whips while giving the TV audience tips on detective tricks : such as wiping off their thumbprints as they wiggle their way through each episode.

But those tricks, now we realize, are so very 20th centuryish.

Enter English physicist John Bond developing new technology for tracking down fingerprints even after they're wiped clean "Sweat corrodes metal, so Bond applied an electrical charge and a fine carbon powder to a gun's corroded part, revealing a fingerprint pattern . "

Brilliant. Now let's see how the modern-day Sherlock Holmes use this technology in reopening cases, and getting to the real bottom of things.

41. The Peraves MonoTracer


Looking like a modern-day motorcycle-jetski but tweaked in hip 21st century fashion : air-conditioning for the driver and passenger, windshield wipers and BMW engine zooming to a speedy 62 mph in 4.2 seconds ( 100 kph) , a suave cruise harrumphing to 62 miles per gallon , or 28 kilometers per liter.

So this will save your complexion from getting more tanned, swerve you askew away from the looming danger of skin cancer , and also saving you from metropolis smog and more.

Raves galore for this beauty abound at last March's 78th International Motor Show in Geneva, dubbing the vehicle as "the ultimate low drag high performance vehicle".

"With minimal weight, skillful design and extremely low drag, this revolutionary new production vehicle offers superior drive performance coupled with greatly reduced space requirements and sensationally low CO2 exhaust emissions."

Way to go. Vroom, vroom .

John Huet for TIME

43. High-Tech Running Shoes

46. Aptera Electric Car

... And it's not your TV set, folks.

Look again: yes, it's the 21st century; and yes, it's not The Jetsons' flying car come alive at your doorstep . The two-seater, three-wheeled vehicle classified as a motorcycle is founder Steve Fambro's brainchild , initially thinking of a vehicle which is " safe, comfortable, and more fuel-efficient than anything ever produced."

Engineering background , an intensive study of aerodynamics, and composite aircraft construction --- all these resulted to "a low-drag, aerodynamic body shape could be achieved without sacrificing comfort, drivability or safety." And Fambro's prototype is now up for grabs with reservations in the works, before it hits the market soon.

Top that with an enticing sales pitch : "Aptera is one of the first eco-friendly cars to get high mileage: the all-electric model gets 120 miles (193 km) per charge, and the hybrid gets 300 (483). Extra points for cool design and acceleration from zero to 60 (97 km/h) in under 10 seconds — living up to its name, Greek for "wingless flight."

50. A Camera For the Blind

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

The Mobile Dress: Fashion Gets Smart

FANCY YOURSELF in the middle of a crowded party, with each and every party animal you can think of present in attendance, all wired up with their techie gadgets galore. And then a phone rings, with everybody reaching out to their gadgets, but all you do is raise your hand to your lips to answer the call.

Watch how everyone’s jaws drop , all eyes glued on you and your , ehem, M-Dress, a.k.a. The Mobile Dress, working with a standard SIM card, using soft circuitry and gesture-recognition software, and functioning like a mobile phone.

Thanks to UK firm Cute Circuit , an interactive design consultancy and research lab founded by Francesca Rosella and Ryan Genz specializing in wearable computing, art installation and education, the group which invented the M-Dress , and currently earning raves.

University of Wales Smart Clothes and Wearable Technology Director Jane McCann told CNN the clothing and electronics industries are collaborating in an unprecedented way -- describing this interesting fusion of futuristic fashion and technology, wherein electronics are embedded in clothing fabrics as "a new industrial revolution."

McCann's prediction for the next-decade futuristic fashion: clothes will have all kinds of
built-in functionality, as designers dabble with blue tooth technology, sensors, and electronic gadgets incorporated in garments.

"A garment might have devices on it to help you find your way somewhere, or to tell you how fit you are. It could tell you where someone is to help you meet them, or tell you what's on at a museum or club," she told CNN.

Still, analysts observe that the fashion industry is , yes, still “lagging behind” as far as wearable technology is concerned, as compared to sports and fitness industries leading in its tech innovations via its built-in pedometers and active wear with integral iPod controls.

McCann agrees: "Wearable technology is coming through into useful everyday clothing more than it is on the catwalk. The catwalk still treats wearable tech as flashing earrings or sensational things.”

Meantime, seems like there's no stopping the ingenuity and creative juices of maverick fashion designers, getting bolder and more daring in their fashion innovations. Chinese designer Vega Zaishi Wang used electroluminescent lamps to light up her creations at Central St. Martin's graduate show earlier this year,

Hussein Chalayan's "Readings" fashion collection made use of moving lasers to emit bright red beams, plus Swarovski crystals on the dresses "to deflect and absorb the beams", while his other innovations include putting mini-LEDs --- thousands of them --- in stunning dresses which show moving video images, blurred by the garments' fabrics.

Another Chinese designer , Angel Chang , collaborated with German artist Johannes Wohnseifer to create a range incorporating a world time zone map made with heat-sensitive ink; and if you touch New York on the map, it turns yellow . She further worked with Noble Biomaterials to create the "self-heating vest" : a conducting silver fabric transmitting heat to keep the wearer warm, and without any wires, to boot.


And there's more: Joanna Berzowska and Di Mainstone's Luttergil Dress, with seams slowly opening and peeling, with its movements regulated by filaments of shape-memory alloy and controlled by an electronics board ; Alphamicron is working on the so-called liquid crystal technology to create color-changing clothing ( such as sequins getting darker when exposed to sunlight) ; Amanda Parkes makes use of piezoelectric materials which generate power from the wearer's movements , with energy stored in a small battery and later discharged into a minuscule device ; Fabrican, a spray-on fabric device used to personalize existing fabrics, or sprayed on directly to the skin to "make fabric" .

Even moving flowers on the clothes? Yep: Kukka flowers by Berzowska, Marcello Coelho and Hanna Soder, which close and open , using a shape-memory alloy called Nitinol to make the flowers slowly change shapes .

And what about the "environmentalist skirt" ? Stephanie Sandstrom's EPA dress , fitted with sensors which measure air quality , simply crumples and "cringes" --- in response to "bad air" .

Kerri Wallace's Motion Response Sportswear uses thermochromic ink to change color with body temperature ; while Yun Ding's Aqua Chameleon Swimsuit used photochromic ink, thermochromic ink , and UV thread which changes color when exposed to sun, water and varying temperature. Philips' Lumalive Textiles , meantime, is a light-emitting fabric containing LEDs which display text or moving images.

As far as futuristic fashion technology is concerned, well, the future looks bright, indeed.


McCann's predictions:
mass customization will emerge as a major trend in clothing technology, when people go into sizing booths to get measurements of their sizes and shapes, or perhaps a microchip used to customize clothing . "In theory, if you've got technology that's cutting out garments one at a time it could produce clothes informed by our own size requirements."


"And you might want built-in controls for an MP3 player but I might like heart-beat monitoring. I'd like mine to have a digital print of the sleeve but my friend wants a picture of her boyfriend on the back. Some of that could happen in the 10 years," McCann adds.