You might be forgiven for feeling left behind when it comes to the pace of change in the world of digital technology. There is a never-ending flow of new mobile phones, appliances, gadgets and gizmos. And they all promise to make our lives better. Here’s a selection of a few you might see in the year ahead.
If the last few years have been about the touch-screen, the newest technology may well make that obsolete. Connecting a tiny box called a Leap Motion to the USB port of your computer immediately creates a 3D interactive space. It detects hand movements with an accuracy of 1/100 of a millimetre, which allows you to flip through photos or reach into a 3D diagram. The product developers say it will bring computers alive in a way existing interfaces simply don’t allow.
“Typing? Seriously? That’s fine for writing a novel. But it’s hardly the most natural, intuitive way to communicate. The ability to control any application with nuanced hand and finger movements is already transforming the way we interact with computers,” said the company’s website.
And if its 3D that interests you, new 3D additive or printers are now readily available, some for less than $2000. 3D printers build up objects by applying layer after layer of durable plastic to a digital template. You can use them at home to make models, mobile phone cases or jewelry.
“There was a barbershop owner that wanted to print a couple of combs for people while he cut their hair, so they could walk out of his store with a comb. A dentist wanted to use the machine to print off replicas of people’s mouths so he could practice before he had the patient in,” said Jordan Wesra of the printer company Makerbot.
More sophisticated 3D printers are making use of metals or biological material, opening up much broader possibilities.
“We are already seeing the medical community starting to print organs and bones and organic material. A lot of what they are using their really expensive machines to do: they are going to start out on a less expensive machine so they can get the prototypes correct before they actually send it into production,” said Wesra.
Mobile phones are also at the forefront of technological innovation. Samsung has filed a patent for a “smart device-skin”. This will take any digital image and wrap it around the phone as a virtual texture. The technology could also be used for other touch or motion-sensitive control surfaces. Add to this the prediction from technology giant IBM that phones will soon develop touch capabilities.
“Your mobile device will let you touch what you’re shopping for online. It will distinguish fabrics, textures, and weaves so that you can feel a sweater, jacket, or upholstery – right through the screen,” the company predicts on its website.
Also due to go on sale in Europe in 2013 is a new compact electric car model. The two-seater Hiriko folds up for parking, and uses just a third of the space of an ordinary car. It is designed for short-distance urban car-sharing programmes and municipal fleets. It is likely to be priced at about $16,000, and has already been tested for hire schemes in major cities.
Also expected to go on sale in 2013 is Google’s augmented reality eyewear. Prototypes display information in front of the eyes. They’re activated by voice and connected to the internet. As with all innovations, it’s not initially clear which will be a gimmick, and which – as Google would like to believe – will become part of everyday life in the future.