Circuit board Photo: Thinkstock
7 Do-it-yourself glasses
Nearsighted atomic physicist Josh Silver had a vision. If he could design a pair of glasses he could adjust himself, maybe others would want them too. After ten years, the Oxford professor discovered that liquid – specifically silicone oil – was the key. To make the lenses, he filled two flexible membranes with the oil and encased them in hard plastic. Now for the self-adjustment: to make the glasses stronger, you twist a plastic dial on each lens to add more liquid, which changes the shape of the lens. Specs too strong? Twist the other way, removing a bit of oil. There’s a cause greater than one’s own convenience, too. Think of places like sub-Saharan Africa, where there’s one optometrist for every million people. A pair of glasses that lasts forever takes on new meaning there. Now retired, Silver has started a nonprofit company to distribute the glasses.
8 A new way to pay
In the near future, you’ll be able to turn your mobile phone into a “mobile wallet” and speed through the checkout line. With a phone app that uses the same technology as “tap and go” cards used on some commuter trains in different parts of the world, you’ll be able to access your financial data fast. Instead of fumbling for your wallet while packing groceries, you’ll select a credit or debit card from the screen, then tap the phone on the checkout console. You’ll also be able to comparison shop by touching your phone to a product to find out more about it, including what other shops are charging.
9 Greener packaging
Engineering student Eben Bayer, an avid hiker, noticed how mushroom roots bind everything on the forest floor, from tree roots to soil. Bayer considered the dense network and wondered, could mushroom roots, or mycelia, be used as an eco-friendly alternative to foam packaging? He shared the idea with classmate Gavin McIntyre.
After planting mushrooms in Tupperware containers under McIntyre’s bed, they eventually found that mycelia, combined with buckwheat and rice husks, can be shaped into biodegradable blocks. Their product, EcoCradle, will debut soon as protective packaging for computers and furniture; it’s also being tested as home insulation called Greensulate.
Early results show that the fungi-based forms hold heat and resist fire and mould better than petroleum-based synthetic – and require one tenth of the energy to produce.
10 Spray-on solar panels
While solar panels are hot with homeowners for warming the house and saving electricity, they’re often rejected as costly and tricky to install. Now engineers are aiming to make a more consumer-friendly version. One attractive candidate is solar ink. Applied with a spray gun, the ink allows builders and homeowners to turn windows, doors and roofs into power-generating panels. Just spray it on the way you would on a model airplane, says Brian Korgel, the University of Texas at Austin chemical engineering professor who invented the technology. (The ink can also be printed on plastic sheets using an ink-jet–type printer.) He expects the ink to be available in three to five years.
11 Smart homes
You’re on holiday and, oops, you realise you forgot to adjust the thermostat and shut down the computer. Soon a device that looks like an oversized iPhone will be able to do it for you. Intel’s Home Dashboard uses Wi-Fi technology to communicate with the appliances in your home, letting you monitor how much electricity you’re using and see which energy suckers are costing the most. The Dashboard stays at home, but you can make adjustments over the internet using a computer or smartphone from anywhere in the world. The system includes several finger-operated apps, so you can also control your security system or leave a video message for your spouse when you’re at home. A prototype debuted in January in the US; pilot programs will launch in homes this year.
12 Cool house
Dread air-conditioning bills? There may soon be a cheaper way to cool your home. The inventors of Thermal CORE have created a wall panel using microscopic paraffin wax capsules. During peak temperatures, the wax melts and absorbs heat, keeping the indoors at about 22C. At night, if it gets cold, the wax solidifies, warming the room by releasing heat. Thermal CORE is being tested in California; similar material is already in use in Europe, where savings on air-con have been as much as 20%. And watch for a German mug – made of ceramic and filled with a special wax – that keeps coffee at the perfect-for-drinking 58C.
The future of education
Our trend spotter is David Kelley, founder of the IDEO design firm and the Design School Stanford, US: “In the classroom of the future, education will be custom-made for each student. Every child will have a laptop programmed for his or her learning style and speed. Schooling at home may also continue to increase for the reason you can tailor the teaching to the child.
“At the same time, since we don’t want computers to do all the teaching, we will see more hands-on projects and group work,” he says. “And students will go out into the community to learn from business owners.”
The future of gaming
Here’s what Jane McGonigal, director of game research and development at the Institute of the Future in Palo Alto, California, told us: “Good deeds will become a bigger draw for gamers. Players will undertake missions to help others – you will input your location and a ‘ground crew’ will suggest you spend your extra time watering a local garden. I’m working on a game in which ordinary people even attempt to solve problems such as poverty and disease. ‘Winners’ will be those who’ve completed missions in poorer countries such as Kenya or Mexico.”
Ready for your own next big thing?
Great ideas start with inspiration. Here are some creativity pointers from Michael Bungay Stanier, author of the new book Do More Great Work:
- STOP BEING SO EFFICIENT. “You exhaust your brain by doing everyday boring stuff,” he says. To get your mind out of über-productive mode, turn off your phone. Ignore e-mail.
- ASK QUESTIONS. Try these: What’s the boldest thing I could do? The most fun thing? What would have the greatest impact?
- SLEEP ON IT. Before you go to bed, review the problem you’re trying to solve. If an idea comes to you when you’re in the half-state between wakefulness and sleep, write it down.
- MANAGE YOUR EXPECTATIONS. “You don’t have to be Steve Jobs and invent another Apple,” he says. If that’s your standard, you’ll fail. Instead of trying to be super-artistic or technologically savvy, try to be a little more creative every day.
|rodney clinch on 01 March 2012 ,09:22 |
Thank you for sparking my interest on items 10 and 11. In today's economy just about everything is about saving energy, or reducing our carbon footprint, well I think these people are doing a great job. I in particular would like to have my name given to the people in items 10/11 so as to keep track on their projects, and maybe further comments or suggestions could be made.
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