Physicists at Wake Forest University have developed a fabric that doubles as a spare outlet. When used to line your shirt — or even your pillowcase or office chair — it converts subtle differences in temperature across the span of the clothing (say, from your cuff to your armpit) into electricity. And because the different parts of your shirt can vary by about 10 degrees, you could power up your MP3 player just by sitting still. According to the fabric’s creator, David Carroll, a cellphone case lined with the material could boost the phone’s battery charge by 10 to 15 percent over eight hours, using the heat absorbed from your pants pocket.
Soon, coffee isn’t going to taste like coffee — at least not the dark, ashy roasts we drink today. Big producers want uniform taste, and a dark roast makes that easy: it evens out flavors and masks flaws. But now the best beans are increasingly being set aside and shipped in vacuum-sealed packs (instead of burlap bags). Improvements like these have allowed roasters to make coffee that tastes like Seville oranges or toasted almonds or berries, and that sense of experimentation is trickling down to the mass market; Starbucks, for instance, now has a Blonde Roast. As quality continues to improve, coffee will lighten, and dark roasts may just become a relic of the past.
Your spandex can now subtly nag you to work out. A Finnish company, Myontec, recently began marketing underwear embedded with electromyographic sensors that tell you how hard you’re working your quadriceps, hamstring and gluteus muscles. It then sends that data to a computer for analysis. Although the skintight shorts are being marketed to athletes and coaches, they could be useful for the deskbound. The hope, according to Arto Pesola, who is working on an advanced version of the sensors, is that when you see data telling you just how inert you really are, you’ll be inspired to lead a less sedentary life.
The problem with laptops and tablets, says Mark Rolston of the design firm Frog, is that they’re confined by a screen. He wants to turn the entire room into a monitor, where you can have the news on your kitchen table while you place a video call on your fridge. And when you’re done, you can swipe everything away, like Tony Stark in “Iron Man.”
This 15-minute shampoo treatment begins when you lean your head back into a machine that looks like a sink at the salon. First it maps your scalp, then it shoots streams of warm water and foam shampoo from its 28 nozzles before 24 silicone “fingers” work up a lather. One conditioning mist, scalp massage and light blow-dry later, you’re done.
Author of “The Master Switch: The Rise and Fall of Information Empires”
What are your two best million-dollar ideas?
The first is permanent sunblock. No one likes putting the stuff on, so there should be a one-time treatment that embeds the skin with a permanent level of S.P.F. 30, akin to having Lasik eye surgery once and then forgetting about it. Sunburn vanquished like smallpox. The other is the “brain map” — a technology that maps out every neural connection in your mind and then, effectively, stores your brain on your hard drive. That information — more than your DNA even — is you.
Here’s an old idea whose time has come again. The bearing system that allows the bike to turn can be locked so that a thief can’t steer his stolen bike. The lock is internal, meaning that he’d have to destroy the bike to ride it away.
No more greasy chains
An updated shaft drive — which replaces the chain with a rod and internal gear system — would be perfect for urban riders. They’re popular in China right now, but new versions will be lighter and have more sophisticated gearing.
One-piece plastic and carbon-fiber frames
Plastic frames were tried back in the ’90s, but they were too heavy. The materials and technology have improved. Thermoplastics are cheap and practically impervious to the elements.
Your car is already able to call for help when an accident occurs, but within a few years, it’ll tip paramedics off to probable injuries too. E.M.T.’s would know the likelihood of internal bleeding or traumatic head injury, for example, before arriving on the scene, which would help them decide whether to move you to a Level 1 trauma center or a standard emergency room. Researchers at the University of Michigan International Center for Automotive Medicine have created the predictive models by cross-referencing the crash data provided by sensors on cars, like speed and location of impact, with 3-D scans of accident victims.
The industrial designer Jiang Qian has conceived of a subway strap that’s also a video game. It has a button on each side that you push with your thumb as you hang on; instead of a joystick, you control movement by twisting the handle from side to side. Jiang imagines that new types of games could be created, where keeping your balance while the train is in motion is part of the challenge. And unlike Angry Birds on your phone, Strap Game (that’s the official name) will alert you when your stop is approaching.
Futurist and film consultant
What technology that you wanted to put into a film were you not able to because it seemed too far-fetched?
In “Minority Report,” Tom Cruise gets into a car that drives itself. We considered giving him neural control of that car, but we deliberately held back on how far biology could go. It would have overwhelmed the story. And here we are today with real neurological control of machines. It’s transformative technology. In 50 years, you’ll be able to drive cars with your mind.
If you slump down when you’re typing on an ErgoSensor monitor by Philips, it’ll suggest that you sit up straighter. To help office workers avoid achy backs and tired eyes, the device’s built-in camera follows the position of your pupils to determine how you are sitting. Are you too close? Is your neck tilted too much? Algorithms crunch the raw data from the sensor and tell you how to adjust your body to achieve ergonomic correctness. The monitor can also inform you that it’s time to stand up and take a break, and it will automatically power down when it senses that you’ve left.
When you aim the SpeechJammer at someone, it records that person’s voice and plays it back to him with a delay of a few hundred milliseconds. This seems to gum up the brain’s cognitive processes — a phenomenon known as delayed auditory feedback — and can painlessly render the person unable to speak. Kazutaka Kurihara, one of the SpeechJammer’s creators, sees it as a tool to prevent loudmouths from overtaking meetings and public forums, and he’d like to miniaturize his invention so that it can be built into cellphones. “It’s different from conventional weapons such as samurai swords,” Kurihara says. “We hope it will build a more peaceful world.”
Researchers at Wharton, Yale and Harvard have figured out how to make employees feel less pressed for time: force them to help others. According to a recent study, giving workers menial tasks or, surprisingly, longer breaks actually leads them to believe that they have less time, while having them write to a sick child, for instance, makes them feel more in control and “willing to commit to future engagements despite their busy schedules.” The idea is that completing an altruistic task increases your sense of productivity, which in turn boosts your confidence about finishing everything else you need to do.