IN 30 years since the first mobile phone went on sale we’ve seen it morph from a bank-breaking, basic brick into a slim super computer that can do anything from entertain to tell us what we should be doing next.
With the next-generation (and several generations after that) of mobile phone innovation already being tinkered with by engineers and scientists in hi-tech labs the future of the device is set to change at warp speed. Come with us as we look at what our favourite gadget could do in years ahead.
Mobiles were uglier back in the day but at least they could withstand a bashing. Recent years have seen a trade in resilience for beauty but the future will see a turnaround with unbreakable devices. Weatherproof handsets are proving a surprising hit with consumers calling for their precious phones to be made of tougher stuff. Manufacturers look to use the latest materials including scratch and shatter-proof ion-infused glass as well as liquid metal for cases, which is nigh-on indestructible as it bounces back to its original shape after being dented.
Modular mobile phones will hit the market whereby customers can buy a handset made from features they pick and choose to go on it. There’s already a project underway that will allow consumers to decide what their custom handset can do and what it will look like so you can create a phone that perfectly fits your needs. For instance if there’s a phone out there that has a great camera but you don’t need the whizzy other stuff, this modular approach could let you have the best of everything or let you cherry pick the bits that are important to you. Expect to see the pick ‘n’ mix smartphones to shift the goalposts in the not-too-distant future.
With smartphone screens getting bigger and people spending more time on mobiles than any other device expect to see super-high resolution, cinema-quality displays rock handsets. A far cry from the monochrome, one-line displays of the 90s our eyes will be treated to full 4K screens (that’s four-times the resolution of High Definition) right in the palm of our hand. This visual feast is only just reaching our living rooms today but mobile makers are already eyeing it up for our pocketable gadgets. We doubt mobile sizes will continue to grow at this stage (around five-inches seems to be the Goldilocks zone) but within three years a stunning 4K screen will be de facto.
If you think 4G browsing on your phone is pretty speedy today, just wait a few years and you’ll be blown away. The next-generation wireless mobile network could be quick enough to download a high-def movie in just 30 seconds. This also means it could make storage sizes obsolete as everything from your apps to entertainment could be accessed from the cloud within the blink of an eye. The infrastructure of this technology is being readied for a 2020 release.
The camera will evolve in our smartphones to do far more than your standard selfie. 3D technology using wide-angle lenses and sensors will be able to map your surroundings, meaning you could actually walk around inside your photos. Mobile cameras will understand and process the space around you and then remodel it in a 3D image. You could revisit old birthday party pictures, explore old holiday snaps or take a look around hotels, houses for sale or eBay items in great detail. The technology is currently being tested in projects in both mobile handsets and a larger system called Matterport, who worked on Microsoft’s Kinect sensor.
The fabled foldable mobile has been floating around almost as long as the flying car but breakthroughs in material technology — in particular the super thin, super strong and conductive wonder material, Graphene — will make this more than a crazy concept. There are already mobiles on the market that have a slight bend and we’ve seen manufacturers show off flexy displays at gadget shows but within ten years we could see mobiles that change shape to suit our needs and roll up right into our pocket. There wouldn’t be a need for both tablet and mobile, or the decision of what screen size to go for — imagine being able to unravel a screen to different sizes whether you want more space for browsing or less to just make a call. We know mobile makers are keen on this flexible, wrappable, mouldable, unbreakable form factor and research labs like the Human Media Lab at Queen’s University in Canada have already produced a primitive folding handset.
Batteries last about as long as an asthmatic in a sprint race these days but in the hi-tech future we could see our devices run for 20 years on a single charge. A team at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore have developed a titanium dioxide gel that is a dab hand at storing lithium ions in its nanostructure. In non-sciencey words: it’s very efficient at storing its charge. Of course, this Holy Grail of an everlasting battery is being chased after by many so there are other alternative battery technologies being developed. There’s a team in Korea looking to transform the heat generated from our bodies into electricity to power phones; there’s also the idea of piezoelectricity which converts movement into energy so we could walk and charge; and researchers in California have made a tattoo that generates electricity from our own sweat. So it looks like the future phone’s power supply might be something we won’t have to sweat about (literally).
If sci-fi films have taught us anything it’s that holographic floating displays will burst out of our mobile devices in the future. They’re not wrong. A 3D screen materialising in thin air we can prod and manipulate is already in development from start-up Ostendo Technologies. Their ‘Quantum Photonic Imager’ is a Tic-Tac sized projector unit that can beam a high-resolution image into the open like something from Iron Man. In ten-years’ time the technology would be finetuned to a point where we’re fully interactive with the floating screen — we could watch sport play out in front of us, get inside maps and play games in a whole new way. And Tinder sure is going to be interesting ….
Wearable technology is already trying to bridge the necessity to carry a phone and in years going forward we will see the physical handset disappear from pockets altogether. Just as the smartphone managed to evaporate the hardware of things like sat navs, MP3 players, wallets and — to some extent — watches and compact cameras, new smartwatches and smartglasses operated by spoken command will become the primary communications device to make the mobile vanish. If you’re thinking ‘where’s the screen?!’ it could be displayed on glasses lenses or perhaps that pill-sized holographic projector could unfurl it in midair for you. How do you take a selfie would be the next one to answer …
In twenty years we’ll look back and laugh at how we once had to actually hold our phones to operate them. Going way beyond wearables, a smart contact lens could offer a device-free experience to display messages, web pages, directions and video literally right in front of your eye. A lens with basic computer circuitry is currently being tested, which contains sensors to alert diabetics to dangerous glucose levels. With nanotechnology having the potential to build robots the size of blood cells the prospect of developing computing components small enough to fit on a contact lens is a distinct possibility.
As the memory of clunky, manual mobile handsets fade into a world of invisible communication devices plugged straight into our bodies we will also see highly sophisticated operating systems that we can talk to like another human. Built-in personal assistants are becoming more intuitive knowing what we like, where we’ve been and what we’re doing. If our mobiles can already work out and tell us when to leave work in order to catch our usual train while reminding us to say happy birthday to Brenda on our way and warning us how many calories are in that biscuit before we’ve even eaten it can you imagine what else it’ll be able to do as this intelligence continues to grow? The movie Her does a great job of showing us how operating systems could evolve to a point where we can freely converse with the OS rather than the simple experience we know today. Forget asking if it’s going to rain, you can have full convos about the state of the weather. A computer has already managed to dominate the television game show Jeopardy providing complex human-like answers to questions. Some might find this petrifying but us technophiles can’t wait. Artificial intelligence is coming so get your small talk ready.
Holograms: Images Of The Future
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- Rating: Excellent
Holograms: Images of the Future
Faced with a growing number of fake credit cards, Visa and Mastercard in the early eighties decided to print holograms of their individual seals on the credit cards. When there was an alarming increase in fake driver's licences, the California Department of Motor Vehicles incorporated a hologram of the seal of the State on all driver's licences. Scientists at several laboratories are using holograms to improve imaging of cells and tissues of plants and other biological systems. Rock videos are now routinely produced with amazingly real graphics, thanks to advances in holography and computer generated graphics. These are but some of the examples of how holograms, or "3-D pictures" are revolutionizing several areas of technology.
In 1947, a Hungarian born physicist, Dennis Gabor, working at the Imperial College of Science and Technology in London, discovered a technique for photography, which had the potential for 3- dimensional effects. In the next few years not only did he develop the technique systematically, (including its use in his field of interest namely electron microscopy) but also coined the word hologram from the Greek holos (whole) and gramma (a letter). Though a lot of work on holography went on in the West and in the erstwhile Soviet Union, the technology needed for the production of quality holograms was not available and so the interest in holography was restricted to scientific laboratories.
All this changed in the sixties with the invention of the other landmark technology of the late twentieth century: Lasers. Laser light has certain remarkable properties which make it indispensable for producing holograms. It is exceptionally monochromatic i.e a red laser beam has only red light as opposed to ordinary red light which is a mixture of several colors with red dominating. It is very coherent and can be transmitted over great distances without the beam spreading. In fact, in a now classic experiment, lasers were used to find out the distance to the moon because a laser beam from earth can travel all the way to the moon without any appreciable spreading, and then be reflected back!
Holography, photography by wave front reconstruction, lens less photography; all these synonyms capture only a part of the "depth" of this fascinating technology. It is similar to ordinary photography and yet fundamentally different from it. In photographing an object, light from the object is captured by the camera lens and focussed onto a recording media, usually a film of some kind.
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The film is sensitive to light and thus carries an impression of the object which can be made permanent by the process of developing the film. The process of holography is quite unlike that of an ordinary photograph. Here a beam of laser light is split up into two parts. One beam is made to fall on the object to be photographed while the other (reference) beam goes to the photographic film. At the film, the beam from the object and the refers beam are made to combine to give a pattern. This film now is a laser hologram. If seen in laser light of the same color as the original light, it will give an image which in its 3 dimensional effect is breathtakingly similar to the object.
Of course, these laser holograms though fascinating were little more than enchanting toys and cute scientific curiosities. The next big breakthrough came in 1968 with the discovery of rainbow holograms. These, unlike other holograms, did not require a laser beam for viewing but could be seen in ordinary white light. After this important advance, it was only a matter of refining the technology to mass produce holograms by using chemical processes and making the holograms durable with plastic coating.
The striking 3-dimensional effect is not the only unusual property of holograms. An ordinary photograph if torn is essentially destroyed. Not so with a hologram; any piece of a hologram, even an extremely small one, will reproduce the entire image of the object, though with a lesser resolution. The process of producing holograms does not produce any negatives, unlike conventional photographs. Further, the quality of the hologram is not destroyed by dust and thus holograms are exceptionally durable. These and other distinctive properties are what makes holograms useful for a whole range of exciting technological applications.
The initial impetus for the development of holography came from the field of microscopy. Ordinary microscopes, impose severe limitations in the viewing of biological samples; there is a problem of depth of focus i.e. focussing on one level drives other deeper levels out of focus thus making it difficult to get a good perspective. One can make a hologram of the sample and view it at leisure with an ordinary microscope using it to study several levels of the image. X-ray holograms on the other hand, will give us a unique 3 dimensional view of viruses and bacteria.
Compact discs have revolutionized the audio industry with their durability and the fidelity of reproduction. Holograms have the potential of even greater advances in this technology because of the mind boggling density of information that can be recorded on them. CD ROMs (Read Only Memories), nowadays allow us to have whole books or even encyclopedias on single discs. Conventional computer memory devices work with magnetic recording and reading of data. Holographic techniques promise to increase the storage capacity and decrease the access time of memories to unheard figures. These ideas are being actively researched though their cost effectiveness is still in doubt.
But by far the most perceptible use of holography has been in industry. Holography is used to carry out stress analysis of very sensitive equipment like gyroscopes used in navigation of aircraft. It is also used to detect voids in layered objects like composite aircraft components and to carry out vibration analysis to infer properties of materials and defects. In the electronics industry, holography is being used to improve manufacturing of high precision components like ICs (Integrated Circuits). One of the major obstacles in the development of robotics has been pattern recognition. Patterns, contrasts, edges, etc. which humans recognize effortlessly, prove to be formidable problems for a machine. Holography is being applied to improve machine vision and it is not inconceivable that in the future, robots using holographic vision will move around without bumping with objects.
In the world of art and entertainment , holography made its debut with the opening in 1975 of a Museum of Holography in New York followed by one in Paris. The next obvious step proved to be formidable; the development of holographic television which would allow 3 dimensional viewing. At the present moment, the technological obstacles for this seem unsurmountable. But tremendous improvements in computer technology have allowed generation of holographic effects on television which are simply stunning.
Holography is almost 45 years old. But unlike its contemporary the transistor, the applications of holography have not yet been completely explored. From computers to microscopy, communications to stress analysis , wherever its potential has been exploited, the results have been incredible. The twenty first century will undoubtedly see holography emerging as one of the major technologies in the service of humankind.