Top 10 Future Technologies You’ve Definitely Never Heard Of

Posted on

And how they will change the world

CRISPR, Quantum, Graphene, Smart Dust, Digital Twins, the Metaverse… You’ve heard about it all. Seen it all. Read it all. These technologies no longer hold any secrets for you. Hell, you even regularly mention them over dinner and at work, and have become the go-to person for questions about future innovations.

Yet, technology is ever-changing, and this precious knowledge must be both managed and updated regularly. With this in mind, I’ve put together a list of 10 technologies that are likely to make big waves in the future, but are not on the public’s radar as of today.

1. Femtosecond Projection Two-Photon Lithography

What is it?

3D printing is still a solution looking for a problem, having failed to find its target audience over the past decade. On the one hand, 3D printers are still too expensive for the average Joe; on the other, they are not sophisticated and fast enough for large-scale manufacturing companies.

This may change over the next few years: researchers have developed a method that uses lasers to project millions of points simultaneously onto 3D-printing material, instead of using one point at a time. And because they’re bad at branding, they called it Femtosecond projection TPL. To easily understand FP-TPL, simply imagine using a million heated needles to strategically melt a block of wax versus using a single needle. This means that incredibly tiny structures can be 3D-printed much, much faster (a thousand times faster, give or take), while still ensuring a good quality of build.

How will it change the world?

So far, teams working on the innovation seem focused on flexible electronics and micro-optics. However, quick discoveries around materials (both liquid and solid) have led researchers to think that they will be able to build small but imagination-baffling structures in the near future. Once the quality can be controlled over large scales, one could easily imagine this technology being used for the creation of healthcare-related nanorobots, allowing for the treatment of a multitude of diseases on the molecular level.

2. LiFi

What is it?

The name says it all : LiFi aims to use light to transmit information from point A to point B. The technology works by encoding digital data and turning LED bulbs on and off faster than humans can notice to transfer it. The light then travels to a photoreceptor, which can decode and translate the data to a more classic radio frequency (WiFi, 4G, 5G…).

There are a lot of advantages in doing things this way. What with light being used, the speed at which the information is transmitted is very, very high — up to 100 Gbit/s, in theory; 5 times faster than 5G. Furthermore, the sheer number of LED bulbs already around us hints at a potential future wherein (cheap) access points to receive data are everywhere. Finally, the light waves used as the basis for LiFi do not pass through walls (but can however be reflected off of them). The risk of hacking is therefore much lower than with WiFi, though this seriously limits indoor use cases.

On the other hand, the use of LiFi requires one to be near an operating light source. Its range is thus very limited, and interference is possible with other light sources such as natural sunlight.

How will it change the world?

As of today, the technology is very much of a niche, despite having been hyped in some circles for half a decade now. One obstacle to popular adoption is the size and price of photoreceptors. As such, key use cases are within areas which are particularly sensible to hacking and/or electromagnetic interference, such as hospitals, aircrafts, military operations…

There are also talks of using it for unmanned underwater vehicles, as well as for street lights, to communicate with smart vehicles, or about municipal services to citizens should the technology become more democratised.

3. Energy-storing Bricks

What is it?

Researchers have managed to store energy in the cheap red bricks we’ve been using for construction throughout the world for centuries. This process works for two reasons : bricks are porous, and contain something called hematite (which gives it its colour). For these bricks to store and then release energy, researchers heat them to 160 degrees and vaporize their surface with hydrochloric acid mixed with an organic compound called EDOT. When in contact with hematite, this mix causes a chemical reaction, creating a new plastic nanofiber coating called PEDOT. This polymer is trapped in the porous surface of the brick, forming a continuous and electrically conductive layer on each of its faces. The humble building block can then act as an ion sponge to store and conduct electricity.

For now, the amount of energy these bricks can store is still low, but the proof of concept is a staggering success. It’s possible to power a small lamp for 50 minutes with 60 bricks, which doesn’t sound like much until you realise it only takes 13 minutes for these bricks to recharge. This technology also has a long lifespan, since even after 10,000 storage and retrieval cycles, the bricks still retain 90% of their original capacity, without altering the rate of charge and discharge.

How will it change the world?

The main benefit of this technology would come about when used at a house a house equipped with solar panels. The bricks could then store unused electricity and thus compensate for the intermittence of this renewable energy. This would make our homes more self-sufficient in energy and less dependent on electric cables and/or the likes of lithium batteries. Discussions are currently underway with several companies in Europe and the United States to consider its commercialization, and know that the next generation of bricks will be able to increase its energy capacity by 50%. Enough to charge a laptop? Only time will tell.

4. Robotic bees

What is it?

Let’s bee honest, it’s not great out there, climate-wise. And that’s killing bees, which we need to pollinate 35% of our crops, which we need for food, which we need for not being dead. Are we going to stop climate change to save the bees? Of course not, that’s not how we roll. Instead, we’re going to create robotic bees to pollinate plants just as the real things do. And when I say “we”, I of course mean Walmart.

Details are scarce, but most researchers estimate that the bees would work by attaching horse hair coated with ionic liquid gel to a tiny drone. The hair picks up pollen from one flower, and moves it to the next. Researchers at Harvard have long been working on “RoboBees” using such techniques. What Walmart offers on top is a wide array of sensors, cameras, artificial intelligence… to locate the relevant crops and pollinate them as needed.

If that feels like the premise of a Black Mirror episode, you’d be right.

How will it change the world?

If the costs of operating such a technology continues to decrease, we could see autonomous insect pollinate large fields in the coming years, which could save thousands of farmers from ruin, and ensure we can still have almond milk on the superstores’ shelves.

I however have a few gripes with it. Firstly, small farmers might never be able to afford robotic bees, and we would once again be empowering the big guy against the little guy. We also don’t know how these “bees” would impact the fauna overall, both on and off the fields. How about we try to save the real bees, instead?

5. Unnamed Dynamic Neural Networks technology

What is it?

Neural network uses hidden layers to break down information (the input-images, audio, videos, handwritten text…) into tiny pieces of easily understandable components, allowing a computer to inform a prediction about the nature of said input. It does this thanks to a wide array of training data and mathematical models. In doing so, it works “similarly” to our brain, hence the technology’s name. This is far from new, but the world of data science has been on the lookout for faster and more efficient ways of using neural networks to serve the upcoming IoT revolution.

Patent 10410117 proposes a way to do just that by storing the training data and mathematical models within the “hidden layers” (nodes) of the network itself, creating a sort of library that can be used to train another device. If you managed to get through this sentence, you understand that it gets us a whole lot closer to how a brain actually works. Note that the marketers haven’t gotten to this one yet, hence the name.

How will it change the world?

First and foremost, the technology reduces computing resources required of the host CPU and cuts back on costs of running data centers, something which seems benign compared to all the issues discussed in this article, but is nevertheless incredibly important at scale. It also reduces environmental costs of these centers, which is always a plus.

By optimising neural networks for speed, accuracy and power consumption, the technology will lead to improvements in the realm of surveillance, advanced driver assistance systems, autonomous vehicles, vision guided robotics, drones, augmented and virtual reality, acoustic analysis, and Industrial Internet-of-Things. All worthy endeavours, if you’re into that type of thing.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *