The movie Back To The Future II takes place in 2015... so now that we've already arrived in 'the future' -- how have we done? We don't have flying cars (DeLorean-styled or otherwise) unless you count one-off hobbyist replicas that just kinda hover a bit. We could be on the cusp of getting hoverboards that actually work (but not on water, nor on any other surfaces besides a non-ferrous metal). Fax machines are still around, but not quite as popular as Back To The Future might make them look. If you liked this classic 80s movie, check out a few of these links.
Mosquitoes are a serious pest. They spread terrible diseases like malaria and dengue fever, and they're just generally annoying to people. So it's no surprise that quite a few methods have been developed to kill them off in significant numbers, if not entirely. There are actually thousands of different kinds of mosquitoes, and some of them are completely harmless to humans. But if we could target just the ones that spread diseases, we could prevent an enormous amount of death and suffering. Is it really safe to drive mosquitoes to extinction? Here are just a few ways we're trying to do it (regardless of whether we should).
Completely autonomous drones that can decide who or what to strike are still many years away from becoming a reality, but the military has already developed various unmanned aircraft that it's been using primarily for gathering intelligence (rather than for attacking targets). Here are a few more examples of some of the high-tech flying weapons that exist today.
Another week, more awesome crowdfunding projects. No need to waste time with the intro, let's get right to it.
Lasertag has been around for a while but a bunch of students (high school?) have tried reinventing it for the modern era, using infrared devices that are more stealthy and have some advantages over the old game. First, they have a system of LEDs that will light up and show how many hit points you have left when hit, and second is that pretty much any IR device can act as a "gun." I'll be honest that I was never a huge lasertag guy, but a project that involves students building something cool seems pretty awesome. Of course, lasertag has always been misnamed, since I'm pretty sure it's always been IR devices rather than lasers, but it's cool to see how it's being reimagined by some students.
The project is definitely still a work in progress and looks fairly crude at the moment, but many of the rewards involve sending you the schematics to build your own out of various household items.
Okay, you say that's unfair and you want real lasers? How about the Blue Laser Lamp. While they talk about its use for home theaters and outdoors, it really does seem most likely to be useful as a nightlight of some sort. It also has a vibe that suggests that this could be the next lava lamp. Something that stoned college kids think looks awesome, but has little functional practicality. Still, it's a unique design, and I figured some folks out there might appreciate it.
The early bird pricing ($35) sold out quickly, and the project has gained a huge amount of support pretty quickly, though it still has a ways to go before reaching its goal. Given the time left, however, I doubt it will have much trouble getting there.
Finally, perhaps something a bit more useful. The first time I ever got to "play" with a 3D scanner was in 1997 when I took a class with Donald Greenberg (who I later went on to work for and consult with), one of the pioneers in 3D computer graphics and the Director of Cornell's Program for Computer Graphics. He had a massive 3D scanner in his lab, and I got to be the guinea pig in our class, getting my head scanned. Even though I recognize standard technology trends in which products get cheaper as they get much better, it still seemed ridiculous to think that there'd be a day not that far in the future where personal home 3D scanners were possible and reasonably priced. There's been plenty of talk about 3D printers, but less attention has been paid to the scanning side. So it's cool to see the Photon 3D Scanner, which is an attempt to make an affordable home 3D scanner.
The early birds sold out at $349 and $399, but everyone else can jump in at the $449 level if you feel the desperate need to scan things in 3D in your home any time soon.
And that's it for this week -- and a special thanks to folks who have started submitting examples of crowdfunded "awesome stuff." It's really helpful, since there are so many interesting projects out there these days.
John Lennon's "Happy Christmas (War is over)" song used to be routinely played on the radio towards the end of the year, but it seems that folks either "like" or "really hate" holiday songs (and that Baby Boomers are still in control of popular holiday music). In any case, if you received a shiny new "Official Red Ryder Carbine-Action Two-Hundred-Shot Range Model Air Rifle" last weekend, here are some other advanced weapons that you might shoot your eye out with.
Scientists haven't quite figured out everything about the genetic code of living things on Earth, but plenty of folks are tinkering with genetic engineering and creating some interesting results. Here are just a few neat projects with some modified microbes.
Learning to play music takes a lot of time, practice... and oftentimes an expensive musical instrument. Sure, there are some cool toys that aren't too pricey, but maybe technology could help make playing instruments easier and cheaper. Here are a few musical gadgets that might fit the bill.
Folks have been making microwave popcorn for a few decades now, but there are other ways to make popcorn. Some old school methods actually involve fire... Here are a couple serving suggestions for popping a few kernels.
Sensors are everywhere, recording all sorts of activities and creating an enormous amount of data. The ability to store and analyze immense amounts of information is making these sensors even more useful. Before this computational capacity was so readily available, researchers were forced to hone their hypotheses before conducting experiments. But now, it's possible to just collect a lot of data and then try to see if any hypotheses are supported by already-gathered evidence. Here are some quick links on sensors and sensor data.
Projectile weapons are so old school. There are so many other kinds of weapons to choose from nowadays. Some are non-lethal, but others are just as lethal -- even though they only send out electromagnetic waves. Here are some examples of new weapons under development that could cause some damage (temporary or permanent).