Futurology - The Emerging Technologies

Futurology - The Emerging Technologies


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've probably mentioned them over dinner or 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 the top future technologies that are not on the public’s radar as of today but are likely to make big waves in the future.

1. Femtosecond Projection Two-Photon Lithography.

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 the build.

1.1 How will it change the world

Quick discoveries around materials 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

2.1 What is it?

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 to 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.

2.2 How will it change the world

As of today, this future 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 that are particularly sensitive to hacking and/or electromagnetic interference, such as hospitals, aircraft, military operations etc. 

3. Energy-storing Bricks

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.
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 future 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.

3.1 How will it change the world?

The main benefit of this technology of the future would come about when used at 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 

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.

4.1 How will it change the world?

If the costs of operating such future 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.

5. Unnamed Dynamic Neural Networks Technology

Neural network uses hidden layers to break down information (the inputimages, 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.

5.1 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 centres, something which seems benign compared to all the issues discussed in this article, but is nevertheless incredibly important at scale. It also reduces the environmental costs of these centres, which is always a plus.

6. Seawater fuel

6.1 What is it?

When it comes to energy, the sea remains a massive untapped resource; it’s not like we’re going to run out of it anytime soon, what with the North Pole melting. And according to researchers, it could soon be put to good use as fuel for ships.
Bear with me: the process uses a potassium-promoted molybdenum carbide catalyst to extract carbon dioxide from seawater, turning it into carbon monoxide via the reverse water-gas shift (RWGS) reaction. The carbon monoxide can in turn be converted into a hydrocarbon via the Fischer-Tropsch synthesis. Ships can then use this hydrocarbon instead of pre-onboarded fuel which, as we know, carries many risks.

6.2 How will it change the world

The fuel currently used to power the thousands of ships that cross the seas and oceans daily is very polluting. The conversion of CO2 into chemicals and value-added fuels could significantly reduce the greenhouse gases they emit over the long term.

There are however a handful of issues that need fixing before we get to greener maritime routes. Firstly, carbon dioxide concentration in seawater is about 100 milligrams per litre. That’s not much. To put it into perspective, you’d need to process close to 45 million cubic meters of water to power a cruise ship for about a week. And the more water you process, the more sea life you remove from the food chain, with potentially catastrophic long-term results. Secondly, you’re still releasing carbon into the air at the end of the day, even if it’s waterbased carbon. You could argue that it’s a net neutral as it will get back to the sea eventually, but if you’re at all ecologically conscious, you know this is a slippery slope.

7. 20-minute Water

7.1 What is it?

The recipe was concocted especially for developing countries—remote areas where people don’t have access to chemical treatments such as chlorine. It could save some of the 300,000 children under 5 who die worldwide every year of waterborne diseases such as the cholera, typhoid and hepatitis. It could also help some of the 2.2 billion people who don’t have a wastewater treatment system.

7.2 How will it change the world?

Unlike other innovations in this article, this one hardly has any downsides. It’s very cheap: the amount of silver used for the nanowires is so small the cost is negligible, and the electricity needed can be easily supplied by a small solar panel or a couple of 12-volt car batteries. Since the filter doesn’t trap bacteria (killing them instead), it can have much larger pores, allowing water to speed through at a more rapid rate. More than 80,000 times faster than existing filters, to be exact. And it does so without clogging, an issue that plagues existing solutions.

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