Don’t look now, but a group of scientists expects to be able to make objects disappear into thin air within this century. Susumu Tachi of Keio University in Japan and others are developing invisibility goggles, invisibility cloaks, and other such magical items that now exist only for Harry Potter and his pals at Hogwarts. Tachi’s special goggles merge images from two separate cameras trained on a single scene, similar to the way a “green screen” works in film. He sees myriad extensions for this technology, including making the invisible visible: 360-degree goggles for pilots and drivers to eliminate blind spots, and goggles that use satellite and infrared images to allow a wearer to see beneath the surface of the earth.
Internet Contact Lens
Go online with the blink of an eye. This is the vision of Babak A. Parviz and his group at the University of Washington in Seattle, who are laying the groundwork for the first Internet-accessible contact lens. Parviz foresees the day when we’ll be able to download any movie, song, website, or piece of information, and watch it on a tiny LCD display right on the eye’s surface. The technology, now in its earliest stages, calls for the addition of a microlens that focuses pixels of light directly onto the retina. The final image would appear to float in front of your nose.
Forget Watson. In the not-too-distant future, robots will be cooking our food and performing surgery on us, in part thanks to the work of Wei-Min Shen of the University of Southern California and his team. Shen’s idea is to create small cubical modules that you can interchange, like Lego blocks, and reassemble at will—what he calls “polymorphic robots.” Elsewhere, robots are increasingly taking over high-performance tasks. Already, 800 hospitals in Europe and the Americas use the da Vinci robot to perform surgery with far more precision than any human could.
“We are one miracle away” from creating superstrong carbon cables, says Rice University’s Matteo Pasquali. Eventually, this may make it possible to run a cable from the earth’s surface to outer space. NASA has started a $2 million fund for the project.
Cynthia Breazeal of MIT created Kismet, a robot whose facial expressions reflect a full range of motions in response to events happening around him. Kismet is one of many efforts to create robots sensitive to human emotion.
Boeing plans a space-tourism business for as early as 2015, with flights for seven leaving from Cape Canaveral, Fla., and docking at the International Space Station. One downer: taxpayers will have to help foot the bill.
Scientists at Arizona State University’s Flexible Display Center are working with Hewlett-Packard and the U.S. Army on a prototype for flexible electronic paper using organic LEDs. Market forces will make the technology affordable and accessible.