Self-Driving Cars: Our Future as Passengers

No matter how long it takes to fully gain traction, the age of autonomous cars will be hereCar illustration with sensors before we know it. Those in the know see it as the inevitable future of transportation, with vehicles designed as moving living rooms. Given the numerous high-profile companies developing self-driving technologies, as well as the hundreds of other small companies and start-ups dedicating themselves to enabling this industry through connectivity, sensors, and other products (see this chart), we are well on our way to becoming full-time passengers.

And that’s not all bad. As such, people can potentially create a “passenger economy,” identified by Intel as a boon to productivity worth $7 trillion, because everyone will be able to use their travel time more efficiently, working instead of driving, and the industry will spur new markets. Autonomous cars are also seen as a safer choice, with fewer potential accidents than human-controlled cars.

While critics say that the widespread adoption of self-driving cars may cause the loss of jobs (including drivers of taxis, long-haul trucks, and delivery services), which will eventually be true, the new types of jobs created in their wake might make up for that loss. Critics also note that there has already been resistance from potential buyers due to concerns for privacy and security, as well as their hesitation to trust a new technology.

But the question remains, will most customers want a self-driving car? Or do people love driving enough that they will continue to want control of their own vehicle? Mercedes-Benz recently posted an article regarding how autonomous cars will kill the joy of driving, but conceded that perhaps it will be a small price to pay for better safety on the roads.  They also noted that perhaps, as your self-driving car controls itself, you might use your newfound freedom to, ironically (and somewhat hilariously), play a virtual reality car racing game inside of it.

Hyperimaging: Superhero Vision

Out of five big innovations that IBM Research predicts will change our lives in the next five years, one in particular caught our eye, since it might just require some of our precision optics: hyperimaging technology.  Here is an introduction to this burgeoning optoelectronics opportunity.

“More than 99.9 percent of the electromagnetic spectrum cannot be observed by the naked eye. Over the last 100 years, scientists have built instruments that can emit and sense energy at different wavelengths.”                                                                                                                                                       – IBM Research

supermanHyperimaging technology is special because it will help us to see beyond visible light by combining multiple bands of the electromagnetic spectrum to add to what is visible; in other words, it will allow us to see qualities beyond what is normally visible, perhaps into the realm of Superman-type seeing.

Existing tools can illuminate objects and opaque environmental conditions using different frequencies of the electromagnetic spectrum such as radio waves, microwaves, millimeter waves, infrared and x-rays, and reflect them back to us. However, these instruments only see across their own specific portions of the electromagnetic spectrum.

IBM is building a portable hyperimaging platform that “sees” across numerous portions of the electromagnetic spectrum collectively, to potentially enable a host of practical applications that are part of our everyday experiences.

How will hyperimaging affect our daily lives? In five years, it could aid in identifying the nutritional value of food, detect fraudulent drugs, deepen the augmented reality experience, or help make driving conditions more clear. For example, using millimeter wave imaging (a camera and other sensors), hyperimaging technology could help a car see through fog or detect hazardous and hard-to-see road conditions such as black ice.  Cognitive computing technologies will have the ability to draw conclusions about the hyperimaging data and recognize what might be a cardboard box versus an animal in the road.

In all, it sounds like a promising and cool new technology on the horizon.  Check out IBM’s other predictions for the big five in five innovations here.

Compact Laser Projectors: Creating New Touchscreens

Ultra-compact laser projectors have given us the ability to see, and even use, a touchscreen projected onto a surface.  Also known as a pico projector, pocket projector, mobile projector, handheld projector, or mini beamer, these devices have now advanced from a simple image projection into the realm of the interactive.  Applications for this technology include mobile, gaming, hand gesture recognition, and more.  A few companies driving these technological moves into the future are Lenovo and Cicret.

Lenovo Smart Cast

Lenovo Smart Cast

Lenovo just announced a new smartphone, called Smart Cast, whose pico projector can turn any surface into a touchscreen. Although not the first to do this, the Smart Cast recognizes gestures to control the phone, and can project onto either walls or surfaces.  Using this phone, you could watch videos on a wall or play music on a projected keyboard (pictured). While there are few details available since it was only recently unveiled, it could be a promising device.

Cicret Wristband Projection

Cicret Wristband Projection

Cicret, based in France, has also created a promising product – a wristband with a tiny laser projector that will display your smartphone’s touchscreen on your arm. Using eight proximity sensors, it lets your finger, touching the projected image, control your smartphone from a distance.  Although it is still in development, Cicret aims to complete the final product soon, since its wristband has gained a great deal of momentum from the media and potential investors.

Key to these technologies are optics that provide clear images and accurate sensors.  Using active alignment in the assembly process is just one of the many steps these companies can take to bolster the quality of their products.  We look forward to a future in which these technologies can not only prosper, but also help to improve people’s daily lives through convenience and efficiency.