Friday Gadget: Concept for a Harley in 2020

harley davidson concept

What will a Harley look like in 2020?   That’s what designer Miguel Cotto wanted to explore.   His resulting design is sleek and robotic. 

The 2020 Harley design is Cotto’s attempt to fast forward 10 years.   According to Cotto, the 2020 Harley will still have a large 883cc engine, with that solid brand sound of high revs and roars, but the traditional road hog will look entirely different.  Missing are today’s handlebars and spoke wheels.  The wheel hubs are said to be giant bearings.  And you can’t miss thinking that the orange color represents total transformation.

More pictures at Harley Davidson Circa 2020, which is on the Yanko Design website.  Yanko Design is a site that encourages designers to explore designs for the future.  If you spend some time on Yanko’s website, you’ll see there are all sorts of concept designs.

To me, this is more like a 2060 (or maybe even a 2100) design than a 2020 design.  From a technology perspective, I seriously doubt that embedded sensors, robotics, AI, and nanotechnology that looks to be a part of this whole design will be ready by 2020.  And from a brand image perspective, I don’t see Harley making such radical changes to their design over the next ten years…but perhaps you could make a case for 50 years from now. 

Want to get a feel for what it would be like to ride one of these things?  Check out the Official Tron Legacy Trailer and go for a 3 minute ride.

Friday Gadget: High Speed Robot Hand

In the future, robots will be not only more dexterous, but they will react dynamically at lightening speed based on all their embedded sensors.  In effect, they will become more human-like by understanding and processing their external environment by using many kinds of sensory information.

Future robot systems will be able to integrate all the sensory information into its decision making process, much like humans do today.

The Ishikawa Komuro Lab at the University of Tokyo has been doing research into both robot sensors and the parallel processing of the collected sensory information.  The purpose of the Lab’s Sensor Fusion Project is to develop innovative new architectures for sensory processing by integrating information from multiple sensors.

The Lab has recently been posting videos of some of the capabilities they have demonstrated in their lab.  Here is Ishikawa Komuro Lab's high-speed robot hand performing impressive acts of dexterity and skillful manipulation.

The robot hand

  • Dribbles a ball
  • Picks up a grain of rice with a tweezer
  • Spins a pen from one set of fingers to another
  • Knots a rope
  • Throws a ball into a net
  • Tosses a cell phone into the air and catches it.

For this technology to advance, we’ll need to see more work in areas like

  • Nanoscience
  • Sensors
  • Actuators
  • Parallel Processing
  • Dynamic Image Processing

For more information, see the Ishikawa Komuro Laboratory site.

One Million Times Smaller Than A Grain Of Sand

Get a picture in your mind of how big a grain of sand is.  Okay…got it?  Now…think of a really small object one million times smaller than that.  Okay…got that?  Now think of the significance of taking a picture of that small object.

Last week, IBM scientists announced they have successfully used an atomic force microscope (AFM) to reveal the chemical bonds within a molecule.  This is a significant announcement as this is the first time that all the atoms in a imagemolecule have been imaged. 

The image that was taken was of a rectangular-shaped organic molecule is made up of 22 carbon atoms and 14 hydrogen atoms.  The image looks similar to the shape of molecules we all learned in chemistry classes in high school and college.  The image (a bit blurry) shows hexagonal shapes of the five carbon rings are clear and even the positions of the hydrogen atoms around the carbon rings can be seen.

To understand the significance of the first ever image, you have to understand how small the molecule was that was imaged.  The space between the carbon rings is only 0.14 nanometers across, which is roughly one million times smaller than the diameter of a grain of sand.  Now that is small!

So what does this announcement have to do with you?  Perhaps not much, but it means a big deal to future generations that will be in a world made up of very small (nano) things.  The IBM scientists say that this research could have a huge impact of the field of nanotechnology, which seeks to understand and control some of the smallest objects known to mankind.  

"Scanning probe techniques offer amazing potential for prototyping complex functional structures and for tailoring and studying their electronic and chemical properties on the atomic scale.”  – IBM Researcher Gerhard Meyer

More pictures are here on Flickr.  A video is on YouTube here.  And check out IBM’s announcement “IBM Scientists First to Image the Anatomy of a Molecule”

AIAA: Top Ten Emerging Aerospace Technologies

imageLast month, the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA) released a list of top emerging aerospace technologies.  The AIAA hopes to make this an annual list. 

Here is the list of ten

  1. 'Greener' aviation technologies – including emission reduction and noise reduction technologies as used in the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA)'s Continuous Low Emissions, Energy and Noise (CLEEN) program, and the European Environmentally Friendly Engine (EFE) program and Clean Sky Joint Technology Initiative.   For more see this AIAA press release.
  2. Alternative fuels – including biofuels, as promoted by the FAA's Commercial Aviation Alternative Fuels Initiative (CAAFI), and the recent FAA grant to the X Prize Foundation to spur development of renewable aviation fuels and technologies.  For more see this AIAA press release.
  3. High speed flight technologies – such as supersonic and hypersonic aerodynamics, sonic boom reduction technology, and thermal management aids.   For more reading, check out Supersonic travel may return
  4. Efficient propulsion technologies – including open rotors and geared turbofans, such as those used in the European DREAM (valiDation Radical Engine Architecture systems) program.
  5. Active flow technologies – such as plasma actuators.
  6. Advanced materials – such as nanotechnology and composites.
  7. Active structures – such as shape memory alloys, morphing, and flapping.
  8. Health management – such as monitoring, prognostics, and self-healing.
  9. Remote sensing technologies – including unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) and satellites such as those used in NASA's Global Earth Observation System of Systems (GEOSS) program.
  10. Advanced space propulsion technologies – including plasma-based propulsion such as the Variable Specific Impulse Magnetoplasma Rocket, and solar sail technologies.

You can access a pdf of the AIAA announcement here AIAA Names Top Ten Emerging Aerospace Technologies of 2009:  Download PDF

Friday Gadget: The Hummingbird Robot

AeroVironment has been designing and building small, portable, reliable, and rugged unmanned aerial platforms designed for front-line day/night reconnaissance and surveillance.   One of the projects they are working on now is  a tiny drone that looks and flies like a hummingbird, flapping its little robotic wings to stay in the air. 

Check out the video here at YouTube (2:18 minute video…hummingbird technology displayed 50 seconds into video)

Based on what I’ve read, apparently this first version of the ‘robot’ has only stayed aloft for 20 seconds at a time so far.  But that short flight was enough to show the potential of a whole new class of miniature spies, inspired by nature.  The news is that Darpa just handed AeroVironment, more money to research and develop a second version of this Hummingbird.  

The goals of Darpa’s NAV program ….

“The NAV program will push the limits of aerodynamic and power conversion efficiency, endurance, and maneuverability for very small, flapping wing air vehicle systems. The goals of the NAV program — namely to develop an approximately 10 gram aircraft that can hover for extended periods, can fly at forward speeds up to 10 meters per second, can withstand 2.5 meter per second wind gusts, can operate inside buildings, and have up to a kilometer command and control range — will stretch our understanding of flight at these small sizes and require novel technology development.” – Dr. Todd Hylton, DARPA program manager as quoted in AviationWeek

If you sit back and imagine where this technology is ultimately going, it’s fair to realize that we will end up with nano-sized hummingbirds loaded with all types of sensors and deployed all over the place for applications ranging from security surveillance to birds-eye view video coverage of sporting events.  Reminds me of the nano-bots deployed in Neal Stephenson's 1995 book, The Diamond Age Or, A Young Lady's Illustrated Primer

Five Major Changes to American Life By 2020

James Hughes Ph.D., author of Citizen Cyborg and executive director of the Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies (IEET) recently responded to a journalist's question about what he thought would be the five biggest changes to American life and society between now and 2020.

1) Radical Life Extension.   Dr. Hughes suggested that emerging technologies applied to healthcare will cure/prevent diseases and slow the aging process.  There will be a growing realization that radical life extension is possible.

2) Retirement Reform.   As a result of Trend Number 1 happening, we’ll eventually need to see large changes in retirement, work, pensions and taxation to take into account the extended life expectancy.  

3) Unemployment/Workforce Retraining.  Advancements in automation, robots, artificial intelligence, etc. will lead to an increase in machines being used instead of human labor.  The workforce will need to undergo massive retraining.

4) Sustainability.    Hughes says that the growing application of emerging technologies, such as genetic engineering of crops and nanotechnology, will be applied to the challenges of ecological sustainability.   Hughes mentions that the investments begun under President Obama to expand the development of renewable energies will greatly reduce our consumption of coal and oil.  Nanomaterials will allow us to reduce our use of resources in manufacturing.

5) Impact of Telecom/IT Convergence.  The merger of computing and telecommunications will result in a ubiquitous interactive intelligence environment, for those with access to it. 

Dr. Hughes sums his predictions up by saying "unfortunately for us futurists, the most important trend will be the rapid acceleration and completely unpredictable cross-fertilization of technologies.  So 2020 will probably take the five trends above for granted, and be consumed with the issues raised by technologies we can't even imagine today."

To read the original article, go to ieet.org/index.php/IEET/more/hughes20090521/

A Primer on Nanotechnology

This post will provide a quick & very high-level overview of the Nanotechnology topic, discuss some future application areas for Nanotechnology, and then provide you with some additional reading material.

Today when we think of manufacturing, we generally think of large plants churning out large products (like trucks, cars, and household appliances) or the parts and assemblies that go into these items.  Tomorrow’s generations will know of “manufacturing plants” that churn out very small things. 

Nanotechnology is the field of building microscopic mechanical and electronic devices for a wide range of applications and manipulating material on the atomic or molecular level.   A nanometer (one billionth of a meter) is about 10 thousand times narrower than a human hair and is so small it contains just 3-4 atoms.  If a baseball was blown to the size of the earth, the atoms would be about the size of grapes. 

The control over molecular level structure in material synthesis enables  to gain unprecedented control over the basic properties of materials such as conductivity, strength, opacity, ductility, reactivity.   Manipulation at the atomic scale enables scientists to create new materials that allow them, and inventors, to build new devices  that are smaller, weigh less, and have new and exciting properties.  Industry and entrepreneurs are looking to commercialize some emerging fields of nanotechnology fairly quickly and there are a number of companies surfacing that support the transfer of nanotechnology from universities and federal laboratories into the marketplace.

Nanotechnology is impacted by (and in turn, impacts) many different fields. including chemistry, physics, materials science, and biotechnology.  Scientists are excited because they are able to create innovative materials that have unique properties because their structures are determined on the nanometer scale.  Some of these materials have already found their ways into consumer products, such as sun screens and stain-resistant pants.  Others are being intensively researched for solutions to humanity's greatest problems — diseases, clean energy, clean water, etc. 

So just what types of applications will Nanotechnology be used for in future?  I did some searching and found that the Foresight Institute has identified six areas where current and near-term nanotechnology will provide innovative solutions to some of the most critical challenges facing the human race.  Here is a summary of those six areas:

1. Providing Renewable Clean Energy:  Nanotechnology will help to solve the dilemma of energy needs and limited planetary resources through more efficient generation, storage and distribution.  Read more from Foresight at Providing Renewable Clean Energy.

2. Supplying Clean Water Globally:   Nanotechnology can help solve this problem through improved water purification and filtration.  Read more from Foresight at Supplying Clean Water Globally.

3. Improving Health and Longevity:  Nanotechnology will enhance the quality of life for human beings through medical diagnostics, drug delivery and customized therapy.  Read more from Foresight at Improving Health and Longevity.

4. Healing and Preserving the Environment:  As a set of fundamental technologies that cuts across all industries, nanotech can benefit the environment in a wide variety of ways.  Stronger, lighter-weight materials in transportation can reduce fuel use, nano-structured fibers reduce staining and therefore laundering, and low-cost nanosensors will make pollution monitoring affordable. In the longer term, manufacturing processes using productive nanosystems should be able to build our products with little if any waste.  Read more from Foresight at Healing and Preserving the Environment.

5. Making Information Technology Available To All:  Nanotechnology applications in electronics will increase access through reduced cost and higher performance of memory, networks, processors and components.   Read more from Foresight at Making Information Technology Available To All.

6. Enabling Space Development:  Current obstacles to developing space are cost, reliability, safety, and performance.  Nanotechnology will solve these through improved fuels, smart materials, uniforms and environments.  Read more from Foresight at Enabling Space Development.

The future does hold a bright promise for nanotechnology and its applications.  There are, of course, concerns about the potential evil applications of nanotechnology.  For an interesting view into some of these, I’d suggest you read  The Diamond Age Or, A Young Lady's Illustrated Primer

For more information:

Technology Review: 10 Emerging Technologies

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Technology Review has released its annual report on 10 Emerging Technologies of 2009.   I always look forward to this article for it consistently reports on the interesting work going on in labs and academic institutions.  The articles also provide a human element, telling us the person behind the work…how they have worked hard to innovate in the field they are researching.

The 10 emerging technologies MIT presents in this article have the potential to create fundamental shifts in areas from energy to healthcare, computing to communications.  Some of the listed technologies could reach the market within the year, others may take years, but all are expected to have a huge impact in the years ahead.  All of them are interesting to read and think about.  Here the list along with lots of links for more information.

  1. Liquid Battery:  Donald Sadoway, a materials chemistry professor at MIT, has developed a liquid battery that could store enough electricity to allow cities to run on solar power at night.   For more information:  Liquid Battery  
  2. Traveling-wave Reactor:  John Gilleland, manager of nuclear programs at Intellectual Ventures, is leading the development of a reactor that would run on depleted uranium, making nuclear power safer and less expensive.   For more information:  Traveling Wave Reactor 
  3. Paper Diagnostic Test:   George Whitesides, a professor at Harvard University, is using paper to create easy-to-use medical tests that could make it possible to quickly and cheaply diagnose a range of diseases in the developing world.   For more information:  Paper Diagnostics 
  4. Biological Machines: Michel Maharbiz, an assistant professor at the University of California, Berkeley, has developed interfaces between machines and living systems that could give rise to a new generation of cyborg devices.  Michel's wirelessly controlled beetle could one day be used for surveillance or search-and-rescue missions.   For more information:  Biological Machines 
  5. $100 Genome:  Han Cao, founder of BioNanomatrix, has designed a nanofluidic chip that could dramatically lower the cost of genome analysis.  Cao's chip could cut DNA sequencing costs dramatically.  Combined with the right sequencing technology, Cao’s chip could allow doctors to tailor medical treatment to a patient’s unique genetic profile, map new genes linked to specific diseases, and quickly identify new viruses and outbreaks.   For more information:  $100 Genome 
  6. Racetrack Memory:  IBM fellow Stuart Parkin has created an entirely new type of data storage on an ultradense memory chip using magnetic nanowires.  This “racetrack memory” could eventually replace all other forms of computer memory and lead to tiny, rugged, and inexpensive portable devices.   For more information:  Racetrack Memory   
  7. HashCache:  Vivek Pai, a computer scientist at Princeton University, has created a new method for storing Web content that could make Internet access speedier and more affordable around the world.   For more information:  HashCache 
  8. Intelligent Software Assistant:  Adam Cheyer, cofounder of the Silicon Valley startup Siri, is leading the design of powerful new software that acts as a personal aide.  This virtual personal-assistant software helps users interact more effectively with Web services to complete tasks such as booking travel or finding entertainment.   For more information:  Intelligent Software Assistant  
  9. Software-Defined Networking:  Stanford computer scientist Nick McKeown believes that remotely controlling network hardware with software can bring the Internet up to speed.   He has developed a standard called OpenFlow that allows researchers to tap into Internet switches and routers to easily test new networking technologies with the click of a mouse—all without interrupting normal service.   For more information:  Software-Defined Networking 
  10. Nanopiezotronics:  Zhong Lin Wang, a materials scientist at Georgia Tech, is pioneering the field of nanopiezotronics.  Wang is creating piezoelectric nanowires that generate electricity using tiny environmental vibrations; he believes they could power implantable medical devices and serve as tiny sensors.   For more information:  Nanopiezoelectronics 

Some of this year's choices, such as #3 – paper-based medical tests and #8 – Intelligent software that acts as a personal assistant, could reach the market within a year.  Others, like #4 – biological machines and #10 nanopiezotronics, could take longer but promise fundamental shifts in fields from computing to medicine, communications to manufacturing.  Its worth noting that three of the technologies are nanotechnology-based:  #5, #6, and #10.

For more information, see Technology Review's article 10 Emerging Technologies of 2009 .  Also the prior year's articles are also interesting to read

14 Emerging Technologies on My Radar

Here's some technologies that will impact us in the future that I am keeping my eye on.  Some of these are around today but just haven’t hit prime time, others are in the works. 

  1. Internet 3.0    The web will transform into a personal agent that basically tells us what we want to to know and when we want to know it.  Important enabling technologies will be wireless technology, sensors, location and semantic technologies. 
  2. Enterprise Social Networks:  We are already seeing the impact of social networks on our personal lives, but they are just starting to make inroads into enterprises.  Social networking technology will have profound impacts on management systems within enterprises.  Corporations will turn to new innovative business models based off of crowdsourcing, social network analysis, prediction markets and user ratings. 
  3. Virtual Worlds:    There is no doubt that virtual worlds need to get easier before they become more mainstream.  It has to be integrated with social software platforms and instant messaging.  Ease of use, visible presence, unified communications and personalization will make virtual worlds a reality. 
  4. Nanotechnology….Already having an impact in a number of industries, nanotechnology will enable unprecedented levels of control with incredibly small parts…having all sorts of implications for future materials, hardware components, and devices.
  5. User Interfaces:   We are so used to using the mouse and the keyboard as an input device.  I think we are in the early stages of totally new ways to interact with our electronic devices.  The short term focus will be on touch technologies.  After that, I expect advancements in gesture computing and speech technology.  Regarding display technology, I'll be looking for new displays that will offer 3D, be flexible and project over large areas. 
  6. 3D printers:  3D printers will provide a way for businesses to rapidly prototype potential products.  The technique involves "printing" three-dimensional objects with plaster or resin.  Some are even predicting a mass market for 3D printers for consumers.
  7. Robots:  Robots will increasingly make their way into the business and consumer markets.  The Roomba vacuum robot we have in our house does a great job.  Expect robots to be increasingly used for applications like military operations, lifting and rescue operations, security, healthcare delivery, human companionship and other mundane chores. 
  8. Mobile Applications & Services.   There can be no question that mobile devices are important to the future of business.  The gold rush is on to develop enterprise-based mobile applications, services and cloud infrastructures, both public and private.   I expect a flood of new application services designed specifically for the business mobile user, including those incorporating location awareness, video, and social technologies.  In the future, your mobile device will contain your profile information and will mediate relationships across social networks, commercial transactions, security clearances, and any device with embedded intelligence.
  9. Human augmentation:   Technology is increasingly playing an important part in healthcare.  My eyesight is just great thanks to that Lasik surgery I had 9 years ago.   On the horizon are advancements in implants, brain interfaces, genetic selection and nerve to prosthesis applications.  If you saw the movie IronMan last year, you have an idea of where all this is heading. 
  10. Telepresence/Video Conferencing.   Telepresence and 3D video conferencing capability will eventually be common for enterprises, having a huge impact on corporate travel, workforce collaboration and productivity.  It will allow enterprises to form closer relationships with clients, partners, and clients.
  11. Quantum Computing….Perhaps a little further out than a 15 year planning horizon, quantum computing will allow computers to perform calculations in seconds versus the hours it takes today.
  12. Embedded Intelligence…Embedded intelligence will enable an increasing amount of communication with mobile devices, appliances, store shelves, vehicles, bridges, buildings, people, animals, and even plants.  Embedded technologies and solutions will allow enterprises to create a true sense and respond framework.  By extracting useful events and insights from this data, organizations can quickly respond to new opportunities and / or threats. 
  13. Cloud Computing… The rise of data-intensive applications, virtualization, and mobile and networking technologies is driving adoption of cloud computing.  As sensors proliferate and the world becomes 'smarter', more computing power will be needed to keep up with all the transactions.
  14. Cleantech… There is a growing focus on products and services that improve the efficiency of assets while reducing energy usage, waste, or pollution.  There are a number of emerging technologies in this area, including water management, solar energy, wind energy, biofuel green buildings, green IT, intelligent transportation systems, smart grid, and fuel cells.

There's more than just fourteen on my radar list, but these come to front of mind right now.

THE FUTURIST: Ten Forecasted Trends

THE FUTURIST is a bi-monthly magazine published by the  World Future Society'.   The Nov-Dec 2008 edition's cover story is "Outlook 2009".  In the magazine, there is a list of Top Ten Forecasts for 2009 and beyond.

The FUTURIST always has a flair for dramatic, attention-grabbing prediction/forecasting lists and this year's is no exception.  Here is a summary of this year's list…

  1. Every sound / movement can be recorded by 2030.  By the late 2010s, ubiquitous, unseen nanodevices will provide seamless communication and surveillance among all people everywhere.
  2. Bioviolence becomes a greater threat as the technology becomes more accessible.  Bacteria and viruses could be altered to increase their lethality or to evade antibiotic treatment.
  3. The car's days as king of the road may soon be over.  More powerful wireless communication that reduces demand for travel, flying delivery drones to replace trucks, and policies to restrict the number of vehicles owned in each household are among potential developments.
  4. Careers to become more specialized.  For example, instead of simply majoring in business, more students are beginning to explore niche majors such as sustainable business, strategic intelligence, and entrepreneurship.
  5. The world's legal systems will be networked.  The Global Legal Information Network (GLIN), a database of local and national laws for more than 50 participating countries will lay the groundwork for a more universal understanding of the diversity of laws between nations and will create new opportunities for peace and international partnership.
  6. Professional knowledge will become obsolete almost as quickly as it's acquired.  An individual's professional knowledge is becoming outdated at a much faster rate than ever before.  Rapid changes in the job market and work-related technologies will necessitate job education for almost every worker.
  7. The race for biomedical and genetic enhancement.  Humanity is ready and eager to pursue biomedical and genetic enhancement.
  8. Urbanization will hit 60 percent by 2030.   As more of the world's population lives in cities, rapid development to accommodate them will make existing environmental and socioeconomic problems worse. 
  9. The Middle East will become more secular while religious influence in China will grow.  Popular support for religious government will decline in the Middle East.  Religion in China will likely increase as an indirect result of economic activity and globalization.
  10. Access to electricity will reach 83 percent of the world by 2030.  Electrification, at 73 percent in 2000, may reach 83 percent of the world's people by 2030.  Electricity is fundamental to raising living standards and access to the world's products and services.

Access the full detail here  Top Ten Forecasts for 2009 and beyond.

Most of these seem like they are safe bets to me to be key trends by 2030, except for number 1 and 3.  I think those are much longer term trend (e.g. out another 100 years).