Monday, December 31, 2012

Thoughtful Technologies for 2013

As the year 2012 draws to a close, it is easy to appreciate how technology continues to change our world and lives. Probably, the most profound changes are occurring in the computing and communication domains. These technological changes are making some of the innovations of the yesteryears less relevant, if not obsolete. Fascimile, or FAX, for example is no longer a fancied method of document transmission with scanning and emailing emerging as a cheaper and more reliable option. Cloud has emerged as a potentially one stop solution for all our electronic storage needs, providing seamless portability across devices.

Cellular phones have been reinvented as smartphones while cameras are being reinvented as connected devices. Idiot Box has blossomed into smart television. From just a desktop computer, we now have multiple options of laptop, netbook, ultrabook, tablet and phablet. Convergence has taken new random hues with a ubiquitous device such as smartphone becoming a projector. Elsewhere, even if on a laboratory scale, newer domains such as nanotechnology, stem cells and epigenetics are supporting the emergence of revolutionary options in healthcare. Given the profound impact technology would continue to have, this blog post postulates some thoughtful technologies that could make further positive impact on our lives.

Self-powered smartphones

For all the amazing things the smartphones do in terms of amazing displays and myriad applications, the way they guzzle battery power has been a negative point. Smartphone makers have been fighting the trend by providing batteries of increasing power (from conventional 1400 mAh to 2600 mAh). Some tablet makers are even thinking of providing dual batteries. Smartphones which recapture some of the heat and smartphones which are charged by daylight and electric light could reduce substantially environmental load by downsizing or even obviating battery usage. The same self-powering or natural-powering principles can be applied to a wide range of devices including laptops and other devices.

Energy sinks

Typical homes and offices which bask in sunlight absorb as well as reflect plentiful energy. Various devices in the homes and offices generate significant heat. Technologies should be deployed to channel all this energy into energy sinks which can be drawn for operation of various devices. Use of energy absorbing and channeling materials on one hand and programmable energy sinks could be an extremely novel way of optimizing energy consumption. Given the emerging state of the Indian society, the energy recycling and co-generation options can be developed from simple options (like solar heaters and TV to low volt charging) to total systems (like total energy transducer). Given the level of noise and heat that is generated in the streets in India, even these could be captured for additional impact!

Hybrid vehicles

If there is one development that is an "absolute must" it is the minimizing of oil consumption. Hybrid automobile engine technologies offer a major area for oil conservation. Rather than go in for completely alternate fuel programs, hybrids which convert kinetic energy of automotive motion (when running on conventional engines) into electric energy of motors (to be used when possible. The hybrid technologies that are now available only for high end cars must be extended to all cars and other automobiles (including trucks, buses, three wheelers and two wheelers).  The technological solution to oil conservation is far superior to substitution of diesel power for gasoline power based on administered pricing decisions. Hybrid technologies require significant tax incentives and potentially dedicated hybrid technology laboratories to achieve mass coverage.

Electronic paper readers
Despite the growth of the Internet and free access of digital versions of print media on computers, the printed newspapers and periodicals continue to enjoy popularity. The reason is that ‘touch and feel’ , ‘flip and browse’, and ‘see and read’ feel of the large format physical papers can never be matched by digital reading of material on small size computer screens. It would be stunning, therefore, if large OLED screens of different sizes and configurations with Internet connectivity can be developed as Electronic Paper Readers (EPRs). Each day, or when agreed with the reader, the newspaper and periodical publishers can download their pre-set newspaper of the day or the pre-set periodical of the week into the EPR. The readers can then have all the sensory experiences of touch, feel, flip, browse, see and read with such EPRs as though they are handling and reading the physical papers. The EPRs can be engineered with storage capability or cloud connectivity to enable limited or massive archiving. EPRs can be truly revolutionary.
Redundancy eliminators
The Internet, at the click of the Search Engine (Google or Bing), makes available millions of sites and pages to view in response to information or data request. The ease of accessing so much information is, however, negated by the impossibility of searching for the right information. In fact, each view comprises scores of information links that would be identical or similar. Hardly, anyone can go beyond the first page of views even if millions of views are provided by the Search Engine. An embedded application in the computer CPU which eliminates all the repetitive and redundant entries automatically (by default) and zeroes in on the really wanted information based on detailed request (by design) would be a great productivity enhancer in these days of information overload. The Search Engines or the computer makers and operating system developers can bring in this sophistication, to the Internet users’ delight.
Rechargeable water purifiers
Given the poor quality of raw water in India, purification of raw water by reverse osmosis and membrane technologies is growing in popularity. Unfortunately, as the technology separates out ‘good’ and ‘bad’ water, the wastage of water is huge; typically for every 100 litres of raw water treated as much as 70 litres (70 percent) may be rejected. In a water-starved, resource-scarce nation as India, this huge level of water rejection is unfriendly to the environment. The rejected water cannot be reused for ground water recharging either because of the high level of contaminants. Any device that restores the rejected water at least to two levels  - one, water harvesting into the ground and the other, use for non-critical uses like gardening  -  would be a great boon for environmental conservation. Development of cost-effective particulate filters and terminal sterilizers for after-treatment of the rejected water could be a significant help.
Solar steels and metals  
Steel paneling is the essence of automobile shell. Automobiles are exposed to heat externally which the steel panels and other components literally absorb. At the same time the insides of the automobiles are cooled by the air-conditioning systems, consuming additional energy. The entire system is counter to any rational design principles. If the steel panels were to act as solar panels, the entire energy would be absorbed to be recycled for operation of the various automobile systems. Similarly, the steel panel cladding of the offices, homes and roof material can all be solar panels that capture and reuse heat. Technologies that embed solar panels into steel panels could be the first step, followed by the entire steel panels acting as solar panels.
3D Digital scans
It is now well established that the genetic makeup of an individual has an impact on both wellness and illness of the person. Yet, the ability to understand the DNA and judge the genetic predisposition is still at a nascent stage. Rather than pursue what could take decades to fruition, scientists and technologists could perfect technologies that could develop transparent 3D images of human body so that each and every function or malfunction of a body and each organ, and each cell thereof is studied on a real time basis. This would enable not only minimally invasive surgical methods but also help doctors and technologists observe the physical impact of surgeries and medicines. The ability to develop such devices without the need for administration of contrast media would be the big thing.
Design evolves with time. Several designs which appeared to be breakthroughs when first introduced quickly became obsolete as new developments began to be developed. The once completely mechanical keyboard became obsolete with the advent of electro-mechanical keyboard. Even that is now looking ugly and dated with the introduction of resistive and capacitive touch screen keyboards. The thoughtful technologies mentioned, or rather speculated upon in this blog post could be realized sooner than anticipated.
Posted by Dr CB Rao on December 31, 2012     


1 comment:

Unknown said...

Thank you for sharing with us such a useful information!

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