With the second year of this millennium’s second decade now under way, the world is starting to lose some of its futuristic flavor. Back in 2000, the year even sounded like herald of tomorrow. The year 2000! Everyone has a computer, and it’s connected to an endless fount of knowledge! There’s something called Napster!
Now we carry mobile phones more powerful than yesteryear’s typical PC, capable of documenting every human interaction in real time — and we yawn. Have things really gotten boring?
Hardly. Anyone so cynical that they don’t marvel at the reality of modern living hasn’t been paying attention. You can ask an iPhone for the weather, and it will tell you. You can make a reservation for a commercial space flight. You can write a letter, save it to Google Documents and access it from nearly any device connected to the Internet. And 2012 is fat with the promise of more to come in the future.
Who out there is blazing the trail? What industrial projects are taking us ever closer to tomorrow and have the potential to fundamentally change how we live? Here are just a few.
Google’s Self-Driving Prius
Google (NASDAQ:GOOG) is a powerful hand shaping big ideas in technology. The company’s Internet search engine has come to define basic Web usage, and its Android mobile operating system is helping shape communications in the ’10s. Google has an entire research facility devoted to big ideas, Google X, and one of that group’s projects is coming closer to a manufacturing reality each day. Google’s self-driving cars, based on converted Toyota (NYSE:TOY) Priuses, were first revealed to the public in 2010, but today that the machines are moving beyond the experimental phase. Google was granted a patent for its cars in December, allowing it to now begin unmanned testing.
Apple’s Hydrogen Batteries
The U.S. Patent & Trademark Office published a patent held by Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) on Dec. 29 that showed designs for a hydrogen fuel cell. A brand new battery isn’t quite as sexy a toy as a new iPhone, but the impact of an affordable, lasting hydrogen battery could be enormous.
Hydrogen batteries convert oxygen and hydrogen into water and then electrical energy. Unlike other batteries such as lithium ion or nickel metal hydride, a hydrogen battery would leave no destructive by-products, just water. A hydrogen battery would mean more than just cleaner power sources for iPads. It could potentially lead to a variety of cleaner machines. Apple is looking to make a true renewable energy source. That’s thinking big.
Honda‘s (NYSE:HMC) freaky robot Asimo should seem antiquated at this point. The company first had the robotic assistant trot on stage at Honda’s Wako Fundamental Technical Research Center in October 2000 and has been incrementally improving him since. Familiar or not, Asimo remains the public face of ambitious robotics, and the most recent round of revisions are impressive to say the least.
The latest Asimo debuted in November. It’s lighter, has more joints and can walk a bit faster, but the really impressive stuff is the improved artificial intelligence. Asimo can now recognize different people in a conversation and can perform complex, multipart tasks. The example given in a Tech Crunch report: Cracking open a can of beer and then pouring it into a glass. Robot bartenders — the future is truly here!