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Showing posts from 2018

The fork that helps you lose weight

Introduced at the Consumer Electronics Show in 2013, Hapifork made the jump from MIT research project to consumer household item in an impressively short amount of time. Perhaps it’s because we all want to lose weight — but we want someone or something else to do the hard work for us. The chunky, $100 fork, which comes in five colors, alerts you with a gentle vibration when you are eating too quickly. It also measures, using the tines of the fork, how long it took to eat your meal, the amount of “fork servings” taken per minute, and the time between servings. All this information is uploaded — more self-monitoring data — for your own enjoyment or horror, depending on how you eat. Rose says this is an impressive start, but within the next five years, he anticipates something more draconian: “Imagine an actual tooth replacement that responds to chewing action and is able to sense texture, temperature and chemical content of food and drink,” Rose writes. “In dire circumstances, it magne…

The house that tracks your kids

The “telepathic” Google Latitude Doorbell, another product developed by Rose and colleagues, lets you know where your family members are and when they are approaching home. The data about each family member’s whereabouts comes from Google Latitude — transmitted from a smart device — but is communicated only as ambient doorbell chimes, a unique one for each person.
This has a pretty adorable origin story. Rose came up with the idea by merging the sound effects in “Peter and the Wolf” (a song for each character) and the Harry Potter series’ Weasley family clock, a magical device that keeps tabs on each child.

A coffee table that eavesdrops

Imagine sitting with a friend over coffee and telling her about your recent trip to Italy. Voila! Pictures of the trip suddenly emerge under your mugs. When you mention the delicious gelato you tasted near the Pantheon, the corresponding picture flashes on the table as you speak. Billed as an “instant photo album,” the Facebook Coffee Table uses real-time speech analysis to pick up keywords from your conversation to pull up relevant Facebook feed photos. Rose is currently fine-tuning the design for a major hotel chain to function as a self-service concierge. The hotel table will feature nearby events, restaurant suggestions and displays about traffic and weather.

The onesie that monitors your baby

High-tech helicopter parent, this one’s for you. The Mimo Baby Shirt measures infant respiration, skin temperature, body position, sleep patterns and activity levels. The organic (of course) cotton onesie is fitted with machine-washable sensors that can be monitored in real time through your home’s Wi-Fi network. It also includes a microphone, so that you can stream your baby’s sound to your smartphone, and the accompanying app allows you to crunch analytics about your baby’s sleep patterns. Originally marketed to medical device development companies, they had a direct-to-consumer eureka moment when parents began contacting them to use their sensors, and, according to their website, they “haven’t looked back since.” For $299 — a package that includes three onesies that come in only one size for infants up to 3 months — you can pick up one of these at your local Babies “R” Us.

The camera that records your entire life

The slogan — “A new kind of photographic memory” — says it all. This pedometer-size camera called the Narrative Clip attaches to a jacket or shirt or on a necklace and records high-resolution geo-tagged images every 30 seconds without prompting. You can now track every moment of your day. “Imagine what you’ll learn, what you’ll remember,” Rose writes. “Who was that guy I met at the airport in Singapore? What was that delicious dish we shared sometime around September of 2013? If you record long enough, you will end up with a visual record of (the rest of) your life.” But constant self-monitoring comes at a cost. The Narrative Clip comes with a subscription service — and at $279 per year, you’d better be making some worthwhile memories.

A bike that pedals for you

The Copenhagen Wheel, announced at the 2009 Copenhagen Conference on Climate Change and initially developed in an MIT lab as a research project, contains a motor that transforms a normal bike into a hybrid electric vehicle. The device consists of a motor and battery pack that snaps onto the back of the bike. As you pedal, the wheel captures excess energy when going downhill or braking and then helps propel you up steeper inclines or harder terrains. The wheel can also connect to the Internet, using it to record speed and distance traveled, find friends throughout the city, inspect air quality and even notify you if the bike starts to move when you’re not in the seat. In the mood to use up more calories? Using your smartphone, you can also vary the level of powered assist. This reinvented wheel, listed for $799, is available for pre-order and will be out by the end of this year.

Know when someone is looking at your picture

An example of “reciprocal presence,” the LumiTouch picture frame enables the feeling of closeness, even for those continents apart. Inspired by long-distance relationships, it comes with two linked frames. When one person is near the frame, the background light of the corresponding frame glows. When one user touches the frame, it lights up in the area where the other user touched it. The color shifts in response to how hard and how long you grip the frame. A similar product is the Like-a-Hug jacket, developed by MIT’s Melissa Chow. This puffy vest inflates every time someone “likes” us on Facebook — whether we post a picture of our babies, a status update about the food we’re currently eating or a political rant. This, the designer says, allows us “to feel the warmth, encouragement, support or love that we feel when we receive hugs.” The Like-A-Hug jacket is not for sale — but Rose envisions other examples of this haptic, or touch-based, technology might one day be: a phone that gets …

The trash can that orders groceries

Another prototype developed by Rose and colleagues, this piece of “ambient furniture” makes for some magical garbage. The Amazon Trash can has a tiny camera and a bar code scanner that records everything you throw away — from household cleaning supplies to milk cartons — and sends the information to Amazon.com, where it is immediately reordered and shipped to you. No more grocery lists. A second prototype that is being developed comments on your eating habits and grocery picks with choice statements like: “Third box of Oreos this week?” or “Microbrew, all right!” or “Blueberry juice, loaded with antioxidants.”

The home that transforms at your command

Two-hundred square feet seems impossibly small, even by New York standards — but a new MIT-designed micro-apartment called CityHome that can transform a 15-by-15 space into an exercise area, lounge, study, kitchen, and sleeping area, hopes to change all that. The apartment is controlled by wall-mounted devices that resemble a clock. Just pick a time of day and the room morphs into the space you want. For example: “Once out of bed, his room moves into exercise mode: The bed lifts away into the ceiling, the floor space clears, and a full-wall, live video projection of a yoga studio starts. “When he wants to study, a desk descends from the ceiling, the lights brighten and the drapes close. If he has friends coming over, the space clears out for chairs and a cocktail table. At night, the bed emerges.” Though not currently on the market, CityHome is currently seeking funding and hopes to enter the market soon, according to its website.

The umbrella that forecasts the weather

A piece of furniture that speaks to us — that’s the definition of Rose’s vision for the future with enchanted objects. The Ambient umbrella communicates with its owner through a series of patterned blue lights that indicate if the forecast calls for rain.

Armed with your ZIP code, a wireless receiver at the handle of the umbrella connects to AccuWeather and then glows and pulses a gentle blue light if the weather looks frightful. This battery-powered umbrella is on the market — but it’s a lot more than the cheap $3 model on every street corner. This one will run you $125.

A New Space Age

Since the beginning of the space age in the 1950s, the vast majority of space funding has come from governments. But that funding has been in decline: for example, NASA’s budget droppedfrom about 4.5% of the federal budget in the 1960s to about 0.5% of the federal budget today.

The good news is that private space companies have started filling the void. These companies provide a wide range of products and services, including rocket launches, scientific research, communications and imaging satellites, and emerging speculative business models like asteroid mining.

The most famous private space company is Elon Musk’s SpaceX, which successfully sent rockets into space that can return home to be reused.

Perhaps the most intriguing private space company is Planetary Resources, which is trying to pioneer a new industry: mining minerals from asteroids.

If successful, asteroid mining could lead to a new gold rush in outer space. Like previous gold rushes, this could lead to speculative excess, but…

Computerized Medicine

Until recently, computers have only been at the periphery of medicine, used primarily for research and record keeping. Today, the combination of computer science and medicine is leading to a variety of breakthroughs.

For example, just fifteen years ago, it cost $3B to sequence a human genome. Today, the cost is about a thousand dollars and continues to drop. Genetic sequencing will soon be a routine part of medicine.

Genetic sequencing generates massive amounts of data that can be analyzed using powerful data analysis software. One application is analyzing blood samples for early detection of cancer. Further genetic analysis can help determine the best course of treatment.

Another application of computers to medicine is in prosthetic limbs.

Soon we’ll have the technology to control prothetic limbs with just our thoughts using brain-to-machine interfaces.
Computers are also becoming increasingly effective at diagnosing diseases. An artificial intelligence system recently diagnosed a rare d…

Better Food through Science

Earth is running out of farmable land and fresh water. This is partly because our food production systems are incredibly inefficient. It takes an astounding 1799 gallons of water to produce 1 pound of beef.

Fortunately, a variety of new technologies are being developed to improve our food system.
For example, entrepreneurs are developing new food products that are tasty and nutritious substitutes for traditional foods but far more environmentally friendly. The startup Impossible Foods invented meat products that look and taste like the real thing but are actually made of plants.



Their burger uses 95% less land, 74% less water, and produces 87% less greenhouse gas emissions than traditional burgers. Other startups are creating plant-based replacements for milk, eggs, and other common foods. Soylent is a healthy, inexpensive meal replacement that uses advanced engineered ingredients that are much friendlier to the environment than traditional ingredients.

Some of these products are develop…

High-Quality Online Education

While college tuition skyrockets, anyone with a smartphone can study almost any topic online, accessing educational content that is mostly free and increasingly high-quality.
Encyclopedia Britannica used to cost $1,400. Now anyone with a smartphone can instantly access Wikipedia. You used to have to go to school or buy programming books to learn computer programming. Now you can learn from a community of over 40 million programmers at Stack Overflow. YouTube has millions of hours of free tutorials and lectures, many of which are produced by top professors and universities.

The quality of online education is getting better all the time. For the last 15 years, MIT has been recording lectures and compiling materials that cover over 2000 courses.

As perhaps the greatest research university in the world, MIT has always been ahead of the trends. Over the next decade, expect many other schools to follow MIT’s lead.

Cryptocurrencies and Blockchains

Protocols are the plumbing of the internet. Most of the protocols we use today were developed decades ago by academia and government. Since then, protocol development mostly stopped as energy shifted to developing proprietary systems like social networks and messaging apps.

Cryptocurrency and blockchain technologies are changing this by providing a new business model for internet protocols. This year alone, hundreds of millions of dollars were raised for a broad range of innovative blockchain-based protocols.
Protocols based on blockchains also have capabilities that previous protocols didn’t. For example, Ethereum is a new blockchain-based protocol that can be used to create smart contracts and trusted databases that are immune to corruption and censorship.

Pocket Supercomputers for Everyone

By 2020, 80% of adults on earth will have an internet-connected smartphone. An iPhone 6 has about 2 billion transistors, roughly 625 times more transistors than a 1995 Intel Pentium computer. Today’s smartphones are what used to be considered supercomputers.

Internet-connected smartphones give ordinary people abilities that, just a short time ago, were only available to an elite few:

“Right now, a Masai warrior on a mobile phone in the middle of Kenya has better mobile communications than the president did 25 years ago. If he’s on a smart phone using Google, he has access to more information than the U.S. president did just 15 years ago.” — Peter Diamandis


Artificial Intelligence

Artificial intelligence has made rapid advances in the last decade, due to new algorithms and massive increases in data collection and computing power.

AI can be applied to almost any field. For example, in photography an AI technique called artistic style transfer transforms photographs into the style of a given painter.

Google built an AI system that controls its datacenter power systems, saving hundreds of millions of dollars in energy costs.

The broad promise of AI is to liberate people from repetitive mental tasks the same way the industrial revolution liberated people from repetitive physical tasks.

Some people worry that AI will destroy jobs. History has shown that while new technology does indeed eliminate jobs, it also creates new and better jobs to replace them. For example, with advent of the personal computer, the number of typographer jobs dropped, but the increase in graphic designer jobs more than made up for it.

It is much easier to imagine jobs that will go away than new …

Drones and Flying Cars

GPS started out as a military technology but is now used to hail taxis, get mapping directions, and hunt Pokémon. Likewise, drones started out as a military technology, but are increasingly being used for a wide range of consumer and commercial applications.

For example, drones are being used to inspect critical infrastructure like bridges and power lines, to survey areas struck by natural disasters, and many other creative uses like fighting animal poaching.

Amazon and Google are building drones to deliver household items.




The startup Zipline uses drones to deliver medical supplies to remote villages that can’t be accessed by roads.

There is also a new wave of startups working on flying cars (including two funded by the cofounder of Google, Larry Page).

Flying cars use the same advanced technology used in drones but are large enough to carry people. Due to advances in materials, batteries, and software, flying cars will be significantly more affordable and convenient than today’s planes …

Clean Energy

Attempts to fight climate change by reducing the demand for energy haven’t worked. Fortunately, scientists, engineers, and entrepreneurs have been working hard on the supply side to make clean energy convenient and cost-effective.


Due to steady technological and manufacturing advances, the price of solar cells has dropped 99.5% since 1977. Solar will soon be more cost efficient than fossil fuels. The cost of wind energy has also dropped to an all-time low, and in the last decade represented about a third of newly installed US energy capacity.


Forward thinking organizations are taking advantage of this. For example, in India there is an initiative to convert airports to self-sustaining clean energy.


Tesla is making high-performance, affordable electric cars, and installing electric charging stations worldwide.








There are hopeful signs that clean energy could soon be reaching a tipping point. For example, in Japan, there are now more electric charging stations than gas stations.


And Germ…

Virtual and Augmented Reality

Computer processors only recently became fast enough to power comfortable and convincing virtual and augmented reality experiences. Companies like Facebook, Google, Apple, and Microsoft are investing billions of dollars to make VR and AR more immersive, comfortable, and affordable.


People sometimes think VR and AR will be used only for gaming, but over time they will be used for all sorts of activities. For example, we’ll use them to manipulate 3-D objects.


To meet with friends and colleagues from around the world. And even for medical applications, like treating phobias or helping rehabilitate paralysis victims.


VR and AR have been dreamed about by science fiction fans for decades. In the next few years, they’ll finally become a mainstream reality.

Self-Driving Cars

Self-driving cars exist today that are safer than human-driven cars in most driving conditions. Over the next 3–5 years they‘ll get even safer, and will begin to go mainstream.


The World Health Organization estimates that 1.25 million people die from car-related injuries per year. Half of the deaths are pedestrians, bicyclists, and motorcyclists hit by cars. Cars are the leading cause of death for people ages 15–29 years old.


Just as cars reshaped the world in the 20th century, so will self-driving cars in the 21st century. In most cities, between 20–30% of usable space is taken up by parking spaces, and most cars are parked about 95% of the time. Self-driving cars will be in almost continuous use (most likely hailed from a smartphone app), thereby dramatically reducing the need for parking. Cars will communicate with one another to avoid accidents and traffic jams, and riders will be able to spend commuting time on other activities like work, education, and socializing.

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