2006 in Technology

In 2006, we covered numerous innovative technologies ranging from true 3D displays to robotic flying insects. We covered success stories, such as the Israeli ramjet rocket built by students and embarrassing moments such as Honda’s ASIMO robot’s fall in a live demo in Japan, and we tried to predict some of the technological trends we should expect in the next few years.

After reviewing some of the main science related stories covered by TFOT this year in the first part of the 2006 summary, we move to review some of the technological innovations we presented.

Computer hardware

Heliodisplay in action

In 2006, TFOT examined two innovative display technologies: the Perspecta Spatial 3D System developed by Actuality Systems, and the Heliodisplay developed by IO2 Technology. While the Heliodisplay appears to float in mid-air, it is not a true 3D display unlike the Perspecta, which allows users to view moving objects from any angle with the unaided eye, simply by walking around them as if they were looking at real 3D objects.

We covered one of a number of promising memory technologies named Magnetoresistive Random Access Memory, or MRAM, which has the potential to become ultra-fast, non-volatile memory if only its price would drop.

 

 
HP memory spot

TFOT covered two wireless technologies in 2006. The first is Nokia’s future ultra low power Wibree, which should make its appearance in 2007 and was developed by Nokia and its partners as complementary to Bluetooth for low power devices such as watches and sport sensors to larger devices such as mobile phones and personal computers. The second wireless technology we covered called Memory Spot Chip, developed by HP, will have a much faster transfer rate and will require no batteries at all, although it will only be able to operate at very close range, proving there are no free lunches when it comes to advanced technologies.

Computer storage

 
Holographic Blu ray media

We began our coverage of computer storage technologies this year with a look at the possibility of saving all of one’s life experiences on digital media, an idea that will not be simple to implement but one that Microsoft is already pursuing in its ongoing MyLifeBits projects. One of the most promising future storage technologies is holographic media, which we covered on our article previewing InPhase Technologies’ holographic data storage technology. Although this technology is still some time away from being widely adopted by the consumer market, it has the potential to surpass any existing storage technology in terms of speed and volume.

 
Samsung 32 GB solid state drive

Two technologies that we shall start seeing in increasing numbers in 2007 are the hybrid hard drive (HHD) and the solid state disk (SSD) drive. Both drives are currently being developed by Samsung (as well as other companies) and should start selling in early 2007, adding Flash memory to conventional hard drives (HHD) or replacing it altogether (SSD), thereby improving performance and reliability, while decreasing power consumption, as well as heat and noise levels.


Nanotechnology

 
BuckyPaper foil

TFOT covered two nanotechnology-related stories: the first, research at the Florida Advanced Center for Composite Technologies on the further development of a novel pure nanotube material called buckypaper and research carried out at Rice University to develop sophisticated car-like nanomachines, fittingly called nanocars.

 
Motorized nanocar

While the nanocar has relatively few applications in the short-term, similar molecular structures may one day be used for drug delivery within the body or as a molecule-based electromechanical memory for computers. Buckypaper might soon enable the manufacturing of stronger and lighter aircraft with larger payloads and greater fuel efficiency, and in the more distant future, lighter cars that consume less fuel and even materials for improved thermal management of computers.

Defense & Homeland security

 
ACRO P.E.T.

In 2006 we covered two pen-like devices with different security-oriented features. The first device named ACRO-P.E.T. was developed by Professor Ehud Keinan from the Department of Chemistry at the Technion – Israel Institute of Technology in order to identify TATP – one of the most elusive explosives used in many deadly terrorist acts of the last few decades. The second pen-like device, the BioPen, is currently being developed in Israel as well by Dr. Robert Marks from the Ben Gurion University and is capable of rapidly detecting biowarfare agents on the battlefield, and could also be used as a point-of-care test tool for examining patients and to assist in the accurate, rapid, and on-the-spot diagnosis of a variety of diseases.

 
Ramtech rocket test

In May 2006 we had the chance of taking part in a test of a unique air-breathing rocket built by students from the Technion in Haifa, Israel. The sleek 3.7 m (12 ft.) Ramtech rocket took to the skies, reaching a speed of more than Mach 2 and an altitude of 30,000 feet. The lessons learned from that test launch might contribute to the development of longer range supersonic cruise missiles, a new generation of long-range air-to-air missiles, and maybe even advanced engines for delivering payloads into orbit.

 
Airborne rearming

We covered a new concept for airBorne rearming of aircraft in mid-flight. This revolutionary technology would enable combat missions, currently requiring dozens of aircraft, to be performed by very few, and to carry out numerous missions by unmanned combat aircraft without returning to base, and might prove to be as significant as the airborne refueling revolution that occurred half a century ago.

Palm veins

We covered several experimental military technologies, ranging from the M80 Stiletto shallow water stealth ship, to the Airborne Laser (ABL), which was rolled out by Boeing in late October. We also discussed two experimental X-plane projects, the X-48B blended wing body (BWB) remote-controlled drone, and the X-53 active aeroelastic wing (AAW) technology demonstrator.

In a security-oriented article we covered Fujitsu’s Palm Vein Biometric Technology, which performs identity verifications based on a palm scan and is expected to be more secure, reliable, and perceived as less intrusive than other current biometric systems.

Automotive

 
Venturi Astrolab

We covered several innovative automotive technologies this year. Two unique cars caught our attention – the Venturi Astrolab – the first commercial solar car, and Nissan’s Pivo – a concept electric three-seater with “a twist”.

 
Folding motorbike

We also covered several novel motorbikes including the folding motorbike manufactured by Di Blasi, the EV-X7 emission-free electric motorbike, and two different three wheelers – the two seater T-Rex, which can drive in reverse and the Italian three wheeler PIAGGIO MP3 super-stable “Vespa”. Finally we covered the Bombardier EMBRIO, which takes the Segway a step further toward its designers’ vision of human transportation in the year 2025. The EMBRIO is a concept one-wheeled hydrogen fuel cell-powered, gyroscopically balanced recreational and commuting vehicle for one or more passengers.

Gadgets and innovations

 
Floating bed

In 2006 we covered dozens of new innovations, concepts, and gadgets. Here are a few of the ones we liked best.

Floating bed – The floating bed is suspended 40 cm in the air, held by a permanent magnetic force due to the use of neodymium (NdFeB) elements in the floor as well as in the bed and will cost 1,200,000 Euro.

USB battery – A 1300 mAh Nickel-Metal Hyrdride (NiMH) rechargeable battery with a USB plug for easy recharging.
 
NeonClick letters

NeonClick – This simple, cheap solution to signage is based on individual, colored neon letters, numbers, symbols, and punctuations, which reside within transparent, fire-resistant, plastic casings that snap together like Lego blocks to create a word or a phrase of your choosing.

Writing on water – A Japanese inventor devised a prototype device that draws letters and simple shapes on water. The device is composed of 50 water wave generators encircling a 30 cm deep, 1.6 m diameter cylindrical water tank.

Robotic firefly

Wireless Dragonfly – This first of its kind remote-controlled robotic dragonfly was produced by the toy company WowWee. It has 10 minutes of flying time and a range of about 45 m/150 ft.

Transparent toaster – This innovative toaster concept was developed by the Chicago-based design company Inventables and is based on a transparent heating glass currently under development.

SplashPower – This convenient technology currently under development facilitates wireless recharging of devices by electromagnetic induction. SplashPower’s wireless rechargers comprise a ‘SplashPad’ – an electromagnetic induction pad that simultaneously recharges several gadgets sitting upon it – and an integrated special receiver module (‘SplashModule’) inside consumer devices.

HONDA’s ASIMO

TFOT covered several robotic related stories this year. Fujitsu’s Enon Robot, which can perform various tasks inside a store including guidance and escorting, transporting objects, and security patrolling, and can also connect to store networks to help customers find what they are looking for. Developed at Cornell University, the self-modeling robot can generate successful motor patterns for locomotion by creating an “internal model” of itself and then adapt itself even if some of its parts become damaged. Finally we give the flop of the year award to ASIMO, HONDA’s humanoid robot, which was caught falling from staircases in live demos twice this year. Closing the list of our favorite innovations of the year are two new building technologies.

 
LiTraCon blocks

 

LiTraConis a mixture of thousands of optical fibers and fine concrete produced as precast building blocks and panels that are light-transmitting. The Danish company Innovation Lab created a screen composed of concrete also with embedded optical fibers, arranged as pixels, capable of transmitting natural as well as artificial light, creating images just like a conventional screen.