While we still don't have that sweet hoverboard from "Back to the Future," we really can't blame scientists for not trying.
In the past couple of months, there have been so many awesome technological innovations that we're certain we'll soon be flying to work in an Iron Man suit
As you're reading this article, hundreds of scientists around the world are furiously working on ways to make you a Marvel superhero.
Here are just some of the cool, and slightly terrifying, ways their inventions will soon change your life.
1. "Beam Me Up, Scotty"
Teleportation is such an old desire of mankind that we can find mentions of it as far back as the New Testament. Luckily, with the help of science, we should soon be able to enjoy God's favorite mode of transportation as well, or at least your atoms will.
scientists from the University of Maryland's Joint Quantum Institute successfully copied an atom to a remote location almost a meter away. Although this may not sound terribly impressive it's a major breakthrough in quantum physics and will soon allow for the teleportation of complex molecules and viruses. Just imagine how great the future will be when teleporting a common cold right inside someone's lungs will be a common practical joke.
However, the most important implication of this experiment is not teleporting molecules of beer inside your mouth. By replacing physical wires with teleporting atoms, scientists hope to create a computer so powerful that it will break all secret codes ever created, while still running the latest GTA game. Better known as quantum computing, this new way of transmitting data via teleportation is expected to revolutionize everything we ever knew about computers. It will also make your custom-made $5,000 gaming PC obsolete.
2. Electric Microbes
Teleporting supercomputers sounds awesome, but the biggest problem will be generating enough cheap electricity to keep them running. Then again, scientists might have just found the solution to the whole energy crisis by turning to microbes for inspiration. It seems science is really fond of microscopic organisms that could kill us.
Using bacteria, researchers at the University of Massachusetts
created a microcell that can generate electricity by decomposing organic matter. In the first stage, the artificial bacteria will be used to generate electricity in difficult environments such as the bottom of the ocean. We're not sure who exactly needs electricity underwater, but we hope the next step is developing microcells to be used in cars and other electric devices.
This discovery could very well mean that in the near future we'll be farming our electricity from tanks of sludge. While it sounds highly unappetizing, this practice will be dirt cheap, renewable and won't damage the environment. As long as the bacteria don't mutate and start decomposing our tissue, this whole deal sounds incredibly awesome.
So far we have supercomputers and electricity farms, but why not control these technologies without lifting a finger? Soon enough you'll be able to lounge on the couch and let your brain do the heavy lifting thanks to the latest discoveries in brain reading and thought transmission.
At the University of Utah, scientists implanted
a series of microelectrodes right under the skull, thus allowing paralyzed people to control computers and prosthetic limbs. If this sounds familiar you're probably remembering "Robocop," where electrodes implanted under the skull transform people into cyborgs. While we don't want to sound unreasonable, we can only conclude that Utah will soon build an unstoppable cyborg army and conquer the rest of the U.S.
In order to prepare for the imminent civil war, the University of Wisconsin developed
an external telepathy cap. This device literally reads your mind, allowing users to communicate simply by thinking of a letter. Of course, the first usage of the brilliant invention was to send a tweet. One can only hope that once scientists take the invention away from text-addicted teenagers it'll be used to kick-start an unprecedented age of communication. Then again, it will probably just be used to connect your brain to Foursquare so everyone can know exactly how you feel about the new Starbucks latte.
4. Nanorobotic Slaves
While waiting to telepathically connect with robots, why not become the host for some tiny machines that will cure you of all disease, improve your organs and make you lose weight? Nanorobotics has been an established field for quite some time, with many innovations that sound more like magic than reality. The main problem with the technology was mass-producing the microscopic innovations.
We said "was" because now we have the solution: a nanorobot assembly line.
It's like an old-school factory, except every worker is created entirely out of DNA and works based on chemical orders to assemble compounds that we can barely see. Right now the robots can assemble gold particles into eight different products, but soon the process will be used to produce more complex results, including other nanorobots.
Just like the first Ford factory, this invention will usher an industrial revolution, allowing us to produce new technology on a scale previously unimaginable. However, this time around we won't need child labor and horribly unsafe work conditions. It's really a win-win scenario.
5. Power Plants Inside Your Body
Unfortunately, before we can pump our body full of tiny robots we need to find a way to power them. The solution comes from France where scientists have recently created
a glucose biofuel cell.
By decomposing chemicals inside your body these tiny power plants will create electricity for any type of implants imaginable. The cells were already successfully tested on mice and they were powerful enough to power a pacemaker, thus finally solving France's problem of heart attacks in mice.
The next step on the agenda is implementing the cell in human bodies where it could power artificial organs or nanorobots cruising through our bloodstream. While there aren't high hopes that you'll be able to recharge your phone by touching it, the technology will make cyborgs even more feasible. We understand that Utah is highly interested.
6. Robotic Swarms
While we fully agree that robots are awesome, we do worry about the day when they will finally become sentient and organize in packs so they can hunt us. In order to avoid such a horrible disaster, scientists are keeping one step ahead of the robot revolution -- by making sure to create intelligent robot swarms themselves.
Festo, a company that specializes in creating smart robots, recently unveiled AquaJelly
, a swam of robots inspired by jellyfish. These intelligent machines can swim together and coordinate their movements through radio and LED signals. Since making underwater robots that can communicate with creepy, glowing lasers is not scary enough, the same company created an airborne robot.
Significantly larger, AirJelly uses helium in order to gently swim through the air and silently sneak up on you. Now all we need is for the two swarms to collaborate and we're completely screwed.
7. Planet of the Dogs
Since we're on the topic of communication, how often have you looked at your dog at 4:23 a.m. wondering why that was the perfect time for barking? Science is here to help you answer exactly that question, with the aid of the latest dog-emotion reader.
While not the first of its kind this new Japanese
pet translator is spectacular in the way it analyzes the acoustic details of barks in order to deliver accurate interpretations. Not only will you be able to know when your dog is sad, happy or excited to see a squirrel
, but the device will ask you to play with the dog and feed it. It sounds like pets have finally found an easy way to train their masters.
According to psychologist Vanessa Woods
, this is just one in a series of developments that allow dogs to communicate more easily with humans than any other animal. She predicts that if this trend continues, dogs will eventually evolve to a stage where direct communication with humans will become possible. Sadly, this kind of evolution takes centuries, so we probably won't be around to witness the first talking dog.
8. Meat Farms
The future looks like a great place to be a farmer, as long as you're willing to farm electricity or meat. Currently being developed by Dutch researchers
, pork and beef muscle grown entirely inside a laboratory sounds like a very possible development.
While growing your own sausage from pig stem cells might sound like the plot of a crappy horror movie, it's actually not all that bad. Considering the amount of energy, water and food necessary to raise animals, as well as all the pollution they cause, growing meat in a lab makes economic sense. Of course, many people will probably scream that artificial meat means we're messing with nature, but we've been doing that for years, ever since we introduced growth hormones in our cows. Besides, the artificial meat might finally get PETA to stop protesting for a few minutes.
However, don't get your hopes too high. Right now the meat farm is nothing more than a university lab with some tiny muscle tissue developing in a highly controlled environment. Researchers have mostly focused on generating fat and bone, although they hope to be just as successful with edible muscle. In the meantime we can all enjoy some artificial pig fat.
9. Force Fields
While we're still a ways away from crying "Force fields up!" as an alien ships attacks the Enterprise, the laser developed by Boeing
is a pretty close approximation. The ominously named MATRIX is a highly concentrated laser beam that can automatically detect and shoot down anything that flies in its range, be it a plane or a rocket.
Created at the request of the U.S. Air Force, this laser is just one of a series of new weapons being developed by Boeing. The company also created a laser
that can be mounted on an airplane and a laser/machine-gun combo, for those times when a death ray just isn't enough to kill anything what's bothering you.
What is truly remarkable about the laser is that it's light enough to be carried by a few soldiers and will probably become even smaller over the next few years. Also, the whole machine is silent and invisible, so while it's not a traditional "force field," it will stop anything that flies toward you in exactly the same way. We look forward to Boeing creating a personal version which we could install in our cubicle so no one can ever annoy us again.
In case you have no clue what adamantium is you need to read up on the Marvel universe. This is the Holy Grail of all metal, a light alloy that can withstand impossible pressure and will always stay sharp. It's the stuff that Wolverine's claws are made of, and until recently it was considered impossible to make in real life.
, a U.S.-based company, used nanolaminating, an electro-chemical process that re-arranges atoms, in order to create a compound they named, very originally, modumetal
. Besides having the least innovative name for a product, modumetal is predicted to revolutionize the way we use metals. Since nanolaminating changes the exterior structure of metals it will make them stronger, corrosion-free and practically indestructible.
The company has already won numerous awards for bringing wolverine claws a little closer, and modumetal will soon be used in armor of all sorts as well as replacing bridges and other public metal structures. Considering this material will probably reduce government costs for repairing infrastructure by a couple of million dollars, we're sold.