The Cutting Edge Part II: 5 More Awesome Inventions

We recently posted an entry about the cutting edge in technology- not just the cool stuff that is inescapably shouted about in the headlines, but some interesting developments you may not have heard about yet. Here are just a few more. Let us know what you think, or if you’ve seen anything else we should include.

1. Suddenly Glasses are Cool

Problem: You can’t see.

Solution: Glasses

Alright, alright, I know this seems obvious… glasses help people with a visual handicap navigate through the world around them- that’s what glasses are… but what about for people whose vision cannot be corrected? The University of Oxford has developed a pair of high-tech glasses that include features that assist the wearer with interpreting visual information. The goal of the glasses is to help those with degenerative eye conditions “maintain independence.” The glasses can help the wearer to identify and locate objects, navigate a room, and perhaps read. A camera in the glasses records while a device similar to a smart-phone interprets the information in the wearer’s pockets. The creators predict the device would cost several hundred dollars, a significantly smaller amount than the cost of training a guide-dog.

MIT has developed another set of glasses to help wearer’s address an entirely different challenge: human interaction. Apparently, the glasses use a camera to interpret facial expressions, and then relate the results back to the wearer. Besides being useful for those of us who are simply socially awkward, the glasses have been successful in helping autistic patients to better understand and become more involved in social interaction. In testing, the glasses could identify the correct emotion 64% of the time, which is (believe it or not) significantly more accurate than the average person.

2. Diagnose Cancer? There’s an app for that.

Problem: You have a mysterious black freckle suddenly appear after a summer spent frying in the sun. Now you have to schlep all the way over to Dr. Dermatology just in case it might be something, if only there was a better way!

Solution: Rather than spending buckets of money in medical bills, just use your iPhone to determine whether or not it’s something to worry about. The accuracy of such an app has yet to be seen, but it’s been proposed that using small portable devices such as the iPhone as medical equipment could also be useful in developing countries. MIT, that bright beacon of technological innovation, also created a clip-on for smart phones that scans for cataracts. Thanks again MIT!

3. For $25, make your phone 3D

Speaking of add-ons for your smart phone, this method of tricking out your phone won’t save your life, but then again, it costs much less.

Problem: Oh shucks, I’m watching Toy Story 3 on my iPhone, and it just doesn’t feel like I’m really there.

Solution: A tiny $25 sheet of plastic takes your viewing experience to the next level by converting your screen to 3D. Then again, you could just buy a phone that already has 3D capabilities, they make those too you know.

4. The future of local travel?

Problem: You commute 20 minutes to work everyday. You don’t want to spend ridiculous amounts of money on gas by driving a car, but you don’t live in an area that offers public transportation, what to do?

Solution: An electric scooter without a frame or an engine: BMW Motorrad. This bike is light, electric, and comfortably seats two. However, for a bike specifically designed for Suburban commuters it’s surprising that it doesn’t seem to go highway speeds. If you take back roads all the way to work, this is your mode of transportation.

5. Robots that look and speak and learn like humans!

Problem:  You don’t yet live in a post-apocalyptic world ruled by machines, a la Terminator, the Matrix, and every other terrifying Sci-fi film you’ve seen.

Solution: Give it a little time.

Not quite, but we are getting frighteningly close to robots that really do mimic humans in speech and learning. Out of Kagawa University in Japan comes a machine which imitates the structure of a human vocal tract and chords, to produce a nearly human voice. It’s worth a click to check out an image of the design, a photograph of the device, and a video of it in action.

Also, developers have been experimenting with artificial intelligence for years, so I’m sure you won’t be shocked to hear that they have computers that are able to learn organically, using whatever knowledge they are given to improve, and you also won’t be shocked to hear that this is happening at MIT. Comfortingly, they are teaching these machines with strategy games. Seriously, it’s like the beginning of the plot to War Games.

Oh, and by the way. Thanks to the technology in the Microsoft Kinect that we mentioned in our other post, scientists are now able to inexpensively build robots that can recognize their own position within a given space and avoid obstructions in their path. They can move among us.

So can you think of any inventions on the cutting edge? Let us know!

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