I’ve always thought that it’s hard to predict the future of how technology will affect the average person because it’s very hard to predict the kinds of devices that most people will use in the future. There certainly were not many people thirty years ago predicting how ubiquitous smartphones would be today. Nothing defines our technology culture any more than the devices that most of us use each day. We are now into an era where we adopt and then abandon new devices in short order. For example, look at the relatively short life-span of the iPod. I remember a day not too many years ago when everybody on a plane had one and now I rarely see them when traveling. I’ve run across several new devices that have the potential to become widely used.
Hearables. Hearables are a new class of wearable wireless devices that will sit in your ear. Think of them as earbuds without the wires. But they won’t just be for talking on the phone or listening to music. They could become your connection to the Internet as you move through your day, always connected live without the distraction of having to look at a smartphone screen.
Hearables seem a lot more practical than smart watches. With a hearable you will always be connected no matter what you are doing. It’s hard to imagine any practical use for a smart watch while driving a car. The simplest application of hearables will be a new interface to your smart phone. But the real potential is to tie them in with your own personal assistant so that they are with you all the time.
To see a first generation device that will be hitting the market soon look at the Dash, by Bragi, a German firm. It’s hard to know how hearables might change our life, but they will. For instance, you might be walking past a restaurant and you can check the specials of the day. You will always be able to check facts by talking to your personal assistant, and so our future might consist of a lot of people walking around mumbling to themselves. Certainly the personal assistants we use are going to have to improve, but everything I read says that they will be doing so soon. There are some experts predicting that hearables will be big business by 2018.
Finally, A Real Tricorder. Even more exciting to a science geek like me is to see the first device that could legitimately be called a tricorder. The device is a tiny molecular sensor called Scio built by Consumer Physics. This device will be hitting the market later this year and is the first personal device that will be able to detect and identify any substance except metals. The uses for it are almost unlimited. A dieter can use the device to count the calories in something before they eat it. Somebody who is allergic to shrimp could check every restaurant meal for shrimp residue before they eat it.
Consumer Physics will be building a substance database in the cloud, and so after a user of the device has sampled something into the database, every user of Scio will be able to identify that substance. The device could be used to test for chemical residues in food. It can search for pollution in soil. Or it could be used by a little old lady in the grocery store to find the most perfectly ripe pear as you patiently wait behind her. You should be able to check if the meat or milk you are about to eat is still good, or if the pill you are about to take is what it is supposed to be.
I’ve wanted a tricorder since watching the original Star Trek (I think I just dated myself) and this device can put one into everybody’s hands. You do not want to be with me the first month after I get one of these because I will be testing everything. There will definitely be a test to see if it can tell the difference between pale ale and a hoppy IPA. After all, you don’t want to consume the wrong beer!