Tech trends 2013: use your body

Business | Tech

Technology is evolving faster than ever before. Each year, developers around the globe surprise tech fans with futuristic gadgets and surreal-sounding software — and reshape society by doing so. 2013 won’t be an exception to that rule. So, what can fans of sleek, metal objects and high-speed data transfer expect of this upcoming year?

According to Mantis Cheng, an assistant professor in UVic’s Department of Computer Science, the biggest technological milestones in 2013 will be: 3D printing becoming available to everyone; smart fabric taking clothing to the digital age; a brain-wave controller and Google’s Project Glass — basically a smartphone built into a pair of glasses. The latter is expected to be available for developers quite soon, at a price of around $1 500.

Printing itself doesn’t sound very futuristic. However, 3D printing will make it far more exciting for our technology-blessed generation. It allows the user to create 3D objects on the spot. While the term “printing” in its classical sense might not be adequate, the process for the user is quite similar. With a special 3D printing software, the desired object can be created on the computer or downloaded and sent to the 3D printer, which then will — layer by layer — build the object. This technology is already around three decades old, but was never cheap or efficient enough for mainstream use. Now, it’s more or less ready for everyday usage with prices for a 3D printer starting at around $1 500.

Smart fabric, also known as e-textiles, are simply items of clothing with electronics embedded. Ideally, they can be worn just like any other clothes, but at the same time collect or transmit data. For example, a t-shirt with sensors in it could measure blood pressure, heart rate, body temperature or movements and collect data about the wearer’s health. It could even send out a distress signal in case of an emergency.  E-textiles can be used in all sorts of areas. The UK military, for example, is developing e-textile uniforms to avoid and reduce cable and batteries.

Technology using brain waves as a control tool is still in the middle of the development process, but headsets that link the brain to a computer are already out there, allowing the user to control software by mentally picturing the desired task. This technology is especially interesting for people unable to use a keyboard, but also for the video game sector.

The above-mentioned tools and technologies are still more or less in the development phase and give rise to some interesting issues. For example, do people really want to wear technology on their body? Or be constantly linked to their smartphones?

Regarding the future of technology already in use, Cheng wrote in an email to the Martlet, “Android (Linux based) for mobile phones, tablets and smartTV will dominate the consumer technology.” Besides the already successful Android, 2013 could be the year of Linux: Ubuntu, the popular Linux-based PC operation system, will be branching out to smartphones. And there is also Tizen, a new open-source software for smartphones, tablets, netbooks and other multimedia devices — also based on Linux.

Speaking of operating systems: Cheng believes that Windows 8, Microsoft’s new version of its operating system, might end up being a flop due to the lack of support from the industry. PC sales went down 6.4 per cent in the last quarter of 2012, which is the worst final quarter for more than five years; Windows 8 is blamed for not being able to excite buyers enough to boost the hardware market.

However, the future of Microsoft’s Xbox seems far more prosperous. “Xbox and Kinect have been very successful both for gaming, surgeons, research on medical sciences [and] semi-autonomous robots as a gesture control sensor,” wrote Cheng in answer to in what direction video gaming is heading. “The company that created Kinect is coming up with a smaller version that works in front of a computer that works as a gesture-based mouse.”

According to Cheng, developing countries might get easier access to technology in 2013, thanks to cheap, pocket-sized computers such as the Raspberry Pi. This mini-computer could head in a similar direction as the “One Laptop per Child” (OLPC) project .

Cheng’s personal highlights for 2013 are 3D and extreme resolution TV, educational robotic kits like LEGO’s new Mindstorms and the touch-based laptop — a hybrid between a tablet and a laptop.