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3 SciFi Technologies That Are About to Get Amazingly Real

By Rob Enderle
May 11, 2015 9:18 AM PT

Lisa Su, the talented new CEO for AMD, last week gave a pitch on the future to get people excited about where AMD is going. Based on the stock performance after her talk, she and her team knocked it out of the park. However, they also got me thinking about some technological advancements that have been quietly percolating, which likely will form the basis for a revolutionary announcement in the next few years.

3 SciFi Technologies That Are About to Get Amazingly Real

Three technologies that are tied to other efforts, are getting close to breaking free -- and while they aren't quite the rocket belt stuff that I'd hoped to be able to write about, they aren't far off from being that amazing.

I'll close with my product of the week: the new Surface 3 tablet, which is a showcase for both Microsoft and Intel, and really will shine with Windows 10.

Telepresence Windows

This idea has been floating around for some time (particularly as a prank), and it is the idea that I could have windows that look out into anyplace in the world regardless of where I lived. What is making this finally possible is the drop in cost for 4K panels, so you can have a window-quality view, and the wide availability of high-enough bandwidth to constantly stream 4K video.

Just last week I met with one startup still in stealth that is planning to sell large framed displays that will look like pictures but stream high-definition art, pictures, or even videos into the frames, and that isn't a far cry from windows.

Microsoft is fielding a high-quality collaboration display called "Surface Hub," which is basically a window into another conference room. An HP Halo wall system installed a few years ago at DreamWorks did pretty much the same thing.

Imagine having a door you could open and look into the home of your parents, kids, or significant other. You can create one today by putting a large screen TV on its edge -- I saw this demonstrated a few years back.

We are very close to seeing folks offer you windows into magnificent views anyplace in the world. You could wake up to sunrise in the Himalayas, a view from a lighthouse in the stormy Atlantic, or even a streamed feed from the Mars rover (granted, it would be time delayed).

Flying Cars

Yes I know this has been a pipe dream for decades, but we are getting very close. I'm not talking about the impressively large number of companies that are building planes you can drive. Personally, I think the idea of a car/plane is kind of silly -- I remember the firm that strapped a wing to a Pinto and how that all turned out.

No, I'm talking about something you could park in your garage and fly to work. That's what we always wanted -- not a mashup of a car that sucked at driving and a plane that sucked at flying.

To get there, we first need the ability to accomplish safe vertical takeoffs and landings. Drones mostly got us there with ever more powerful electric engines that can power lifting blades.

The next hurdle to clear is the fact that few of us actually want to learn to fly, and air traffic controllers can't handle this kind of load. Self-driving cars and self-flying commercial planes are closing that gap. You see, autonomous cars have to talk to each other constantly to anticipate and avoid problems. This same technology -- granted, looking in three dimensions, not just two -- coupled with an automated air traffic control system could make flying to work as easy, and potentially as safe, as using GPS.

You just put in your destination, and the car negotiates a route, activates the electric lift and engines, and before you know it you are landing at the office. It'll be a while before we travel long distances in these things, but short hops to work should be doable within 10 years, largely gated on the FAA first approving drones from large scale commercial use. If you think about it, to a drone, we are just a really big package. Thanks Amazon!

Personal OnStar

With GPS and cellular service networks knowing where we are, and with increasing levels of sensors monitoring everything from our movements to our heart rates, a variety of services know a great deal about our health at any given time. All of this could be packaged in some kind of personal OnStar-like service that automatically would dispatch help when we're injured or experiencing a major health problem.

These sensors increasingly will be able to anticipate a problem or identify an issue before it becomes a crisis -- much like a Tesla can send an alert long before the car actually breaks down, so help can be on its way and the car safely off the road before it fails.

Imagine getting help automatically if you fell and knocked yourself out, had a blood sugar crisis or heart attack, or were mugged. Clearly, you'd also have some kind of panic button you could hit if you saw danger approaching. This service also could alert you if there were something unsafe going on near you, such as a weather event, riot, heavy crime area, fire, explosion -- though in the case of an explosion, you'd likely be notified regardless.

Granted you'd have to give up a little privacy, but you'd end up being a ton safer, and you'd likely avoid many of the lasting problems that occur when help arrives too late, or when you aren't notified that you need to move quickly to someplace safer.

Wrapping Up

The rate of technology advancement is unprecedented. We increasingly are surrounded by technologies that can be repackaged to create things that we've seen only in science fiction.

It's no longer unrealistic to expect windows into other locations and even other worlds, flying cars, and services that could protect us better than the U.S. president currently is protected (though of late, that last wouldn't be particularly hard to achieve).

In any case, I think we will be surprised at how quickly some things come to market, because the things that have prevented them have been solved through other efforts. The future will be here long before we are ready for it.

Rob Enderle's Product of the Week

I'm a Microsoft Surface Pro 3 tablet user. While I've been impressed with this tablet, for the most part it is really a notebook with a tablet personality.

What most of us hoped for with the iPad was a tablet that occasionally could become a notebook when needed. We wanted it to be inexpensive, light, have long battery life, and mostly be a good tablet.

The Surface RT tried hard to be that product, but it kind of sucked in both tablet and laptop mode, due to the ARM processor and Windows' inability to run well on it.

Well the Surface 3 does a better job at all the things the Surface RT did well -- and it runs full Windows 8.1. That means it has the capability (though not the performance) of Surface Pro 3, as well as the price, weight and battery life we want in a tablet.

Surface 3 Tablet
Surface 3 Tablet

Surface 3 is the closest thing to a truly balanced tablet we can use like an iPad and occasionally use like a laptop on the road. However, in its current form it is still light on apps. Also, Windows 8.1, while massively better than Windows 8 was, is still not where it needs to be.

Windows 10, however -- oh mama, it screams for a product like this. With far more tablet apps expected, plus a far better blended interface that changes modes to be optimized for a tablet or a PC form factor, as well as other improvements that make it far easier to use (I've been running Windows 10 for months on my desktops and laptops), Windows 10 will make the Surface 3 tablet really scream.

With Windows 10, it will be the closest thing to that ideal tablet -- which is still mostly tablet, but actually capable of morphing into a decent laptop when needed -- so the Surface 3 tablet is my product of the week.


Rob Enderle is a TechNewsWorld columnist and the principal analyst for the Enderle Group, a consultancy that focuses on personal technology products and trends. You can connect with him on Google+.


Is "too much screen time" really a problem?
Yes -- smartphone addiction is ruining relationships.
Yes -- but primarily due to parents' failure to regulate kids' use.
Possibly -- long-term effects on health are not yet known.
Not really -- lack of self-discipline and good judgement are the problems.
No -- angst over "screen time" is just the latest overreaction to technology.
No -- what matters is the quality of content, not the time spent viewing it.
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