The beginning of the year is a good time to review some technologies and trends that have made significant progress to market this past year.
“If GM had kept up with technology like the computer industry has, we would all be driving $25 cars that got 1,000 mpg.” — Bill Gates, 12/3/2010.
Faster and cheaper computers and computing
The Digital Revolution that began in 1971 continues into the “Internet of Things,” sensors that allow smart buildings, smart cities, machines and even service robots.
In the last 20 years, computing performance has increased about 10,000 times, giving rise to innovations for individuals and business, medicine, entertainment, defense, and communication.
Expensive disk drives are becoming obsolete by a one inch semiconductor memory chip that can now store multiple terabytes of data. MAC computers don’t even come with disk drives.
New manmade materials (graphene, molybdenite) and advances in photolithography allow for more powerful processors at a much smaller size and price. Parallel processing breaks computer programs into smaller segments that can be computed by hundreds of separate processors simultaneously and reassembled at the end. This is important for financial services, entertainment, science and improved weather prediction.
Using light instead of electrons eliminates traffic jams on broadband, and with dark fiber and wireless broadband, one can achieve almost unlimited speed and capacity while dramatically reducing costs.
VIRTUS is a new networking technology that is about 1,000 times faster than Bluetooth with lower power consumption and can download an 8 GB DVD in about 30 seconds. This will enable mobile distributed computing and high-definition video streaming.
Computers have moved from data centers to desktops to laps to pockets, to a future of embedded devices — the “Internet of Things.”
The majority of processors today are not in computers but are embedded in washing machines, microwave ovens, vacuum cleaners, toasters, electric toothbrushes, wristwatches and many other smart appliances. It’s cheaper to manufacture an appliance in which all the information is in software, which is easy to duplicate, and is basically free once the first unit is created, rather than constantly building new mechanical devices. Want the newest model? Just update the software!
Mobile phones currently connect about 5 billion users, the “Internet of Things” will connect at least 50 billion devices! If you lose your car keys, you’ll text them and they’ll reply with a message that tells you their location; eggs in your refrigerator about to expire, will text you a message. Sensors will constantly monitor your health, and send real time updates to you or your health care providers. Cars drive themselves and avoid accidents (reducing injuries and insurance costs). Mobile sensors run your smart home heating, cooling and energy management (WeMo) and sell your unused energy back to the grid.
The smart hospital, farm and industry will all communicate via mobile sensors. Patients’ mobile sensors will report their status continuously as they are moved about within the healthcare system. Farms will use sensors to better gauge the need for irrigation, seed and fertilizer, thus saving water, and reducing or eliminating chemical pollution while reducing costs. These smart institutions will leverage a network of real-time data to improve efficiencies.
These smart devices can detect a specified combination of temperature, humidity, movement, radiation, chemicals and light. More importantly, they can form a dynamic network that will adjust if one or more of the sensors fail — just like the Internet currently works.
Everything described and a great deal more already exists. Many homes routinely use Roomba vacuums and “Nest” lighting and temperature devices to control their homes via a smartphone app.
The next few years will be amazing for users of this spreading technology as well as to the investors who back the successful companies that will produce and sell them. While there will be some technical and ethical issues with the roll-out of this infrastructure, it will be only a matter of a few years before details are worked out and they will be common.
“I do not fear computers. I fear the lack of them.” — Isaac Asimov
For more information read: “Ride the Wave,” Fred Rogers and Richard Lalich.