2020 Mobiletech

The Background

In 2020, challenges that will be faced by emergency workers will be foreseeably similar to the challenges they face today. Ideally, there would only be a need for emergency response (EMS, fire-rescue, emergency technicians), but in 11 years, the world is likely to be similar to the world of today, with need for military, police, and social-activists to keep them in line.

Technology trends

Augmented reality

It’s coming. In 10 years, it will be on your glasses, although TFTs or the like might be integrated into contact lenses, which would be awesome. http://www.technovelgy.com/ct/Science-Fiction-News.asp?NewsNum=1409. As far as integrating AR into glasses, there’s plenty of space for batteries and computing power … or at least a Bluetooth receiver to communicate with a wrist-top computer or smartphone. If there are Oakleys with an MP3 player or Bluetooth radio in them, certainly in 10 years, there will be good AR glasses available
What would you want to see in AR? I worked on a project in 2005 researching AR for obstacle detection in driving applications—the whole windshield was an AR display (cool, huh?). In the ambient environment, AR would be really useful for military uses to identify threats—which would probably be the first implementation considering who has money to throw around, but it would be incredibly useful for first responders to get beyond-visual-spectrum information. Imagine an IR image superimposed on the external scene for a rescue team exploring the rubble after an earthquake—it would make finding survivors much easier, to be able to see augmented reality before you. The trick will be making sure the computer generated imagery doesn’t lead you astray or into a hole!
The applications are already coming out for AR – mostly smartphone based applications integrating a live view with superimposed information display. Putting this into glasses or contacts, or as a virtual retinal display, will be a great boon to medicine, search and rescue, military, and civilian applications will abound

Projection

Pico projectors are here, http://www.fastcompany.com/blog/noah-robischon/editors-desk/10-tiny-mighty-pico-projectors-photo-gallery, and will keep shrinking, getting brighter, and battery technology will hopefully continue to improve in terms of safety, longevity, and energy density.
Already this technology is making its way into devices like Nikon’s Coolpix S1000pj –a pocket digital camera with an integrated projector. While it’s mostly a gimmick here (see amazing video of Helicopter Boyz in Yomuri Land), it could be a great tool in the future. When my dad went to teach anatomy in Uganda in the 1970s, he brought trays of slides and a Kodak Ektagraphic projector. Now all that gear could fit into a practically pocket sized device.
11 years from now pico projectors could be in watches, who knows!
Pico-projectors could become a tool for advertising or propaganda, or counter-messages. Likely both will result, potentially leading to an overloading free-for-all of lighted messages bombarding us all the time. Or people could be nice about it. I guess it will be one of those socially determined issues of détente, like the current level of advertising in our lives.

Positioning

I can buy a GPS for my arduino. There’s a GPS receiver in my smartphone. There are GPS watches. I know where I am, and other people could too, if I used Google Latitude, or Foursquare. This could end as a big-brotherish Stasi nightmare (their stated objective was “to know everything”). Fortunately, they were limited by technology: “how do you know if the Stasi has bugged your apartment? There’s a new piece of furniture.
This is a philosophical problem. Do I want to know if one of my friends is nearby? Would it make life easier if I could use my smartphone or AR glasses (see above) to find my friends in a crowd? How about rescue with the aid of your Breitling Emergency watch? Keeping track of people with Alzheimer’s disease or dementia would probably be a good thing. But the dark side is that the Man could keep track of us, equally for ill as for good. In the case of social activists (or anyone the Man doesn’t like) this could be big trouble. It could also be good for tracking down Antisocial actors. Damocles’ sword hangs heavy over this technology, but as with all things, it is becoming ubiquitous – and we are tacitly signing away our rights to control this information in many circumstances.

Wireless data transfer

First radio, then communications satellites made it possible to communicate without wires across the globe. I now have a smartphone with data transfer capabilities, which works in areas with data coverage, and satellite phones are available which work almost globally. Prices for data transfer will decrease, and coverage will increase, making communication ubiquitous. In a sense, there is no more “away.” This is a good thing when you want to say hi to your friend in Antarctica, or find your way around Tokyo. But there is a lost romance of being in ‘Deepest Darkest Africa’ –my grandparents didn’t hear from my dad for months when he was off circling the globe.
With the explosion in information, and increasing ease of access, what you need to know will be close by, especially 11 years from now. This will be a great boon to civil workers – it would be great to be able to access the map of where cables are before digging, or for firefighters to see the layout of the building interior before going in, or for public health workers to get information they need to combat an epidemic – or to treat a specific patient.
Paired with mobile computing platforms and AR, there is great promise for faster wireless data transfer, both local (WiMax and cellular data) and satellite.

Data Visualization

“One dead man is a tragedy, ten thousand dead men is statistics”—Stalin. We’ve been living in the information age since the 1940s, and data is the big thing—and will continue to be so. The issue is understanding it all. Advances in cognitive science and new methods of visualizing data will help to make sense of all the data that Google (for one) has on us, and improving the efficiency of society, which is an essential goal.
The GapMinder is a great way to see how societies have developed, with respect to several factors such as mean life expectancy, population, and GDP per capita. The truth is out there, you just have to understand it, and get others to understand what they’re seeing.
For activists, the cause of pursuing and disseminating truth is the essential goal. To persuade effectively, accurate information must be disseminated in a clear and compelling manner. Visualizations make complex information understandable, and developments over the next decade will make it possible to do more with more data.
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