Move over sci-fi, reality is more fun

Tags: Knowledge
It’s no secret that Amazon has been working on a delivery service comprising unmanned drones that could drop your online shopping at your doorstep in 30 minutes. While it may still take years for approval and testing, the news is unlikely to surprises most of us. I mean, what was the next step after 24-hours-guaranteed delivery going to be anyway?

The newly-hatched iPad generation may well scoff, but the fact is, if those of us born in the 1960s and 1970s had had the chance to look forward to a few decades in our lives, we’d have been amazed at the sci-fi mode of our existence. Here’s how:

Enchanted maps

When I was a student, I thought the Eicher city maps were the cat’s whiskers and wouldn’t leave home without one tucked in my bag. Imagining that a technology would be available that pinpointed our location using satellites in space and existing street maps in real time, and tell us which way to go was wishful thinking. Today, even a fairly basic mobile phone can provide us with turn-by-turn navigation, thanks to GPS. The global positioning system, to use its full name, dates back to the 1970s, having started out as a US military experiment, but it is only in the 21st century that it was available for civilian use.

Fingertip magic

If you have a toddler niece or nephew, you’ll know how run-of-the-mill touchscreens have become. And it doesn’t take much imagination to hark back to those days when touch-enabled devices did seem like magic. Just try buying a mobile handset without a touchscreen today! In fact, even the plain touch interface is passé; today’s buzzword is multi-touch. Tablets, phones, computers and computer peripherals, music players, car stereos, watches, glasses, cameras, ebooks, ATMs — touch (and multi-touch) are pretty much taking over the world. Different kinds of multi-touch worktops are in development for use in schools, offices, labs and so on, attempting to bring a little more of the future into our present.

Ink that thinks

Ever imagined rolling up your newspaper today and unrolling it tomorrow morning to find it all updated with the latest news? It’s not impossible, thanks to e-ink and e-paper technologies that mimic real ink-on-paper-feel electronic displays. Or a single “page” that carries an entire book — or even an entire library. Even though paper-thin e-ink displays aren’t commonplace yet, e-ink technologies are. E-reader screens such as the ones seen on Kindles and Kobos go by the technical name of electrophoretic displays — which have won us over with their relative affordability, low power consumption and the appearance of text printed on paper.

Fake reality

The idea of virtual reality — or augmented reality — still tends to awe us as much as it did decades ago, but is in fact more common than we might imagine. Think of gaming consoles like the Nintendo Wii, where you can “play” tennis or football, or wield a sword to take down enemies, even though a certain amount of suspension of disbelief is required. Virtual reality is also used in many professional training environments, such as for pilots and drivers, miners and surgeons. Head-mounted displays can actually put a user (wearer) into a virtual environment, which translates into a fairly realistic simulation. In fact, it’s a bit scary to think of how much impact virtual reality could have in our lives in the future... Are you thinking of the Matrix right now? I am!

There’s more — robots that perform surgeries, cars and trains that drive themselves, gesture-enabled devices. Science fiction isn’t tomorrow — it’s right here, right now.

(The author is a personal tech writer)

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