Top 10 techs of 2010
1. AUGMENTED REALITY
Augmented reality is the process of overlaying the real world with additional information – bringing up book reviews when looking at a novel on your cameraphone, for example, or displaying historical facts when you’re staring at a monument. It’s a technology that companies from IBM to Microsoft have tinkered with over the years, although with no more success than a dog pawing at a Rubik’s cube.
However, 2009 brought a breakthrough, thanks in no small part to the iPhone. The combination of its camera, processing power, high-quality screen and GPS means that almost by accident, Apple has created the perfect device for running such services. This has left companies free to concentrate on developing the software, with impressive results.
How did we do in 2009?
Esquire magazine experimented with the technology to bring extra content to its articles, with barcodes beneath stories triggering videos and additional information when the smartphone’s camera was hovered over them. More useful in daily life, however, are the iPhone apps that overlay the street with directions to Tube stations and restaurants, but that’s barely the beginning.
The US military is developing an Android app that overlays engines with schematics, potentially turning anybody into a mechanic, while Nintendo’s Ghostwire game will overlay spooks and spectres on the real world with the DSi’s built-in camera. Swedish firm TAT is even developing an app that identifies people, and floods your screen with information scavenged from the internet.
If this breakneck pace of development continues, augmented reality could prove to be the standout technology of 2010.
2. MOTION TRACKING
Few tech demonstrations caused as much of a stir in 2009 as Microsoft’s Project Natal. Designed primarily for the Xbox 360 console, the full-body motion and audio sensor will provide a completely new way of interacting with games in 2010. Demonstrations of the technology included the rather creepy Milo, a virtual boy who can understand natural speech and read your body language, if Microsoft’s video is to be believed.
Yet, Natal is potentially much more than a plaything. The combination of RGB camera, depth sensor, multi-array microphone and dedicated software could make a difference in the workplace. “Face recognition, gesture control, watching what the user is actually doing… A small amount of this wizardry could make a significant improvement to the business desktop,” our own contributing editor Jon Honeyball speculated.
Indeed, Microsoft is already moving beyond the Natal concept and is now working on sensors that monitor muscle movements. These would allow you to pinch your fingers to change tracks on your MP3 player while jogging, for example, or squeeze your hand to open the car door when you can’t reach your keys. Most of this could turn out to be blue-sky nonsense, but if Natal does prove to be the gaming hit of 2010, it could really get the world in motion.
Since TFTs replaced CRTs, no earth-shattering advances have occurred in the field of desktop monitors. A steady decrease in response times, a move to widescreen and plummeting prices are all incremental steps, while the introduction of LED backlights makes little real difference to the viewing experience. Organic LED (OLED) technology – in which every pixel emits its own light and no backlight is required – will change all that.