The Future of tech

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One of the big things I look at is where things are going in the technology world, it gives me an idea of where things are. The lockdown has changed people a lot, so we are doing things differently.

Green technology

I’ve been interested in how we can change our use of the planet so we aren’t so sufficient on foreign oil and foreign imports. Since I have a repair background I’m interested it getting a movement started to repair stuff that is broken, like we had when this country manufactured things instead of relying on Chinese imports.

Additionally, I’m interested in generating energy from alternative means. For many years the water mill provided power to grind flour and to power weaving mills to produce fabric. There has been significant advances in turbine technology recently, such as the VLH turbine, which uses a very low head pressure to generate electricity. This means that a dam is not necessary. Makers are developing water turbines around the world that can use off shelf components and generate electricity locally.

I saw online a way to print solar cells with a desktop ink jet printer and special inks (that are incredibly expensive) that enable you to print your own panels that are as effective at generating electricity as the ones secured on people’s rooftops. Imagine printing your own to stick on your windows or walls that generate electricity you can consume in your home without having to rely on coal, gas or nuclear fuel.

I also saw a solar air conditioning system that would reduce the cost of cooling your home during the Summer months.

There is a technology for growing food in water called hydroponics which is emerging. You can grow fruit and vegetables without soil and they can be grown underground using special lighting. In London, a lot of restaurants buy vegetables that were picked the same day from hydroponic farms that are using the old fallout shelters under the city.

Home Makers

It often amazes me as to how self sufficient people can be. I knew a man making a revolutionary steam turbine in his garage in his 80s. Another made walking sticks at home.

With the advent of the Internet, a lot of makers around the world have been sharing ideas on how to improve their world.

The 3d printer enables a maker to turn out a prototype of a part they need in a few hours. However, 3d printing has not been as disruptive as the media made it out to be. 3d printers are expensive, and the additive process of printing results in a product that is not as strong as an injection moulded part. It is great if you only need a few items, but if you want hundreds or thousands of parts, an injection mould is faster and more economical.

In industry, the CNC (Computer Numeric Control) machine is a device of scale. Employing workers that cut and shape material for small orders is of benefit to a company, but if a big order comes in, the staff can’t complete the order efficiently, so investing in a CNC machine to do some or all the production increases efficiency.

Think of Ikea as an example of a company that uses CNC machines to cut MDF to size, pre-drill holes and pack all the parts into a cardboard box that is sent to a store that the customer buys and assembles themselves.

Consider the DIY CNC machine as a tool for the maker. In 3 axes, material can be cut and shaped with ease and precision to create unique products that would make a cabinet maker proud.

If your project requires electronics, you can use free software to design it and an online manufacturer will make the board to your requirements, including multilayer, drill the holes and print the component locations on the board before sending it in the post. You can then populate the board. Considering a lot of people are now moving to surface mounted components because of their compact size, the job of populating a board has become harder. If you had the need to make hundreds or thousands of boards, you’d invest in a pick and place machine to do that (costing upwards of £24,000) so makers are adapting their CNC machines to do it.

The process is simple, a tool squirts solder paste on each pad in turn, which acts like a glue. The machine changes the tool for a suction device that picks up a component from a feeder, rotates the component and pushes the component into the solder paste. Once the board is completely populated, the board can be placed either in a special oven, or a hot air tool can melt the solder paste on each pad individually. This board can be tested and then used in the project.

Desktop ready Raspberry Pi

When I was a kid in the 1980s, there was a movement towards a home computer that would serve as a learning platform and create a generation of kids that would innovate with new technology. All this was inspired by two companies that had spawned from Cambridge University, who had recently started Computer Science degrees. These companies were Acorn and Sinclair. The BBC wanted to endorse a computer for schools and they initially approached Sir Clive Sinclair who wasn’t interested so they approached Acorn to create the BBC model B that was used in education for many years.

Around 2000s, the interest in these degrees started to wane as those students that learnt in those early years started to drop off. Cambridge University again wanted to stimulate the home computer market, so in 2011 the Raspberry Pi was born.

The maker community jumped on a single board computer the size of a credit card that was easily expanded to do a myriad of uses and quickly, HATs (Hardware Attached on Top) appeared for every conceivable use and purpose. The Pi Zero was the next big thing, a pocket version with a lot less components that gave scope for much smaller projects.

At the end of 2019, the Raspberry Pi 4 was launched with twin microHDMI connectors for up to 4K at 60fps each, along with USB3 ports and up to 4GB RAM which made it desktop ready.

Considering that most users of a desktop only surf the Internet, send email and watch videos, the Raspberry Pi is an ideal desktop computer for just £55. Obviously, you have to supply the screen, keyboard, mouse and power supply.

Liquid Lenses

In recent years, the smartphone has replaced a lot of gadgets we used a lot, such as the music player, the PDA, sat nav and camera to name but a few. Advances in smart phones and their cameras have knocked professional wedding photographers the hardest, since anyone can take reasonable photos for a wedding, why pay a fortune for a professional?

A professional photographer and videographer has an expensive and fragile camera body and equally expensive and fragile lenses to carry around from shoot to shoot.

Along comes liquid lenses, a technology used in high speed optics and high end CCTV applications but is preparing to enter the photography market. The lenses aren’t as fragile or expensive as the ones professional photographers use and offer instant magnification and focusing.

One day this technology will be available on smart phones, so you can take the perfect photo every time using an infinitely focusable lens.

Immersive Video Conferencing

One of the downsides of video conferencing is the use of a webcam that may not be in the right place for the job, but also the fact we don’t interact with people by staring at a screen and having them switch from one person to another as if they are on a conveyor belt.

I can see a growth in immersive video conferencing where people stand in a virtual room, you can turn your head and see them, go over and interact with them as if you were in a room with them. Spacial sound is also a factor that would improve the ability to hear people, because our ears are designed to pick up sound coming in from different directions, not just left and right.

XR - Extended Reality

Living in a world of technology that has distinct advantages and disadvantages. Born in a small village and playing with kids in the area, I knew their names and interests. In this vastly connected world, it is easy to forget the names of people, so XR (Extended Reality) enables us to reconnect with people easily. In the virtual world, we can communicate over long distances in the comfort of our homes. In the augmented world, we can interact with people and the world around us easily, so a walk in nature you’d be able to find out all about that beautiful flower you see without having to take a photo and go home and look it up.

We can be who and what we want to be, see how furniture will look in our homes; choose clothes that suit us without leaving home or workplace, etc.

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