New gadgets and inventions coming your way soon

Apple's new smartwatch is hitting the headlines. Picture: Reuters
Apple's new smartwatch is hitting the headlines. Picture: Reuters
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A BIT clunky looking, Seventies retro meets Blake’s 7, it promises to tell wearers their heart rate and even prompt them into exercising which, it could be argued, is about the last thing many of us want reminded of.

Apple boss Tim Cook unveiled the brand’s new smartwatch this week and ended months of speculation over what it might feature.

Apart from that heart rate feature, there’s a “taptic engine”, a built-in unit that vibrates to alert wearers of incoming messages, and an automated payment system.

But no teleport option, no inflatable jetpack option, not even a Futurama smell-o-scope to enable wearers to smell dog poo a galaxy away. Makes you wonder what technology these days has come to.

Of course the Apple logo alone is always going to get the techno-addicts among us excited. But if it’s real life-changing technology you’re seeking, the future might lie beyond the end of your arm.

According to Sethu Vijayakumar, professor of robotics at Edinburgh University and a fan of the new Apple Watch, technology is entering a fresh phase, with a raft of mind-boggling advances on the way. And gadgets like Apple Watch’s contactless payment facility – which allows the wearer to pay for items with a simple wave of their hand – will soon become a way of life.

“We may think of that as fun now. However, the whole landscape of how we transact is changing towards no more cash and a security system that’s more biometric. It means we will be using the uniqueness of your identity – things like retina, fingerprints or pulse, the technology of the human body – as a way of authenticating things.

“Take things that we use day to day, like a key. If you had a chip inside your body that could act as a key to open doors or carry out transactions you wouldn’t have to do anything, just stand there, perhaps say something like ‘Yes’ or hit a button.”

If that sounds like something from The Jetsons, brace yourself for the arrival of a whole raft of new technology that will make 2014 look like something from the Dark Ages . . .

SELF-PARKING CARS

Perhaps you’re fed-up driving in circles around the St James Centre car park in the vain hope of finding a space? You need a car that not only finds the parking space under its own initiative but also parks itself. French firm Valeo’s technology will enable motorists to swipe their smartphone at the car park entrance, get out and leave their vehicle to park itself.

It works by using ultrasonic sound-wave sensors, 360-degree cameras and a laser scanner. The car’s speed is limited to just 3mph and the sensors, in theory, mean it won’t hit anything. “Connected Automated Valet Parking” is still a decade away. Closer to reality is a simpler system in which the driver does the hard bit of finding the empty space, leaving the car to park itself. 
SELF-DRIVING CARS

Drivers still drive, however, although perhaps not for much longer. The Government in Westminster last month gave approval for self-driving cars to be tested on public roads from next year, paving the way for the vehicles to hit – hopefully not literally – UK streets sooner rather than later. 
Leading the way is Google, which started its self-driving car project five years ago. Driverless cars could be used to transport goods from place to place without the need for human drivers who often require breaks and a salary, transporting people who are unable to drive themselves – such as someone with vision problems – and, by removing the possibility of human error, could be safer. However, the FBI has warned they could also be packed with explosives and used as mobile bombs.

DELIVERY DRONES & ROBOTS

Google and rival Amazon are also both currently working on their own delivery drones, which will fly online purchases straight to the buyers’ door. But perhaps the biggest indicator that the future has finally arrived, is the rise of the robot – from operating theatre to factory production lines.

Honda’s newest version of its Asimo robot has displayed incredible dexterity, opening the lid of a flask, pouring the contents and carrying items like food trays – opening up the possibility that it could be particularly useful in care of the elderly or hospital patients.

Prof Vijayakumar says: “More and more robots are doing surgical procedures in which you have humans operating it, so there’s some sort of decision-making and contact which humans are very good but with the robot reducing issues like tremor and the chances of error. It’s the best of both worlds.”