In today’s world, technology is always changing and ever-evolving; from the latest virtual reality kits, to self-driving cars and beyond, there are a myriad of electrifying innovations. So, why not read on to stay in the know about the latest cutting-edge developments?
World-Wide Internet Access
Currently, it’s true that a majority of the Earth’s population is connected, in some way or other, to the internet. From countries with lesser speeds, to gigabit-enabled technological behemoths such as South Korea, a large number of people have used or heard about the Internet. Similar to when telegraph lines were being erected a century ago, however, one challenge remains: how do we provide a connection for everybody? To lay down fiber cables across the whole of Asia or Africa, for example, is wholly unpracticable. So, what would the next best solution be? To look up at the sky, of course – enter satellites.
This project, undertaken by Elon Musk’s company SpaceX, aims to provide internet access to underserved areas worldwide. The idea behind this is simple. Small satellites would be launched into space, roughly 340 miles above Earth. These small satellites would form a ‘constellation’ or a web of satellites, and they would then essentially beam down internet access across the globe. These would of course be implemented in more developed countries, but more importantly in underserved areas in less-developed countries. This would allow many millions of people, if not hundreds of millions, access to an entirely new virtual world – and with that, the unlocking of a plethora of opportunities. It is very likely that Starlink, SpaceX’s project, could theoretically lift millions of people out of poverty. Access to education, jobs, and entertainment would be made much, much easier and the lives of many would be improved beyond belief.
Moreover, not only would it help to lift countries out of poverty and give new opportunities to many people, but it would also aid exploration efforts across the globe, allowing scientists to send and receive data all around the world. This could potentially lead to many new scientific advances being done much more quickly.
SpaceX has plans to expand the current fleet (sized at about 850 satellites) to 12,000 in the future, once it gets full operational approval. Indeed, it is said that SpaceX has ambitions to expand their possible fleet by 30,000 additional satellites, bringing the constellation’s total number of satellites up to a whopping 42,000. The future looks promising!
Most of us are familiar with the concept of self-driving cars – it’s fairly obvious as to what that entails. While we imagine a self-driving car as, well, being able to fully drive itself, the reality is a bit more complicated. There are six levels of automation that can be present in any car – from zero, where everything is human-driven, to five, where the car drives itself without any human input whatsoever. Many new production cars are at levels one or two – they can execute some maneuvers, such as parking themselves or keeping a safe distance behind the car in front, but they still need human control most of the time.
The Tesla range of electric cars bears a lot of high-tech functionality, including the ability to fully drive itself (of course with intermittent safety checks from the human in the driver’s seat). That is a very exciting development because some serious self-navigation technology has been put into what is a moderately-priced consumer car. While Teslas are certainly not budget vehicles, their prices are a far cry from the sums you have to pay to get a top of the range luxury car. This means that, perhaps within the next decade, such advanced tech will have effectively trickled down into more budget models – we may well end up seeing self-driving Fords and Toyotas on the streets.
Of course, self-driving cars also afford for an effective, automated and safe system of public transportation. In 2016, General Motors purchased Cruise Automation and has since invested heavily into the company. Cruise now offers a number of automated ridesharing services in the San Francisco area, as well as a number of other services that make use of automated vehicles – click here to find out more.
Overall, the future of self-driving cars looks very promising, and with mainstream, big companies investing in smaller tech start-ups, development may come at a quicker pace than previously thought.
Artificial intelligence (AI) generally refers to computer programs and models that can effectively code themselves and thus offer solutions to a wide array of problems. Most of the artificial intelligence available today is known as weak AI, whereupon it can only perform a certain task (but nevertheless do it very well). The goal of AI research is to ultimately achieve a strong AI, an AI that can perform a variety of tasks without a compromise in speed or performance.
AI is present in many things, often in ways not immediately obvious to the average consumer. Google searches, for example, use AI to predict what you would like to see on the first page of the search results, tailoring its contents to the user’s preferences. AI is also used in CCTV systems for face detection, as well as in self-driving cars. Recently, some hospitals have been using AI to accurately detect cancers before they are symptomatic, thus significantly increasing the rate of survival. More evidently, of course, an AI system is used in virtual assistants such as Alexa or Siri.
Currently, AI is offered as a service by a number of tech companies, including Google and Amazon. For a company to implement AI into its business plan, it has to use one of these services – the costs associated with developing a brand-new model for an individual company is simply too high. However, in 2020, start-ups and other companies have entered the AI service competition, and are providing AI implementation for businesses at a much lower price. These implementations can streamline the company’s functioning and ultimately lower prices and improve accessibility for the consumer.
Virtual Reality (VR) involves immersing the user into a virtual world, generally through the use of a headset. The user has full control in all six axes of motion, as well as the ability to interact with the virtual world via a pair of controllers (sometimes known as ‘wands’). The main application for this was video games (and this continues to be the largest application sector today); however, many companies and institutions have begun to adapt virtual reality headsets. For example, therapists and some hospitals may use virtual reality headsets to transport patients into a less stressful, more tranquil virtual environment. This lowers their stress levels and improves their healing time. Real estate companies sometimes also use virtual reality headsets in order to conduct virtual viewings or even change a house’s design in a virtual environment for the client to preview.
While the concept sounds great, there are some amazing breakthroughs predicted for 2020 in terms of virtual reality. First, there is a definite switch over to wireless headsets. Having cables attached to a headset can not only pull you out of the immersion, but for those who have limited space, it can be a barrier to purchase. With self-enclosed wireless headsets that do not rely on a computer, the barrier to entry is significantly lowered and many more people will be able to enjoy the benefits of VR. Furthermore, higher-resolution headsets with more power will soon allow the creation of very convincing and realistic virtual worlds. Augmented Reality (AR) can also project virtual images onto the real world, blurring the lines between what is real and what is fake and allowing the user to be fully immersed. This can have great therapeutic applications, e.g. for those with mental health difficulties.
VR and AR could also empower the next generation of adults to take part in blended learning environments, where hands-on learning could take precedence over the classic, rote rehearsal method of memorizing textbooks. Children and young adults could be taught hands-on techniques via the medium of virtual reality – an exciting opportunity to develop skills from early on, and prepare the next generation for the real world.
Overall, there are many advances in tech, especially for 2020 and beyond, and we are all very excited to witness these and perhaps one day use them, too. The reasons to get excited are numerous. The promise of world-wide, unhindered access to the internet has the capability to lift millions out of poverty and improve the lives of many. Efficient self-driving cars can avoid gridlock and, in the long run, help to save the environment. Artificial intelligence can advance science, entertainment, and make our lives easier, and perhaps even save them if applied in a medical setting. Virtual reality can immerse people into fantastical virtual worlds, reduce stress and improve psychological wellbeing, and usher forward a new era of education where the emphasis is placed on practicability rather than rote learning. The future is looking very promising, indeed, and there are many new opportunities waiting to be taken advantage of!