Paint. Now there's something you don't think about until you absolutely have to. For instance, you don't think about the paint on your car until it gets scratched and you have a choice of either leaving it or paying a body shop five months' rent to fix it. Or we suppose you could buy an armload of spray paint and make your car look like you're about to enter it in a demolition derby.
The fumes will get you even higher than the whiplash.
But, again, is this not exactly the way we were painting things, oh, a thousand years ago? Slapping on colored mixtures and having to do it all over again if it gets messed up or we get tired of the color? Is there seriously no place to go with this technology?
But what are we asking for here? Paint that can fix its own scratches? Or change its own color?
Wait, they can make it do that?
For starters, in the future paint will be able to repair itself. No more having to break out your Gundam model paint kit every time you scratch your bumper. Researchers have developed a type of polyurethane coating that, thanks to a chemical reaction, can sort of melt and fill in scratches when exposed to sunlight. So an angry ex-girlfriend drags her keys across your car door at work; by the time you drive home, it's fine again.
And if you don't like the color, punch a button and watch it change. In the lab, they've developed a coating embedded with iron oxide particles that change how they reflect light when hit with a magnetic field (you need a small electrical current running through it to get the effect, so the paint goes back to the default color when you turn off the engine). Think about it -- a different kick-ass airbrush mural on your custom van every day!
But can they animate it?
Who has it now?
The military, which obviously can afford to spend millions of your tax dollars on paint jobs, claims it's not far from putting it in the field. They're thinking bigger than turning their Corvette from black to fire engine red, though -- they want a smart system that will automatically change the camouflage to match the vehicle's surroundings and even send a signal to the repair guys to let them know when it's starting to rust.
"Attention! This Humvee is stuck. Please note that water damage voids the warranty."
As for the rest of us, before bringing it to market they'll have to get around the objections of the all-powerful body shop lobbyists.
Where are the clothes we were promised in Back to the Future Part II? You know, the self-adjusting jacket that could detect when it was wet and then dry itself? The self-tying shoes? The double neckties?
The terrible, bile-inducing hats?
Because we seem to be wearing the same boring cloth they were wearing in the Old Testament. Where did we go wrong? It's time to bring on the clothes that can think and adjust on the fly.
Wait, they can make it do that?
We're not necessarily talking about having a computer in your pants, either. A lot of those "e-clothing" concepts are still at the "silly and ridiculously impractical stage," like this prototype jacket that is stuffed with electronics intended to gauge your mood. Supposedly it'll measure your skin galvanic responses, and if you're upset, it'll text you pictures of puppies. Seriously.
"Our instruments indicate that you have either been shot in a mugging gone wrong or just achieved orgasm.
Either way, here are some puppies."
No, there are much more practical and realistic future-clothes out there. For instance, researchers in the U.K. developed a fabric that automatically changes based on how hot you're getting, and it's as simple as a system of tiny threads that stand up to let in air when they get wet (that is, the fabric becomes breathable when you sweat). If you're cold and your skin is dry, they clamp shut to warm you up.
Or, if you want to get serious about your climate control, they've developed an air-conditioned vest that, batteries and everything, doesn't weigh any more than a pair of pants. It uses a bunch of cooling disks located over parts of your body where blood vessels are the most dense (and where cooling is most efficient). No fans, no backpack to keep the battery. The finished product could be made to look like any ol' vest.
In the retain version the cooling disks are invisible
behind the outer layer of fabric, obviously.
And in winter, flip a switch and the same system warms you. So now you have a system that's actually less bulky and cumbersome than your parka.
We can't leave the feet out of this. AT&T has developed shoes that monitor your balance and can immediately notify somebody over a wireless connection when you've taken a bad fall. They're for the elderly, obviously, though we see no reason they couldn't be rigged so that at the moment they detect a potential fall, they automatically turn on a nearby camera and prepare to upload the feed to YouTube, automatically dubbing in wacky sound effects.
Who has it now?
One issue with all of these clothing innovations is that we've gotten used to paying very little money for our clothes thanks to, you know, sweatshops. So for instance, the A/C vest up there is being developed for the military and athletes (that is, enthusiasts who'll fork over extra cash for their hobby).
Ski goggles with built-in heads up display -- $500 and worth every penny
For the rest of us, the prices have to come down to a point that we don't have to sell blood. For instance, did you even know that Adidas came out with a processor-embedded shoe that could adjust its cushioning on the fly, based on your weight and running style? It was pulled from the market in 2006 because the shoes were, by the way, $250. But someone will try again, once the technology gets cheap enough so that the shoes don't come with a laugh-out-loud-at-the-salesman price tag.
So the future's out there. We just need that shit to go on sale.
Chris "Monty" Montague is an aspiring filmmaker. You can check out some of his work at www.imgonnadieapoet.com
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