6 Sci-Fi Technologies You'll Soon Have on Your Phone
Cellphones define our times in the way that cars defined the early 20th century: They're the clearest, most tangible sign that we truly live in the Future. Impressive new cellphone technologies are being developed each week, and there's no telling what wonderful procrastination possibilities our portable speak-boxes will have in a few years.
Because we're telling you right now, some of this stuff borders on magic ...
Touchscreens With the Texture of Fur, Sand or Anything Else
Modern cellphone technology offers all manner of audiovisual achievements, and even the ever-elusive Smell-a-Vision seems bound to make an appearance sooner or later. Yet there's one sense that even the most accomplished smartphone is unable to stimulate: touch. Sure, the manufacturers try, but at the end of the day, the vibration function is just a buzzer and the touchscreen is just a hunk of glass that you tap while it autocorrects your words into nonsense. But what if they made the touch feedback system so good that the screen under your fingers would turn into fur, or sand, or brick? That shit isn't science, it's witchcraft.
But Science, maintaining careful eye contact, courteously flips that statement the bird. Because not only do they have the technology all figured out, but it's totally going to hit the market within a few years.
You could be TouchSkyping your grandpa by 2015.
In fact, there are two different ways of achieving the seemingly impossible. A company called Immersion is developing a more sophisticated version of the vibration function. Using a set of advanced, localized vibrations, the technology is able to manipulate your sense of touch to make you think that the smooth touchscreen has ridges and bumps. Add a correct set of vibrations to a picture of, say, a tiled wall, and you'll be able to feel all the bumps and cuts of the surface as if it were real.
Which is great news for everyone with a kitchen tile fetish.
Another, even more impressive version of the technology is under development by a new company called Senseg. Their approach utilizes the Coulomb force, better known as the static electricity that causes a balloon to stick to your hair when you rub it. Manipulating the electrostatic forces between the touchscreen and your skin, Senseg can induce sensations of different surfaces, but the technology also actually enables the user to push a virtual marble around the screen and make it feel like a real object.
"Alright, that's enough rocks. Bring on the taint page."
Think of the applications of this technology. For one thing, forget about people who still insist on slide-out keyboards for their phones -- this could mimic the feel of plastic buttons under your fingers. People who have lost their sight could operate their iPads without a problem -- all they'd have to do is switch the language to Braille. Virtual cats and dogs could be petted just like real ones. And let's not even discuss the hordes of inevitable iBoobs apps, because otherwise we'll be here all night.
Phones That Can Smell and See Disease
Whenever cellphones and cancer are mentioned in the same sentence, said sentence tends to exist on a view-hungry news site and include the words "may cause." Researchers at NASA decided to approach the issue from the other direction: Wouldn't it be cool if we could diagnose cancer with our phones? After all, they're essentially small computers that we constantly keep about our person. They then proceeded to bring their dream to reality in the strangest way possible: by giving your phone the ability to smell disease.
"You have (1) new message and (4) new strains of hepatitis."
They achieved this by devising a tiny sensor that, once installed in your phone, is able to pick apart the chemical compounds in your breath. The chip is about the size of a nickel and works with 32 sensors that allow it to "smell" predetermined levels of various chemicals. Said chemicals, incidentally, include chlorine, carbon monoxide, ammonia and methane -- so it really does seem like we're going to also wind up with a fart-detection app in the process.
And then it'll scream "IT WAS STEVE" and send a text to everyone.
By analyzing the chemical levels in someone's breath, the phone will be able to determine whether they have a number of diseases, including lung cancer and diabetes.
If you don't feel like waiting and want your diagnosis-by-phone right now, look no further than the University of Michigan. They have very recently developed, no kidding, a phone app that can totally see if you have skin cancer. All you have to do is take 23 pictures of yourself and run them by the app -- it will analyze the pores and crevices of your skin for anomalies and diagnose the shit out of you.
The application comes with a catch, though: All those pictures have to be from different angles and you must be butt naked. So unless you're really flexible, or really really handy with the camera timer, you're going to have to ask a friend to help you out.
"Hey man, could you take a picture of my taint? It's for cancer research this time, I promise."
Cameras That Scan Your Food for Bacteria
Tens of thousands of people are affected by E. coli every year, and anyone who has witnessed the ... splashier elements of the situation tends to make sure to cook the hell out of meat before eating it from then on. But what about when eating at restaurants? You may keep your kitchen sterile, but can you say the same for Taco Bell?
Just grill it a little longer.
Well, one of those E. coli sufferers was apparently a researcher at UCLA, and between bouts of rage-diarrhea he made a sacred vow to combat E. coli with all the science he could muster ... however, the entirety of his scientific might revolved around cellphones. Or, you know, maybe UCLA just happened to be dabbling in the the area of portable bacteria readers. Whatever the backstory may be, UCLA has created a handy cellphone add-on that can be easily attached to the phone's camera.
Much like Instagram, you use it exclusively to take pictures of your food. Unlike Instagram, it will then proceed to potentially save your life.
E. coli is so played out. #lunch #hospital
Through several filters and something called a "quantum dot," the device uses fluorescent imaging to detect the level of dangerous E. coli strands on your food. If you're of a sci-fi mindset, the fact that you'll get to start every meal by scanning it with a purple-light-emitting gadget is a bonus.
"Honey, please put the phone down and start eating." "In a second, just one more time!"
An even bigger bonus is the fact that the device mercifully neglects to notice any other bacteria you have on your food ... because honestly, if you saw the truth, you'd probably never willingly eat again.
Apps That Act as Your Therapist
Depression is a massive bastard to diagnose and treat, not to mention actually endure. When your mood is sinking and your thoughts are as black as Norwegian metal, there can be times when nothing seems worth doing anymore. You haven't left the house for days ... and then, out of nowhere, your phone rings and a recorded message tells you to get off your ass and go meet a friend.
"Maybe take a shower, too. Just a suggestion."
It's called Mobilyze, it lives in your phone and it can tell what your mental state is. It watches your whole life: The system gathers data from GPS, Bluetooth, Wi-Fi and accelerometers -- all standard fare in most smartphones. Through special algorithms, Mobilyze uses this data to determine if you're showing signs of depression, and reacts accordingly.
So if your phone's GPS says you haven't been leaving the house, or your Wi-Fi displays abnormal activity, Mobilyze will start sending you motivational texts and recorded messages in an attempt to get you to pick yourself up and venture out into the world. If that sounds trite and silly to you, the research says the process actually works. Like a boss.
"You seem stuck in a rut. Have you considered arson?"
Researchers at Northwestern University installed Mobilyze in the phones of several seriously depressed patients. By the time the experiment period was over, each and every participant was showing a much better mood. Alhough we're not sure whether this is because of the messages Mobilyze was sending them or if they just regained their energy by hating that goddamn phone that rings every five minutes.
Phones That Unlock Your Doors (Without Touching Anything)
We've all faced doors the hard way: coffee in one hand, a bag in the other, hot dog wedged in your mouth, desperately fumbling for the key while attempting to keep the scalding-hot liquid from spilling down your pants. But what if the tiny cellphone in your pocket could save you from those nasty espresso burns by unlocking the door for you? And what if it could do so without any commands, by reading tiny vibrations that run through your body?
"Oh God. Science, hurry the hell up."
Through the use of piezoelectric technology, researchers at AT&T have developed a smartphone that tells your door who you are. When you touch the doorknob, the phone sends vibrations -- so subtle that you can't feel them -- through your bones and up into the doorknob, opening the lock. Each phone will have a unique vibration "key" that resonates with the corresponding door.
"One day, burglars will be able to breach houses with naught but a tuning fork!"
They're still working on the technology, so don't go throwing all your keys into the ditch screaming "FUCK YOU, KEYS, I'VE WAITED FOR THIS ALL MY LIFE!" just yet. However ... if you do have the desire to turn your phone into a door-opening device right the hell now, you can always buy the Lockitron system app for a measly $300. It doesn't quite manage the whole "good vibrations" thing, but nevertheless does a fair job at opening your locks from afar -- much like your car's remote key.
Still, until they work their way through most kinks of the modern, power-draining smartphone, it might be a good idea to think twice before storing the only way to enter your house inside the device with the perpetually dying battery.
Scanners That See Through Solid Objects
X-ray vision features pretty high on everyone's "Superpowers I'd Like to Have" list, although almost entirely for nefarious reasons. In fact, normal human life is only possible because other people can't see through closed doors, file cabinets and our clothing. Until now.
Soon, the entire world will be porn.
We've actually had the technology to see through solid objects for a while now. Electromagnetic waves at the terahertz range are capable of penetrating molecules that optical light can't touch, and with special equipment, this can be used to see through solid objects. That's how those airport security scanners see right through your clothes.
The problem with terahertz imaging devices is that they need tons of energy and complicated lensing to work, making the technology both expensive and unfeasible for pocket-sized portability. That is, until recently. A research team at UT Dallas has found that they can build a much smaller, more effective version of current terahertz devices using little more than a modern computer microchip. And the first place they decided these tiny Superman eyes need to be? Inside your phone.
"With great power comes great responsibility. But sometimes, y'know, fuck it."
They have a ready-to-use technology to see through walls, clothes ... the works. That's like a license to print money -- the first phone to have this feature will outsell literally everything in the history of mankind within days. And human society will collapse within a week or so.
That is, if it wasn't for some moral backbone from the research team. Due to privacy concerns, they have set the limit of see-through visibility to just 4 inches, so unless the person you're trying to sneak a peek at is pressed right against a wall -- or you're really good at making excuses as to why you're running your phone all over their body -- you're probably better off without it.
"You've been contaminated by star radiation! Let me just pull up my Geiger counter app ..."
That doesn't mean the gadget is without useful purpose, though. You'll still be able to peek through your own skin to find any possible tumors, or through your newspaper to see if your ex already left the bar. It also pays to remember that the 4-inch range is due to a decision by the researchers, not an actual technical limitation. There will be nothing stopping competition from removing this limit once the product hits the market. And given the way free commerce works, the "see everyone naked forever" chip should be available to order online roughly 0.02 seconds after this thing hits the stores.
To see just how far we've come, check out The 5 Most Ridiculously Awful Computers Ever Made. Or learn about 7 Ways Your Cellphone Is Screwing With Your Body and Mind.