Analog Electronics Life Renewable Energy

Inventions for the future

I was talking to my friend the other day about ways to become rich and famous. Surprisingly, blogging was not on the list :-). The best I could come up with for an engineer like me was to invent something and sell it. Even better, invent one thing, manufacture it, use the profits to invent something else, and so on.

Then I started thinking about it and the thoughts of money and fame kind of melted away. Sure, that’d be nice, but what does the world really need invented? What could change the world? What could start the next revolution (i.e. industrial, technological, etc)? Where is the future taking us and most importantly where are WE taking the future?

  1. A new method of propulsion for air travel
    • There is no doubt that the world is dependent on fossil fuels. And for all the talk of renewable energy and even all the progress of it, there are still some things that will be dependent on fuel. In 2004 alone 7.2% of the oil consumption came from air travel/military airplanes. That same link also mentions that there are some other ideas in the work for using hydrogen, but that is a ways off (and still has a significant environmental impact). I have also seen biofuel options, and even the government is in on the idea. Unfortunately, oil and biofuel are the most energy dense option option. Until we have significant advances in energy technologies, using fuel cells or batteries will not be possible. Perhaps renewable energy for travel is not viable by air at all? Maybe electric trains or boats will be the most efficient way, but these things need to be discovered. Of course, there have already been some…um…interesting ideas.
  2. A new method for energy storage
    • There’s a lot of chatter about this lately (see above). Batteries just don’t seem to be doing the job they need to, so people are looking to other options. In fact, the doozy of an article I reference happens to be on this very subject (hint: it’s not a positive article).
    • We need to develop high efficiency, low cost storage devices because renewable energy (solar, wind, geothermal, cow farts, etc) do us no good unless we can transport that power. We could try to make hydrogen, but that’s not exactly the safest way to transport energy. Long term, I think electricity is our best bet in terms of delivering power to devices, even if that’s not the safest option either (I’m not so sure there will be one). Some might say I’m a little biased on the whole idea of electricity though. To electricity’s benefit, a lot of the infrastructure is in place, as are the devices (i.e. electric motors).
  3. A new method for space travel
    • OK, maybe I’ve watched Star Trek and Star Wars once or twice in my life. But just because I have seen that and dreamed about it doesn’t mean it’s not a good idea. Long term, the earth isn’t going to cut it for us. Either some wacko will finally set off a bunch of nukes, we won’t figure out a solution to global warming, we’ll run out of non-oil natural resources or medical technology will extend life to the point where population is unreasonable. So we’ll have to get out there and poke around, find a new hang out. It’s not exactly a short bike ride, either: The closest star system is Alpha Centuri, a short 4.22 light years away. What we need is some way to either approach the speed of light or find another way around (wormholes, improbability drives, etc). The point remains, the whole take a bunch of rocket feul and shove it out the back of a space ship just isn’t cutting it anymore. I like the idea of ion engines, but we need to see some more progress.
  4. A universal translator
    • Every time I think about world events, I think how lucky I am that I speak English. There’s no other language in the world that people are more eager to learn. I mean, I worked at an international company for 2 years and only learned 4 words in their native language! (hello, thank you, beer, please) That includes spending 8 weeks in Korea bumbling around hoping others would speak English (they did).
    • Imagine it though. Imagine if there was a way that all people could instantly communicate at least on a low level (aside from hand gestures). It would open new pathways to business, travel and most importantly international relations (especially tense ones). I had heard rumors that there were some people working on such a device, but could not find any further information on it. If this ever became commercially viable, it would change the world…and then Rosetta Stone would get very angry.
  5. Memory/Cognitive enhancers
    • This could come in one of two forms. The first would be a drug/supplement induced type, where we take what the human mind has to offer and then improve it by offering more resources (oxygen, nutrients, etc) or whereby we stimulate¬† the memory center to work harder or faster (think caffeine, but healthier, hopefully). The other method would be more radical, but I could see becoming a viable option in the future. That would be neural implants (think matrix) whereby our brains interact with computers/electronics. There are tons and tons of ethics questions surrounding such a device, but it will be possible someday. I envision this kind of device allowing ease of access to information and even better access to communication between people hooked to such as system. Who needs a universal translator when you speak binary?

Sure, there’s other stuff that would be great to invent or even just see invented. Even better, there’s some really silly ideas out there that are fun to laugh about. I think it’s important to dream about these kinds of things though. For those interested, I would highly suggest that you look into the work of futurists such as Ray Kurzweil or inventor Dean Kamen. Both of these guys have driven some amazing inventions and will continue to do so. Plus Kurzweil has been pretty accurate on his predictions before, so trying to fulfill some of his predictions probably isn’t a bad idea if you want to invent something. I’ll let you know when I’ve come up with something.