Physicists at Wake Forest University have developed a fabric that doubles as a spare outlet. When used to line your shirt or even your pillowcase or office chair, it converts subtle differences in temperature across the span of the clothing (say, from your cuff to your armpit) into electricity. And because the different parts of your shirt can vary by about 10 degrees, you could power up your MP3 player just by sitting still. According to the fabric’s creator, David Carroll, a cellphone case lined with the material could boost the phone’s battery charge by 10 to 15 percent over eight hours, using the heat absorbed from your pants pocket.
The problem with laptops and tablets, says Mark Rolston of the design firm Frog, is that they’re confined by a screen. He wants to turn the entire room into a monitor, where you can have the news on your kitchen table while you place a video call on your fridge. And when you’re done, you can swipe everything away, like Tony Stark in “Iron Man.”
Anti-theft handlebars. Here’s an old idea whose time has come again. The bearing system that allows the bike to turn can be locked so that a thief can’t steer his stolen bike. The lock is internal, meaning that he’d have to destroy the bike to ride it away.
Your car is already able to call for help when an accident occurs, but within a few years, it’ll tip paramedics off to probable injuries too. E.M.T.’s would know the likelihood of internal bleeding or traumatic head injury, for example, before arriving on the scene, which would help them decide whether to move you to a Level 1 trauma center or a standard emergency room. Researchers at the University of Michigan International Center for Automotive Medicine have created the predictive models by cross-referencing the crash data provided by sensors on cars, like speed and location of impact, with 3-D scans of accident victims.
When you aim the SpeechJammer at someone, it records that person’s voice and plays it back to him with a delay of a few hundred milliseconds. This seems to gum up the brain’s cognitive processes — a phenomenon known as delayed auditory feedback — and can painlessly render the person unable to speak. Kazutaka Kurihara, one of the SpeechJammer’s creators, sees it as a tool to prevent loudmouths from overtaking meetings and public forums, and he’d like to miniaturize his invention so that it can be built into cellphones. “It’s different from conventional weapons such as samurai swords,” Kurihara says. “We hope it will build a more peaceful world.”
A team of Dutch and Italian researchers has found that the way you move your phone to your ear while answering a call is as distinct as a fingerprint. You take it up at a speed and angle that’s almost impossible for others to replicate. Which makes it a more reliable password than anything you’d come up with yourself. (The most common iPhone password is “1234.”) Down the line, simple movements, like the way you shift in your chair, might also replace passwords on your computer. It could also be the master key to the seven million passwords you set up all over the Internet but keep forgetting.
In February, Chaotic Moon Labs began testing a robotic shopping cart that acts a bit like a mind-reading butler. To start it up, you can text message the cart’s built-in tablet computer. Now it knows who you are and what you need for dinner.The cart uses Microsoft’s Kinect motion-sensor technology to track and follow you through the store, pointing you — in a synthy voice reminiscent of a G.P.S. navigator — toward products on your list. The system will also warn you if you’ve added something that violates your dietary restrictions. Still only a prototype, the cart isn’t nearly as nimble as its human-powered cousin, but it does have one main advantage. Items you add to the cart can be automatically scanned, and you can finalize your purchase from the device, skipping the checkout line entirely.
Scientists at Princeton and Tufts are working on a superthin tooth sensor (a kind of temporary tattoo) that sends an alert when it detects bacteria associated with plaque buildup, cavities or infection. It could also notify your dentist, adding an extra layer of social pressure to make an appointment. The sensor may have wide-ranging use: the researchers have already used it to identify bacteria in saliva associated with stomach ulcers and cancers. While the sensor won’t last long on the surface of a well-brushed and flossed tooth, Michael McAlpine, the project’s leader, says that the sensors will be inexpensive enough that you can replace them daily
Researchers at the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard are working on a technology that would make household cleaning supplies much smarter, almost like a sprayable forensics team. When the spray hits a surface where there are pathogens present, like your bathroom sink, it would bind to the bad stuff and turn a color orange, say, for E. coli. Then you could knock it out with a stronger disinfectant.