Five new technologies you can’t even imagine exist

  • Robot finger with human skin
  • Colour-changing cars are now a thing
  • Goofy-looking device enables you to talk privately in public
  • Smart pan helps you stick to your weight loss plans
  • AI-powered toothbrush offers real-time brushing guidance

Technology is rapidly improving, offering new innovations and revolutionary projects at ever greater speeds. Some very sharp minds out there are continuously developing technology that might completely transform our lives, while others come up with innovations that ‘merely’ enable us to do things a little differently or more efficiently. Many of these new developments seem to have been taken straight from science-fiction, whether it’s robot fingers with human skin, colour-changing cars, smart pans that help you stick to your weight loss plans, or AI powered toothbrushes that warn you when you’re not cleaning your teeth properly. In this article we will introduce you to some weird – but wonderful – recent innovations and technological advancements.

1.    Robot finger with human skin

Soon, hyper-realistic robots will join us in various sectors, such as the services industry and in medical and nursing care. And what’s more realistic than a robot with human skin? While this sounds pretty far-off, researchers at the University of Tokyo have actually managed to create a robotic finger covered in living human skin. The researchers dipped the robotic finger in a solution of human dermal fibroblasts and collagen, two of the main components that make up the skin’s connective tissues. After the substance settled, it formed an epidermis – the outer skin layer. Two weeks later, the ‘skin’ had reached the thickness of human skin, a few millimetres, and was stretchy and strong enough to withstand bending the robotic finger back and forth and causing natural-looking wrinkles. It gets even more interesting: when the researchers made a cut in the skin and covered it with a collagen bandage, the skin self-healed within a week. Shoji Takeuchi, a professor at the university who led the project, says: “We are surprised by how well the skin tissue conforms to the robot’s surface. But this work is just the first step toward creating robots covered with living skin.” The team’s next steps include incorporating more sophisticated functional structures within the skin, such as sweat glands, nails, hair follicles, and even sensory neurons. The researchers are also spending time on creating a robotic face with ‘human’ skin.

2.    Colour-changing cars are now a thing

At this year’s Consumer Electronics Show (CES) BMW unveiled the world’s first ‘colour-changing’ car. The aptly named iX Flow makes use of E Ink displays, technology that is usually found in e-readers. This technology enables the futuristic vehicle to transform its exterior into various gray and white shades and patterns. BMW research engineer Stella Clarke says: “This is really energy efficient colour change using the technology E Ink. We took this material – it’s kind of a thick paper – and our challenge was to get this on a 3D object like our cars.” When the material gets stimulated by electrical signals – via a smartphone app – different pigments are brought to the surface, which causes the vehicle to show various ‘colours’ and geometric patterns, such as racing stripes. The iX Flow can even change only the colour or pattern of specific parts, such as the boot, bonnet, or wheels. According to BMW, “The surface coating of the iX Flow featuring E Ink contains many millions of microcapsules. Each contains negatively charged white pigments and positively charged black pigments”. While this is a ‘fun’ innovation, the colour-changing car could also help save energy by changing its shade to white to reflect sunlight on a hot, sunny day or switching to black to absorb heat on a cooler day. In the future, the technology will enable the display of a much wider range of colours and patterns. And eventually, changing the colour of your car’s exterior will be done via dashboard controls or even hand gestures.

3.    Goofy-looking device enables you to talk privately in public

If you want to keep your sensitive conversations private, without anyone around you being able to hear what you say, the unusual-looking Hushme device enables you to do just that. The Hushme is a personal acoustic device that connects to your smartphone and consists of a voice mask and a headset. In ‘headset mode’ you can put the device around your neck as a hands-free headset while speaking on the phone or listening to music. In ‘mask mode’, the ‘sound chamber’, which is covered with soft artificial leather and contains a microphone system, is placed over your mouth. The Hushme enables you to enjoy much greater privacy – without bothering people nearby – than you would be able to achieve with typical headsets, whether you are sitting in a shared office space, or commuting on a train or bus. Even when you speak much softer than usual, such as at near-whisper volume, the person on the other end can still hear you quite clearly, while people sitting less than ten feet away won’t even be able to make out the conversation topic. The Hushme app enables you to mask your voice with downloadable sounds – like rain, ocean, or wind – that  you can output for people around you to hear. This, of course, is quite a weird feature but it does help to muffle your own voice. Even though the device looks kind of goofy, it is a great way to protect your conversation from ‘prying ears’ in a public place.

4.    Smart pan helps you stick to your weight loss plans

Imagine a cooking pan that can help you stick to a healthy eating plan. Well, you no longer have to imagine it. The SmartyPan is connected to a smartphone app and has inbuilt weight and temperature sensors to measure how much and at which heat you are cooking. The lights in the pan’s handle turn red when the temperature gets too high. You can talk to the app to inform it which ingredients you’re adding, including various details about each one. This enables the SpartyPan to engage its sensors to determine the weight of each ingredient. The app offers step-by-step cooking instructions and even calculates the nutritional value of your meal. This information can also be shared with your dietician or nutritionist. The detailed record of how a specific meal was prepared makes it easier to cook the same meal again and share it with friends and family. “In terms of performance, it works just like a stainless steel pan. It takes the right amount of time to heat up, but the heat distribution is a lot better in our product. No matter where you put the pan on the stovetop, you get that uniform heat distribution, so cooking something like an omelette or a crepe is much easier on SmartyPans,” says SmartyPans CTO and cofounder Rahul Baxi.

5.    AI-powered toothbrush offers real-time brushing guidance

Philips introduced its hyper-advanced Sonicare 9900 Prestige electric toothbrush system with SenseIQ technology. This truly sci-fi toothbrush is accompanied by an AI-powered app that offers real-time recommendations and guidance to improve brushing habits as you work your way around your mouth. The toothbrush uses location tracking to monitor the area you cover, and its sensors detect – up to 100 times per second – how often and how long you brush, and which cleaning motions you use. The accompanying app provides real-time information and guidance on position, pressure, motion, frequency, and duration of brushing, and even offers daily, weekly, monthly, and annual progress reports. This seriously smart toothbrush even warns you with lights and vibrations and an alert in the app if you’re scrubbing too hard. It also has a feature that automatically lowers the brushing intensity. And if you continue to apply too much pressure, the toothbrush will pause to prevent you from damaging your gums. The brush and app auto-sync to keep your brushing data up-to-date and monitor your progress, even when you don’t have your smartphone with you in the bathroom.

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