3D-sensing computer vision technology enables computers to actually "see", ideal for robots, self-driving cars, and drones (as in autonomous aerial vehicles that are not operated by humans). Perhaps the most exciting development in this area is a technology invented by a team at Motorola, but acquired by Google, called Project Tango. What makes Tango different is that the team, now a part of Google's Advanced Technology and Projects (ATAP) group, have designed it to run on mobile devices. This means that it is very likely that every smartphone will eventually come with Tango as standard.
Tango will enable us to do things like use our smartphone as a universal peripheral for console video gaming similar to the Wii or Kinect controllers. It will also enable us to navigate with our phones indoors. Currently this is not possible without a network of beacons that ping location data to the phone. GPS only works outdoors, and is far less accurate than Tango, so this technology is ideal for helping us find places while indoors, as well as people, things and products. It will help retailers located within shopping malls to direct customers towards the goods they want to purchase, with total precision. It will be used by logistics companies within warehouses, and by industry within factories and office buildings.
Also, because Tango uses the phone's accelerometer and gyroscope to detect distance, track movement in space and store location data, in addition to being used as a navigation tool, it can also be used as a measuring device. With the click of a button, it will enable us to scan and create 3D maps of our environment instantaneously. Real estate agents and interior designers will therefore use it to do things like measure the square footage of property and check whether furniture will fit, and even combine it with Augmented Reality to see how the furniture and other furnishings will look before a lick of paint has been applied.
Another application for this kind of technology is gaming. The potential for using it to create hyper-realistic Augmented reality entertainment is truly mind blowing!
Virtual and Augmented Reality
Will 2016 be the year VR finally goes mainstream? My guess is yes it will. Millions of people, myself included, received their first VR headset this Christmas. Of the total number of recipients some would have been disappointed, some moderately impressed, but a lucky few would have been blown away. This is because the VR experience depends on the quality of the hardware, the software and, if streaming data, the speed of connectivity. For example the difference between Oculus Rift and Google Cardboard is similar to the difference between a Bugatti Veyron and a VW Polo. Of course the defining factor, as with almost everything in life, is cost. Cardboard is great due to its low cost, but it really only offers a glimpse compared to what state-of-the-art devices like the Rift are capable of in terms of a total immersive experience.
With regards to AR, the major players in this area are Google (Glass), Microsoft (Hololens), and Magic Leap. The problem with AR in general is the need for clunky unattractive headgear that must be worn while out and about. With VR this is less of an issue, because you can more easily get away with looking like a dork in the privacy of your own home or office. This is what really killed Google Glass 1.0. Well things are starting to change. Google is promising to reduce the form factor of the second incarnation of Glass, and a lesser-known enterprise, called Kopin, recently unveiled a range of AR headsets that are apparently as wearable as a pair of sunglasses. The company claims to have shrunk the size of the display, extended battery life, and drastically improved voice command by developing a "whisper voice speech recognition" chip that will allow you to be heard in noisy environments.
Although not in 2016, I believe VR wearables will eventually become invisibles, either embedded under or attached to the skin like a smart tattoo. Eventually holographic technology will thankfully do away with the need for screen displays altogether.
A team of academics in Japan have created holograms that can be manipulated by touch and gesture. Using a femtosecond laser technology the researchers fire high frequency laser pulses that last one millionth of one billionth of a second (a femtosecond is to a second as a second is to about 31.71 million years). Each pulse can respond to human touch allowing the hologram’s pixels to be manipulated in mid-air. Combine that with full body haptic feedback (check out Teslasuit) and you have something pretty awesome.
Little Flying Robots
There's no stopping them, drones continue to grow in popularity. They are, however, starting to evolve from being remote controlled airborne toys to highly sophisticated flying robots.
In my view there will be an increasing division between the development of large industrial drones for outdoor use, and "micro" drones - small, nimble and lightweight enough to be used safely indoors (disclaimer: I am working on a project called Little Flying Robots).
The other issue that exclusively relate to drones over a certain size is the FAA, specifically the Federation's desire to impose new stricter rules that include compulsory registration within the USA. Drone owners have been told that they must register their aircraft by February 19, 2016, however this is not a done deal, as the validity of the FAA’s new drone registry is under challenge in federal court.
Many other countries, including the United Kingdom, are taking a more relaxed approach. In Great Britain, the government and the CAA have decided to take a less heavy handed approach in order to balance safety with the needs of the fledging commercial drone sector. This is because they are aware that over-regulation could hinder, or even destroy a high-growth industry that could potentially generate billions for the UK economy.