Author's note: I have no affiliation or business relationship with any of the companies mentioned in this article.
Several technologies are poised to transform your business and your life. Some have been around for years, languishing in the background as awkward youngsters waiting to grow up. Others will likely sell out the day they become available. Below you'll find a sampling of a few that are having or will soon have a major impact.
Movement and Gesture Recognition
Forget the game controller, during the 2010 Holiday season you'll be able to buy hardware that'll allow your movements to control a game. Microsoft's Project Natal is bringing this interface to the Xbox.
Expect movement and gesture recognition interface to rapidly spread to other devices. As described in the article, Is Implementation More Important than Invention? progress often comes, not through new invention, but rather through implementation - working out the details and finding novel ways to make existing technologies useful. We're seeing this phenomenon at work in the development of movement and gesture recognition.
A 9 minute video provides a poignant example. Developers take $350 worth of off-the-shelf devices and combine them for "you have to see it to believe it" results. The wearer uses natural gestures to do everything from taking and resizing pictures to instantly getting information about products they're comparing in a store.
Expect the medical field to quickly put this technology to work too. One example, a device that connects to a computer and recognizes deep breaths. Integrated into a game, the result is that pediatric patients with cystic fibrosis will be encouraged to engage in beneficial lung exercise while doctors monitor their progress.
BCI (Brain computer interface)
BCI is the ultimate way to control your computer - with your thoughts.
This technology has already tremendously benefited patients with "locked-in syndrome", who are unable to move or communicate. For about the price of a compact car, they can purchase a device that enables them to communicate and more using only their thoughts. After about 10 minutes of training users can type, send email or even turn on a TV. Other devices are available that extend capabilities to operating a wheelchair.
While BCI usually refers to thoughts controlling a computer, the reverse process is already showing promise too. Using a system that translates light into electrical impulses a blind person is able to climb a climbing wall by "seeing" with his tongue.
Expect BCI devices to evolve for decades.
This capability has been available and improving for years through software like Dragon NaturallySpeaking. In the early days, time consuming to "train" and often lacking requisite accuracy, many viewed speech recognition as too cumbersome. Recently that's changed, as speech recognition seems to have suddenly hit critical mass.
Ironically, one burst of progress came from taking a step backwards by limiting what had to be recognized. For example, navigating a customer service center menu only requires the recognition ofsimple commandsor numbers. Cell phone voice dialing has become accurate for the same reason. It need only recognize names from your address book.
But full vocabulary recognition seems to finally be hitting it's stride too. Instead of just listening to your voice mail, you can now see it in the form of an email. In addition to other office phone system features, web-based services like YouMail, Jott, Google Voice, and Phonebooth (just to name a few) transcribe your voicemail into email messages.
Another technology that's been around for years, touch screens were typically relegated to rather lackluster roles like virtual buttons on kiosks or store check-out registers.
Suddenly, thanks to new widespread new operating system support (smartphones, Windows 7, iPad, etc.) the use of natural gestures like sliding your finger along a screen to scroll and pinching photos to resize them will become the norm.
Location Based Applications
Built upon your cell phone's location awareness, several new location-based applications for your smartphone (examples are Foursquare and Gowalla) are fighting for early market dominance. Consumer behavior, maybe yours, is already being affected.
As users "check-in" to a business, they notice neighboring businesses and may be enticed to visit with special offers. The desire to earn badges encourages actions that businesses find highly desirable - repeat business and incentives to explore new places of which they may have been previously unaware.
Expect location based couponing and advertising to be rapidly adopted and effective for forward-thinking businesses. Many who find themselves wondering "what's the point", may soon find themselves becoming avid users.
Want to train nuclear power plant personnel how to react in an emergency? Its no surprise that on the job training isn't an option - or is it? Software simulations are available to train operators, and even plant inspectors.
The medical field offers medical personnel an ever growing array of opportunities to learn in virtual environments. Surgeons can learn using a Disney-esque" laparoscopy game and even, battlefield medics can develop their skills from the safety of a desk chair. Duke University School of Medicine is utilizing software that'll provide virtual medical simulations covering everything from initial patient assessment to team communication.
Virtual reality systems have also been successfully employed in the treatment of phobias. Patients are gradually desensitized through exposure in a virtual world. The University of Madrid recently used this technique to help patients with a a fear of cockroaches.
fMRI (functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging) allows technicians to monitor changes in brain blood flow. Amidst debates over precision, researchers are beginning to understand how fMRI images correlate with human emotion and experience.
While the technology has obvious applications across multiple medical and scientific disciplines, "neuromarketers" are beginning to commandeer it to learn more about consumer response. Imagine having a focus group that can't lie.
For example, in one study published in the Journal of Neuroscience using fMRI researchers demonstrated that consumers make buying decisions even when they're not actively paying attention to the products.
Horror movie producers are using fMRI to observe responses to various scenes. The result will ultimately be increasingly scarier movies.
Nanotechnology (commonly referred to as nanotech) is technology built at an atomic or molecular scale, typically less than 100 nanometers. Any attempt to list the potential applications would be laughably inadequate, except to say that the technology will probably first manifest as remarkable new medical treatments.
For example, MIT is developing a nanotech based glucose monitoring system. It'll allow diabetics to quickly and painlessly monitor blood sugar levels. Employing a nanoparticle "tattoo" as a glucose sensor, a patient will take a reading by simply shining a light on the "tattoo".
Using existing drugs, nanotech's most significant near-term application may be for those being treated for cancer. Nanosponges precisely target tumors with fewer side-effects.
In the lab, researchers have built a nanotube radio over which they've played the Beach Boy's Good Vibrations. While you may be more or less impressed depending upon your musical taste, the same technology may be used to send commands to radio controlled devices traveling through the human bloodstream.
For years, at least outside of factories, robots were at worst a science fiction staple and at best gizmos of dubious utility. Currently, the only common household robot (really just a robot wannabe) is an autonomous sweeper, the Roomba. But the situation's about to change.
It's no secret that the military is advancing the underlying technologies driven by the success of its drones. While the current generation is controlled by humans, fully or mostly autonomous siblings - some with the size and appearance of birds or insects - will soon be flying reconnaissance missions.
Drones are being developed for surprising civilian uses as well. A team led by Harvard University engineers is developing robotic collaborative insects that could function as Robobees to pollinate flowers or work as a team to locate trapped disaster victims.
An acronym for radio-frequency identification, this technology utilizes a tiny tag embedded in a product allows it to transmit identification over short distances. An inventory trackers dream, the technology has a myriad of other uses.
It will eventually have an impact on everything from attendance tracking to shoplifting and checkout lines. No need to take items out of your cart, a receiver can "see" everything in your cart and, if you're a shoplifter, any store items in your pockets.