If the words gadget and gizmo bring to mind surfing retro blondes (Gidget, but close enough) and darling pre-pubescent gremlins, you are definitely on the wrong track. We are referring here to technology with a capital T, which has spawned many wonders, big and small. Not the least of these is the market flood of gadgets, gizmos, doodads and thingamajigs that do just about everything under the sun (except maybe surf on their own and who knows even about that?). It doesnt seem to matter what shape the economy is in or how precarious world peace is. Technology waits for no man or woman and of late seems to be running amuck on steroids with no end in sight.
For the sake of clarity, I will divide the ever-growing market of devices into four categories; security/emergencies, tele-communications, comfort/convenience and diversion/entertainment. Other unknown categories must wait their turn, even though at the rate technology is exploding, they too have probably already figured out a way to get in their own line. In other words, there is a gadget, gizmo, doodad and thingamajig somewhere in the world for everyone living in it. Maybe thats as good a reason as any for all of us to lock our doors!
New inventions not only perform tasks never before imagined; they also reflect the mood of the world at large. Global jitters, for example, according to Reuters News Service, have been expressed by the increasing demand for high-tech spy gadgets and weapons. Exploding robots and remote-controlled spy planes are not dusty props from old James Bond movies; they are a response to our vulnerability and need to feel more secure. The French firm, Exavision, boasts of an 18-pound remote-controlled robot that is the smallest of its kind in the world. It carries two sets of explosives and can relay pictures day or night from hostile environments while soldiers or police keep at a safe distance. Personalized gun holders can now recognize their owners fingerprints and refuse to fire if an imposter tries it. British company, Aurora Computer Service Ltd., has developed a facial recognition security system that permits airport officials to instantly check passengers (wanted and unwanted) against lists of wanted and unwanted terrorists.
If the enemy isnt shooting, there may be time for communication via a device currently being tested at the Office of Naval Research. The Navy has pumped about $4 million dollars into this program to develop simultaneous machine translation and interpretation. Headed by neurobiologist, Joe Davis, this project known as Interact, lets someone talk into the device in one language. It then spits out an audio translation with just a two-second delay and no need for the speaker to pause. The secret to Interact is not that it is a brand new technology, but rather an amalgam of existing solutions. (This only works if a white flag is waving in the distance and the terrain is flat with no bushes to hide behind.)
For those of us not in the line of fire but simply on the verge of trouble, technology has figured out ways we can dance more safely and even faster than we possibly can. Now new devices, which are a part of collision-avoidance technology, can help avoid car crashes. Eric Feron, an associate professor of aeronautics and astronautics at MIT has developed a wireless communication system that provides a flashing indicator of trouble, granting additional time for drivers to react before they see the brake light immediately in front of them. Even a few cars equipped with such a device would allow those vehicles to slow down sooner, alerting other drivers around them.
If drivers cant ultimately make the world safer, maybe robots can. Second cousins of Gog are now being trained as rescue workers and they are worth their weight in gold because they can go where no human or canine dare to tread. In order to function effectively, however, they still require a human counterpart. Robotics, as the new technology is being dubbed, demands on the spot training. The University of South Florida under the leadership of Robin Murphys Center for Robot-Assisted Search and Rescue provides workshops to teach researchers to understand what a real search and rescue experience is like without laboratories, white coats and laptops. According to Murphy, rescue robots could become available to both the police and the military within a year, assuming the project gets funding.
Martha Pollack, professor of electrical engineering and computer science at The University of Michigan, is involved in the programming of Nursebot, a robot that provides both cognitive and motor support to seniors. Robots can to do many things, but they are lousy substitutes for human companionship. Omron from Tokyo has designed a robotic kitten named Max who seems to have melted the hearts of robot skeptics. He is quite lifelike or should we say cat like, with sensors that trigger feline responses, including forty-eight different cat sounds with a touch or voice cue. Omron built five hundred Maxes last year, according to Elena Libin, project director at the Institute of Robotic Psychology and Robotics in Chevy Chase, Maryland. The institute studies Robotherapy, which its website defines as "the use of person-to-robot interactions to create new positive experiences."