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Disruptive Technologies beyond 2030 in the Data Ecosystems I

Can you see the black dot on the fingertip. Is a chip made by Hitachi measuring one sixth of a mm having processing storage communications and GPS capabilities. You can spray them, they can be swallowed along with food and even injected. Credit: Hitachi

Lets now consider those technologies that are being experimented today in several labs around the world and that may create disruption on a 10 to 20 years horizon, based on the studies of the Imperial College of London, Imperial Tech Foresight.

I’ll start again considering those affecting the Data Ecosystems, i.e. the one promoting and leveraging the Digital Transformation. The ones considered are: Computerised shoes and clothing, Smart dust, Peer to peer energy trading and transmission, Internet of DNA, Diagnostic Toilet, Public Mood Monitoring, Smart flooring and carpets, Medical Tricorders, Predictive Gene-based Healthcare.

Smart dust

First time I heard about smart dust was at the turn of the century. Prof. Vincentelli at his lab at Berkeley was developing “motes” tiny sensors, 5mm cubes, able to sense their environment, process and store information and communicate among them.

The size of smart dust compared to a grain of maize. The “big one” was produced at the turn of the century. In the subsequent years the size has shrunk becoming au pair with a grain of maize. Today they are way smaller… Credit: Berkeley University

Prof Vincentelli predicted that in 20 years these motes will become so small (and cheap) that one could spray thousands of them in an ambient letting them to self organise, communicate among them, and processing data in a massive distributed fashion handing over to a nearby network the result of their global processing. Today we have reached the size he was predicting but we are not, yet, able to harvest their potential in terms of massive distributed data processing, mostly because of energy constraints. If you want to have them small, then also the space available for accumulating energy is tiny. It will take probably ten more years to find mass market applications of this technology. Once that becomes feasible we will experience a new sort of ambient awareness driven by the massive availability of localised data. A lot of research is going on in this area under the IoT umbrella.

Smart flooring and carpets

How could a floor or a carpet be smart? Well, if it embeds sensors it can get smart! A fe)w companies are already offering products that are basically embedding sensors in the floor or in carpets. These sensors provide data to a computer that can analyse the position and movement of people and raise an alarm if something is wrong (e.g. a person has fallen down). MariCare, a Finnish company, is offering a smart floor solution that can be layered under a wooden tiling and easily create a floor detecting any movement. It has been designed to meet the needs of supervising elderly people, both at their private home and in CareHomes.

Futureshape is also offering smart flooring targeting hospital and rehab centres. By analysing the gait of people it can detect emergency situations and can also help in rehabilitation procedures.

Embedding sensors in the floor of a retail point can provide data to applications to understand what attracts shopper, detecting their whereabout and the time they spend in a certain location. Credit: Scanalytics

Another company, Scanalytics, is proposing smart flooring to monitor the behaviour of shoppers in a store. By following the movements of shoppers an application can point out the attraction points in a store and the store keeper can experiment in alternative ways of displaying her wares to maximise their visibility, hence increasing sales.
Having smart flooring is going to be a standard feature of future homes, stores and offices in the next decade, as an integral part of creating smart buildings. That will make buildings more and more aware and will change the way we look at the space we inhabit. At the same time it is likely to create several privacy issues.

Computerised shoes and clothing

There is no doubt that the future is of smart spaces, buildings, homes, stores. However, for many decades people will continue to inhabit spaces that have been built in the past and those spaces will not be “smart” (since the cost of their smartification may not be affordable). The solution is to look at alternative ways to “sense” people.

Hexoskin is a Canadian company that offers Smart Shirts embedding sensors to measure a variety of parameters like heart beat, respiration, movement. There are several companies now offering smart clothing but these are used by people with a specific need (mostly athletes and people passionate with sports). In two decades having smart clothing will become normal, any shirt, shoe, sox will embed sensors and these will provide for a continuous monitoring of our activity and wellbeing.

A smart sleeve embedding sensors to detect electric activity that can be analysed to check the heart activity, like an ECG. Credit: Komodo Tech

Komodo Tech is offering a sleeve that can perform ECG. This kind of specialised clothing are not as accurate as a medical device, however they can be worn continuously and the analyses over a long period of time, hours rather than minutes, can result in an accurate monitoring, as good as the one provided by a medical grade device, with the advantage that the monitoring is continuous.  If today the use of this kind of smart clothing is restricted to a few in two decades it may become a normal “apparel” in the mass market.

Smart shoes today can display images and video. You can send the content you like directly from your smart phone to the smart textile on the shoe (see clip). In two decades we can expect that most surfaces around us, and on us, will be able to display content, disrupting the idea of a wall, of a table, of a briefcase…

And what about wearing a computer as shoes? An Indian company is offering shoes that can connect to GPS signal, use embedded Google maps to pinpoint the location and provide navigation directions through vibration in the sole. Is your right foot vibrating? Turn right!
Again, it is just a fun gadget today but it provides a hint of what normal objects can become in the future, and how our relation with them might change.

About Roberto Saracco

Roberto Saracco fell in love with technology and its implications long time ago. His background is in math and computer science. Until April 2017 he led the EIT Digital Italian Node and then was head of the Industrial Doctoral School of EIT Digital up to September 2018. Previously, up to December 2011 he was the Director of the Telecom Italia Future Centre in Venice, looking at the interplay of technology evolution, economics and society. At the turn of the century he led a World Bank-Infodev project to stimulate entrepreneurship in Latin America. He is a senior member of IEEE where he leads the Industry Advisory Board within the Future Directions Committee and co-chairs the Digital Reality Initiative. He teaches a Master course on Technology Forecasting and Market impact at the University of Trento. He has published over 100 papers in journals and magazines and 14 books.