1. Google Glass
Google X, Google’s tech advancement facility, has been developing a hands-free computer system, Google Glass. Built on an Android operating system (OS), Glass is a pair of glasses with a small computer on the right lens meant to augment reality. While a few developers have already had the opportunity to purchase Glass, it is not yet available for consumers. Google has stated that it plans to release Glass for consumers later this year. This same statement was made in 2013, however, and it is unknown whether this will actually happen.
Some developers have been able to purchase Glass through Google’s Explorers program. Applicants who are accepted to the program are able to purchase an “Explorer version” of the Glass for $1,500, although Google has reported that the consumer version of Glass will cost less than this.
When the Talon received an Explorer Glass for testing, we found the device fairly easy to use. Wearing Glass is quite comfortable—it feels just like wearing a pair of normal glasses. The computer screen is off to the top right corner of one’s view, making it both non-obtrusive and easily accessible. The touch pad on the right side of the frame is used to wake the OS from “sleep.” The pad is not very sensitive, which can make it difficult to navigate at first, but this does not detract from the Glass’s overall performance. Once Glass is activated via the touch pad, the user can control the system via voice commands and head movements or just by scrolling on the touch pad. The voice recognition is quick and effective. Through voice commands, users can ask the Glass OS to do things such as send either text messages or emails, look something up or take pictures and videos. The media recorded using the Glass is immediately backed up to the user’s Google Plus account, if they have one.
Developers in the Explorer program have been using Glass for creating programs to help firefighters, tools for athletes, creative projects and more. There are also apps for navigating day to day life, such as cooking apps that display recipes and translation apps that can translate voice and text in real time.
2. Raspberry Pi
The Raspberry Pi is a cheap, accessible computer that fits in a pocket. About the size of a credit card, Raspberry Pi single-board computers can be purchased for as little as $25 and can run a number of open source OS’s, including Raspbian, a Linux OS made specifically for the Pi.
Released in 2012, the Raspberry Pi was created by a group based in University of Cambridge with the goal of making computers available to more young students who might want to pursue computer science. The Raspberry Pi comes equipped with onboard memory and ports for USB, keyboard, mouse and monitor connection. Model A and Model B of the Raspberry Pi come with 256 MB and 512 MB of onboard memory, respectively.
While Raspberry Pi started as an accessible computing project, it has benefits beyond its price range. Due to its size, inventors and hobbyists find the Pi easy to implement in their projects. The Raspberry Pi has been used to make everything from automatic cat feeders to live online weather stations. While the Raspberry Pi is not going to replace standard computer hardware and operating systems, it is a viable option for personal computing and a great tool for electronics projects.
3. D Wave quantum computers
The idea of quantum computing was first introduced in the ‘80s. In theory, quantum computers would use quantum phenomena to perform some operations incredibly faster than classical computers can.
Practical quantum computing might seem like sci-fi, but a company called D-Wave claims to have made it a reality. D-Wave released its first supposed quantum computer in 2011, the D-Wave One. However, there has been a lot of controversy since the release of D-Wave One, as leaders in the field of quantum computation have questioned or denied the “quantumness” of the D-Wave machine. Some physicists claim that the D-Wave’s computing efficiency does not prove that it is a true quantum computer. On the other hand, supporters of the D-Wave systems argue that all research and attempts to further our quantum computing capabilities should be commended, regardless of the “purity” of the quantum system.
Google and NASA teamed up to purchase D-Wave’s second machine, the D-Wave Two. Whether the D-Wave Two can actually be considered a quantum computer is still up for debate. D-Wave claims that the computer makes use of quantum annealing, but there is no public evidence supporting this claim. Over the next five years Google and NASA’s Quantum Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (QuAIL) will use the D-Wave Two to develop quantum algorithms and more.
Quantum computers made national headlines in January when National Security Agency (NSA) whistleblower Edward Snowden released the information that the NSA is working to develop a quantum computer of its own. Due to the immense amount of computing power and speed that a functional quantum computer would have over classical computers, a quantum computer would theoretically be able to break most current data encryptions. The NSA’s advancement in quantum computation when compared to other researchers is not known.
“It seems improbable that the NSA could be that far ahead of the open world without anybody knowing it,” an associate professor of electrical engineering and computer science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology said in an interview with the Washington Post.
Controversies aside, with new advancements in quantum computers being unveiled all the time, quantum computing is slowly but surely making the transition from physicist’s dream to functional
4. Amazon Prime Air
Amazon Prime Air is a recently revealed project being developed by Amazon that uses unmanned aerial vehicles to deliver packages, as opposed to the more traditional delivery truck. The project hopes to use these drones, called “octo-copters,” to deliver packages that are five pounds or less to customers within 30 minutes of placing an order.
Introduced by Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos on an episode of “60 Minutes” in late 2013, this recent development by Amazon has attracted much attention. According to FedEx CEO Fred Smith, the idea of drones delivering packages is “almost amusing.” However, Bezos is very optimistic about the project, claiming that Prime Air will be ready to enter commercial operations “as soon as the necessary regulations are in place.” Amazon Prime Air is anticipated to be ready as early as 2015, depending on the regulations that the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is putting in place.
Amazon Prime Air faces many challenges in its journey to become more than just a curious experiment in delivery technology. Before it can be utilized as a legal form of delivery, the FAA must create guidelines for drone delivery, since such a project has not been attempted before. There is also much skepticism about the safety of drones as well as the risk of hacking and malfunctions. Despite the challenges that Amazon Prime Air faces, it is a project that, if put in effect, could revolutionize the way delivery works in the United States.
5. Steam OS
Valve Corporation, the video game development company that created the popular PC-based Steam platform and online store, along with several critically acclaimed and popular game titles such as the Half-Life and Portal series, has recently been looking to branch out and create an operating system for Steam. Steam OS is headed by Valve co-founder Gabe Newell, and it will be the system that runs Steam Machines. These are gaming computers that function like real game consoles for the living room.
Steam OS is Linux-based, comprised of Debian 7, codenamed Wheezy. The main goal of the system, according to Valve’s official Steam website, is to bring PC gaming to the big screen without any of the usual drawbacks of other video game consoles. All Windows and Mac games will work with the OS, greatly expanding the choices of games for the machine.
The development of Steam OS and the Steam Machine also introduces something that only PC-based gamers were able to have: hardware customization, in addition to software customization. The prices of most Steam Machines, built with Alienware technology, range from just $499 to over $6,000.
In addition, Valve’s Steam OS is designed to get maximum performance off its computer’s hardware. According to the official website, Valve has already managed to get “significant performance increases in graphics processing.” Now, Valve will focus on the OS’s audio processing and user input latency, which is the time delay between stimulation and response.
Despite the advancements and high hopes for Steam OS, many wonder whether it will make an impact on the current console market. The target audience is slim, with most PC and console gamers being happy with their current platforms. Most of these people would find it quite a hassle to constantly upgrade the hardware and software in the Steam Machine in order to optimized performance all of the time.