Movies … the new source of emerging technology

When I was doing my post on the Science and technology of Avatar, I was trying hard not to compare technologies displayed in movies with what is available in the real world. In fact More than once, Technology has been sourced from movies and vice versa. There is always the technology from the movies that scientists and technology companies actually try to mimic and for me one of those iconic movies was Minority Report.

We will get to minority report in a bit, but in the meantime there are many other movies that made big notches in the symphony of technological history. For example the robots featured in Terminator 2, i Robot, Bi Centenary Man or even AI, ofcourse I am sure a true movie buff would think of many more; paved a way for us to actually understand and see possible relations we could have with our robot humanoids. I am sure for people in the firld of research, it gave them that required extra push, patience to complete the task at hand and make a successful humanoid. The Asimo from Honda became the first such device that we ever made. I am not sure if calling Asimo a device would be appropriate owing to how fast these humanoids are evolving.

Getting back to Minority report, the movie must have had consultants for the technology aspects who dreamt up technologies that they used in the movie, well not really the future predicting technology which I really thought was silly and the story revolved around a really dumb plot; more so the interaction of people with the machines etc. Now they were really brilliant on the other hand. I wanna look at some of them in depth :

  • Gesture based Interfaces : This is something we might see in homes in the not so distant future. Starting from Apple to Microsoft a lot of companies are trying to work on multi touch gesture interfaces. Well Microsoft has even applied for a patent for gesture interface. Pretty cool, in fact one of the science advisors from Minority Report along with a team of other visionaries has created an honest-to-goodness, real-world implementation of the computer systems seen in the movie. Dubbed g-speak, the mind bending OS combines “gestural i/o, recombinant networking, and real-world pixels,” to deliver what the creators call “the first major step in [a] computer interface since 1984.” There are some things that need to seen to be understood, so watch the video here, and prepare to have your mind thoroughly blown to bits. via engadget. Then there is this article talking about the television screens that might come up with gesture interface.

  • Flexible Displays : Flexible displays have been a fantasy of a lot of people from advertising to car manufacturers and so there is a load of work that is done in this field. I am sure that this was started with a vision – of a durable electronic book that could be taken to the beach, on a train, rolled up and put in a pocket… it would use low power and would be updated wirelessly. And lo and behold there are a few devices that do just that : Presenting the Radiopaper. You can download an avi file with an animation for the same here.

  • Personalized Advertising : This is a great technology and while working for my previous employer we tried to make this a reality by presenting it to various companies, however people were too scared to try this technology. What is it ? Simply put, imagine advertising hoardings that display advertisements only for you, with your name and personal interest. Is it possible ? I believe it is, there are various ways to achieve it, like the NEC’s display premiered in Japan, which  utilizes a miniature camera to detect a person’s age and sex so it can play specific commercials aimed at a shopper’s demographic. You could also achieve a similar result using RFID’s and a decent small scale implementation is the ‘Salik’ system for cars in Dubai or the toll system for cars in Singapore.

  • Jetpacks :Unique among the technologies on show, jetpacks have their real-world origins in sci-fi. Several inventors were inspired by the 1920s comic hero Buck Rogers, but it took until the 50s before a workable model – the Bell rocket belt – was dreamed up by Wendell Moore, an engineer with Bell Aircraft. In this film, we get to see the benefits – and fatal flaws – of jetpacks. Benefits for the cops include dramatic, sudden entrances from hovering aircraft, and not having to bother with staircases when chasing criminals. The flaws are obvious when the officer – already an easy target flying through the air – gets in a fight mid-flight, loses his balance and spins out of control. In the real world, such problems have held back jetpack development, although we all remember the appearance of one at the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles. Perhaps the greatest hope for jetpacks lies with a company called Millennium Jet, which unveiled its SoloTrek in February. The machine is less a jet, more a personal helicopter, with an engine powering ducted fans and a computer maintaining flight. Computer models have SoloTrek reaching 8,000ft for 120 miles, although it has only reached a few feet, tethered, in test flights so far.

  • Spider robots : There are lots of places you can’t go on wheels, and caterpillar tracks destroy the landscape, so legs have long been seen as a better solution. The first such machines walked at Ohio State University (the Hexapod) and in the Soviet Union in 1977; today you can build one with Lego. Robots have been used instead of humans for bomb disposal squads as well as the new Unmanned Arial vehicles. This is one technology that is here to stay.

  • Guided Cars : The traffic of the future will be completely regulated, computer guided – and will run up the side of buildings. Only the rich will be able to afford to drive their own vehicles. Since Minority Report features two Lexus vehicles, it is no surprise that Toyota worked on the futuristic travel system. The “private pods” in the film use several familiar ideas, including mag-lev or magnetic levitation – a combination of superconducting magnets (on the roads) and linear motor technology (on the cars). Japan’s railway company, JNR, started researching mag-lev in 1970 and its two-car MLU001 train ran at 400kmph in 1987. However, mag-lev trains are not very good at hills, so don’t try this up the side of a building. And since they have no contact with the ground, braking may also be a bit of a problem.

  • Iris Recognition : In the world of Minority Report, you can never escape your identity. You are recognised, everywhere, by your eyes, thanks to iris recognition. This future world’s fugitives have to go to the desperate lengths of eye-swapping surgery to escape their pasts. Iris recognition technology has been with us for a while. It is often referred to as biometrics, and has been tested in airports and at cash machines. The users’ eyes are photographed, and then every time they present themselves to the machine it compares the eye it “sees” with the picture in its database. Subjects, however, need to stand still, and close to the machine. What we do not have yet are readers like those in the film, capable of picking out individuals in a crowd, and scanning their eyes as they walk. In Dubai, this is implemented to keep a check on expats who enter into the country especially ones who have criminal records.

  • 3D Holograms : I spoke about this in my post about Avatar, and can be checked here .

When it comes to the technology of gestural inputs etc we have made a lot of gains, and one of those can be definately the Sixth Sence technology that is being talked about so much.Proudly displayed at TED by an Indian bloke, Pranav Mistry. Check out the TED talk below.

Moving away from minority report I am sure you guys can think of enough movies that made a similar impact to you guys. Please comment and let me know. In fact I think it can be  a completely separate blog altogether, not only a post on one blog.


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  1. January 17th, 2010
  2. January 18th, 2010

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