Top 5 Technologies to Watch in 2011

Each year, electronics becomes a deeper and more inextricably intertwined part of our daily lives. And with the burgeoning service infrastructure—from wireless medical to broadcast 3-D—electronics will assume an even greater role in the coming years.

Here are 5 technologies that I think will generate buzz, attract developers and investors, and get end users to open their wallets in 2011 and beyond.

Gesture recognition for hands-free convenience

Gesture recognition has been a research curiosity for years, with a lot of admirable work languishing in the lab despite the seemingly obvious appeal of hands-free operation. Now PrimeSense Ltd.’s design win in Project Natal, which resulted in the Kinect hands-free controller for the Xbox 360, may have yielded the killer app the field needed. The accelerometer- and gyroscope-based Wii baton piqued the public’s interest in more innovative user interfaces.

But moving the recognition hardware into the console, leaving the user’s hands free, is (pardon the pun) a game changer. The perceived success of hands-free interfaces like Kinect will motivate companies like Canesta (recently acquired by Microsoft), Hillcrest Labs and Movea to begin offering hands-free interfaces for such other platforms as TVs and notebook computers. In fact, the next best step might be the development of a standard lexicon of “gestures for control.”

Touchscreen tabs advance ‘consume only’ model

Electronic devices designed exclusively to consume, rather than both consume and create, began with Apple’s iPod music player, which only Microsoft’s Zune has effectively challenged. Following the debut of Apple iPad, however, every major electronics producer is taking on Apple. Makers of laptops, netbooks, smartphones and, yes, even music players will all be marketing competing touchscreen tablets in 2011. Almost all will try to emulate the trend-setting iPad while adding some differentiator; Dell’s Streak, for example, also lets you make phone calls.

Only a few vendors will try to build an ecosystem that goes head-to-head with Apple’s. One is Samsung, whose Galaxy Tab matches the iPad’s features, right down to a companion phone with a similar name (as the iPhone is to the iPad, the Galaxy S is to the Galaxy Tab).
Others will aim for underserved markets. Hewlett-Packard’s business-oriented Slate, for example, features a stylus input, suiting it for corporate clientele, such as the insurance companies that have put Slates in the hands of their adjusters in the field. Research in Motion’s PlayBook, meanwhile, banks on the BlackBerry phone’s reputation for superior security compared with the iPhone. Tethering the iPad-like PlayBook to a BlackBerry phone lets RIM users keep pace with iPad owners without sacrificing

Automotive radar coming to cheaper cars

Radar Technology has registered on automakers’ own radar  for more than a decade, though the car manufacturers have proceeded with their typical caution in adopting what has been  a costly technology with safety implications. But as silicon sensor costs come down and as the technology gains traction in luxury models, radar systems will begin to trickle down over the next few years to midpriced autos. Lower silicon and system prices will also encourage more governments to mandate automotive radar.

Going into 2011, automotive radar already offers collision avoidance and mitigation in the forward-facing direction, as well as blind-spot monitoring and parking support via rear-facing radar. Beyond 2011, the technology will eventually enable driverless freeway motoring, with smart algorithms using forward- and rear-facing radar, as well as lane detection systems, to control drive-by-wire steering, acceleration and braking systems.

Energy storage media sought

Many exotic technologies loom as long-term prospects for efficient energy storage, but
to date none poses a commercially feasible alternative to lithium-ion batteries, and recent refinements to lithium-ion technology will keep it in the lead for the short haul.

A123 Systems, a developer and manufacturer of advanced Li-ion batteries based on nanoscale materials that were conceived at MIT, was recently selected to develop battery packs for a 2012-model-year electric passenger car from Shanghai Automotive Industry Corp., the largest automaker in China. A123 has also signed a deal to sell 44 megawatts’ worth of its batteries to AES Energy Storage, in a step toward putting solar and wind farms on the grid.

While lithium-ion today is the poster child for energy storage, the technology has inherent limits in energy density and readily available raw materials. Those restrictions, in turn, could limit the production of electric vehicles if a commercially feasible alternative to lithium-ion batteries is not found soon.

Augmented reality: Geotagging the real world

Augmented reality, or the overlay of information on live images via a device display, has already been proved in military applications such as heads-up windscreen displays in fighter aircraft. Now consumer AR is coming to GPS-enabled camera phones.

In 2011, Apple, Google and a dozen startups plan to offer apps and systems that will relay commercial information—such as what’s on sale at the various stores in the mall you’re visiting—AR-style. Even Intel Capital is looking to cash in on the craze by investing in Layar (Amsterdam, Netherlands), an AR platform company that offers online tools for the development community.

But social networking may be the killer AR app. Sekai Camera, for instance, lets users leave their own AR posts at points of interest. A visitor to an ice cream shop, for instance, could aim a phone’s camera at the front of the shop and type a message recommending the soft-serve pistachio. Other Sekai Camera users would see the pistachio fan’s posting when they aimed a camera phone at the shop.

Source: EE Times