Though it’s discussed less and less, we still hold to the idea of “the killer app”. A piece of software specifically tied to a class of computers that it drives the sale of that computer. As small computers have become increasingly homogenized, the idea of the killer app is more of a fading dream.
There are still technologies to be exploited. One is about to burst forth, one might come soon, and research is going on with two more. Each of these pieces of tech has the potential of making its creator not only rich, but legendary.
Since it was first announced, and especially after the following demo (memjet videos), memjet printing technology has been eagerly awaited.
The prospect of fast printing (never mind that it’s high resolution color) with an affordable printer and more than affordable ink has been the stuff of drool-worthy blogs and articles for a couple of years. After a few delays that are inevitable with new tech, it appears to be poised for market. Its been reported that deliveries to manufacturers will be in early 2009, with products available by the end of 2009.
At this point, there are three big questions about this printing technology (other than whether or not it lives up to the demo):
- What sort of ink will be available? Will it be dye-based or pigment-based. If it will use pigment inks, then this technology will render a lot of other tech obsolete over night.
- How do you clean clogged print heads? A headache today with inkjet technology is that more ink gets wasted trying to unclog print heads than it does actually printing anything. With 70,000 nozzles, it’s immediately obvious to just about everyone that not only does the firmware need to adjust for temporarily clogged nozzles, but there needs to be an efficient way for them to be self-cleaned. If you need to call a technician, this tech will be still-borne.
- Utility. Can the printer print on a variety of supports (paper, disc, etc.), and will the result be more-or-less water proof. One of the downfalls of many an inkjet family are inks that don’t stay put in the wake of damp fingers, errant drops of spittle, or a spilled cup of tea.
I’ve been waiting to see consumer-level product for a while now. If it does everything that has been promised: low printer cost, low consumable cost, high quality, high speed; it will be making a lot of people very rich indeed.
When I think of e-books, I think of what the tech has to be for it to succeed, not the beginning forms that we see now.
First off, an e-book has to be affordable. It has to be so affordable that it become ubiquitous and thus not worth the trouble to steal. I think the best price point is $50 (2009, US), but anything under $100 will work.
Second, the e-book needs to use so little power that it might be possible to generate its own via temperature differential, physical handling, and the like for normal use in lit areas. A back-light will undoubtedly require some power attachment.
Third, the e-book has to have a degree of flexibility and robustness of build that it can take a beating and still work.
Fourth, the e-book has to be able to be highlighted, notated, bookmarked, and multi-paged. While this is of more use for students, they aren’t the only ones who do more than read their material.
Fifth, the e-book contents must be considered to be just like a printed book, i.e. fully owned and transferable.
Sixth, the e-book can download contents and it can delete contents. It cannot upload or otherwise transfer its contents to another device. To accommodate updated devices and such, a dongle will probably be the best method to manage ownership rights.
Seventh, the e-book must not be dependent upon being connected to a network. Once the content is stored, a working e-book should be functional regardless of network technology.
Eighth, the e-book must be able to display drawings, photographs, and other materials found in printed books.
Ninth, the e-book must be able to alter font size while still allowing proper access via tables of contents and indexes.
Many of these technologies already exist, at least in the lab. It shouldn’t take too long to meld everything into one device that will be useful.
The killer app is student textbooks. In a college or university setting, students would only have to carry one e-book for all of their coursework. The contents would be available in the student’s assigned class. Thereafter, the student would have the book for reference for as long as they care to.
The fly in the ointment, as it so often is, are the “publishers” who will want their tithe. They will eventually learn what the music industry did: the rental model is doomed. You have to price to sell.
As I mentioned, e-books would have to have a dongle that would identify an e-book device and its contents. This would be a marker to keep some sense of ownership of materials. Since the devices can’t be backed up, there would need to be a central repository to manage some digital rights management. It protects legitimate transferees from being accused of theft, and protects e-book holders when their devices are lost or stolen. Since so much material would be on any given e-book, the own would need this sort of economic protection.
My feeling is that a consumer version is still 5-10 years away. There are a lot of hurdles to overcome.
The next great leap in solar technology will be to harness the ability of plants to convert energy. While much of cybernetic-organic research is focused on melding machine and animal (specifically human), I think we need to start thinking outside the greenhouse.
Nature offers us a plethora of already designed solar energy converters in the form of plants. Many have, as side effects of this conversion, taking in CO2, expelling O2, and providing carbohydrates as stored fuel. Imagine, if you will, a tree’s worth of leaves spreading out to passively capture free sunlight. But, instead of using that energy in the service of keeping a tree alive, some of it is funneled off for energy utilization.
In an advanced form, we would simply manufacture millions upon millions of these bionic leaves that not only convert sunlight into usable amounts of electricity, but also help scrub some of the CO2 from the atmosphere. A tech two-fer.
Nothing is more crucial for continued viability of the human population than fresh water. Without water for drinking, cooking, irrigation, and sanitation we are in for some hard times. The trouble is that even though we live on a big blue water-covered planet, most of the water is unavailable to us. The elements and minerals that are dissolved in most of the water make it unusable for our biologic needs. To survive, we need ever-increasing amounts of fresh water.
We do have some desalinization in various places around the world. Some use very sophisticated filters. Others use nuclear-powered distillation. Neither is considered a viable option for more than a small and isolated population.
The grail for any government will be for its researchers to discover a low-energy-cost method of extracting fresh water from the oceans. For decades, one solution has been to use fusion power. Being that fusion power has been 10-20 years in the future for more than forty years now pretty much suggests that we shouldn’t hold our breath.
Whether it’s through distillation, catalysis, chemistry, biologics, or incantations, the push will be increasing to find a solution to the water problem. Before long it will be more than water for the desert…it will be water for the farms. While efforts are underway, there doesn’t seem to be as much urgency in finding answers to this very difficult problem as the possible consequences would suggest.
Who makes the discovery is a concern. While some countries will consider it a moral duty to provide a breakthrough in this technology to the world at little cost or for free, other nations will be more than willing to broker the process for maximum profit. In the future, he who controls the water will control the world. I think any country that wants to be on the side with the giant spigot should be marshaling its resources.