The holodeck: Exoskeleton

An impression of a personal simulator based on the exoskeleton technology

An impression of a personal simulator based on the exoskeleton technology.

In the coming weeks I will examine a few technologies that could function like a holodeck. Today I’ll examine the potential of the exoskeleton as a holodeck replacement.

The exoskeleton is essentially a robot which you strap to your body. It applications are vast, most noticeably helping you lift heavy loads with ease and people currently in a wheelchair will be able to walk again. It is even predicted that we will all be wearing exoskeletons within the next fifty years. Next to those great promises we can see entertainment applications as well.

If you program the exoskeleton to provide resistance, mount it on a base which can turn on two axis, an arm to simulate list, an awesome sound system and put on 3D/ holographic goggles et voilà you have a personal simulator which fits in a room (see my ‘awesome’ Photoshop impression). For the first time in gaming you will actually feel the weight of the sword in your hand as you slay your enemies, be in the cockpit of your F1 car or at the bridge of the USS Enterprise. The sensors in the exoskeleton would eliminate the need for any other input device. Just grab the sword and you are ready to slash your enemy or take a hold of the steering wheel of your favourite car etc. You can do anything you want as if it was real.

As the systems of the exoskeleton itself get smaller you could add more functionalities to increase the experience. You could for instance add a sense of hot and cold, a sense of touch or a sense of smell. The easiest to incorporate would be hot and cold so it is likely to be added first. Smell is a little harder, because it would require some plumbing to get the smell near your nose. Touch over a large portion of the body is hard to do. It would require a lot of sophisticated output devices, not in the last place because our sense of touch is pretty sophisticated.

This system though being an awesome gaming system would first see military and commercial applications. The military would use it for training soldiers and preparing missions. Commercially it could replace the simulators now used to train pilots and captains. The biggest advantage for this system is that you can change the layout of the flight deck/bridge by loading a different program instead of having to build a new simulator which costs millions. It’s small size is a big advantage as well. Although if you have a larger space you could opt to simulate G-forces making for a more realistic experience. This in turn giving the crew an even better chance of surviving in the event of an emergency.

The biggest problem at the moment is that an exoskeleton is very expensive (although you can hire one for $590 or €460 a month). The technology required is still pretty much in it’s infancy and they are not yet mass produced. Also I do not know of anyone developing a system like this for entertainment purposes at the moment. However, if we really will walk in exoskeletons all day is only a matter of time before somebody will.

The holodeck: Holographic TV

In the coming weeks I will examine a few technologies that could function like a holodeck. Today I’ll talk about the holographic TV [hTV] a technology which is just around the corner.

A true hTV differs from a 3D TV by making the objects appear in the room instead of merely creating an illusion that they are 3D.  When viewing a 3D TV everybody watches the same picture no matter where you are in relation to the screen. A hTV sends out the light in such a way that an object will actually appear to be in the room. your relation to the TV will therefore actually determine what you view. You can compare the difference between viewing a scene in a show box and having a model of the same scene. In the show box you see a scene from a fixed perspective while you can walk around a model.

A hTV has the benefit of not being harmful to the eyes and eye development in children and will not cause headaches and exhaustion associated with traditional 3D TV’s. This is because a hTV actually projects the object into the room so your eyes can focus on an “object” instead of the screen.

Restrictions with native hTV content have to do with the available processing power and bandwidth. You can imagine that in order to display an object in 3D from any given angle requires a massive amount of data. This will mean that in the first generations of the hTV it will track your eye movements and only display the viewing angle you see. This means that the number of viewers is automatically limited to the number of people the hTV can track and display an object for. As the cost of bandwidth and processing power decreases more angles will be added.

Early adopters of the hTV will be of course the military gaining an advantage when they are able to plan missions on a live 3D map. I also see potential for industrial designers and architects allowing clients to view their work without having to produce a physical model. This means they can adapt their work to the clients wish live with the click of a button. Of course the advertisement industry will use the technology to attract attention to their products. Later on theme parks and cinema will install hTV technology to entertain their costumers.

The first hTV native consumer applications will probably come from the gaming industry. Which just eliminates the step which makes their 3D games able to display on a 2D screen. Sports will benefit from hTV technology allowing you to view the pitch from any angle you desire and allowing you to walk around so you can see what the players see. The other early adopters for consumers will be the porn industry which, unlike Hollywood, does not care about artistic value of their production as long as it gets the job done.

Hollywood will need more time however so they can figure out how to get the story across when people can view it from unintended angles. Maybe they will keep to showing their films more like the traditional 3D technology. Where there is just one viewpoint for all viewers, independent of the location of the viewer like a show box having layers of 2D images projected a little bit apart from each other creating the illusion of 3D.

the technology to shoot a film in native hTV is already available to consumers. A hacked xbox kinect camera has been shown to film a room 180 degrees in 3D. two or three of these camera’s could capture (nearly) an entire room allowing you to view an action in that room from any angle.

Most exclusive burger

First lab grown burger. (copyright Reuters 5-8-2013)

First lab grown burger. (copyright Reuters 5-8-2013)

About a month ago I wrote an article about the drawbacks of traditional farming methods and the drawbacks of organic farming. One of the solutions to the problems of meat production would be to grow the meat in the lab. Instead of needing an entire cow you would only need muscle and fatty tissue. (and blood vessels if you want to grow anything else than minced meat).

As you don’t need any organs, skin bone structure etc. you’ll save a lot on the resources. It is projected that it would save up to 40% from the traditional methods and when you need 15.000 litres to grow a kilo of beef you can imagine the savings you’d get. Greenhouse gasses are even reduced up to 90%.

Growing meat in a lab is quite a challenge as you might imagine and has eluded us in spite of decades of research. Today, however we had a worlds first: The first lab grown burger. It cost about €250.000 and could do with a little bit more fat for juiciness and flavour but overall it tasted all right. As you can imagine it might still take a decade more before it will be commercially viable. Growing an entire steak is even further out.

Lab grown meats biggest problem is it’s image. A lot of people might have a problem with Frankenmeat at first. I however project that eventually people will come round to this as they have done to so many artificially created products (The introduction of car and rail road weren’t smooth sailing either yet we wouldn’t think twice about using them today). I think that over time people will start to prefer artificial meat to natural one because of animal cruelty and health risks (mad cow disease for instance).

Vegetarian mc2 Burger. (copyright De Vegetarische Slager)

Vegetarian mc2 Burger. (copyright De Vegetarische Slager)

Lab grown meat isn’t the only contender to replace meat in the super market however. Vegetarian products are getting better and cheaper by the day. One producer of vegetarian products even claims to have made a product that is indistinguishable from beef which he also presented today. It looks the real deal if nothing else and with a price of €2,89 per two is a lot cheaper. However if the selection of vegetarian products in my local supermarket is an indication it will not get close to real meat by a long shot.

Anyway if you want to get your own lab grown burger you can buy one today for just €200.000 because of better production methods.