News

Would you want a computer that can be controlled with hand motions?

A host of companies, including Microsoft, have been working to create a new way of interacting with computers: motion sensing technology. With everyday movements like drawing, waving, and rotating, users can control functions on their computers. Many are entering the field; a company called Leap Motion, for example, has created technology that converts any screen into one that can be controlled by waving all ten fingers. The device can be useful, some say, for surgeons that want to interact with 3D medical data, engineers who want to mold an object, or everyday users who just wants to sit back and scroll.

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Will these types of "private space station" boost space tourism?

Rather than participate in fly-by suborbital flights, which are being offered by companies like Virgin Galactic, SpaceX Corp. has teamed up with Bigelow Aerospace to offer an experience in a microgravity living environment. The plan, laid out in a jointly issued news release, calls for clients to go into orbit via SpaceX's Dragon spacecraft, and link up with Bigelow's BA 330 inflatable space habitat. Each BA 330 private space station houses up to six adults, and the modules can also be strung together to create a larger space station complex. Solar arrays power each unit, and the modules will feature four large observation windows coated with UV protection film. Astronaut training programs will also prepare passengers for the rigors of space travel and microgravity living.

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Will these holographic tools, and similar technologies, catch on?

This week's INSIDER story demonstrated a Star Trek-like, human-scale 3D videoconferencing pod  that allows people in different locations to video conference as if they are standing in front of each other.

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Will asteroid-mining missions pay off?

Last week, a space startup called Planetary Resources announced its plan for the future: asteroid mining. With diminishing resources on Earth, the company's founders believe that space offers the next logical frontier. They will use small satellites to scan near-Earth asteroids for rare materials, perhaps gold, platinum, other earth minerals, and even water. A demo mission could fly within two years.

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By 2020, will the majority of consumers use mobile phones instead of cash?

Consumers can currently pay for products with mobile apps, and many tools are available to turn smartphones into mobile cash registers. Sixty-five percent of respondents to a Pew Internet & American Life Project survey say that by 2020 most people will have fully adopted the "mobile wallet."

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Will augmented-reality technology catch on?

On Wednesday, Google previewed an initiative called Project Glass. The company created wrap-around glasses with a clear display that sits above the eye. The wearable-computing technology streams information to the lenses and allows the wearer to send and receive messages through voice commands. A built-in camera can take pictures and record video. A video released weeks ago by the search giant showed a man using the “Google Glasses”: moving through New York City, communicating with friends, navigating with maps, and snapping pictures.

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Will 'swap shops' boost electric vehicle ownership?

Some electric car companies have begun to change their ownership models. The French automaker Renault, for example, has reduced its prices under a model that has drivers buy the car, but rent the battery separately. The idea of renting out an electric battery separately has inspired an Israeli company, called Better Place, to start building battery swap stations. Although it will cost consumers more per year, the drivers are guaranteed a good battery all the time. They can automatically get a replacement and avoid the need to recharge, in about the same time it takes to fill up with a tank of gas. The company is building a network of such stations in Israel, Denmark, and later this year in Australia.

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