On Tuesday, Mark Zuckerberg announced that Facebook had bought Oculus for an astounding $2 billion.
The company is best known for making weird, spacey-looking virtual reality headset Oculus Rift that supposedly takes 3D gaming to the next level.
Now, considering we know literally nobody that plays games in 3D, we'd usually judge something like this as a fad – a gimmick that'll soon be tossed in the corner like your old Furby.
But considering Marky Mark splashed out $2 billion on these guys, we're going to sit up and pay attention. That's a helluva lot to invest in something for the novelty alone. And Mark's message (see it in full here) indicates using this technology for something far beyond video gameplay:
He ends his post like Tony Stark:
Hear that? The future we saw in movies like Blade Runner, Back To The Future and Minority Report is quickly becoming the present. And Zuckerberg is about to start leading it.
That or he's playing catch-up with Google who, at the moment, are buying pretty much every kind of 'new' technology out there.
Anyway, one thing's certain: the future is changing, whether it's for better or worse, and it's going to be full of awesome gadgets.
FHM spoke to some of the best and brightest minds in science and technology to discover what we can all look forward to in the near future...
01 THE CONTACT LENSES THAT LET YOU CONTROL YOUR DREAMS
Your alarm goes off. Monday morning, 7am.
Moments earlier you were relaxing on a sun-drenched Caribbean beach, sipping cocktails as you sifted the white sand with your toes. It’s your favourite dream. And you chose it specifically before going to bed using 'active contact lenses'.
Sitting in your eyes just like a normal pair of contact lenses, these fire three tiny lasers into your retinas via a micro-mirror, beaming high-resolution images into your brain. Before going to sleep, you'd downloaded the beach scene from an online dream database containing innumerable templates, from famous battles to space travel to FA Cup finals.
“These are already being developed,” says futurologist Dr Ian Pearson, who first came up with the concept for active lenses all the way back in 1991. “In the future, you'll be able to play video into your eyes while you sleep to influence your dreams. You'll even be able to play the images to your girlfriend and share dreams with her. Of course, how you each interpret those images will be up to your subconscious, but it will at least give you something to talk about over breakfast.”
02 THE DEVICE THAT TURNS YOUR HOME INTO ITS OWN COMPUTER
You climb out of bed and shuffle zombie-like into the kitchen. First you want to see the morning’s news headlines and check your emails. In the future, there’s no need for a television or computer. Your home already is one.
“Imagine pulling up information anywhere you wanted: on a table, a wall, anywhere you go,” says Mark Rolston, chief creative officer for design firm Frog, whose RoomE concept does exactly that. “So the house, office, building or city is the computer.”
You point at the kitchen cabinet and say, “TV news.” Immediately, News 24 materialises on that very spot, beamed from projectors mounted on the ceiling. Tiny cameras inside them sense your movement, knowing exactly where you want the screen to be. It follows you around the room as you investigate what’s for breakfast, then you swipe it away with a wave of your arm, Tony Stark-style.
“We've spent the last 20 years adjusting to computers,” says Rolston. “They're good enough now that they can adjust to us.”
03 THE BOX THAT MEANS YOU WILL NEVER HAVE TO COOK A MEAL AGAIN
With no milk in the fridge, cereal is out of the question. But you can always print out a fry-up instead. Sam Cervantes, founder of start-up Solidoodle, has designed the world’s first affordable home 3D printer. In short, he’s a man who can make anything. Using a digital blueprint, an object is formed by squirting droplets of plastic layer by layer via a carefully controlled inkjet nozzle.
“If you can squeeze it into a syringe, I can print it,” the one-time aerospace engineer tells us at his factory in Brooklyn. “You want a printer that can print you a hamburger? Sure, it’s possible. Just give me a year.” The principle has been around for more than a decade, and has already been used to create jewellery, toys, furniture, cars and even parts of a gun.
US scientists have also developed a 3D bioprinter able to print raw beef, squirting hundreds of thousands of live cells ('bio-ink'), which fuse to form living tissue. “I see a future where every home has a 3D printer,” says Sam. “I want the world to embrace the Star Trek view of the future, an all-inclusive world-view where we employ technology to create, not to destroy.”
04 THE CAR THAT DRIVES YOU TO WORK WHILE YOU HAVE A NAP
You wolf down your printed eggs, beans and bacon, and go outside where your driverless car is waiting.
“In the future there’ll be a network of self-drive cars that you simply book; they’ll arrive and take you where you want,” says Martin Spring, the Lancaster University professor who co-authored a paper on the potential of self-driving cars. Because they’re run from a centralised network, you’ll never crash, never have to find a parking spot and never be caught in traffic again.
“When you remove the need for someone to sit there driving, you can completely rethink what a ‘car’ is,” says Spring. “You won’t need a driving seat, a steering wheel or any driving paraphernalia whatsoever. Instead, you’ll be able to get dressed in the car as it whisks you to work, guided by cameras, lasers and GPS maps downloaded from the internet as you go.”
05 THE TATTOO THAT TURNS YOUR SKIN INTO A COMPUTER SCREEN
After a breezy journey, you pull up at your office. Your workplace looks nothing like the offices of the past. There are no monitors, and no in-trays or papers to leaf through. Instead, you can send emails, surf the internet or draw up a spreadsheet on the surface of your arm. Silicon-silk membranes will turn your whole body into a potential computer screen through miniscule LED circuit boards implanted beneath the skin.
“Our device is about the thickness of a hair and can laminate on to the surface of the skin, so you won’t even feel it’s there,” says Illinois University professor John Rogers, who has led development of implanted electronic membranes that transmit medical data, such as blood pressure or blood sugar. “We could even build an epidermal fuel cell that would operate on glucose so all you need to do is eat food to power your device.”
06 THE ONE-PIECE SUIT THAT WILL GIVE YOU SUPER-HUMAN STRENGTH
On your lunchbreak you want to get out of the office, so you slip into your power suit and hit the local park. Electroactive polymer muscles in future-tech clothing are five times stronger than natural ones, giving you super-human strength. Imagine leaping between buildings, hammering nails into walls with your bare hands or kicking a football 1,000 yards – all without breaking a sweat.
“Electroactive polymers can combine with soft electrodes so when you apply a voltage they change shape and size, turning electrical energy into mechanical motion like a human muscle,” says Federico Carpi, professor in biomedical engineering and biomaterials at London’s Queen Mary University. “This tech is gaining momentum and I think the next few years are really going to see some changes.”
07 THE BOOZE THAT ENSURES YOU’LL NEVER HAVE ANOTHER HANGOVER AGAIN
It’s 6pm: home time. But you were bollocked by your boss for not CCing him into an important email to a client and now all you want to do is go to the pub. Unfortunately that presentation first thing tomorrow won’t do itself. Not to worry. Synthetic booze is at hand.
Scientists at Imperial College London are closing in on a formula for synthetic alcohol that will get you almost as sozzled as regular booze without the side effects. All you need to do at the end of the night is to pop a pill to sober up.
“The aim is to swap ethanol for something less toxic,” says professor David Nutt, who leads the development team. “It’s mad to think that people drink something so toxic that Damien Hirst pickles cows in it.”
Professor Nutt is even looking for ways to make alcohol less addictive and remove the part that makes drunks want to fight. “You’d be able to have as many drinks as you like, then take an antidote and drive home safely within 10 minutes,” he adds.
08 THE GLASSES THAT WILL TELL YOU ABOUT A GIRL BEFORE YOU EVEN ASK HER OUT ON A DATE
Four beers later and your eyes are being increasingly drawntowards the girls in the pub. How many of them, you drunkenly ponder, are single? So you slip on your augmented reality (AR) glasses – think Google Glass on steroids – and survey the bar. Instantly your world morphs into a dazzling array of data and graphics, like the Terminator after too much wine. But instead of killing, you just want to love.
“The possibilities of AR are endless,” says Dr Pearson. “Your device will link to everyone else’s via wireless network, so you can programme your appearance to be however you want it: you can wear virtual jewellery, virtual clothes, even give yourself a virtual six-pack or have butterflies flitting around your head… just as long as people around you keep their glasses on.”
Out the corner of your eye, you spot a pretty brunette standing at the bar. Facial recognition technology makes her Facebook profile instantly pop up next to her, telling you her interests, hobbies and relationship status: single. You decide to 'poke' her from across the room.
09 THE GADGET THAT ALLOWS YOU TO HAVE THE BEST SEX EVER WITH SOMEONE WHO IS MILES AWAY
It’s midnight. Things have gone well with the girl at the bar, but she says she’s got to get up early and can’t come back to yours. Instead she suggests you meet up later when you both get home. She hands you a flash drive and sashays off into the night.
Back at your flat, you turn on your 'active skin'. These are microscopic capsules that sit between nerve endings wherever on your body you choose. They can pick up the electromechanical waves sent between nerve cells and record them, allowing you to play back physical sensations from the past or experience new ones remotely.
“Active skin will let you literally feel something that isn’t there,” says Dr Pearson. “You’ll be able to record sensations and replay them, whether it’s shaking hands with a business partner or something altogether more sensual.”
That’s right, he’s talking about sex. You download the girl’s details from the flash drive and – like a physical phone call – throw yourself hard-drive-first into a night of e-passion. This feels no different to a regular one-night stand – the only difference being that you’re on opposite sides of the city.
When it’s finished, you pop your active lenses back into your eyes, programme a dream and doze off to the gentle hum of self-drive cars outside. And before you know it, you’re back on that Caribbean beach, sipping mojitos. “All of this may sound like something cooked up in a smoke-filled Hollywood boardroom, but this kind of technology is closer than you think,” says Dr Pearson. “We are heading towards a tomorrow that has endless possibilities.”
Words by Matt Blake
Additional reporting by Bob Palmer
Illustrations by firstname.lastname@example.org