This content was produced by GOOD with the support of Intel
From Metropolis to 2001 Space Odyssey to the latest James Bond adventure, technology and cinema have enjoyed a long love affair, with the movies often anticipating real world developments. Some of today's most cutting edge breakthroughs are helping make the world better, but a few might look familiar to you already. Here are a few of the most intriguing ideas that were first seen on the big screen before they came to life.
The next few years will see tremendous advances in bionic eyes. While the Terminator used his bionic eyes to analyze the environment and hunt down victims, Stanford University scientists have recently developed bionic eye implants for a much more worthwhile purpose: restoring sight to the blind. Using a computer chip similar to those found in mobile phones, a retinal implant at the back of the eye sends electrical signals to nerves in the eye so that they are able to process light again. In one early trial of the bionic eye, one man in Britain was able to make out shapes and light after being sight impaired for more than 20 years.
In another breakthrough project, Monash University researchers have developed a bionic eye that sends signals and images from the eye directly to the brain, skipping the eye altogether. Microchips are implanted directly into the brain, while special glasses with a camera help process the images, sending them straight to the visual cortex.
Inception set a new standard for what was possible in the realm of dreams. In the film, characters were able to directly access dreams through the drug somnacin and a dream machine. While the drug doesn’t exist (yet), machines that allow scientists to see what you’re thinking of now do. By analyzing brain signals while the subject is undergoing an MRI, scientists can figure out what you’re thinking and even create a (crude) image. They believe that one day, there will be the ability to record thoughts and dreams.
Another step towards the dream world of Inception comes from two Brooklyn inventors. Their goal is to create an ambitious sleep mask, called the Remee, that allows a sleeper to control his or her dream through a series of lights that kick in during the REM (rapid eye movement) stage of sleep, when you're in the dream state. Lucid dreaming—in which a sleeper is aware of the dream and is able to control it—is a concept that has always fascinated people. The Remee project has raised nearly $600,000 in funding on Kickstarter and was also selected as a finalist for the William McShane Fund, which offers support for product start-ups.
Emotional X-Ray Glasses
Combining the concept of Superman’s X-ray vision with Professor X’s mind-reading abilities from X-Men, scientists have come out with glasses that "reads" the emotions of others. Rather than being used to foil superhero villains, however, these glasses were developed to help people with autism understand the subtle emotional cues of everyday interactions.
Created by a team led by Rana el Kaliouby at the University of Cambridge, the glasses include a camera connected to software that analyze facial expressions. Lights on the glasses—green to signal an all clear, red to signal that the other person does not wish to continue interaction—help the wearer understand the interaction.
The glasses have even helped the autistic and those with Asperger’s Syndrome retain their knowledge of others’ emotional cues. The implications are far-reaching beyond the autistic—businesses are said to be keenly interested in using the glasses to train customer service representatives and refine marketing techniques.
In Minority Report, Tom Cruise controlled his computer with physical gestures rather than mouse clicks. That ability may not be too far in the future. While major technology companies are already in a race to develop this kind of technology, one company has already created a motion control device that allows users to interact with computers using gestures. Game consoles have long had this kind of technology, but now Leap Motion is bringing this to desktop computing. Using a combination of infrared light and sensors, the flash drive-sized Leap was developed to bridge “the gap between what’s easy in the real world but very complicated to do digitally.” Pricing the device at $70, Leap Motion is aiming for a late 2012 or early 2013 release.
Thought-Controlled Robotic Limbs
When a paraplegic Marine ends up on the planet Pandora in Avatar, he regains full mobility via a biologically-engineered avatar. Just like in the movie where the Marine can control all of his avatar's physical motions with just his thoughts, technology is now allowing the paralyzed to control robotic limbs.
In a recent study published by Nature, scientists showed that paralyzed patients were able to control prosthetics with their brain. Sensors were implanted into the motor cortex of the brains of two paralyzed people, who had lost control of their limbs due to strokes. The subjects thought of how they would move the robotic arm. The sensors were linked to a computer that recorded how the neurons were firing during this thought, and rendered into a command for the robotic arm.
After some training, the woman in the study was able to serve herself a coffee with the robotic arm. Scientists see it as a breakthrough for what will eventually become possible for the disabled.
With support from our partner Intel, GOOD brings you stories about the innovations and big ideas at the intersection of creativity and technology. Follow the conversation on Twitter at #IntelAlwaysOn.