As Chevrolet Volt drivers will tell you, sometimes ordinary people get the power to do extraordinary things
By Marcia Simmons
Superman, Wonder Woman, Spiderman and other superheroes are fictional, of course. But their superpowers may soon be very real, thanks to scientists who believe there are no limits to innovation. So whether you’re a tech maven like Iron Man or a Chevrolet Volt driver with a fully charged battery and a superpower for finding parking spots, keep your eye on these five real-world technologies that can give an ordinary human extraordinary abilities.
We’ve all seen technicians on crime dramas “enhance” grainy video or muffled audio to help catch the bad guys. But what if we could do that in real time? The Eidos device has an audio portion that neutralizes background noise and amplifies only the speech and sounds you choose. The vision portion detects and overlays movement to allow you to see traces and patterns hidden to the naked eye. Eidos fits over your face like a mask, so it’s perfect for keeping that secret identity a secret.
Passwords, fingerprinting and even retina scans are such a 20th-Century way to confirm ID. To keep everything from your supercomputer to your ride safe, you’ll need Disney’s capacitive fingerprinting technology. “Fingerprinting” is a bit of a misnomer, since this tech can recognize you by your bone density, muscle mass, electrical current levels, and other truly unique ways. So in the future if you don’t want your superhero-mobile Volt to fall into the wrong hands, this is a security measure that even the most clever of villains can’t crack.
No matter how often we go to the gym, we humans just aren’t capable of superhuman strength. Tokyo University of Science has found a way around that problem: a robotic exoskeleton fitted with artificial muscles. The current versions of these “muscle suits” are intended to make repetitive lifting in the workplace easier and to help health care workers move patients more quickly and easily. However, scientists are working to make the suits more lightweight and capable of greater feats of strength. Maybe we’ll all be able to lift as much as the Incredible Hulk soon.
While we’re used to prosthetic limbs and mechanical limbs, the technology has just advanced to cyborg level with a bionic hand that’s hardwired to the brain. The two-way communication between mind and machine means that you can feel sensations on the hand in addition to controlling it with your brain. Depending on the success of the clinical trials in Switzerland, we may be seeing a real-life Six Million Dollar Man some day.
If you think smartphones are a high-tech way to exchange information, try telepathy. Using neural implants, researchers at Duke University sent electrical signals from one rat’s brain to another rat’s brain, telling it to push a lever. And it worked! Researchers aren’t going to be opening skulls to test that process out on people any time soon, but one scientist in the UK was able to achieve a very rudimentary form of brain-to-brain communication between humans by putting electrodes on the subjects’ scalps. Basically, one person imagined moving his right or left arm, an action that was translated into a flashing light signal and sent to the other person’s brain so she could do the same motion. That worked, too. Though that’s not exactly Professor Xavier sending complicated instructions to the X-Men via brainwaves, it’s one step closer to telepathy.
Volt owners have already driven more than 100,000,000 EV miles. That means saving gallons of gas and making a difference for the environment. Add the 273 lb.–ft. of low–end torque performance, stylish good looks, and all the high-tech amenities and you get a better understanding on how Volt is changing the way we drive.
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San Francisco Bay Area writer Marcia Simmons’ work has appeared in Geek, Go, Shape, NOTCOT and Serious Eats, among other publications. She is also the co-author of the book DIY Cocktails.