Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Portfolio: Geek Squad: Looking Ahead

Oh man, has this day really come? Am I really graduating? Yes, it’s true – my time as a USF student is nearly over, and with that comes the end of Geek Squad, a column that I’ve been writing on and off since my sophomore year. Geek Squad originally was supposed to be just a one-off article about my favorite video games of all-time, but it quickly expanded into a weekly feature that looked at the history of all the major video game consoles and some of the best games they had to offer. After that, Geek Squad expanded even more to include technology – my growing interest in keeping up with modern technology lead to some informative pieces, some how-tos, and a pre-release analysis of the iPad that stirred the pot a little more than I expected. Well, in the spirit of looking toward my future as a USF graduate and beyond, I thought it’d be fun to take a peek at what the future holds for a couple of today’s developing technologies, starting with their modern-day roots and ending with my own personal predictions for what’s ahead. But before that, I’d like to give a big thanks to all my readers over the years – my one hope is that you’ve gained some greater appreciation for all things geeky through reading these articles, whether you’re a gamer or gadget freak or none of the above. So let’s get down to it and jump into this final article of Geek Squad!

Augmented Reality

You can tell this is a cool piece of technology just from what it’s called – augmented reality, taking reality and adding onto it. Of course, what this is referring to isn’t exactly changing the world itself but how you interact with it. Augmented reality (AR for short) refers to the usage of a device that can display a real-world environment while adding onto it with new visual overlays and information. Let’s dumb it down a little: you’ve got a device with a screen and a camera (aka every mobile phone in existence today) along with the augmented reality software and maybe even a GPS sensor. The camera takes in whatever you’re pointing it at, the screen displays it, and the software puts on its own context-sensitive information. An example of this is the Yelp! app for smartphones, which can display an overlay of markers that shows where nearby restaurants are located relative to what direction you’re pointing the camera. But that’s not all AR is capable of – the Nintendo 3DS’s AR software is able to mold any surface into a playing field, shifting its properties on-screen and placing game elements on it to create virtual-reality gaming experiences. So what can the future hold for this technology? Well, imagine wearing a pair of glasses – hell, imagine putting on contacts or getting eye implants – that allow for this functionality, bridging the gap between seeing augmented reality and living it. Built-in GPS, the ability to translate foreign text on the fly, a wealth of information before your eyes. If holograms don’t pan out, augmented reality is the next best thing – and that’s not a bad thing at all.

Near Field Communication

Now this is some high-tech stuff. Near Field Communication (NFC for short) is a technology that may very well be taking the world of mobile phones by storm in the near future. It’s a chip that’s capable of generating a small magnetic field around it that can communicate and interact with other NFC-equipped devices. It’s kind of like Bluetooth, but the downfall of Bluetooth is how long it takes to get things going – the startup time, the pairing process, etc. NFC foregoes all of that with automatic pairing and a startup time of less than a tenth of a second. Its only downside (which isn’t much of one if you think about it) is that the technology only has a range of about 4 centimeters between the two devices you’re using. While there aren’t many practical applications for NFC today and only a few smartphones that are sporting the chip, NFC’s specifications can make way for a future where the mobile phone becomes both wallet and keychain. Imagine storing your credit card information on your phone, which can then be used to make payments by pressing it up against a payment pad. Or how about ditching that Clipper card for Muni and just using your phone instead? What about starting your car or getting into your house with the swipe of your phone? Sure, there’s a lot of questions about security to be raised, but the fact of the matter is that our technology is evolving to be more and more mobile, and our phones are the core of that evolution, with NFC helping pave the way to make it all possible.

These are but two of many technological advances that are being developed right now to shape the way we live our lives in the future. There’s also been huge leaps in solar energy, wireless charging, paper-thin malleable displays, multi-core mobile processors, voice and gesture-reactive feedback… the list goes on and on. I don’t know, maybe I find some sort of comfort knowing that no matter where my future leads me, it’s going to be filled with some really cool tech. Yeah, the future looks pretty bright.

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Portfolio: Gamer's Paradise Pilot

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