Electronic Design

For Fun: We're Not In Kansas Anymore...

Sports, leisure, and entertainment will be more enjoyable.

The coming decades will be filled with the wonders of fun electronics that will capture your imagination—whether you're relaxing at home, attending a concert or spectator sport, riding your bike, driving your car, or simply taking a walk. You will only need to relax and enjoy yourself. Technology will do the rest, running the gamut from talking and moving artwork, to singing and dancing toys, interactive game consoles, gadgetry to enhance sports events, and cinema-like home movies.

Today's high-end games like Sony's Play-Station2, Nintendo's Gameboy, and Microsoft's Xbox won't hold a candle to future gaming consoles. With the worldwide market expected to reach hundreds of millions of consoles over the next few years, game makers are gearing up for next-generation models that will put arcade-like entertainment in the palm of your hand. The games' creativity won't be driven by hardware advances, but rather by mind-boggling software. Although hardware remains important, forecasts indicate that it will reach a point where greater game creativity lies in the software domain. Still, next-generation hardware should be able to render images of billions of polygons/s, making renditions of home front lawns look so crisp that console users will be able to clearly see individual blades of grass. Tools already employed for special effects in movies will also find their way into video-game consoles, giving presentations a more lifelike appearance.

Future-generation consoles will serve as gateways for broadband services to the home. In fact, broadband interfaces are available now on some high-end games. These broadband services will include online games, delivered movies (instead of having to go and get them from video-rental stores), streaming video, and other services not yet conceived. Moreover, users will be able to easily transfer games to their cell phones at the push of a button or two, with the aid of Bluetooth wireless technology.

The broadband gateway will also allow giant projection displays in the home to receive theater-in-the-round realistic movies. It will be as if you're sitting inside of a planetarium viewing the action transpiring all around you, with renderings so sharp that you'll feel like you're in the midst of live action.

The next big thing in video games will be interactive systems with both speech recognition and output. Combat-driven games, based on SWAT teams, are already in the works that allow game players to converse with the game's characters. But because speech recognition is less advanced and more costly than speech output, it may take longer to become commonplace. Still, watch for speech recognition to be employed in high-end versions of games and toys that command a higher price.

Robotic self-assembly toys are coming, too. Yesterday's toys, like remote-control cars and trucks, will be relegated to the dust bin as next-generation robotic toys land on store shelves. Off-the-shelf prepackaged and pluggable components, such as microcomputers, sensors, motors, and software, will be sold as robotic build-it-yourself kits. Through the various software programs available on CD-ROM, youngsters with minimal technical skills will be able to configure these kits to whatever toy functions their hearts desire. Powerful software programs can be downloaded to their toy kits by plugging the CD-ROMs into PCs. The CD-ROM will have parameter settings for the robotic functions desired by the user.

Technology, of course, will permeate sports. In competitive sports, athletes will go to extremes in their bid to win, and technology has always been there to help them. That assistance will be even more pronounced in the future. Skiing equipment, tennis balls and rackets, baseballs and bats, athletic shoes, golf balls and clubs, and aerodynamically engineered racecars and bicycles are all pushing the limits of technology. We're reaching the point where the question arises whether athletes are winning due to personal merit or through the enhancement of advanced technology. No matter how far sports technology advances, there's one irrefutable fact—the fun of participating in or watching sports is gone when technology dominates and eradicates the human element. People go to sporting events to watch individuals stretch their skills to the limit. No one wants to observe an event that has its outcome decided by machines.

Click here for several examples of the special photos in this picture album.

However, it's advanced technology that will protect us at mass sporting events in stadiums and arenas from biologically harmful toxins, whether they're due to a terrorist attack or a natural disaster. This biomedical technology will work behind the scenes to safeguard game attendees in an unobtrusive manner. Manufacturers of biomedical MEMS and nanosensing/analyzing platforms, many of which are the size of a deck of playing cards or smaller, report an increased interest in their products by businesses involving mass attendance, like sports and concerts. In fact, this spectator market is one of the fastest growing applications, besides military and government security.

Out of the public view, these tiny platforms, often working on biofluidic principles, will be strategically placed in key sites around the venue of a sporting event, then networked and controlled by a hidden central communications computer. The biodevices can instantly sense and analyze microscopic levels (well below known harmful doses) of toxins, be they in the air or water. It's rumored such products are already in use, but for obvious security reasons, no one wants to verify this. Suffice it to say, these platforms have already proven their mettle in trial applications.

Without a doubt, technology is there to support our love of sports and enhance our enjoyment. In the future, bicyclists will wear smart helmets with hands-free built-in speakers and phones, as well as GPS locators. Hunters, hikers, mountain climbers, and nature enthusiasts will be equipped with the latest GPS systems to provide location coordinates. These systems also will be programmed to call emergency numbers if a person gets lost, or becomes ill or disabled. Could GPS locators embedded in one's personal clothing or other items be next, or sci-fi-like sunglasses, where the lens acts as a cell phone and GPS locator? There's really no limit to the possibilities.

Future sensor technology will even permeate our leisure lives. Clothing embedded with sensor arrays will monitor a person's every movement and paint a picture of the wearer's lifestyle. Couch potatoes, beware! No more cheating. Sensors will capture raw physiological information about how often and how hard you exercise, how long you watch TV, and how much you eat and sleep. Needless to say, this type of personal data can also be very useful for medically monitoring individuals with chronic and debilitating diseases.

Fortunately, all of this futuristic stuff allows us to choose. After all, not everyone would want to put on sensory clothing and let some unrelated observer tap into the body's database of radiated signals. But for those who can perceive benefits, the technology will be in place. Still, some grumble that already too much technology has robbed us of our leisure time. "I spend more time at work and less time on leisure" is one common complaint.

Certainly, communications technology has created the climate of telecommuting. It has made the "9-to-5" job in an office obsolete. Employers and employees have greater access to each other and their workloads at anytime, from any place. It can also be argued that telecommuting is a lifestyle option with its own advantages. To stop it, you can simply turn off your cell phone, shut down your computer, put aside your pager, and instead take advantage of the fun technology that can fill life with laughs and pleasure.

Click here for several examples of the special photos in this picture album.

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