Transitions Make Tomorrow Much Different From Today

June 19, 2008
Welcome to the latest edition of Electronic Design’s Megatrends special issue. When our editorial staff sat down to decide its theme, we knocked around a few ideas before settling on transitions. We tried to envision what our world might

Welcome to the latest edition of Electronic Design’s Megatrends special issue. When our editorial staff sat down to decide its theme, we knocked around a few ideas before settling on transitions. We tried to envision what our world might look like several years from now in some key application areas due to the constantly evolving technologies in our industry. This issue is the result. Contributing editor Ron Schneiderman begins with the numbers behind some of these transitions. According to independent market research organizations and other sources, most market sectors will continue to grow over the next five to 10 years, especially those identified as Megatrends by our editors.

In “Four-Wheeled Supercomputers,” technology editor Bill Wong explains how low-cost, high-performance imaging and computational hardware are bringing vision to the forefront of automotive safety, as are improved algorithms and applications for image recogni tion and analysis. Eventually, he says, vision systems will be required by law, just like seatbelts and airbags.

Bill goes on to show how hardware, such as NEC’s IMAPCAR processor, might accomplish this transition. The IMAPCAR’s architecture is designed spe cifically for video-feedback applications in the automotive market, giving new meaning to the idea of another set of eyes.

Automobiles, which have always been self-contained, are also transitioning to a time when they might be networked with every other car on the road as well as with stationary computers to enhance driver/passenger safety. Bill thinks this opens a can of legal and standardization worms, and the topic is ripe for debate. Might we someday see “no fault” laws for computers as well as drivers?

In security, people typically use a driver’s license, passport, or other ID to prove who they are. Are we transitioning to a more ubiquitous use of biometrics, such as fingerprints, iris scans, and even vein patterns to verify identity? Contributing editor Roger Allan examines the latest techniques available and some of the technologies we might see in the future.

As you all know by now, a major transition is taking place in 2009 as analog broadcasts are being shut down in favor of digital transmissions. This shift has many implications for both the near future and several years out as digital TV and digital video come to the fore. Technology editor Dan Harris offers his take in “Motion Blur Distorts Digital Video’s Future.”

THE ROBOT REVOLUTION Surgeons are no longer performing all of their operations by hand. In a growing number of cases, they’re utilizing robotic assistance. Roger Allan sees advances in robotics enabling vast new surgical capabilities for just about every kind of ailment and injury. These breakthroughs are driven by improvements in sensing—particularly haptic sensing, or the sense of touch— imaging, and robotic control, articulation, and dexterity.

For example, the Carnegie Mellon HeartLander is a miniature mobile robot that facilitates minimal invasive therapy right on the surface of a beating heart. Under physician control, the robot enters the chest through an incision below the sternum, adheres to the epicardial surface, autonomously navigates to the specified location, and administers treatment.

Contributing editor John Edwards looks at changes in the military. While today’s footsoldiers go out on dangerous missions that could cost them life or limb, tomorrow’s infantry will include robots that assist soldiers or autonomously take on the most dangerous jobs themselves. John describes some of these robots, many of which are modeled on animals for better movement and flexibility, in “The Rats, Snakes, Insects, And Lobsters Of War.”

Another transition heading our way is from the big screen to the small screen—TV, that is. Today, we usually watch TV while sitting on a living room couch or a stool in a sports bar. But TV soon will be available on cell phones, PDAs, and anything else with a display, wherever you might happen to be—on a train, bus, or just lounging in the park.

In “Move Over, Couch—The Cell Potato Is Here,” technology editor Lou Frenzel explains that the physical implementation prob lem of mobile TV has been solved, but the biggest factor in its success will be content. Got any ideas for great shows on a 1- or 2-in. screen?

This is just a sampling of the articles we have put together for this year’s Megatrends issue. We also tackle user input, disruptive technologies, personal robotics, and the evolution to a wireless future. We always welcome your input on anything we cover, so feel free to write to me directly or add your comments to the Web version of each article at

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