The future, now: 10 top gadgets

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The Independent Online

01 Chip shop

Radio Frequency Identification is a technology which seems unimportant if you consider it just as an extension of the ubiquitous barcode, but it may change all our lives. Tiny, cheap transmitters can be put in products so they can be tracked, raising questions about privacy. Or, you can put them in posters... Passers-by point their mobiles at, say, the poster for an upcoming rock concert and they can download the dates, website links for tickets, and even ringtones.

02 Lost and found

Parents want to keep track of their kids but often don't want to give them expensive mobile phones. Today's answer is the Verify Location Sazo, a credit-card-sized unit connected to the Global Positioning System. Concerned parents can know where their offspring are to within a few metres by checking via a PC or mobile phone. It's just gone on sale and costs from £6.99 a month. For further peace of mind it includes a panic button which, when pressed by the child, sends a text message to designated contacts.
www.verifylocation.co.uk

03 Snap happy

Technology isn't just for the big things in life: why can't someone address the inevitable, frustrating, sad truth that you always blink just as a camera is snapping at you? Well, a Japanese University is developing a system by which a digital camera takes 15 frames in half a second when the button is pressed. Clever software can then tell when the subject is blinking and discards those shots, leaving only the ones where the eyes are open. Now, if you can just work on that smile a bit...
www.fedu.uec.ac.jp

04 Face the future

How about a camera phone that has a puppy-like devotion to you? The Japanese company Omron is developing software that lets the camera phone recognise its owner. Once you've taken a photo of yourself for reference, the phone will lock until another picture of the same person is taken. If someone else tries to use the phone, it won't work. Of course, if you pinched Tom Cruise's phone you could just take a picture of him in Heat.
www.omron.com

05 I'm watching you

If you've just traded up to a plasma TV, you won't be ahead of the game for long. One day we'll be sitting around a sphere, as Victorians gathered round card tables. The Perspecta is a football-sized globe - currently in development - with a 3D image, projected from within, that illuminates the sphere's walls. Air-traffic controllers could one day use it to see where planes are in 3D and scientists could view images of molecules from all angles. One day, perhaps the rest of us will play 3D video games or see every corner of the Queen Vic in a 3D Eastenders.
www.actuality-systems.com

06 Talk is cheap

Voice-over internet protocol uses the internet instead of the regular phone network to carry calls. BT is spending millions on this technology - it's the way all phone calls will be made one day. Skype's Pocket-PC service allows users of some palm-top computers with wi-fi (wireless) connections to log on to the internet when they're away from their homes or offices and near wi-fi hotspots such as coffee shops. Calling internationally is then free if you're dialling another Skype user, and calls to land-lines cost less than 2p a minute. Are we looking at the end of the phone bill?
www.skype.co.uk

07 Surf's up

Technology is about man overcoming nature. For instance, next year, in Orlando, Florida, would-be surfers will be able to learn how to ride big waves without going near the sea. With Versareef, a tough rubber mat is attached to the floor of a huge swimming pool, and pneumatic jacks underneath alter the slope and alignment of ridges to create waves three-metres high and 70-metres long. It's much more sophisticated than current wave machines - and this way you will never encounter a hungry shark.
www.asrltd.co.nz

08 Weight for it...

From faddish diets to pills with peculiar side-effects, nothing has cracked the problem of obesity - yet. However determined you are to stick to a diet, hunger pangs can undo all your good intentions. However, Neuronix says its small matchbox-sized device, the Transcend, can be implanted into the abdomen, where it triggers nerves in the stomach to make you feel full even when you haven't eaten. It's aimed at the obese but leaves the door open for other devices that trick the brain.
www.transneuronix.com

09 For your eyes only

Intelligent swimming goggles are being developed that can help you train. Jump into the water, press a button on the side and, as you take your first stroke, the goggles display the time, the laps completed, and the time of the last lap on a tiny display inside the lens. A built-in compass realises when you have changed direction and so starts timing the next lap or length. Head-up displays are part of the military's list of futuristic essentials. Soon consumers could have spectacles with GPS on the lenses to give directions.

10 Lie back and relax

If you thought subliminal marketing was a thing of the past, be careful which MP3 player you use. The CURE-Alpha lets you listen to the latest tracks but simultaneously transmits alpha waves. You won't hear them, but these waves are said to be beneficial, promoting feelings of relaxation and well-being. Alpha waves are found in the sound of breaking waves or falling water, but, surely, if the music if good enough you'll be feeling better anyway?

Report by David Phelan

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