Category Archives: sports

Future materials: Variable grip

variable grip

 

Another simple idea for the future. Variable grip under electronic control.

Shape changing materials are springing up regularly now. There are shape memory metal alloys, proteins, polymer gel muscle fibers and even string (changes shape when it gets wet or dries again). It occurred to me that if you make a triangle out of carbon fibre or indeed anything hard, with a polymer gel base, and pull the base together, either the base moves down or the tip will move up. If tiny components this shape are embedded throughout a 3D structure such as a tire (tyre is the English spelling, the rest of this text just uses tire because most of the blog readers are Americans), then tiny spikes could be made to poke through the surface by contracting the polymer gel that forms the base. All you have to do is apply an electric field across it, and that makes the tire surface just another part of the car electronics along with the engine management system and suspension.

Tires that can vary their grip and wear according to road surface conditions might be attractive, especially in car racing, but also on the street. Emergency braking improvement would save lives, as would reduce skidding in rain or ice, and allowing the components to retract when not in use would greatly reduce their rate of wear. In racing, grip could be optimized for cornering and braking and wear could be optimized for the straights.

Fashion

Although I haven’t bothered yet to draw pretty pictures to illustrate, clothes could use variable grip too. Shoes and gloves would both benefit. Since both can have easy contact with skin (shoes can use socks as a relay), the active components could pick up electrical signals associated with muscle control or even thinking. Even stress is detectable via skin resistance measurement. Having gloves or shoes that change grip just by you thinking it would be like a cat with claws that push out when it wants to climb a fence or attack something. You could even be a micro-scale version of Wolverine. Climbers might want to vary the grip for different kinds of rock, extruding different spikes for different conditions.

Other clothes could use different materials for the components and still use the same basic techniques to push them out, creating a wide variety of electronically controllable fabric textures. Anything from smooth and shiny through to soft and fluffy could be made with a single adaptable fabric garment. Shoes, hosiery, underwear and outerwear can all benefit. Fun!

And another new book: You Tomorrow, 2nd Edition

I wrote You Tomorrow two years ago. It was my first ebook, and pulled together a lot of material I’d written on the general future of life, with some gaps then filled in. I was quite happy with it as a book, but I could see I’d allowed quite a few typos to get into the final work, and a few other errors too.

However, two years is a long time, and I’ve thought about a lot of new areas in that time. So I decided a few months ago to do a second edition. I deleted a bit, rearranged it, and then added quite a lot. I also wrote the partner book, Total Sustainability. It includes a lot of my ideas on future business and capitalism, politics and society that don’t really belong in You Tomorrow.

So, now it’s out on sale on Amazon

http://www.amazon.co.uk/You-Tomorrow-humanity-belongings-surroundings/dp/1491278269/ in paper, at £9.00 and

http://www.amazon.co.uk/You-Tomorrow-Ian-Pearson-ebook/dp/B00G8DLB24 in ebook form at £3.81 (guessing the right price to get a round number after VAT is added is beyond me. Did you know that paper books don’t have VAT added but ebooks do?)

And here’s a pretty picture:

You_Tomorrow_Cover_for_Kindle

How to actually make a Star Wars Landspeeder or a Back to the future hoverboard.

Star Wars (all trademarks acknowledged, but I’ll immediately remove them on request from the studios) made me a bit annoyed in the first opening seconds, when I heard the spaceship coming through space, but I did quite like their land-speeder though and I’d like to have one. Like most futurists, I get asked about flying cars every week.

Let’s dispose of pedantry first. Flying cars do exist. Some are basically vertical take off planes without the wings, using directed air jets to stay afloat and move. I guess you could use a derivative of that to make a kind of land-speeder. The hovercraft is also a bit Landspeedery, but works differently. Hovercraft are OK, but a Landspeeder floats higher off the ground and without the skirt so it it’s no hovercraft. Well, we’ll see.

This morning, well, in the middle of the night, I had an idea, as you do. Usually, ideas I have in bed tend to be total rubbish when inspected in the hard light of day. But this morning I had 3, two great, one not so great, so I can write about that one for free – the others I’ll keep for now. The less great idea is how to make a Star Wars Landspeeder or Marty McFly’s hover board from Back to the Future. Both would be almost silent, with no need for messy skirts, fans, or noisy ducted air jet engines, and could looks like the ones in the films. Or you could employ a designer and make one that looks nice.

Patrick Kiger reliably informs me that you can’t do that.

http://blogs.discovery.com/inscider/2013/04/a-real-version-of-marty-mcflys-hoverboard.html

Nice article, good fun, and states more or less the current line on tech. I just beg to differ with its conclusions.

Conventional wisdom says that if it isn’t using noisy ducted air jets or hovercraft skirts, it probably has to be magnetic, as the landspeeder is meant to be anyway, so needs a special metal track. It couldn’t work on a pavement or side-walk. The article above nicely points out that you can’t use magnetic effects to levitate above concrete or asphalt. Or else it has to use anti-gravity and we don’t know how to do that yet.

Well, I pointed out a good while ago with my linear induction bicycle lane idea that you could use a McFly style hoverboard on it. My daughter’s friends were teasing me about futurists and hoverboards – that’s why.

http://timeguide.wordpress.com/2013/01/30/hover-boards/

That would work. It would be totally silent. However, the landspeeder didn’t stay on a linear induction mat laid just under the entire desert surface, did it? That would just be silly. If you had a linear induction mat laid under the entire desert surface, you’d put some sort of horse shoes on your camel and it could just glide everywhere at high speed. You wouldn’t need the landspeeder. (Getting off the track a bit here.)

So, time to explain my idea, and it isn’t anti-gravity:

You can use magnetic levitation to produce a landspeeder or hoverboard that would work on a sidewalk, pavement, road, or even a desert surface. Not water, not the way McFly did anyway. You could also make the hover tanks and everything else that silently hovers near the ground in sci-fi films. And force fields.

But… sand, asphalt and concrete aren’t made of metal.

Graphene is a really good conductor. Expensive still, but give it a few years and it’ll be everywhere. It is a superb material. With graphene, you can make thin tubes, bigger than carbon nanotubes but still small bore. You could use those to make coils around electron pipes, maybe even the pipes themselves. Electron pipes are particle guides along which you can send any kind of charged particles at high speed, keeping them confined using strong magnetic fields, produced by the coils around the pipe, a mini particle accelerator. I originally invented electron pipes as a high bandwidth (at least 10^22bit/s) upgrade for optical fibre, but they have other uses too such as on-chip interconnect, 3d biomimetic microprinting for things like graphene tubes, space elevator rope and others. In this case, they have two uses.

First you’d use a covering of the pipes on the vehicle underside to inject a strong charge flux into the air beneath the hoverboard (if you’re a sci-fi nut, you could store the energy to do this in a supercapacitor and if you’re really twisted you might even call it a flux capacitor, since it will be used in the system to make this electron flux). The result is a highly charged mass of air. Plasma. So what?

Well, you’d also use some rings of these tubes around the periphery of the vehicle to create a very strong wall of magnetic field beneath the vehicle edge. This would keep the charged air from just diffusing. In addition, you’d direct some of them downwards to create a flow of charged air that would act to repel the air inside, further keeping it confined to a higher depth, or altitude, so you could hover quite a distance off the ground.

As a quick but important aside, you should be able to use it for making layered force fields too, (using layers of separated and repelling layers of charged air. They should resist small forces trying to bend them and would certainly disrupt any currents trying to get through. But maybe they would not be mechanically strong ones. So, not strong enough to stop bullets, but enough to stop or severely disrupt charges from basic plasma weaponry, but there aren’t many of them yet so that isn’t much of a benefit. Anyway… back to the future.

Having done this, you’ll hopefully have a cushion of highly charged air under your vehicle, confined within its circumference, and some basic vents could make up for any small losses. I am guessing this air is probably highly conductive, so it could be used to generate both magnetic and electrostatic forces with the fields produced by al those coils and pipes in the vehicle.

So now, you’d basically have a high-tech, silent electromagnetic hovercraft without a skirt to hold the air in, floating above pretty much any reasonably solid surface, that doesn’t even have to be smooth. It wouldn’t even make very much draft so you wouldn’t be sitting in a dust cloud.

Propulsion would be by using a layer of electron pipes around the edge of the vehicle to thrust particles in any direction, so providing an impulse, reaction and hence movement. The forward-facing and side facing pipes would suck in air to strip the charge off with which to feed the charged air underneath. Remember that little air would be escaping so this would still be silent. Think of the surface as a flat sheet that pushes ionised air through quite fast using purely electromagnetic force.

Plan B would be to use the cover of electron pipes on the underside to create a strong downward air flow that would be smoothed and diffused by pipes doing the side cushion bit. Neither would be visible and spoil the appearance, and smooth flow could still be pretty quiet. I prefer plan A. It’s just neater.

There would be a little noise from the air turbulence created as the air flow for propulsion mixes with other air, but with a totally silent source of the air flow. So basically you’d hear some wind but not much else.

Production of the electron pipes is nicely biomimetic. Packing them closely together in the right pattern (basically the pattern they’d assume naturally if you just picked them up) and feeding carbon atoms with the right charge through them at the right intervals could let you 3D print a continuous sheet of graphene or carbon nanotube. Biomimetic since the tube would grow from the base continuously just like grass. You could even produce an extremely tall skyscraper that way. (I used to say 30km as the limit for this, but more recent figures for graphene strength suggest that might be far too conservative and structures up to 600km may be theoretically possible, but that would need a lot cleverer engineering and certainly couldn’t grow the same way).

Could it work. Yes, I think so. I haven’t built a prototype but intuitively it should be feasible. Back to the Future Part 1 takes Marty to Oct 21, 2015. If we really wanted, a really good lab could just about make most and maybe all of this capability by then. On the other hand, Star Wars is set very far away and very long ago, so we’re a bit late for that one.

 

Hover boards

My daughter asked me when we could expect hoverboards. OK.

In the old film Back to the Future, the hero rides a hoverboard instead of a skateboard. We don’t see many of them around yet, but there are a few ways you could do it. One is clumsy and involves using a compressor and air jets to make a small hovercraft that you can ride on.

Another has no moving parts, so would be much more in keeping with the one Michael J Fox modelled.

I wrote a while ago about the future of bicycles:

http://timeguide.wordpress.com/2012/11/23/future-of-bicycles/

The basic idea was to add a plate to the front forks of the bike that would be pulled along a linear induction mat.

A highly skilled skateboard user with an excellent sense of balance might be able to dispense with the bike bit. Instead, repulsion between the magnetic forces created by the mat and circuits in the board would keep it afloat. Pulling the board along would be no problem of course, as the filed can propagate down the mat just as for the bikes.

The big question is whether sufficient force could be generated with everyday simple circuits, or even with permanent neodymium magnets. And how easy it would be to balance the board. I suspect it ought to be doable but my EM theory is rather rusty and although I have designed magnetic clutches before, and the principle should be similar, I am no longer up to the job.

It isn’t essential to have a linear induction mat cannibalised from bicycle lane use. If there is sufficient demand for hover-skate-board parks, special surfaces with loads of coils could be switched on and off to coordinate with the board circuits to make it far easier. Rather like a Segway manages to stay upright by rapidly adjusting torques, a hoverboard could easily house enough electronics to do the job. It would cost more than an ordinary skateboard of course, but with no wheels, maybe a wider range of tricks might be feasible too. With no wheels, they could slide sideways and spin around easily. That would make them harder in some ways, but also more versatile, so sports could evolve that are even more fun that regular skateboards. As someone who has never managed to stay on a real skateboard more than 25m yet, I feel inadequate to advise on techniques, but the engineering should be feasible.

In terms of timescale, there is nothing here that is beyond current technology. Nobody has bothered yet, as far as I know. But if there was a demand, someone could make hoverboards soon, and they could fly, and you could probably make some pretty fun sports with them too.

The future of the Olympics, in 2076

Now that it is all over, it is time to think about the future. The last time the Olympics was held in London was 1948, 64 years ago. Going 64 years in the future, what will it be like then?

Watching the Olympics on 3D web TV is about as advanced as it gets today. By the 2024 Olympics, it will be fairly common to use active contact lenses with lasers writing images straight onto your retinas. It will be fully immersive, and almost feel like you’re there. In fact, many of the people in the crowd at the games will also use them, to zoom in or watch replays and extra content. The 2028 Olympics will have the first viewers using primitive-but-fun active skin technology to connect their nervous systems so that they can even feel some of the sensations involved. In gyms up and down the land, runners will be able to pretend they are in the race, running on their treadmills virtually against actual Olympians. They’ll receive their final placing against the others doing the same. This will improve and by 2040 even domestic active skin sensation recording and replay will feel very convincing. By 2076, we’ll have full links between IT and our brains, living the events as if we were athletes ourselves, Total Recall style.

Interfacing to the nervous system will help potential Olympic athletes improve their performance quickly, injecting sensations into the body to make perfect movements just feel better, so their body learns the optimal movement quickly. This will show the first improvements in results in 2032, with heptathletes and decathletes performing almost perfectly in every one of their events.

The 2050 Olympics will see the first competitors who are children of genetically enhanced parents, and some genetically enhanced themselves. They won’t need drugs to out-perform even those regular humans who have overdosed on steroids all their careers. Their careers will last longer too, as biological decline will be less of an issue thanks to their genes. In the same timeframe, drugs will advance enormously too, squeezing extra levels of performance, learning speed, sensory awareness and muscle development. With negative side effects under control, some drugs and implants may be accepted in sports. But fierce arguments over fairness will eventually force a split between the various streams.

The 2076 Olympics will be made up of five events. There will be one ‘original Olympics’ for ordinary unmodified humans, tested thoroughly for any genetic or chemical enhancements, forced to use the same equipment to eliminate technological advantage, possibly given handicaps for any innate genetic advantage they have over the competition. There will be another for the disabled, many of whom will resist being made ‘normal’, even if technology permits. There will be another for robots, with advanced AI and a range of ‘body types’, used as a show-off event for technology companies. Another stream will take place one for un-enhanced athletes using advanced drugs, implant technology, superior equipment, and even externally linked  IT to gain technological advantage and make more exciting sport. It will be far from ‘natural’, but viewers won’t care. And finally, another event for biologically and neurally enhanced super-humans, without any other technology advantage. These streams couldn’t compete fairly head on, but will make distinct events with distinct flavours and advantages.

The spirit of The Games will live on even with this split, and still only the very best will be able to compete, but they will be bigger, better and more exciting for everyone.

See also my previous blog on future sports.

http://timeguide.wordpress.com/2012/01/27/future-sports/

Future sports

Training

Today it takes many years of training to get to the top of any field of sports. In the future it could be a whole lot faster thanks to progress in three areas of technology – biotech, nanotech and IT. Miniaturisation in IT, thanks to nanotechnology, will continue to the point where electronics can be printed onto the skin surface. So you may get a display on your arm, like a video tattoo, showing you how well you are doing, showing your heart rate, temperature, blood chemistry and so on and displaying any relevant warnings. Not long after that, electronics can be blasted into the skin, so that it is contact with blood capillaries and nerve endings. With this technology, called Active Skin, athletes could have their body condition monitored all the way through a session to help optimise the balance of effort over the duration of the event and to help them choose the right dietary supplements. So problems of giving too much or too little at a particular point could be identified and fixed. But more excitingly, nerve signals could also be recorded from individual nerve endings, and recreated by computer later. So, a novice golfer or tennis player would try to copy the swing that their pro is showing them, and a computer could create nerve inputs, creating discomfort when they deviate from the perfect movement. So the perfect swing with feel right and any other will feel wrong. As an extra aid, active contact lenses will be able to create 3d images directly into the athlete’s eyes, showing them exactly what they are doing and superimposing what they should be doing. They would be able to see their body position precisely, with any deviations highlighted and amplified with mild discomfort. With practice, doing what feels right will generate the right movement every time. With such training aids, progress from novice to expert could be a matter of weeks rather than years. This will certainly help people to quickly reach their potential, and to get more out of the sports they participate in, but it will also allow the top pros to extract every last bit of potential from their bodies. If they could do a little better by changing one tiny little thing, the computer will be able to help identify it, and help them address the imperfection. So professional sport will improve too.

We’ll also see computer game technology coming down the same route. Physiotherapists are already using Wii machines to treat stroke patients by helping them learn movement again through sports games. Taking this forward, we will certainly start seeing some hybrid sport evolve, with lots of top level physical activity in combination with the computer game. Top skiers would be able to practice different runs all the year round, with the computer recreating all the sensations of doing it for real as well as the full 3d video. So by the time they even get there, they will have had hours of computer assisted training on the run. Who knows, maybe the top level of sports in the future might not even take place on real snow, but in fantastic computer simulations of imaginary, more challenging environments

Nutrition

Top performance depends on a lot of things, and getting proper nutrition is one of the most important, both during training and right up to the main event. At the moment, athletes don’t get enough data on exactly what happens in their bodies while they are performing. New technologies in the biotech industry will change that soon. Already, special chips, developed for genetic analysis, can identify chemicals with just a couple of molecules. As ongoing development inevitably takes this level of monitoring capability into everyday training, athletes will soon be able to see exactly how their body behaved all the way through a session. Even during a session, if something is running low, they could be warned, and perhaps change their behaviour accordingly. Computers would be able to identify exactly what nutrition an athlete should take before a performance to put the body in perfect condition for the event.

The release of energy and nutrients over time varies enormously among foodstuffs as they break down at different rates. Athletes already take different foodstuffs to keep them going during different parts of an event. Again, new developments borrowed from the biotech industry will allow nutrients to be packaged in microcapsules that enter the blood during normal digestion, and which can then be ruptured on receiving a special signal from a computer, allowing a perfectly tailored delivery of nutrients into the blood just as the athlete needs them. Just how far such electronically assisted nutrition goes depends on regulation.

Making the right proteins and vitamins in the first place is also changing. Rather than producing batches of chemicals and pills, genetic modification is developing nicely, and already a commonplace technology and already a whole range of plants will be grown specifically to optimise particular protein or vitamin content. Athletes can also go to a clinic and have their genes tested, helping their doctors and trainers to identify a highly personalised regime to get exactly the right nutrition for that person and that event, even to the extent of tackling some medical conditions. They will then be able to commission foodstuffs grown to their own needs and personal specification. They will still have their own genetic limitations, but at least they can go all the way to the limits of their personal potential. And it is likely that in some events, there may be  handicap systems that take account of genetic limitations to allow athletes to compete on a level playing field. Sport would then become about reaching your natural limits, rather than just been born with some genetic advantages.

Personalised and optimised nutrition regime stands in stark contrast to today’s increasing obesity, but new foodstuffs promise to make dents in that too, as does the rising popularity of computer games that involve vigorous physical activity. Playing electronic sports on the net against other people could well be one of the next big social networking trends, maybe even becoming the 21st century version of the gym, or more probably being incorporated into gym technology to make it as much fun there as staying with the games console at home. Hopefully obesity will start levelling off soon and start to decline.

Psychology

With all the technology advances over the last few millennia, our psychology probably hasn’t changed much since we were cavemen. Sport appears to be a symbolic form of hunting or combat designed to demonstrate skill and bravery and to win a higher place in the pecking order, or bind a tribe together. At a deep level, people still want to win, to be top dog, to have the admiration of the crowd, to win prizes and to feel the close bonds of hunting or fighting together. I don’t think that is going to change, even with future technology. Better tools and better locations will only change the nature of the game, not the psychological incentives to perform heroically.

Future training equipment will include thought recognition and nervous system links to gather information on neurological and mental activity. If our champions are not giving it their all, it will show on the readout. And in the far future, when brain add-on devices can enhance people’s minds, even if they are not allowed in sporting events , they might be permitted during training. But none of this changes the fundamental nature of the person underneath. The degree of motivation they experience when faced with a challenge, the possibility of winning a prize, or the possibility of losing, goes deeper than technology can reach. These are part of the nature component in the formula, so as with physiology, it takes a good trainer with the right tools, in the right environment, to bring them fully to the surface. Champions are champions partly because their inner motivation is stronger and they will push themselves even harder than their competitors.

But I still think there is a missing component in the equation, the roar of the crowd. Champions will manage to find the last tiny bit of heroic effort only when the crowd demands it. At a live event with a big audience, there is no problem, but when the main crowd is only there via TV or the net, I suspect that the performance will be less. If we can somehow bring the crowd deeper into their perception while they compete, maybe they can perform better. But full sensory immersion technology can bring the crowd from the living room into the competitors’ presence.  Active contact lenses will allow athletes to see the crowd, ear implants will allow them to hear them roar. Then they will still feel the atmosphere even in an empty arena. Only then will the ancestral tribal motivations kick in fully.

Finally, we will one day see androids competing in sports, and though they will normally compete against each other, there will be demands to have humans compete with them. When this happens, our champions will want to win in defence of humankind, the ultimate crowd. I think we will be able to give androids emotions too. If we design them to be similar in physical performance, and give them similar psychology, maybe we could have a very interesting contest indeed.

Making a champion

People have debated for millennia what it is that makes a sporting hero into a real champion. How can people be compared when they competed in different sports, in different periods? Some of the equations hold some merit, other don’t. Here is my take, based on the above.