Two Picks from New Scientist’s “Ten Sci-Fi Devices Nearing Reality”

Two Picks from New Scientist’s “Ten Sci-Fi Devices Nearing Reality”
Dan Gould
  • 29 january 2009

New Scientist’s recent list of “Ten sci-fi devices nearing reality” didn’t contain a large percentage of practical mind-blowers (most are still too out there to be near-future practical), but 2 in particular caught our eye.

First is the heart-powered pacemaker. A clear piezoelectric material embedded with zinc-oxide nanowires generates current when bent or squeezed, powering the medical device without a battery. This technology looks promising, and could lead to all kinds of devices that would never need charging, powered soley by movement and touch.

Second is a bi-directional speech translation software called IraqComm. Obviously named so because of its use by the US military in Iraq, it translates audio input from one language into another.

New Scientist Explains:

Sci-fi fans will be familiar with the concept of the Babelfish that enables anyone to understand any language. This translation software, IraqComm, used by US troops in Iraq, is perhaps the closest we have to that today.

Speak into the microphone in Arabic and the software turns the phrases into written Arabic, before translating it into English. After the person has finished talking, a computer voice speaks the translation.

Although IraqComm is invaluable at road security checkpoints, its success is partly due to the fact it concentrates on the 50,000 words most relevant to the military.

This kind of instant speech translation isn’t just for the military either. Some cursory research shows that at least two companies (NEC and Softbank) have developed audio-input speech translation programs for the iPhone. And though, probably not as robust as the gear intensive IraqComm, it’s a lot more convenient.

New Scientist: “Ten Sci-Fi Devices Nearing Reality”


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