Three Signs the Future is Here

By Phill Powell

Space tourism takes a bold step forward with trips into space. Here’s the interior of Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShip Two.

Space tourism, self-driving cars and video-game-playing robots. Just a few years ago these would be the things of science fiction, but now they’re science fact…

Private Space Exploration
Recently, at least seven different experiments in space technology were launched at the Mojave Air and Space Port. America’s new space center also has another unlikely client: NASA. That’s right; now the U.S. space agency is contracting with private companies to take NASA materials into space. The recent suborbital research flight was carried into space by a SpaceLoft sounding rocket constructed by UP Aerospace Inc. of Denver.

And the U.S. is just one country involved in space. There’s plenty of talk that says the Japanese may be planning to build a base on the moon and have it built and run by robots—and that if that occurs, it could happen by 2020, which isn’t that far away.

Car-industry analysts say that Audi’s S6 sedan is the closest thing to the car of the future, and the bridge to cars that will eventually steer themselves.

Cars That Can Drive Themselves
You’ve seen it in a million sci-fi flicks. The passenger climbs into the front seat of a futuristic car and then the vehicle zooms off as if being driven by an invisible cabbie. In the car of the Future, the driver is given every possible convenience—and that includes not having to bother with actually steering the vehicle.

But the self-driving car is another futuristic theme that’s rapidly coming true. There are already cutting-edge car models that will park themselves, performing complicated three-point parking moves that would shame a beginning driver. Ford is projecting that self-driving vehicles are quickly on the way, and will probably show up in the marketplace by 2017.

Robots Become Great at Playing Games
Robots reign supreme when it comes to mental showdowns like chess, but what about other games, and even sports? Well, there’s new evidence that shows that robots are becoming tougher opponents both on and off the field.

This air-hockey-playing robot, developed at Japan’s Chiba University’s Namiki Lab, can react with spilt-second reflexes.

The air-hockey robot developed at Japan’s Chiba University’s Namiki Lab, is already defeating opponents in the popular arcade game, which first appeared during the 1970s.

The robot has a four-axis arm, twin high-speed cameras and a PC brain. But what makes the robot especially effective at winning air-hockey games is its internal tracking system that monitors the action at a staggering 500 frames per second…and then strategically reacts based upon visual data.

Robots may even play competitive sports someday. Right now, soccer robots are being developed in the Netherlands. Small in stature (1 to 2 feet tall usually, with some up to 4 feet tall) but super-talented in their ability to move down field like real soccer players and handle the ball.

Their makers are already challenging real players, saying that by 2050, robotic players will be able to beat their human counterparts.

The sports-playing robots of tomorrow will be designed by the robotics engineers who learn how to make robots at tech camps like DMA this summer.