November 03 2008 / by John Heylin
Category: Gadgets Year: 2015 Rating: 5 Hot
Leaked photos of the next generation Mac Mini suggest that Apple is committed to steadily shrinking components and appears to be on the road to something that may look a lot like this vision of the iPhone 2015 that we published last November:
Sometimes it’s hard for people to get an accurate sense of what the future holds for certain technologies. For instance, could the average person three years ago have imagined that something like the 3G iPhone could exist now?
It is for this reason I present this vision of the iPhone circa 2015.
Contact Lens Display
The most interesting feature of the iPhone 2015 is its first generation Contact Lens Display System. If there’s one thing that iPhone users believe themselves to be, and that Apple stresses all the time, it’s that people who use Apple products are independent and unique. It is for this reason that an eyeglass display was thrown out. No iPhone user would be caught dead wearing the same glasses as over ten million other iPhone users. The fact is, glasses are cumbersome. They gather dirt, get lost easily, and make sports rather difficult.
In 2007, development of a contact lens display system began at the University of Washington, Seattle. “Engineers at the University of Washington have for the first time used manufacturing techniques at microscopic scales to combine a flexible, biologically safe contact lens with an imprinted electronic circuit and lights.” In the time between now and 2015, the cost involved in the production of a contact lens display will likely reduce in price, meaning the loss of one won’t reduce you to tears in case of loss.
The problems associated with contact lenses (protein build-up, 8-hour wear limit, annoyance of constant inserting and removal) will be lessened with oxygen-permeable lenses. O2OPTIX, a company currently specializing in such breathable lenses, already sells a lens capable of week-long wear without removal. “O2OPTIX is made with a revolutionary silicone hydrogel technology allowing up to 5 times more oxygen through the lens than the leading traditional 2-week lens, to help protect from the signs and symptoms of corneal oxygen deficiency.” It only makes sense that seven years from now a lens will be developed which can last even longer making wearable contact lenses less of a pain.
Of course there always is the option of implanting the lens permanently into the eye, but who would ever go under invasive surgery for first generation technology?
The key to powering the lens comes from heat generated by the eye itself. Development of body-heat powered devices has made some incredible leaps over the last few years. At Berkeley’s National Laboratory at UC Berkeley they have successfully run tests using nanowires to capture energy from body heat. “This is the first demonstration of high performance thermoelectric capability in silicon, an abundant semiconductor for which there already exists a multibillion dollar infrastructure for low-cost and high-yield processing and packaging.” The energy needed to power a display in a contact lens is not very much due to the incredibly small size of the display.
So where is all this technology going to go on the lens? The great thing about a contact lens is that most of its surface is there to keep it glued to your eyeball — your field of vision only looks through a small area of the lens. This allows for tons of area for all sorts of electronics or power devices. Babak Parviz, a UW assistant professor of electrical engineering on the UW lens study, says there could even possibly be nano-solar cells powering the lens. ”’There is a large area outside of the transparent part of the eye that we can use for placing instrumentation.’ The researchers hope to power the whole system using a combination of radio-frequency power and solar cells placed on the lens.” So next time your lenses are running low, just watch some TV.
So what exactly will you see? Sadly, since it is first generation tech, you will most likely get only basic display functions. Directions will be mapped out on the ground in front of you (much like those yellow lines during NFL games) and calls will appear floating in front of you as well as open browsers and movies. You could even turn the privacy feature off and share the floating image with other users also equipped with the contact lenses. Of course, these basic entertainment functions would have to come with additional safety features — you wouldn’t want to be checking out the latest celebrity gossip and then find yourself run over by a bus.
The key to a contact lens display is that it knows where your hands are so you can interact with the displays. That’s where the actual iPhone comes in.
Although the contact lens display could potentially reduce the iPhone to the size of a watch, by 2015 actual phones will still have to exist due to the relative newness of the technology.
The iPhone itself comes equipped with a roll-out OLED screen which allows the actual device to be much smaller than traditional phones. This technology will have been around for a few years by 2015, so it’s no surprise that the iPhone comes equipped with it. But the added bonus on the new iPhone is that the display can be completely see-through. “Researchers at Purdue University and Northwestern University have now made flexible, see-through transistors using zinc-oxide and indium-oxide nanowires.” This allows those users opting out on the contact lens display to see directions displayed on the ground and also see what kinds of photos or videos they are taking.
One of the other features of this iPhone is the 360-degree camera/projector located at the top of the cylinder. On top of being able to project onto any wall (devices which project onto air or create holograms are still too bulky to be placed on an iPhone in 2015), the lens can also take 360-degree photos and video which can either be individual specific or panoramic. While current 360-degree cameras are still on the large side, seven years is an eon in the gadget world and it will likely get much smaller.
Worried that the iPhone won’t have a full QWERTY keyboard due to its small size? Look no further. The projector is also capable of displaying a keyboard on any semi-flat surface (the keyboard will adapt to uneven surfaces, allowing users to type on just about anything). This allows users to surf the web on the OLED screen or the projected image while also leaving them the ability to type on a keyboard (for those in cramped locations, the screen can also function as a keyboard).
The camera also uses technology, similar to the Nintendo Wii, to map out exactly where your hands are in relation to the images in the contact lens display. Gyro microchips powered by body heat that you place on the inside of rings or watches will help to calibrate your arm range and interact with images. This way the iPhone can plot the course of your hands while still sitting in your pocket (don’t worry, all this tech won’t turn you into a walking cancer-bomb, it’s safe).
The Power System
Despite advances in battery life extension, it’s amazing how quickly surfing the Internet or making a phone call will drain the battery. For this reason, there are three new energy-producing features on the new iPhone. While these components will not make the iPhone fully self-powered, they will make it so you only need to charge your phone once a week instead of everyday (and no, these aren’t like the awkward knee-power generators)
The first source is from the the heat produced by your own body. The idea of body-powered energy has been around for a long time (Matrix?), and already a microchip has been developed that is so efficient it could run on body-heat alone. “Given its reduced power consumption, the new chip could lead to cell phones, handheld computers, and remote sensors that last far longer when running from a battery.” So whether you’re holding it in your hand or in your pocket, it’s slowly charging up energy from the ambient temperature.
Nano solar could also be the biggest boost to your dwindling battery. The outside of the phone is equipped with a sheet of nano solar material which can be molded to just about any shape (check out some cool videos on it here). “Light-weight solar-electric cell foil which can be cut to any size. Non-fragile. No soldering required for electrical contact.” This way you can bump it around and not worry about having a cracked panel on your hands.
Last but not least is the semicircular rotor located within the iPhone. Much like a self-winding watch, this rotor gives that added “umph” to your battery life. Simply walking around with it in your pocket will charge the battery, not to mention all those nifty applications in the iPhone that require you to shake or manipulate it. So while you’re drinking your iBeer, you can be charging your phone. Great, no?
Finally we reach the most hypothetical components on the iPhone of 2015 — the speaker and microphone.
You have to admit, bluetooth headsets are not only a pain in the ass, but they also make you look like a Star Trek reject.
Enter the Nano Speaker.
Consisting of a simple micro-speaker about the size of a pinhead, this little guy comes on a sheet of sticky-paper containing 24 of them. Peel them off and stick it onto the inner part of your ear at the front, keeping it hidden from roving eyes. You may have seen a similar concept idea over at the Design Incubation Centre with their Touch Hear concept. Powered by body heat, this speaker is produced cheaply enough that if you happen to lose it you won’t take a hit to your bank account.
With any cellphone there are extras that can be used to suite any user, this is why the iPhone of 2015 has the option of having the speakers in your ears pick up your voice through the vibrations in your mouth. This way you can talk on the phone and issue verbal commands to your iPhone without annoying gadgets.
Of course, in case you don’t like looking like a crazy person, the iPhone also has the traditional speaker and mic in the cylinder.
So while this may seem fanciful, this kind of technology is entirely possible by 2015. Down the road we’ll begin to see holographic images and brain controlled interfaces in our daily lives, but not till after 2020 by current estimates.