The week in gadgets: with wearable tech and lightsabers, science fiction gets real

7 Oct 2013

Futuristic glasses image by Syda Productions via Shutterstock

A look at gadget happenings, as wearable tech makes headlines again with a new head-mounted display from Japan and ads showing the influence of classic sci-fi on modern technology, while physicists in the US might just have created lightsabers.

Wearable tech shipments to reach 64m in 2017

According to research from Berg Insight, shipments of wearable technology devices are set to increase at a compound annual growth rate of 50.6pc, bringing them from 8.3m units shipped globally in 2012 to 64m in 2017.

This figure covers head-mounted displays, smart watches and wearable fitness trackers. Currently, it’s this last category that’s driving the market, thanks to the popularity of devices such as the Nike Fuelband, Fitbit Flex and Jawbone’s Up. However, Berg Insight believes that popularity will shift towards computerised wristwatches over the coming years, giving these devices the greater share of the market.

More major names are expected to enter this space as the years and months pass, including Apple and LG, joining Sony’s SmartWatch range and Samsung’s Galaxy Gear. But there’s also room for competition from start-ups, demonstrated by the success of the Pebble E-Paper Watch.

Smart glasses translate text you are reading

Unsurprisingly, considering the forecasted growth in this space, we saw a new player enter the game last week. Japanese mobile operator NTT Docomo demonstrated its Intelligent Glasses at Ceatec 2013, a consumer electronics show held in Tokyo.

This head-mounted display, which is still at research stage, can translate text that you are reading using character-recognition technology. It takes about five seconds for the prototype to translate, BBC News reports, and this text is projected over what the user sees. This augmented reality technology can also be used to turn any surface into a pseudo-touchscreen that users can manipulate using a ring that recognises hand movements and relays this information to the headset.

So far, the device can translate Japanese, English, Chinese and Korean, and NTT Docomo believes it could be extremely useful for tourists. With this in mind, Intelligent Glasses could be ready by the time visitors are flocking to Tokyo for the 2020 Olympics, according to AFP.

Samsung ads compare science fiction and reality

Meanwhile, in the smart watch market, Samsung is trying hard to promote its Galaxy Gear as the gadget of the future available in the present. Video ads for the device available on YouTube cut together footage from science-fiction classics like Star Trek, Knight Rider and Predator, as well as some gadget-obsessed children’s TV shows such as The Jetsons, Inspector Gadget and Mighty Morphin Power Rangers.


What do these clips have in common? They all involve fictional futurists with a smart watch that lets them communicate, as well as do other tasks. With this, Samsung is claiming that the future is here, thanks to the new Galaxy Gear – if only the reaction to the device was as good as these ads.

Lightsabers could be real

And keeping with the theme of turning science fiction into reality, physicists at Harvard and MIT have discovered a way to bind photons together to form a new molecule, and describe this in an article published in Nature as something similar to the famous Star Wars weaponry.

Quoted on Pop Culture Monster, Harvard professor Mikhail Lukin explained how this ‘quantum non-linear medium’ works. “Most of the properties of light we know about originate from the fact that photons are massless and do not interact,” he says. “What we have done is create a special type of medium in which photons interact with each other so strongly that they act as though they have mass, and bind together to form molecules. It’s not an in-apt analogy to compare this to lightsabers. When these photons interact with each other, they’re pushing against and deflect each other. The physics of what’s happening in these molecules is similar to what we see in the movies.”

Futuristic glasses image by Syda Productions via Shutterstock

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Elaine Burke is the host of For Tech’s Sake, a co-production from Silicon Republic and The HeadStuff Podcast Network. She was previously the editor of Silicon Republic.