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Desperately Seeking Backers: 3 Unloved Future Tech Ideas

It’s astonishing to consider how long it can take for technology that already exists, and isn’t all that expensive to execute, to come to market. Case in point are the following three existing technologies, which range from virtually guaranteed life-savers to huge conveniences — where are the VCs and the go-to-market moves?

The Pocket Doctor. Great strides are being made when it comes to turning smartphones into devices that function as medical diagnostic and imaging tools. Because our phones are constantly with us, they could be used on a daily basis very easily to detect early-stage tumors and much more using diagnostic parts that in many cases cost less than $10 for manufacturers.

The impact on mortality and quality of life could be enormous, and open up an entirely new role for smartphones in parts of the world where people don’t have access to medical care. Researchers at UCLA and UC Berkeley already have the revolutionary technology needed, but where are the products and the venture capital to back them? You can learn more about UCLA’s research on medical diagnostics in cell phones in the video below.

How to Speak Every Language. The Phraselator, shown at left, has been widely used by soldiers in Iraq to do instant, on-the-fly translations of spoken words by soldiers. Voxtec makes the text-to-speech technology in the Phraselator, but the device costs thousands of dollars. Why don’t I have at least a reasonably advanced version of the same technology in my smartphone?

I’ll take an automated Google Translate version of things I say, and be willing to forgive a few mistakes, if they’re provided at no cost to me. All the necessary lookups can happen online, so there’s no need for lots of local storage. Why aren’t the Phraselator’s essential translation capabilities on every phone?

Around the Back. LucidTouch is an effort from Microsoft Research veteran Patrick Baudisch to solve the problem of limited screen real estate on portable electronic devices. With LucidTouch technology, a user can control applications on a device through gestures and a touch interface on the back of the device. In addition to making a UI far more flexible, this helps avoid occluding graphical elements with which a user is working, when they would be occluded on a standard touch screen.

Mitsubushi’s labs have taken an interest in LucidTouch, but the technology hasn’t spread out in the market. Why doesn’t, say, Mozilla hook up with a hardware maker and apply this next-generation method of input to its innovative Fennec mobile browser? That might give us a truly great, flexible mobile web experience. You can watch a video of LucidTouch in action below.

Pocket Doctor image courtesy of Professor Aydogan Ozcan, UCLA; Phraselator image courtesy of Voxtec and LucidTech image courtesy of Patrick Baudisch.

7 Responses to “Desperately Seeking Backers: 3 Unloved Future Tech Ideas”

  1. @donnacha and Tom, interesting that of the three technologies here you locked onto LucidTouch to comment on. It’s actually sat in Microsoft Research for years, which I’ve never understood. An innovative mobile browser that incorporates features outside what the eye sees on-screen would be just one example of a great app for use with LucidTouch. You could use gestures and fingers around the back of the device to navigate and see more on screen and have more input real estate on your device.


    • @Sebastian, thanks for the article, very interesting.

      LucidTouch jumped out at me because it solves a problem that we may all be struggling with in 2010. We have been marinating in the iPhone experience for a few years now, which has widened our expectations of what a small device can do, text input has been the only really obvious bottleneck. Without some solution to that, a 9 or 10″ device doesn’t really add that much to what the iPhone already gives us, not really enough to justify carrying around something that much bigger. If we can effectively have the utility of a full keyboard without also having to carrying around a bluetooth keyboard, bang, the tablet suddenly becomes worth carrying and all the other stuff, such as bigger video, is just the icing on top.

      You say that it is a Microsoft Research product, I wonder how tightly they have the patents tied up, or if this is something Apple could license – for once, Rob Enderle might have been onto something when he said that the critical reception the JooJoo Pad receive might actually sour the reception for Apple’s tablet. Something like LucidTouch would, however, give the reviewers and the blogosphere something to seize upon as a differentiator and that essential stroke of Apple genius they need to get excited about the product.

  2. On lucid touch, interesting, but this can and will be done very soon with a trackpad on the back of an android device that’s almost ready to hit the market (I would say the name but I can’t remember it). The trackpad does not offer see-thru display but the see-thru display in my opinion is better for explaining the concept than it is for a real device. After playing for an hour you can train yourself to use the trackpad without the visual aid.

    • The “see-thru” display is just a software rendering of what the hardware is sensing, that will be trivial to show onscreen on any phone that has the hardware.

      You are right that it will be possible to use the trackpad without the visual aid after a short training period but I imagine that most people will be more comfortable starting with the visual guide as an overlay at about 30% opacity, gradually reducing to 0% as they become more confident.

      The more I think about this, the more convinced I am this technology could be what makes the tablet form factor viable.

      If you wanted to get some work done in Starbucks, you wouldn’t have to find a table to work at or bring a Bluetooth keyboard with you, you could just sink into one of the comfortable armchairs and start typing, holding your tablet like a book. You would have pretty much full use of your computer without having to find a table or without a laptop irradiating your testicles.

  3. Seriously, something like LucidTouch for typing would make the forthcoming Apple tablet a smash hit.

    If you figure that it will be about the size of a paperback and reasonably thin, you can see that your fingers would easily have the same amount of room as they would on a full-size keyboard.

    With some practise, and building upon your existing QWERTY skills, you could pretty soon get up to full typing speeds when sitting on your couch or in a cramped airplane seat or even while walking around.

    From my amateur perspective, I can’t see that the finger positions would be any more awkward than when using a traditional keyboard, all you would be missing is the tactile feedback.

    How hard could it be to implement touch sensitivity into the casing of a phone? Does it always require glass?