Bionic suits, airborne taxis, surround-sound drones: Where high tech is taking us next

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Bionic suits, airborne taxis, surround-sound drones: Where high tech is taking us next

By Tony Davis

This story is part of the August 19 Edition of Good Weekend.See all 19 stories.

From powered suits to airborne taxis, flying speakers to touchless screens, 10 tech innovations to rock your world.

Drone alone

When Roland showed its 50th Anniversary Concept Model Piano at CES 2023 (the US’s annual Consumer Electronics Show), it took surround sound to a whole new level (or series of levels) by mounting speakers on drones. These flying loudspeakers are ­designed to “bathe the player in a sound shower”. Although unlikely to go into production anytime soon, this moving symphony concept does highlight the ­accelerating use of drones in everyday life (sadly, in war, too). In the US, Amazon’s Ring division has the Always Home Cam, a security drone that can fly around inside your house on preset paths. It films in high definition, lighting its path at night, and reaches places static cameras can’t “so you can see what’s happening … no matter where you are”. Added benefits include the ability to check if you left the stove on.

Kitchen confidential

The tech revolution is coming to your kitchen, with new appliances you can talk to and control with apps and gestures. Simplehuman has a kitchen scraps bin that opens with a wave of the hand or a voice command. GE’s latest Profile stand mixer uses motor torque feedback to check the texture and viscosity of your cake mix and adjust accordingly. The internal camera in Samsung’s Bespoke AI Oven Series 7 – now on sale in some overseas markets – allows you to check on your roast or muffins via the app, and even put photos of your masterpiece-in-the-making on social media. It can send a warning if your food is at risk of burning, and link with other smart appliances to recommend, for example, recipes based on what it detects on the shelves of your Samsung Family Hub fridge.


Net (and carpet) zero

Buy the electric version of the new Maserati GranTurismo coupé and you could be the new owner of some old fishing nets or well-worn casino carpets. A new high-end cocktail dress or fashionable swimming cossie could be drawn from the same sordid sources. Clean depolymerisation technology is transforming old nylon into classy fresh materials for luxury car seating, furniture, sunglasses and haute couture fashion. Italian company Aquafil, which ­supplies its Econyl regenerated nylon to Maserati, counts Burberry, Gucci, Louis Vuitton and Adidas among its other clients. CEO Giulio Bonazzi tells us that, compared with using new nylon, using the recycled material reduces the carbon footprint by about 90 per cent. And it can be done again and again. “If you give me back this carpet, I can deconstruct it, recreating the fibre for making ­swimwear. Give me back the swimwear, I can make the fibre for the car seats.”

Going to extremes

No, it’s not a moon buggy: it’s something much more useful than that. The Coyote Extreme Off-Road, from Outrider USA, is designed to safely open the great outdoors to those with limited mobility. Electrically powered, with all-wheel drive and knobbly tyres, the machine’s design brief was to pack “the maximum amount of off-road potential into the smallest package possible”. Adaptable controls allow people with a range of mobility impairments to steer, brake and ­accelerate in whatever way works best for them, while safety straps for the wrist, legs and chest are available, in addition to the standard lap belt. Top speed is about 35 kilometres an hour and the Coyote 4WD can travel through sand and mud and over rocky trails. The maker claims the Coyote has a range of up to 200 kilometres between charges. It’ll cost you close to $US20,000 and can be ordered directly from the North Carolina manufacturer.

Nothing pressing



What follows the touchscreen? The touchless screen, of course. US-based Holo Industries has developed a range of contactless Holographic Touch screens to allow “germ-free interaction on public surfaces” with pay terminals, ATMs and tablet-based restaurant menus, in lifts and more. Holo’s chief technology officer Michael ImObersteg explains: “We project light off a high-brightness display and we use a number of optics to guide the light into an optical plate. The optical plate consists of tens of thousands of perpendicular mirrors and that creates the image you see. Then we overlay the image with infrared light and, when you cross the infrared light, we triangulate those co-ordinates back – and that’s how we get the touch.” Simple. The user ­receives aural feedback, but Holo is working on something more ambitious: adding haptics so users receive a tactile response when they “touch, pinch, scroll, spin and manipulate any image in mid-air”. In other words, interacting with a hologram could become eerily like using a super-sized version of your phone or tablet. And you won’t need to wear any silly glasses.

Meals on wheels

The self-driving car is taking a lot longer to go mainstream than most predicted, but autonomous, unmanned Starship robots have delivered more than five million meals and packages in the US, UK, Estonia, Germany and Denmark since trials began in 2017. The brainchild of two Skype founders, the Starship follows pre-mapped routes in cities and university campuses. It travels at six kilometres an hour in all weather, using radar, cameras, ultrasonic sensors and neural networks to detect obstacles and, for example, drive onto a kerb if a path is blocked. The company reckons the Esky-on-wheels – with separate compartments for hot and cold food – costs about the same to build as a high-end laptop, and claims services will scale up dramatically in the next few years. No word yet on when it might hit our shores.

Power dressing


Not only does it make you look like a minor member of the Marvel Comic Universe, but the powered exoskeleton could greatly reduce pain and injury. It’s from German Bionic, which claims its suits – of which the Apogee and Apogee Plus are the latest, lightest and most versatile – will bring a revolution in workplace safety in warehouses, hospitals, construction sites and the like. They provide “30 kilograms of support for the lower back per lifting movement and help minimise fatigue thanks to active walking assistance”. Beyond that, the powered suits hook into an AI platform that warns of fatigue, poor posture, bad lifting techniques and excessive strain. We’re told an Australian launch (via a Robotics as a Service leasing model) will start “before too long” (whatever that means). Beyond the workplace, powered exoskeletons from the likes of French company Wandercraft and America’s ReWalk are designed to help wheelchair users walk.

Is that the time? Gotta fly

It may look like an angry insect but it’s the AutoFlight Prosperity I, designed by former McLaren car designer Frank Stephenson. Unlike many ­so-called flying cars (otherwise known as eVTOLs, or electric vertical take-off and landing vehicles), this Chinese-built effort doesn’t rely solely on drone-style propellers. It also has fixed wings and is claimed to use no more energy than a road-going EV, enabling it to fly 250 kilometres with four ­people aboard. It is slated to be trialled at the Paris Olympics from next July, using the first of six ­“vertipod” airports being developed around the city. Vast sums have been spent on flying cars in the hope that they will provide ­tomorrow’s upmarket taxis, capable of hovering over gridlocked traffic. It’s still a work in ­progress, but it’s getting closer.

Everywhere all at once


Andy Partridge, from the English band XTC, recently heard his first Dolby Atmos music mix. It was of his 1984 album The Big Express. “I must say my head felt like a pedal bin and somebody had stepped on my tongue and the top of my head opened up,” he told the What Do You Call This Noise podcast. “It was like, ‘Wow, where am I, what universe am I in?’ ” Going beyond traditional surround sound, which typically uses five speakers plus a subwoofer, Atmos presents what is claimed to be the ­closest yet to 360-degree immersion. It was developed for cinema but many home systems are Atmos-enabled, and now music is being mixed for the format and ­released through streaming services. Importantly, Atmos can automatically adapt to different set-ups, replicating the all-enveloping sound in a more modest (but still impressive) fashion, even with earbuds or ­television soundbars.

If left to your own devices


For many, a break from the latest innovations is as important as the innovations themselves. There are various strategies to lever us away from our devices, whether it’s a self-imposed weekly technology sabbath, or using fire to fight fire (or, more specifically, tech to fight tech). The Ampere Traction Timer is a new lockbox for your phone that allows you to specify how long you can bear to be without it. Many other productivity solutions are software-based, such as StayFocusd and RescueTime. These will allow you to choose what you can and can’t do online, and when. If you’re an aspiring author who keeps checking the sports scores or socials, you can buy Freewrite, a dedicated word processor with keyboard and small screen that will back up your masterpiece to the cloud, but will also lock you out of all other connectivity.

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