Gift Ideas of the Future

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This article was published by ComputorEdge, issue #2441, 2006-10-13, as a feature article, in both their print edition (on pages 20-21) and their website.

Coming up with gift ideas for others is usually even more difficult than coming up with gift ideas for oneself. This is especially true if the recipient is an adult, because most adults already have most of what they want (having done plenty of "self-gifting" year-round), and because the items that they are given generally last longer than anything given to a child.

If the intended adult recipient is a big fan of technology and the wonderful gadgets that it enables, then there are even more factors involved in finding a winning gift. Your mission is made more difficult if the technophile in question already has the latest and greatest desktop computer, laptop, portable music player, Web camera, electronic scheduler, and a cell phone that seems to combine all of the above. With the ever-accelerating pace of technological progress, it can be extremely difficult for anyone to purchase a cutting-edge techie toy after Thanksgiving, and hope that it has not been obsoleted by Christmas morning.

Fortunately, finding that special something for the tech-head in your life, is made easier because the items that seemed so advanced just the other day, can seem rather passé compared to even more recently released gadgets. In addition, miniaturization, wireless technology, and other advances are allowing for some remarkably unusual products — thus making your job of finding the novel gift that much easier.

Consequently, people will no longer have any excuses for torturing their gift recipients with another tie or sweater, given some of the innovative and even bizarre gadgets that will be soon available. This article will explore some of the strangest and most interesting electronics gear that we may be seeing in the future, on store shelves and under Christmas trees.

Gustatory Gadgets

Even though the majority of the truly jaw-dropping techie toys can cause advanced cases of sticker shock, there are some that will be small enough or made of materials that will help to keep the final consumer cost at a reasonable level. For instance, how about the ubiquitous spoon, which is typically given little thought as it is tossed into the cutlery drawer to join its equally low-tech brethren?

That may change, with the advent of the "Intelligent Spoon", which can report on the food it is being dipped into. Developed by Connie Cheng and Leonardo Bonanni, the spoon contains built-in sensors to measure food temperature, acidity, salinity, and viscosity. If that is not enough culinary detail, then the recorded data can even be downloaded to any computer via a cable. Though apparently not commercially available yet, look for this spoon or something similar being adopted first by high-tech chefs or safety conscious parents and other caregivers.

If your refreshment plans are even more fluid than soup or stew, then how about a self-cooling beer can? The I.C. Can is approximately the same size as a common 16 ounce beer can, but its high-tech innards take up some room, allowing for 10.5 ounces of liquid goodness. Developed by Tempra Technology and Crown Holdings, it is capable of cooling its contents by at least 30°F in only three minutes.

The I.C. Can is able to cool its contents so quickly because it utilizes an all-natural desiccant within a vacuum, which draws the heat from the liquid contents, through an evaporator, and into an insulated heat-sink container, from which the heat is dissipated. Yet unlike some cooling devices created in the past, this one is completely safe and ecologically responsible, as it uses no carbon dioxide, CFC, HFC, or any other compressed or toxic gases.

Giving Some Light

But what if your intended gift recipient would probably prefer self-lighting over self-cooling? Then consider getting for them the LightCap, which is a combination water bottle and solar-powered light. It has a built-in LED light in its lid that is powered by rechargeable Ni-Cad batteries that will provide a full night's worth of light when charged for a day in the sun. The batteries are designed to last for more than 300 cycles, and its solar panel is waterproof. Priced at less than $25, and measuring 8.25" tall and 3.75" in diameter, the LightCap holds 32 oz of liquid.

Speaking of light, have you ever wished that your shoes could illuminate what it is that you are about to run into, or, worse, step into? That is the thinking behind "Bright Walk", which are shoes that utilize piezo-electric sensors in their soles to capture the energy of your footfall, which is then used to light up electro luminescent polymers. Still in the design stage, these shoes will be welcomed by anyone who would like to increase their safety when walking or jogging at night.

Higher-End and Lower-Brow

That special someone on your gift list may have the most advanced laptop on the block, but even that probably won't top the EyeMove PC, which is designed to combine the functionality of a computer and a digital projector. Shaped like a fat disk, it will have on one side a touch-sensitive display, which will be used as a keyboard, gaming console, or multimedia interface, depending upon the user's need. On the other side will be a digital projector port, which will throw onto any wall or other appropriate surface the display one would normally see on a stand-alone monitor or laptop display.

Also offering virtual touchscreen controls, but already commercially available, the M2i is a multimedia projector that creates floating displays — both still images and video — up to 30 inches diagonal, with a 4:3 aspect ratio, 1024 x 768 SXGA resolution, and 1600+ lumens brightness. Created and sold by IO2Technology, the M2i is the latest version of their Heliodisplay multimedia projector.

At some point in the future, your intended recipient just might have everything listed above. If that person is a man, then it is still unlikely that his house is equipped with a video game urinal. That's right. Combining two activities that most men enjoy, the "On Target" Video Game Urinal contains a pressure-sensitive flat panel display, which activates an interactive game when used. It is reported that this device will probably be installed in airports and schools "with the functional purpose of improving hygiene".

While these items are innovative, intriguing, and high-tech, they are certainly not the only such ones available on the market, or on the drawing boards. Keep your eyes and ears and Web browsers open for similar electronic devices that would make terrific gifts for anyone on your shopping list, including yourself.

Copyright © 2006 Michael J. Ross. All rights reserved.

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