Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage on

Digital tattoos, mind-reading headphones: The shape of things to come?

Most people feel anxious when their smartphone is out of arm's reach. But what if it was actually on your arm, woven into the very fabric of your sweater? Sportswear designers Under Armour are already on the case. They recently unveiled their touchscreen t-shirt concept, Armour39, which measures your athletic performance.<!-- -->
</br><!-- -->
</br>It's just one recent example of how design, technology and science are coming together to form a new generation of consumer products that look set to shape the future. Most people feel anxious when their smartphone is out of arm's reach. But what if it was actually on your arm, woven into the very fabric of your sweater? Sportswear designers Under Armour are already on the case. They recently unveiled their touchscreen t-shirt concept, Armour39, which measures your athletic performance.

It's just one recent example of how design, technology and science are coming together to form a new generation of consumer products that look set to shape the future.
HIDE CAPTION
Technology of tomorrow
The Biostamp tattoo
Vuzix Smart Glasses
Shenu: Hydrolemic System
The Cubify CubeX Duo
The FARO Focus3D
Fitbit Flex
Nike Flyknits
Nest Thermostat
Mico Headphones
The Chadwick Oven
The Morph folding wheel
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
>
>>
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • CNN spoke to a host of design and technology experts to see what future holds
  • Key developments are in the field of wearable technology and 3D printing
  • Best design is a marriage of technology, science and manufacturing techniques
  • Digital tattoos and mind reading headphones give flavor of things to come

(CNN) -- Forecasting future technology has never been easy. In the 1950s, scientists and technologists envisaged that by now the world would be free from disease, traversed by flying cars, and fueled by minerals from distant planets.

Such visions, of course, have not come to pass. But then again, as recently as 10 years ago, few would have envisaged that 3D-printed food, bionic body parts and invisibility cloaks were just around the corner.

So, in what areas will the next major breakthroughs occur? Keeping in mind that prediction is more of an art than a science, CNN spoke to a host of design and technology experts -- from academics to magazine editors -- in search of what might well just be the shape of things to come.

Marcus Fairs, editor of Dezeen
Marcus Fairs, editor of Dezeen

The Editor

According to Marcus Fairs, editor-in-chief of influential design magazine Dezeen, the most high-impact developments over the next decade will be primarily in the areas of manufacturing and wearable technology.

"New digital design tech, 3D printing, robotics and the emerging field of 3D scanning, plus exponential leaps in manufacturing -- together, they are putting really powerful tools into the hands of individuals," he says.

"In the same way that laptops revolutionized personal computing two decades ago and cheap video editing software did for film, so too there will now be a revolution in manufacturing."

For Fairs, wearable technologies such as Google Glass point to another major evolution in design: the disappearance of objects altogether.

"The broader movement in design no longer asks 'is something a nice object?' but rather 'how can we get rid of this completely?'"

From wearable devices such as those being pioneered by sportswear manufacturer Nike, and Jawbone to digital tattoos and "things that you can swallow that will check you out from inside, (such as) a project that adds an artificial organ to help the body use water more sparingly", Fairs believes the future could well be defined by objects almost disappearing entirely.

Read: Fitbit Flex: Will collecting data on your body make you healthier?

Director of London\'s design museum, Deyan Sudjic
Director of London's design museum, Deyan Sudjic

The Curator

Deyan Sudjic, the director of the Design Museum in London, controversially selected a simple website as the winning entry in the 2013 design awards. The government site GOV.UK won, he said, because of its dramatic subjugation of form beneath function: "The overall winner this year is very interesting. It is apparently very simple, but it works beautifully. I think there is nothing more irritating than design that doesn't work."

For Sudjic, the future of design is about how well an object fulfills its function, not just its aesthetic qualities. At the same time, Sudjic believes there is a revival of interest in physical objects, noting that 2012 was the first year in two decades that saw a rise in vinyl record sales.

"I see design trying to get to grips with both the longing people have for the physical world and those other more slippery digital developments. People are still interested in tangible experience (...) You see that with the Makerbot, which is currently just making combs and shoehorns, but will soon be creating objects which are significantly more complicated."

Read: The market for cheap 3-D printers

Industrial designer Ross Lovegrove
Industrial designer Ross Lovegrove

The Designer

Ross Lovegrove, an industrial designer whose work covers aviation, transport, timepieces, consumer electronics and everything in between, says that the future of technology requires complete understanding of material structure:

"You have to understand materials at a deep scientific or nano level. Once you get to that level and understand ... you can reconstitute anything."

Lovegrove points to the Nike Flyknits -- an ultralight shoe with a knitted construction -- as an example of how future design will draw heavily on the latest thinking in science, health and manufacturing.

"The way they are industrialized, the way they are woven. They put strength and structure where it is required. There are no aglets so they only need to be constructed with one material. They are so lightweight you hardly feel them. They promote ergonomic health in the way they adjust posture."

Read: 'Smart fork' may help you lose weight

Miles Pennington, head of Innovation Design Engineering at London\'s Royal College of Art
Miles Pennington, head of Innovation Design Engineering at London's Royal College of Art

The Academic

Professor Miles Pennington, Head of the Innovation Design Engineering programme at the Royal College of Art in London, thinks we are on the brink of huge technological change.

"Some people believe that there are no big leaps to come, but then people said in the 18th century that man could never travel more than 40 miles per-hour."

Pennington predicts that the next decades will bear witness to significant change.

"We are within 20 years of developing an artificial brain capable of matching our own ... Material developments in the nanotech field are starting to bear fruit ... (and so is) the field of synthetic biology, which can produce artificial muscle."

Read: The bionic hand with the human touch

Is it possible to distinguish genuine technological contenders, from those that will only ever be the realm of science fiction? Perhaps not. But Pennington suggests he will be able to "answer that question in 50 years' time, when I have got my feet up, sipping a cup of my GM tea grown in the Antarctic, in front of a fire powered by synthetic bacteria and hovering on a comfort-pad-chair using reverse-magnetic forces whilst reading a copy of Isaac Asimov's latest novel (written by a quantum computer-cloned version of the man himself)."

In the meantime, he suggests we all sit back and enjoy the ride.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 7:42 AM EDT, Wed April 16, 2014
It was supposed to be a class trip to a resort island. Instead, the ferry capsized, turning the afternoon into a deadly nightmare.
updated 1:31 PM EDT, Wed April 16, 2014
It's hard not to be nervous, standing outside the Ebola isolation wards.
updated 8:58 AM EDT, Wed April 16, 2014
Ukraine says it's forces have regained control of an airfield from Russian separatists. Nick Paton Walsh reports.
updated 7:35 AM EDT, Wed April 16, 2014
An "extraordinary" video shows what looks like the largest and most dangerous gathering of al Qaeda in years.
updated 8:30 AM EDT, Mon April 14, 2014
Explore each side's case, reconstructed from Pistorius' court affidavit and the prosecution's case during last year's bail hearing.
updated 5:16 PM EDT, Mon April 14, 2014
Officials are launching their next option: an underwater vehicle to scan the ocean floor.
updated 1:53 PM EDT, Wed April 16, 2014
How are police preparing for this year's 26.2-mile marathon, which takes place Monday?
updated 1:02 PM EDT, Tue April 15, 2014
Katrina Karkazis
Romance is hard, for anyone. For people with intersex traits, love poses unique challenges.
updated 8:38 AM EDT, Wed April 16, 2014
Suisse's Belinda Bencic returns the ball to France's Alize Cornet during the second match of the Fed Cup first round tennis tie France vs Switzerland on February 8, 2014 at the Pierre de Coubertin stadium in Paris. AFP PHOTO / KENZO TRIBOUILLARD (Photo credit should read KENZO TRIBOUILLARD/AFP/Getty Images)
It's no easy matter becoming a world class tennis player. It's even harder when everyone (really -- everyone) is calling you the "new Martina Hingis".
updated 5:26 PM EDT, Wed April 16, 2014
The "kill switch," a system for remotely disabling smartphones and wiping their data, will become standard in 2015.
updated 12:32 PM EDT, Wed April 16, 2014
Browse through images you don't always see on news reports from CNN teams around the world.
updated 2:51 PM EDT, Tue April 15, 2014
Sky gazers caught a glimpse of the "blood moon" crossing the Earth's shadow Tuesday in all its splendor.
updated 11:09 AM EDT, Tue April 15, 2014
A staff stands next to the propellers of Sun-powered plane Solar Impulse 2 HB-SIB seen in silhouette during its first exit for test on April 14, 2014 in Payerne, a year ahead of their planned round-the-world flight. Solar Impulse 2 is the successor of the original plane of the same name, which last year completed a trip across the United States without using a drop of fuel. AFP PHOTO / FABRICE COFFRINI (Photo credit should read FABRICE COFFRINI/AFP/Getty Images)
This solar-powered aircraft will attempt to circle the globe next year.
ADVERTISEMENT