Blank gif
An Educator's Guide to Technology and the Web
Search Internet@Schools
Subscribe Today!

View Current Issue
View Past Issues

Internet @ Schools

THE PIPELINE: Way Cool Stuff in the Pipeline

By Stephen Abram - Posted May 1, 2011
Bookmark and Share

This column has been focusing on the near end of the pipeline lately. I haven’t done one in a while about all of the things that are on the farther horizon. I don’t mean the horizon you can see out your window, I mean the one that’s just over the rainbow. What is out there that will make us think we’re not in Kansas anymore?

So, I thought I’d go out on a limb and talk about stuff that’s just plain exciting and not purely practical and necessary. Sometimes we have to remember that not only can we fly but our imagination can take us to the moon. What things will be normal in our learners’ adult lives that exist just in the lab or precommercial stages now?

I’ve selected a few things that have captured my attention and that get me excited about the future the way space travel, flying cars, jet packs, and robots did when I was a teen. I remember the same feeling of excitement for the internet, web, and 2.0 in the 80s, 90s, and the new millennium.

So, here are a few futuristic innovations that I find absolutely fascinating for their transformational potential to change our work, play, and learning lives. Many of these innovations and inventions are very difficult to explain in words, primarily because they are, I think, so totally transformationally different and devoid of easy references to our current world. Remember trying to understand various web and internet concepts that stayed foggy until you saw them? I’ve pointed to a few videos that you may want to visit so you can invest a few minutes to learn more. Personally, I find these five “things” as inspiring as those magazine robots and jet packs of olden times.

3D Printing

This blows me away. Being able to design and physically print 3D models of things quickly and inexpensively is just magic. 3D printing has been around for a few years, but it is now so affordable that some grade schools have the printers and have kids using them. Some printers use gels, polymers, powders, sugar, mashed potatoes, or whatever to make 3D objects of many sizes. There are now production models and homemade, open source, and inexpensive printers. They can make prototypes and are even being tested for making circuit boards and human body replacement parts. And yes, you can print edible food. Like I said, this blows me away. What was that machine that made food on Star Trek called?

Check out this tweener kid’s presentation to the iGNiTe conference; he’s amazing:

Why I LOVE My 3D Printer by Schuyler St. Leger (5:31 minutes):

3D Printing (Wikipedia):

MakerBot 3D Printer and Thingaverse 2010 (1:58 minutes):

MakerBot 3D Printer Demo - CES 2011 (2:47 minutes):

3D Printing Potatoes With The RapMan:

I am awaiting a version that runs on sugar and sells at Toys“R”Us—edible candy voodoo dolls! I don’t think I’ll be waiting long. I have worn out a few molded plastic toy makers that create toy soldiers and superheroes. I really love 3D printers and think that the applications for education are awesome. If you want to see more videos or pictures about 3D printing, there are loads on YouTube and Google Images, but be warned, you’ll get lost in awe and time.

Gesture Computing

I just love the concept of gesture computing. It has started to appear in the gaming space but is going way beyond playing Wii and simply waving a plastic remote. Gesture computing has been commercially developed by a company from Pranav Mistry in India called SixthSense. It has a wearable gestural interface that augments the physical world around us with digital information and lets us use natural hand gestures to interact with that information. Its potential seems unlimited, and the excitement is building since this has become affordable. You need to watch the video to get the full story since it’s not just about gesturing to interact but the ability to create interaction spaces absolutely anywhere. This very cool TED video defines and demonstrates the potential of gesture computing. (It also shows how far ahead the awesome TED videos really are since this one is 2 years old and the stuff is finally coming to market).

SixthSense TED Talk (13:51 minutes):

SixthSense: A Wearable Gestural Interface (4:40 minutes):

SixthSense Technology - Amit Pate (6:18 minutes):

Just ask yourself, “Why do I have to physically touch my iPad or any other e-reader to turn the page on my ebook? Does it have to be my hands gesturing or can I use winks or expressions? Why can’t I turn any wall or anything into a screen instantly? Why do I have to go to a monitor at all? Why do we need to kill thousands of hectares of trees daily for newspapers when we could have the same experience on a single piece of paper forever?” I wonder what the matrix of the book ecology will look like as technology grows and peaks. It excites my imagination.


And, maybe that paper will be made of flexible glass. We’ve been following the development of monotonal black and white e-paper for many years and see it widespread commercially in the most popular digital e-readers. Color e-paper is emerging, but it is, in my opinion, still pretty poor at the whole color thing versus what we experience on a plasma screen like an iPad tablet, laptop, or notebook. Will that change soon? I think so. Check out the Corning innovations at A Day Made of Glass ... Made possible by Corning (5:33 minutes):

Again, I was amazed at how far glass has come since I first saw glass fiber on a tour of Corning Glass Works as a Boy Scout of 14. Can you see the transformational potential?

Augmented Reality

I get quite excited playing with this one. I can imagine a time when QR or bar codes will look quite dated and won’t be needed to know what’s in a book, get reviews, find out about a movie in a theatre, tour a museum right away, and so much more. Imagine just using your own camera phone to get more information on that painting in the gallery or that dinosaur in the museum or just that building across the street. Visit Augmented Reality—Explained by Common Craft (Free Version) (2:17 minutes):

Layar is already seeing a lot of pick up in the education space.

Layar, Impactful Augmented Reality in Your Everyday Life (2:15 minutes):

Layar – world’s first mobile Augmented Reality browser (2:08 minutes):

This stuff is indistinguishable from the magic I watched on Sunday night on TheWonderful World of Disney as a child.

Wireless Battery Charging

This starts out as something more practical, but it quickly grows into something that amazes. I despise carrying dozens of charging cords all over the world. The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) people always think I am carrying something bad and dig into my backpack like they’ve never seen charging cords before. Anyway, Powermat, a wireless battery charger, seems to offer hope to lighten my bag (1:22 minutes:

Of course, I was still waiting for wireless electricity, and this stuff really blows me away! I am especially fascinated at the applications to charge whole electric cars at the same speed as being physically plugged into electricity and then powering of video on cereal boxes! Wow!

Wireless Electricity Demonstration, WiPower, CES 2010 (2:04 minutes):

Wireless Electric at CES 2011 (1:20 minutes):

I can see a day when meeting room, office, and library furniture is built with integrated charging for all of our devices. No more crawling around the floor to plug in! And then walls will be screens and … more excitement and imagination—and the walls may have eyes and ears!

Where does it all take us?

I don’t know and it doesn’t matter. All we need to do is keep our eyes and minds open.

Are these Space Age technologies really beyond the horizon? I ran across this interesting statistic recently and noted it down. In 1971, only 5% of U.S. households owned a microwave. Now, in 2011, only 5% don’t. In 1990 there was really no fully public internet, no web, no virtual social networks. And yet, by 2011 Facebook reached almost nine in 10 social network users and 57.1% of internet users. eMarketer forecasts that by 2013, 62% of web users and almost half (47.6%) of the overall U.S. population will be on Facebook. Change happens faster and faster every year it seems.

Many adults remember the days when not all of our friends had a telephone. Some had party lines, which sound like more fun than they were! We can also recall when not all of our friends had a black-and-white TV—and this wasn’t because they had a color one or were anti-TV. Technology adoption has its peaks and valleys, but it eventually becomes more rugged, cheaper, and widespread. There are always a few missteps and then, suddenly, that innovation is everywhere. We can see that our young learners’ lives will be wildly transformed, and they need the skills to make choices. I’m a pretty urban guy, but I do know quite a few folks who prefer a remote country lifestyle and check their email at the local library but live largely simpler lives. I notice that many technology adoption and use decisions are becoming closer to lifestyle decisions. Indeed many futurists have predicted the emergence of a class of nonusers of technology by choice. Still, this choice will be a minority choice, and that’s OK.

We’re educators and librarians, and the inventions here will have an impact on our world and the world at large. Librarians, I have no doubt, will again be part of exploiting the social good and emergence of these inventions in the world of information, learning, and research. And there will be more exciting changes than the five innovations that I point out here. I’m excited!

Contact Stephen at

Blank gif