The Next 25 Years in Tech

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Surrounded by Intelligence

We're entering the era of "ambient intelligence," when everyday objects will contain technology that broadcasts data about themselves and their environment, says Liebhold.

As you approach a dangerous intersection, sensors in your car will detect it and reduce speed. GPS coordinates of places unsafe to walk at night will be broadcast to mobile devices.

In Japan, location-based services from GeoVector let the Mapions Pointing Application deliver information on businesses inside a building at the point of a GPS-enabled camera phone. U.S. handsets with the technology should appear by year's end.

In homes, floor sensors will detect empty rooms and automatically lower the thermostat and turn off lights. Agilewaves, a firm started by ex-NASA scientists, is working with builders to install sensors on electrical switches, pipes, and gas valves. Eventually they hope to offer neighborhoods, subdivisions, or municipalities a big-picture view of their carbon footprint.

Future homes will have "a dashboard that gives real-time performance feedback," says Peter Sharer, CEO of Agilewaves. "Homes that have this instrumentation are more likely to hook into their neighbors' homes. In 10 or 15 years, entire communities will be networked."

The most significant use of sensors in homes, however, will be to monitor inhabitants' health. An FDA-approved under-the-mattress monitor activates when heart patients lie down. Japan's Matsushita has built a toilet seat that sends tiny electric charges through a users' buttocks to measure body fat.

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