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Inventions of the future

We are committed to seeing UK innovation thrive and as much as we celebrate the existing innovative achievements, we were curious to find out what the nation would like to see invented in the near future.

Computerised glasses were once reserved purely for the realm of science fiction. The idea of digital information being displayed on glasses lenses so only the wearer can see it sounded fantastical, but in recent years companies like Google and Intel have launched products that have made such a concept a reality. While progress in the field has somewhat halted in recent years, work is now underway to develop the natural next step – immersive contact lenses.

The technological challenge of creating digital contact lenses is enormous. To produce computer components small, soft and unobtrusive enough to be incorporated into a lens is a monumental task but steps are being taken towards achieving this goal.

The Swiss company Sensimed already produces a smart contact lens that stays on the eye for 24 hours. It’s packed with technology and sensors which measure eye pressure in patients suffering from glaucoma. Innovative companies can build on Sensimed’s progress and begin to add different functions.

Samsung, for example, owns the patent for contact lenses which include a camera, with users operating its controls by blinking. Images are projected “directly into the eyes of the wearer”.

Smart contact lenses are probably not going to be part of everyday life in the near future, but major players are investing in this area, so it is only a matter of time before they become more commonplace.

On 22nd February 2019, Beth Moses became the world’s first ever commercial space passenger when she rode aboard Virgin Galactic’s VSS Unity spaceplane. Moses’ journey represented the next stage of progress towards the ultimate goal of accessible space travel.

Virgin is one of the main companies driving humanity onwards in this mission and has already sold over 600 tickets, costing $250,000 each, for its space flights. This is despite the company currently being unable to begin commercial operations.

One of its major rivals, Elon Musk’s SpaceX, is also taking major steps forward, with its development of the reusable rocket. One of the primary barriers to regular space travel is cost, with each launch traditionally costing tens of millions of US dollars. The ability to reuse shuttles up to 100 times, which SpaceX is endeavouring to make possible, will dramatically cut expenditure, paving the way for more frequent flights.

Musk has predicted that by 2023 he will be able to fly commercial passengers around the moon, so humanity may not have to wait that long before frequent space travel is a reality.

An alternative approach is currently being orchestrated by Oxfordshire-based company Reaction Engines. It is developing technology that could one day see planes, not rockets, fly through space.

One of the main challenges in this field is temperature, with the plane needing to travel at three times the speed of sound (and thus generating intense heat). Very recently, Reaction Engines made a giant breakthrough in overcoming this barrier by developing ‘pre-cooling’ devices. Such technology can bring air down from 420 degrees Celsius to room temperature (20 degrees Celsius) in just 0.05 seconds.

With developments like these, space travel in the future could have many different forms and soon be widely accessible.

According to the World Health Organistion, cancer is responsible for about one in six deaths worldwide. Understandably then, the search for a cure is one of humanity’s main objectives.

While some forms of cancer can be prevented or treated if caught early enough, others are still terminal. Although a universal cure is, unfortunately, a long way off, work is underway to try and address this major global issue.

A 2017 study by Dr Irving Weissman tried to address the problem of white blood cells sometimes being unable to defeat cancer. His research discovered that cancer cells possess multiple protective systems which fend off the white blood cells’ efforts to eradicate them. This knowledge can now be used to inform future studies, which can focus on trying to deactivate these protective systems.

Another method of potentially destroying cancer cells is Hyperthermia Therapy. The National Cancer Institute defines it as “a type of cancer treatment in which body tissue is exposed to high temperatures (up to 113 degrees Fahrenheit)”. The extreme heat can be used to kill the harmful cells and maybe shrink tumours. The technique can, however, have some side effects, including cardiac and vascular disorders, so clinical trials are currently underway with the intention of making the process safer.

The violent and evolving nature of cancer means that it might be decades or even centuries before a cure is found, if ever. Nevertheless, researchers are working tirelessly. Even if a cure is beyond reach, there is huge scope to try and improve current treatments so that patients live for longer and experience less pain.

The nature and purpose of dreams have long eluded scientists. Researchers passionately disagree about the reasons why they occur, but unquestionably, they are a fascinating phenomenon. But they are also a phenomenon that few people are able to remember shortly after waking up. The mystery means that attempts to record their stories have long fallen short, but innovative studies are continuing to pursue this goal.

Oldis and Schnyer at the University of Texas have focused on the use of electromyograms (EMGs). This technique monitors nerve signals during sleep, as despite dreamers rarely moving in the night, impulses are still sent to the muscles which would be used to perform the actions from the dream. These signals, as well as the ones sent in the brain for speech, might one day be decipherable so scientists can reproduce what the dreamer experienced while sleeping.

Oldis told CNN that a dream recorder that ‘produces a movie-like experience’ is only a couple of decades away. Whether or not this target is realistic, there have certainly been huge strides taken in recent years and dream recorders may exist within a lifetime.

The practice of mind-reading has been featured in comic books and movies for as long as the genre has existed, but the idea of it being possible in reality seems absurd. However, with advances in neurotechnology taking humanity’s understanding of the brain to new levels, it is conceivable that one day scientists will be able to replicate these fictional superheroes.

It may not, however, be achieved in the way people might imagine. Eric Leuthardt told MIT Technology Review that he believes that within a few decades, the technology currently found within smartphones could be implanted into the human brain to link the mind to the internet. This futuristic concept would need to be able to produce computer signals that the brain couldn’t distinguish from its own communication impulses. If it could, then messages could feasibly be sent between people in a ‘telepathic’ manner.

In the same interview, Gerwin Schalk, who works with Leuthardt, said: “We really don’t know how to do it at this point. But it’s also obvious to me that it is going to happen. And if and when that happens, our lives are going to change, and our lives are going to change in a way that is completely unprecedented.”

Science’s ever-growing understanding of the neural system may eventually lead to natural mind-reading devices, but the internet could be humanity’s best chance of achieving a similar effect before the end of the century.

At MPA we are committed to supporting innovation in the UK both now and in the future,  if you or your company are innovating we would love to hear from you. With our experience in R&D tax credits and Patent Box we can help you access funding to boost your business. Speak to one of our advisors today for further information.