3 Cutting-Edge Consumer Technologies You Might See in 2011

New smartphones and tablets? Those are so 2010. The best consumer tech of 2011 will let you access the Internet by using a light switch, control your house from your phone, and keep your kids from driving fast while listening to explicit music.

3 Cutting-Edge Consumer Technologies You Might See in 2011 Photo (cc) by Kecko

At the end of the holiday season, a group called the Consumer Electronics Association asked shoppers to rate their “confidence in technology.” It’s probably no surprise that a tech organization would have a complicated formula for its Consumer Sentiment Indexes, but here’s the bottom line…

Our confidence in technology helping us in our day-to-day lives is at an all-time high, “rising nearly eight points over November, to 93.7,” the CEA says. “That’s the highest level since CEA began tracking index data in January 2007.” Or as CEA’s research director Shawn DuBravac put it, Americans “closed out the holiday season with tech on their minds.”

So what does 2011 have in store? And in stores? Here are some technologies that are already arriving, as well as some that are just around the corner. All were announced just last week…

1. Wifi that lights up

What if the lamps in your home not only let you see around the house but also let you see the Internet? A company called LVX System says it has invented light bulbs that can transmit data to a computer.

Right now, getting online means accessing magnetic waves, whether its wifi or 3G (and now 4G) networks. But LVX says it can do the same thing with light waves, using a new technology called VLEC

“Visible Light with Embedded Communication is comprised of light photons and can be seen by the human eye. Its related equipment is what looks like a standard lamp that generates its light from LEDs (Light Emitting Diodes or solid state lighting) rather than hot filaments or hot gasses like those used in today’s lamps.”

Essentially, these lights send information to your computer by flickering very fast – so fast you can’t see it happen. Last month, LVX installed its first “smart fixtures” in the city offices of St. Cloud, Minn. No word yet when it may come to your office – or home.

2. Teenage drivers you can control

Nothing’s scarier than a teenager behind the wheel of a speeding car. So Ford is debuting a new technology for their worried parents. Called MyKey, it lets parents tell their Ford vehicle not to go too fast – or play explicit songs on the satellite radio.

Using an over-sized ignition key with a computer chip inside, parents can program their Ford to a top speed of 65, 70, 75, or 80 mph. But even more intriguing, although less dangerous, is this…

The radio-blocking feature works by screening out more than a dozen channels labeled by Sirius Satellite Radio as “explicit.” While similar technology is used for blocking explicit content on televisions and computers, never before has such an option been available for radio programming in vehicles.

Adds Graydon Reitz, Ford’s director of Electrical and Electronic Systems Engineering: “Ford wants to give parents peace of mind that their kids are following practical household rules in the car. Like graduated licensing laws, MyKey helps parents set reasonable limits for teens as they’re building driving skills.”

Right now, this MyKey service is available only on a few Ford models but is expected to make it to all of them by the end of the year.

3. Your home away from home

Here’s how Verizon explains its Home Monitoring and Control service…

You’re miles away from home when you realize that you’ve forgotten to lock the front door. With a new, customizable service developed by Verizon, you won’t have to panic and frantically call a friend or neighbor. The service, now in the trial phase and expected to be available in the first half of 2011, will enable customers to lock doors remotely, see what’s going on at home via networked cameras, and set and adjust lights, smart thermostats and appliances – all by using a smartphone or a computer.

Regular Money Talks News readers might recall an article from last September called Saving Green: New Help to Save on Power, which detailed new power meters that you could control from your personal computer. Verizon has taken that to the extreme and is testing the complete-home-control concept in New Jersey this month.

“What we’ll be testing in these homes is just the beginning,” says Eric Bruno, Verizon’s vice president of product management. “We’re giving customers a remote control for their homes – and give them anytime, anywhere access and control of their homes. The concept of the connected home has been discussed for many years, and now Verizon’s high-IQ networks are making that concept a reality.”

Verizon promises to expand its HMC service to other states this year.

Five years from now…

A new year always prompts looking ahead, so IBM made its own futuristic tech announcement last week – not for 2011 but for 2016.

Looking five years ahead, here are some consumer technologies IBM experts predict we’ll possess…

  1. “You’ll beam up your friends in 3D” – With movies and TV already in 3D, next up are holographic phone calls and computers. “You will be able to interact with photos, browse the Web, and chat with your friends in entirely new ways,” IBM says.
  2. “Batteries will breathe air to power our devices” – No more chargers for cell phones? “Batteries may disappear altogether in smaller devices,” IBM says. “Scientists are working on batteries that use the air we breath to react with energy-dense metal, eliminating a key inhibitor to longer-lasting batteries. If successful, the result will be a lightweight, powerful, and rechargeable battery.” And just like some wrist watches today, which are powered by the swinging of your arm, the same thing might be invented for cell phones – just shake and dial.
  3. “Your commute will be personalized” – Forget listening to the radio or logging onto a traffic website to find out how bad your morning commute will be. “In the next five years, advanced analytic technologies will provide personalized recommendations that get commuters where they need to go in the fastest time,” IBM predicts. “Adaptive traffic systems will intuitively learn traveler patterns and behavior to provide more dynamic travel safety and route information to travelers than is available today.”

Of course, we wait for the day when those holograms will allow us to beam into the office so we don’t have to go anywhere…

Michael Koretzky
Michael Koretzky @koretzky
Journalism is a profession of highs and lows. I've covered the 1988 Democratic and Republican national conventions, two space shuttle launches and one landing, and a jazz festival in Istanbul. Then again, ... More

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