Day-to-day life in the 21st century would seem downright alien to someone from the 1920s, and, in many ways, even someone from the 1970s. But technology evolves quickly, sometimes disrupting things in unimaginable ways.
These days, those changes seem to be occurring faster than ever, and, as a result, daily routines are constantly at risk of being upended. Here's a look at how disruptive technology and innovation are changing—or about to change—several aspects of your day-to-day activities.
—By Chris Morris, Special to CNBC.com.
Posted 23 Aug. 2013
Just as the alarm clock replaced the crowing rooster, the rise of the intelligent home may do away with that blaring box that jars you awake each morning. And it goes far beyond the alarm simply moving from nightstand to iPhone app.
Several products, like Belkin's WeMo, let you automate the functionality of virtually any electronic device. Using your smartphone, you can program the lights to come on at a certain time (and some devices slowly ramp up the brightness, gently waking you instead of suddenly flooding the room with light).
It's an idea that's catching on fast. Austin, Texas-based WigWag recently raised over $450,000 on Kickstarter—nine times its funding goal—for its automation system.
Going wireless has been a boon for the Internet. Now the wireless movement is targeting your kitchen. This year's Consumer Electronics Show saw several companies demonstrating cord-free appliances and cook-anywhere stovetops powered through radio frequency (RF) technology. That's especially useful in small kitchens, where you'll be able to boil water and do homework on the same surface.
The same technology is already being used to wirelessly charge smart phones and tablets by companies like Powermat and Enerecell. It's going to be a bit longer before larger appliances take advantage of it, though. The electronics industry is still working to develop a standard that will let products be interoperable.
Chalkboards are already endangered species in the classroom with smartboards becoming more commonplace, but there are still plenty of changes on the way. Intelligent software systems are expected to make learning more customized, with individual curriculums for students.
At the same time, the college textbook marketplace is being upended by companies like Amazon and Inkling, which provide electronic versions of textbooks. That not only eliminates the needs to carry the heavy tomes around, it can significantly lower costs—with some savings topping 80 percent.
Having a personal driver is a luxury most people can't afford. But with companies like Google, IBM and German automotive parts maker Continental AG working on autonomous driving systems, it may become more common for your car to handle the commute itself.
There are already vehicles that can parallel park themselves, so having them take the wheel completely isn't a big jump. (Nevada, Florida and California, in fact, have already passed laws permitting the operation of autonomous cars for testing.) For busy workers, that extra time can be used to get ahead on the day's calls and conferences.
Drones are in the news today primarily for their military uses, but as with many things that start in the armed forces, they're starting to find a place in the real world.
Real estate agents are using them to photograph expansive properties instead of chartering expensive helicopters. Police and fire departments, meanwhile, are testing them as patrol aids and tracking wildfires.
There are still several issues to work out with drone technology, but with predictions that the industry will create 70,000 jobs over the next three years and contribute over $82 billion into the U.S. economy by 2025, they appear set to become more a part of day-to-day life in many professions.
Too often, we bypass the doctor when we feel a little under the weather. But what if the doctor could examine us remotely? Biometric sensing devices can monitor things like our blood pressure and heart rate and can be automatically relayed to physicians.
That's especially noteworthy for patients with chronic diseases. Doctors can monitor the readings to watch for warning signs—and head them off before they become too serious. In 2012, 2.8 million patients worldwide used home-based remote monitoring services, according to a report from Berg Insights. That number is expected to grow to 9.4 million by 2017.
Amazon disrupted the traditional retail world by removing the requirement to leave your house. But 3-D printing could take that a step further, letting you print a copy of what you need (to a limited extent, of course) at home. That could be anything from keys to toys to small pieces of furniture. Creating them will be as simple as downloading a pattern and hitting print.
Digital fabrication is in its infancy today, but proponents liken it to one of the most revolutionary introductions of the past century.
"This is like the birth of the Internet, but it's literally an Internet of things," said MIT's Neil Gershenfeld in a 2007 TED Talk.
Biometric sensors aren't just helpful for medical professionals. They can also be valuable tools in tracking your own fitness levels and achievements—something companies like Fitbit and Nike have already capitalized upon.
This wearable technology lets runners, bikers or walkers track their distance, learn things like calories burned and determine their average pace. That's helpful in improving performances, and the social aspects of the devices can spur people to take their workouts to the next level.
Forgot to chill a bottle of wine? A year or two ago, that could have been a problem. Today, though, LG's SmartFridge features a "Blast Chiller," which will cool a warm can of soda or beer (or a bottle of wine) to a refreshing temperature in just five minutes.
That can make you a hero at the end of a hard day.
Just as Sony, Nintendo and Microsoft have taken some—OK, much—of the spotlight away from board games like Monopoly and Risk, a new paradigm is on the horizon: virtual reality.
Sure, it's been promised before, but the Oculus Rift headset gets right what the 1990s didn't. A year ago, the company set out to raise $250,000 on Kickstarter and ended up just shy of $2.5 million. Earlier this year, the company raised $16 million in Series A venture capital led by Spark Capital and Matrix Partners and it wooed superstar game developer John Carmack to become chief technology officer.
Streaming services like Netflix have already made the corner video store largely extinct. Now the remote control is an endangered species.
Voice and gesture interface are rapidly being incorporated into new TVs and set top boxes. Samsung's E8000 Plasma TV, for example, can be turned on by simply saying "Hi, TV. Power On." And Microsoft's Kinect sensor, which will be an integral part of the upcoming Xbox One, lets people navigate through menus with swipes of the hand and call out the channels or programs they wish to watch.
Finally, when it's time to escape from the blistering pace of innovation for some old-fashioned creativity—dreaming—consider this surgical implant that will replace a section of the nerve in your ear responsible for hearing with a resistance modulator that controls your brain's ability to detect sounds (noise canceling headphones are so yesterday). You'll need to tune out the ceaseless buzz of a high-tech society to get some rest.