Wakandan Technology I Wish We Already Had
Like millions of other people throughout the US, this weekend, I went with my family to watch “Black Panther” the latest Marvel hero movie. I set through the two hours and fifteen minutes of this celebration of Black ingenuity, strength and power and I marveled – no pun intended – at some of the special effects that showcased the technology made in Wakanda.
If you are not familiar with the story I can share without spoilers that Wakanda is a reclusive kingdom in Africa with extraordinary technological power mostly by vibranium a material that absorbs kinetic energy rendering it virtually indestructible. Master in command of most of the technology we see displayed in the movie is Princess Shuri, younger sister to King T’Challa, engineer and scientist extraordinaire and according to my daughter the most powerful woman in Wakanda. There was a lot of tech on display in the movie, but some stood out as something I wished I had access to.
Remote Transmission and Holograms
There are two scenes in the movie where remote transmission and holograms play a big role. One is a car chase in South Korea where Shuri is operating a real car from a holographic replica in her labs in Wakanda and the other is that of CIA Agent Ross taking a spaceship into battle from a holographic replica in the labs.
Let’s start with how cool it would be to be able to control cars and other moving objects that are miles away from you. In a world where we are getting excited about self-driving everything it might seem like we do not need this technology but when I saw the car scene the first thing that went through my head was: I bet there could be a “designated driver service” opportunity! And I am not just thinking about avoiding drunk-drivers but also about the ability to monitor drivers and take over a car for tired or incapacitated drivers. Of course, the complexity of being able to remotely control a moving object with no time lag is immense. Yet, I would guess that self-driving cars will be relying on many of the same components from sensors and computing power to network coverage and speed minus the human component that remain in control of the vehicle.
As excited as I got about the potential of having a personal chauffeur when I needed it and unlike Uber and Lyft not having to worry about being in the same car as them I was even more excited about the future potential of holograms.
I have had Microsoft HoloLens demos, and I have tried both AR and VR and as immersive as these experiences are you are still missing the tactile component. Haptics has been used with touch screens for many years so that we can receive a tactile feedback every time we touch a specific key on our smartphone or PC. With VR we need to move this type of 3D touch experience to our full body to really have a fully immersive experience. The most off-putting part of VR today, in my opinion, are the controllers that in most cases prevent you from feeling fully immersed just because they cannot replicate a wide enough range of gestures. Sure you can pull a trigger, but you often cannot grab and hold an object in a very natural way. There are some data gloves that can both track hand motion and use air bladders to harden and restrict grip so that you can feel an object like a ball in virtual reality but these are very high-end solutions that might hit enterprises before they can be made available for consumers. The CyberGrasp is good examples of such solutions. There are also solutions like the Teslasuit that aims at developing a full body suit that can feel impacts and temperatures as well as track full body movement. The opportunity for such solutions in a B2C environment is immense, from entertainment to health touch will take VR to the next level.
There are a few implementations of the Kimoyo beads in the movie, but the most obvious one is in bracelets where each of the beads serves a different function. You can see many Wakandans wearing these bracelets throughout the film. There is a Prime Bead that provides a lot of information about the wearer’s health as Wakandans wear these from the moment they are born. There are Audio/Visual Beads that provide a holographic display (with no need for special glasses) with access to the kingdom database. The size of the screen can be altered to go from personal use to shared. Communications beads that can be used in a similar way to mobile phones but they also use sign language to send text messages. Finally, there are simpler beads with single function sensors like geotagging.
What I love about these bracelets is the promise of what wearables could be going forward. In particular, I like that these Kimoyo bracelets reflect jewelry that is quite common among African populations hinting at the fact that technology is better adopted when hidden in everyday objects. This was the hope for smartwatches one however that struggled to materialize as the union of technology and fashion did not quite deliver for many brands. Apple Watch is the success story that seems to embody many of the Kimoyo beads capabilities: communication, audio and more and more health.
Over the years we have seen smartphones toy with the idea of using gestures to execute some functions from dialing a number by writing the numbers in the air with the phone, to hanging up by turning the phone screen-down. Smartwatches have yet to incorporate gestures as part of communication. I am not saying it would be easy, especially for an Italian like me whose hands can say more than words but I find it interesting that the idea of using sensors on wearables and gestures to either spell out letters or perform specific actions has not been entertained enough to get to market.
Our phones are becoming repositories of all sort of information, and recently Apple shared its plans to add health records to the list of data these gadgets hold. Wearables would be an even better location for at least some 911 type of information. Think, for example, at an accident that requires the intervention of a paramedic who can get vital information such as allergies and medications right from the wearables rather than having to spend time searching for a phone that might have been thrown feet away from the patient.
There is certainly much more than wearables can be as long as we keep the right balance of design and usefulness. The beads concept of sharing use cases and features through different beads could extend to bands that you wear with your watch depending on your activity need: a general band, a work-out band, a security band and so on.
Some of these technologies are closer than we think, how they will be marketed and how we as a society are prepared to accept them and embrace them remains to be seen. More importantly, there are choices that Silicon Valley will have to make. Of course, Silicon Valley will not create technology for the benefit of its own people, as Silicon Valley is not a kingdom but a conglomerate of corporations. Yet, I believe such corporations are called more and more to ponder whether they will create for the pleasure of some versus the benefit of all.