If you were a super hero, what would you want your power to be? Invisibility? Teleportation? The ability to fly, or to travel at the speed of light? You might be able to stop dreaming soon, because (almost) all of these may one day be possible!
Here are four futuristic technologies that are being developed now. Time to start prepping your flight suit...
1. Can you see me now? | Invisibility
Most people have probably wondered what it might like to be invisible, but there is currently no way of making people disappear. That may not be the case for much longer, however, as some scientists are trying to develop ways to make things invisible, and they’ve had some success. Researchers at the University of Rochester in New York, USA have succeeded in making things vanish. Unlike other invisibility systems, which reply on complex arrangements of cameras and mirrors, the Rochester system uses inexpensive lenses.
So far, these prototype invisibility systems work only under strictly controlled laboratory conditions, and for relatively small things. The next step is to take them out of the laboratory and make them work in the real world. If they’re successful, you might be flitting by unseen before you know it!
How it works
The University of Rochester’s invisibility system relies on the ability of lenses to bend light. One lens concentrates a background image into a narrow beam. Two more lenses stop the beam from expanding until it reaches the fourth lens, which restores the image to its original size. Anything placed outside the narrow beam (the cloaked region) will not be seen through the fourth lens.
2. Neither here nor there | Teleportation
What would it be like to dematerialize in a teleporter? Would your thoughts, memories, and personality be teleported, along with the particles that make up your body? Would the teleported person really be “you” in every way? This may seem impossible, but some scientists are actually carrying out research and experimentation in teleportation and they’ve had some success. So far, only a tiny bit of light energy has been transported this way, with a record distance of currently 143km (89 miles). It might not be impossible after all!
Teleportation research uses something called quantum entanglement. Two particles or photons are entangled if they are synchronized so closely that altering one automatically alters the other, even if they are far apart. It enables scientists to teleport bits of quantum information (called qubits) in experiments.
Teleportation is not so much traveling as communication between two points – only the message in this case is your whole body. The possibility of being able to go on holiday in seconds is a long way off, but may be possible.
How it works
A traveller stands on a teleporter pod, which scans the traveller and maps the position of all the matter in his body. Powerful scanning disrupts the atoms in the traveller’s body and causes the person to dematerialize. The scan data is transmitted. It is received by another pod, which uses it to recreate, or materialize, the traveller.
3. Quick thinking | Super-speed travel
Imagine taking a trip at speeds of 760mph (1,200kph). You could go from San Francisco to Los Angeles in the USA – a journey that normally takes nearly six hours by road – in only 30 minutes. The extraordinary vehicle that could make this possible is called the Hyperloop. Passengers will sit in capsules inside a tube that serves as the track. A combination of magnets, electricity, and air causes the capsule to zip by. Each section of the tube is flexible, meaning it's earthquake proof, and the capsules are prevented from bumping into one another by air pressure.
How it works
A Hyperloop capsule will be propelled by electromagnetic motors. When an electric current is applied, magnets in the capsule and track cause the capsule to move forwards. A fan sucks in air from the front of the capsule, and blows most of it backwards behind it. Some of it is blown downwards to create a cushion that supports the capsule instead of wheels, like a puck on an air hockey table. Each passenger cabin is big enough for 6-8 people.
4. It’s a bird, it’s a plane, it’s… a minivan? | Flying cars
The future of the car is, perhaps, in the air. TF-X is a concept car designed to transform everyday journeys by making it possible to ascend to the skies. The vehicle will seat four people, and be able to take off vertically. Terrafugia, the American company who came up with the idea, hope to have the car in production by the end of the 2020s, when hybrid engine technology will have advanced enough to provide power for both road and air transport.
How it works
The vehicle is powered by an electric motor when on the ground. The wings are folded down for driving. This prevents unwanted forces reducing grip on the road at high speeds. The long rotors on the wingtips are housed inside compartments along the side of the chassis.
To take off, no runaway is needed. The wings fold out and the wing rotors point up, so the car’s take-off is close to vertical. Once airborne, the wing rotors rotate forwards. The take-off is completely automatic – the driver does not need to control it.
The cruising speed is 200mph (320kph) and the maximum journey length is 500 miles (800km). During the cruise, the batteries that power the wheels and rotors are recharged by the spinning tail fan.
Like the take-off, landing is automatic. The driver pre-selects a landing zone, and if the weather permits, the TF-X lands safely. The driver can take back control if the touchdown site is unsafe. If the engines all fail, a parachute deploys, preventing the craft from crashing.
See today's best innovations and imagine tomorrow's big ideas with How Super Cool Stuff Works. This cutting-edge guide explores how incredible new technologies are shaping the modern world and its future, from familiar smartwatches to intelligent, driverless cars.