‘Boring’ science is about to rock your sector

Scientific advances often deliver benefits beyond their intention. Take space research. It got us to the moon, but also helped invent camera phones, satellite TV, GPS navigation and laptops. Here are some scientific breakthroughs set to enhance, disrupt, and even create, industries.

No charge
Power sources are often overlooked in innovation round-ups, yet they can transform industries. Scientists are currently creating batteries that need much less frequent charging and almost zero handling. The uBeam, for instance, turns power into (inaudible) sound waves, then converts it back on reaching a device. Developments like these could accelerate adoption rates in electric cars, or enable greater use of technology in hard-to-reach places: livestock monitoring in Mongolia to seismic sensors on the seabed. Closer to home, they could improve workplace efficiency: field sales teams’ devices can be forever-charged; supply chain logistics can keep on trucking. New nanowire-powered batteries’ tiny size will mean less invasive in-body monitors and other biotech. A new Korean foldable, waterproof battery will enable better bendable gadgets and smart clothing. The resistance-free qualities of graphene could deliver a battery that never needs re-charging. Speaking of which …

Miracle Materials
As seen with steel and plastic, the discovery of new materials can be the basis of entire industries. It’s a decade since scientists discovered ‘miracle’ material graphene, but they’re now finding new uses for it that could revolutionise multiple sectors. For instance, it can etch edible RFID tags into food that reveal if it’s ripe or contaminated. It can create environmentally-friendly concrete, and robots that repair themselves. It can filter contaminated water at phenomenal rates. Some suggest it can even detect cancer. And graphene’s just the start. One scientific paper recently identified 200 new materials with similarly revolutionary properties.

3D Printing
To some, 3D printing’s still a gimmick. But it’s actually another case where material innovations are about to make a huge cross-sector impact: from healthcare to construction and transport. Scientists have discovered how to 3D print bones and organs like lungs and corneas. Construction firms are now able to 3D print concrete and metal: meaning houses built in a few hours for just a few thousand pounds. Furthermore, Michelin have created a 3D-printed, airless concept tyre made of organic materials. It can be tweaked on the go, to adapt to different road conditions: and will never run out, just ‘recharged’ with a new layers of treads.

Smart Surfaces
Talk of transport innovation typically conjures up driverless cars or drones. But there’s another transport innovation likely to have a swifter impact on us: sensor-embedded smart roads. It’s part of the rise of the Internet of Things, which will soon make smart surfaces – office walls to kitchen tabletops – ubiquitous. Smart roads will potentially be able to detect accidents, then call emergency services; report their own potholes; melt snow and ice; potentially self-heal. They’ll capture road-use data and optimise transit routes. They’ll even store and transfer solar energy into vehicles and infrastructure, which means wireless charging and ‘free’ electricity for street lamps, signs and even houses. Ultimately they could be the basis of huge nationwide cable-free 5G networks. Already at the edges of this tech are China’s Jinan highway and Kansas’ Integrated Roadways. It’s predicted the market will be worth $23 billion by 2028.

Immersive Reality
Virtual Reality has yet to make a real commercial mark, except in niche areas of Leisure. But it has huge potential, not least in the workplace. International colleagues could collaborate ‘in person’ to make hands-on modifications to a virtual concept car. Suppliers might meet your team at a virtual version of a conference venue to plan the event itself. Student surgeons could train on a simulated operating table. But to succeed, virtual environments will need to feel much more real. Scientists are finding ways to do this, by incorporating better sensual stimulation. HEAR360’s new ‘omni-binaural’ microphone lets users hear sound all around them. The VR Sense device allows them to sense aroma, touch, and the effects of wind and rain. The TeslaSuit’s full-body, haptic environment offers weight simulation, climate control and other features previously only delivered via remote control. Though such an outfit could be a little over the top for virtual board meetings …

Mind control
Though many see Artificial Intelligence as The Future, more and more commentators champion Augmented Intelligence: innovations that improve humans rather than replace them. This could enable industries to hugely improve services without massive job losses. Scientists have already made massive strides in artificial limbs, and human-machine interfaces. Now they’re finding ways to control them with our brains. Tesla and Facebook are both focusing on this area. The latter has a team of 60 engineers working on building a brain-computer interface to let users type with just their minds. Researchers have already developed a thought-controlled third arm that lets users multi-multi-task. Nissan has even built a car that’s part-controlled by the driver’s brain. Take that, driverless cars.