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‘I Gotta Check This Out, Doc’ — The Coolest (And Most Impactful) Innovations Of 2015

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This article is part of #Future, a new UPROXX section that covers where the world is headed and how things have changed since 1989. Powered by Toyota.

 

Humans have always been fascinated by the future. It’s in our nature to wonder what tomorrow has in store and to dream about shattering the limitations of today.

But today is the future.Well technically tomorrow is the future — the future according to one of America’s favorite movies, Back To The Future Part II. October 21, 2015. That’s the date on which Marty McFly arrives after blasting through the space-time continuum and discovers flying cars, self-lacing shoes, hover boards, ample fax machines, flat-screen TVs, video conferencing, holograms and more. You can guess which of these predictions the movie got right and which it got wrong.

The world we live in today, however – the real 2015 – holds innovations and advancements both large and small that Marty McFly would have never seen coming. Some are poised to change the world as we know it, while others will simply help us live better, smarter and more convenient lives. Here are a few of those innovations:

Toyota’s Hydrogen Fuel Cell Technology

Sure, it doesn’t fly, but the brand new, hydrogen-powered, zero-emission Toyota Mirai is poised to alter the future of driving as we know it.

The technology behind the Mirai represents a huge leap forward for a cleaner environment — but to understand why, you first must understand Toyota’s revolutionary hydrogen fuel cell stack (we’ll spare you the science lesson and give you the sparknotes).

First things first, a fuel cell stack is simply a collection of fuel cells. In each individual fuel cell, oxygen – which is pulled in though air vents at the front of the car – meets with hydrogen, which is delivered from the car’s hydrogen tanks. The meeting of these two elements within the fuel cells cause a chemical reaction which creates electricity and water. The electricity is sent to the engine to power the car, and the water is expelled. That’s right, no smoke, no CO2. The only by-product is a little bit of water (if you want to geek out harder, watch Toyota’s video explaining the technical details of their fuel cell technology here).

It’s a total shift in the way we think about powering cars (and someday, many other energy-hungry machines). Drivers of the Mirai will need to fuel up at hydrogen fueling stations, which California aims to have 20 of by the end of 2015, another 20 by the end of 2016 and a total of about 100 by 2020. When drivers do refuel, it’ll take them about five minutes, and with a full tank, they can expect a range of approximately 300 miles. Compare that to electric vehicles which can take hours to charge, and even the most expensive of which still have a shorter range.

Now consider that hydrogen is the third-most abundant element on Earth and can serve as an inexhaustible source of energy. This is looking promising.

The first set of Toyota Mirais will be delivered this month to drivers in California within range of a hydrogen fueling station. If you don’t live in California, you can visit this site to show your support to bring hydrogen fueling to a location near you.

Oh, and by the way, ‘Mirai’ means ‘future’ in Japanese. Pretty fitting, right?

Personal Air Pollution Monitors

With the proliferation of zero-emission cars like the Mirai, and increased support for clean, renewable forms of energy, the future will hopefully have no need for the TZOA wearable enviro-tracker. But until then (or if we choose not to act on improving our environment), consider the TZOA your new best friend.

When clipped to your purse or backpack, or left on a table at home, TZOA measures the air for particles that can be hazardous to your health, like dust, pollen, asbestos, mold, car exhaust, smoke, kitchen fumes and any other form of incinerated particulate matter. It also measures humidity as well as Ultraviloet light, too much of which can lead to skin damage and even cancer. This data is then sent to your phone in the form of easy to understand graphical charts, and combined with data from other TZOA users to create maps of air pollution hot spots.

Using this information, TZOA can help you determine how to improve the air quality in your home and which affected outdoor areas to avoid. The combined data collected by TZOA users (who TZOA calls “citizen scientists”), can also be used by city governments to determine which parts of their city experience higher levels of air pollution so they can look for ways to fix it.

Although on the surface TZOA may seem simple, the information it provides is power. It’s far too easy, and dangerous, to remain blissfully ignorant to the often-invisible air pollutants in our environment. But the more we become aware of this information, the more likely we are to take action and demand action from others. Besides, do you really want a future where you’re forced to check the Air Quality Index more than the weather?

TZOA is now available for pre-order and is expected to be available to the public in late 2015.

Water Saving Showers

A new shower head may not seem like a groundbreaking innovation at first glance — that is until you let the facts surrounding water usage, or rather, water waste, really sink in.

Before diving into the details, first consider that there have been no significant improvements made to the shower head in about a century. In that time, we’ve been flushing a precious resource, not to mention our money, down the drain (OK last water pun, promise). That’s where Nubia comes in. Successfully funded on Kickstarter in a matter of hours when its campaign launched in August of 2015, Nubia went on to raise $1.3 million in two days, and ended its campaign having raised over $3 million. People were interested, to say the least. So what does Nubia’s shower head do that’s so different? It saves a lot of water as compared to traditional shower heads.

By atomizing water to create millions of water droplets, Nubia uses 70% less water than a typical shower head. Now consider that the average American spends eight minutes in the shower per day, and in that time, uses over 20 gallons of water. With a Nubia shower head, that 20 gallons would be reduced to just six.  For a household of four people in California, a state experiencing its fourth year of a severe drought, that equates to a savings of about 21,000 gallons of water per year. And if everyone in California were to use a Nubia shower head, the state would save 203 billion gallons of water per year (yes, that’s billion, with a b).

It’s time to start re-thinking your shower (but not time to stop re-thinking your shower thoughts).

Nubia shower heads bought on Kickstater, and those pre-orderd on Nubia’s website, will be delivered in spring of 2016.

Change Your Mood With The Press Of A Button

Its been a long day, you’re stressed, worked up and you just want to chill out. Or maybe you’re tired, need to focus and could use a boost of energy. Willing yourself to calm down or feel energized isn’t always easy, but sticking a little device on your forehead and pressing a button that’ll stimulate your brain to generate these feelings is.

That’s the idea behind, Thync, a revolutionary wearable that, according to the comapny, delivers “pulsed neurostimulation waveforms to modulate psychophysiological arousal.” It may sound like science fiction, but it’s not. Plenty of credible media outlets, like GQ and gizmag, have tested it and confirm it actually works.

First, you’ll need to choose between the two types of Thync Vibes, calm and energy. Each vibe coordinates with its own Thync Strip (there are calm strips and energy strips). Next, you’ll attach a Thync Strip to the to the Thync Module (the white object seen in the photo above), and place the adhesive module on your forehead as directed.

Now, using the Thync app on your iPhone (any 4s running iOS 8 or newer will do), choose your vibe, calm or energy, dial in your desired intensity, and tap a button on your phone to start the neurosignaling waveforms. After just a few minutes of use, the effect of the Vibe can last for up to an hour, and have an impact that lasts for several hours.

Using the calm vibe, users report feeling more physically relaxed, more centered, more aware of their breathing, detached from stressful thoughts, less likely to react emotionally, and in some cases, mild euphoria. Energy vibe users on the other hand, report feeling a burst of physical energy, more mentally alert, focused, excited and motivated to be active.

After years of testing, Thync went on the market in June of 2015.

Holograms Galore

You’ve become quite familiar with your computer over the years. The weight of your laptop, the space occupied by your desktop, the glow of the screen and the clicking of the keyboard. Well start preparing yourself because all of that is going to change –drastically.

Meet the Microsoft HoloLens, a device some are calling the next generation of computing. Most basically stated, the HoloLens is a holographic computer, worn like a mash-up between a visor and a pair of goggles, which fuses the real world with the digital world. Through the HoloLens, holograms become part of, and integrate with, the user’s environment. But it’s not virtual reality — consider it mixed reality.

Unlike virtual reality devices like Oculus Rift, which was bought by Facebook for $2 billion and has been stealing headlines throughout 2015 and completely obscures the wearer’s vision to create an immersive, all encompassing virtual reality world, the HoloLens allows the wearer to fully see the world around them, but with the addition of an interactive holographic layer.

To fully grasp the impact of the HoloLens, it helps to understand some of the amazing ways it could be used. For example, NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory plans to use the HoloLens to control rovers on the surface of Mars (by allowing scientists to step into a holographic version of the red planet’s surface). Architects will be able to use the technology to turn 2D blueprints into 3D models of buildings that HoloLens users can walk into and explore. Then there are the possibilities for gaming, which are essentially endless. And that’s just the very beginning — creators of all kinds will be able to use the HoloLens to bring ideas to life, or just watch Netflix on any surface they’d like.

The HoloLens prototype, which debuted at the beginning of 2015 at CES (a.k.a. the Consumer Electronics Show, an annual technology and innovation trade show and conference held in Las Vegas), is now available for purchase by developers, with delivery scheduled for the first quarter of 2016. Once more apps are developed for the platform, you’ll be able to buy one of your own for personal use.

Your move, Apple.

Advances In Prosthetics

Every year, huge strides forward are made in the field of prosthetic limbs. The past few years, however, and 2015 in particular, have been especially impactful.

Due in large part to advancements in 3D printing, companies are now able to produce prosthetic limbs for just a few hundred dollars — compared to prosthetics of yesteryear which would cost tens of thousands of dollars.

Perhaps the most inspiring and best known story in the world of affordable 3D printed prosthetic arms, is that of 19-year-old science wunderkind Easton LaChappelle. Profiled in the debut episode of Uproxx’s original series, Luminaries, Easton began his journey to create an affordable prosthetic with his first robotic hand (made using materials like Legos, fishing line and electric tubing) when he was 14.

A few years of development later, at the beginning of 2015, Easton open sourced his work and posted his designs and instructions for building a 3D printed, robotic prosthetic arm on his website. 3D printer excluded, the arm costs about $300 to produce.

Easton isn’t the only scientist open sourcing their ideas, however. In May of 2015, exiii Inc. also released the designs and data surrounding their 3D printed bionic arm, the HACKberry, for purposes of fostering collaboration and speeding up development.

Then there are 2015’s advancements in prosthetics for children without an arm. Debuted on October 7th at the Disney Accelerator Demo Day, Open Bionics shared their affordable, 3D printed, superhero-inspired bionic arms which aim to empower young people to treat their disability more like a super power. The three available arms are modeled after Iron Man, Star Wars and the glove worn by Princess Elsa in Frozen. Each features LED lights on the surface that illuminate in conjunction with the wearer’s muscle signals.

Open Bionics’ arms will cost $500 and will be available for sale in 2016.

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