Zager and Evans predicted in their 1960s pop music hit that in the year 4545, you "won't need your eyes," and that in 6565 you'll "pick your son, pick your daughter too, from the bottom of a long glass tube." We all know it won't take that long to realize these futuristic visions—these things are already happening or under way. So how about a more near-term prediction, one for the year 2024, when Sensors celebrates its 40th anniversary? This is what we editors asked of Sensors readers as we concluded our 20th anniversary year last month.
Barbara G. Goode
The majority of those responding echoed a common theme: By 2024, sensors will be everywhere. Perhaps Robert D. Fischer of Northrop Grumman stated it most eloquently. By 2024, he noted, most products and systems will "employ sensors to optimize their interaction and compensation for environment, user action, and activity of other devices within their range of influence."
Some folks predicted the development of sensors for specific uses such as detecting gravitational waves, foretelling earthquakes, improving life through biomedical uses, and making applications we have not yet thought of. Brett Austin predicted that a hot area of sensor development, automotive, will become even more so. He imagines that because of sensors, it will be illegal for people to manually control a motor vehicle in any way come 2024. The auto's sensory inputs will be vastly superior to those of any human, he says. Automotive transport will be electromagnetically propelled (at about 400 kmph, he adds), and accidents will be rare (though when they happen they will be large scale).
Some readers also predicted the ability to control the external world through brainwaves, a development that is already under way (see "Not Impossible" in last month's Business Sense). Peter D. Villaflores predicts that by 2024 sensors will be able to convert human emotion to electronic pulses, so that for many purposes we can easily determine what a human is feeling (and I predict that such sensors will be banned from poker tables).
Sensors readers predict that by 2024
Robert M. Green, PE of Green Associates in Gloucester, MA, expects that most sensors will be optical in 20 years, and that a move in that direction will be noticeable within 10 years. He bases his prediction on developments under way in nanotechnology, MEMS, and microprocessing. Optics, he says, offers the rapid response, sensitivity, analytical capability, and wide bandwidth needed for diagnostics. According to Green, "Microprocessing is opening up a whole new industry based on a radical way of designing processing equipment and marketing of chemical products. This development requires a different approach to monitoring and control based on a different physical size of equipment and hence sensors, pumps, and valves." He points out that the vanguard is found in "lab-on-a-chip" devices, which use optical methods for measuring chemical composition, temperature, pressure, and flow.
Joe Giachino of the University of Michigan says that sensors as separate entities will not exist in 2024. The function they provide, he says, "will be part of a system that senses, processes the data, and presents information and/or triggers an action based on the input." Indeed, sensors will network through the World Wide Web (or whatever we'll be calling it by then) to give us specific information, on demand, about our environment. That's the prediction of Svend Haugaard, who adds that this information may have value only to us as individuals. He says, for instance, that it would determine whether there is a correlation between your car's fuel consumption in the morning and the temperature of the coffee in your commuter mug (if that information is useful to you).
How about you? Do you agree? Disagree? Have another prediction altogether? Join the prophesizing on Sensors' homepage, www.sensorsmag.com.